PASSOVER AND THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
Beginning this evening April 18, 2011, at sundown, Jews throughout the world will come together to celebrate one of their most important Feasts—Pesach, Passover. This Jewish observance is the oldest continuously observed feast in evidence today, celebrated for some 3,500 years.
The name “Pesach” (PAY-sahch, with a “ch” as in the Scottich “loch”) comes from the Hebrew root Peh-Samech-Chet meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. “Pesach” is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday. The holiday is also referred to as Chag he-Aviv (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzoth (the Festival of Matzahs), and Z’man Cherutenu (the Time of Our Freedom) (again, all with those Scottish “ch”s).
Passover carries a powerful message for today. This holiday forms the primary background for understanding the events of the Upper Room, the symbolism of the Lord’s Table and the meaning of the Messiah’s death. Passover was instituted in Exodus 11, the time of the tenth plague sent by God to Egypt’s Pharaoh when the Hebrews were instructed to select a one year old, unblemished lamb on the tenth day of Nisan and kept until the fourteenth day of Nisan which would allow time for each family member to observe the lamb and confirm that it was fit for a sacrifice. It also allowed time for each family member to become personally attached to their lamb so that it was not just a lamb, but it was their lamb. An innocent one was to die in their place. At sunset on the fourteenth day of the month, all of the people would take their lamb outside the camp and sacrifice it. Then each family was to individually apply the blood of their lamb to the doorposts of their own homes as a visible sign of their faith in the Lord (Ex. 12:13). At that moment, the innocent lamb became their substitute making it possible for the Lord’s judgment to “pass over” them. And so the Lord instituted Passover as “a night to be much observed unto the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:42). The shed blood of the unblemished lamb was the only thing that would save the Hebrews from the horror of the tenth plague in which every male in every household in Egypt, including the cattle, would be killed. Those inside the homes covered by the blood would be spared.
The Hebrews were instructed to eat three specific foods on that night—the lamb roasted with fire (fire portraying the judgment that was coming), unleavened bread (“leaven” or yeast represents sin puffing up), and bitter herbs, the reminder of the suffering of the lamb.
I am constrained by time and space to detail all of the elements of the Passover meal (called a “Seder”) which is observed to this day, but a few brief notes are in order. The Lamb of the Passover was integral to the Hebrews, shedding its blood was a reminder of the covering, or the “Pesach” of that night when they were spared the judgment and death after an innocent, pure, unblemished lamb took their punishment and suffered in their place. This lamb could not have had any broken bones. The matzo is made without yeast or leaven because leaven represents the puffing up of self that pride creates and which eventually permeates the entire loaf. The matzo is pierced and cooked in a way that leaves stripes. Three matzos, called “Afikomen” are at the Seder table. They are placed into a three-pouched cloth and at a certain point in the Seder dinner, the middle matzo is removed, broken in half, with one half wrapped in linen cloth and hidden until the host sends children out to find the hidden matzo and bring it back to the table. Each member is instructed to eat a piece of the broken bread. Four cups of wine are used during the feast. The first cup is held up by each person while the host recites the Kiddush, (prayer of sanctification). It would be this prayer that Jesus prayed in Luke 22:7. The second cup is poured after a hand washing ceremony and after other parts of the Seder have been taken. During the drinking of this cup, the Passover story is told, and a small drink is taken for each plague of the Egyptians, representing the sorrow felt for them. Before this cup is taken, the first half of the Hallel Psalms are sung (Psalm 113-118). Hallel means “praise” and these Psalms are Messianic.
The third cup of wine is called the Cup of Redemption. It is poured and sipped. It was here that Messiah instituted the Lord’s table. Luke 22:20 shows that this third Cup of Redemption would be a reminder of Jesus’ work on the cross. After the third cup, a child is sent to the front door to hopefully welcome Elijah who will usher in the Messiah as prophesied by Malachi.
The fourth cup is called the Cup of Acceptance or Praise. It was this cup that Jesus said that He would not take until He was able to drink this cup with the disciples in the Kingdom (Matt. 26:29). Knowing that His acceptance by His people, the Jews, would not happen until then, His joy would not be full until then. I believe that He will drink this cup with His Bride at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
The service closes with a hymn, likely the Hallel from Psalm 118, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus spoke these words to the Jews in Matt. 23:29 “for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”
I don’t want to be a legalist here, but what we call Easter is a date set by some who were determined not to set the date of the death of Jesus Christ on the day that He really died—there was an awful thing which we call “anti-Semitism” involved in this, sadly. In fact, the date of Easter was set in cooperation with other pagan celebrations which have nothing whatsoever to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We don’t know the exact date that Jesus Christ was born, but we can know with certainty the date of His crucifixion and resurrection because Jews for thousands of years have celebrated this date both in anticipation of His death and resurrection and for two thousand years since then. His death and resurrection fall on Passover. Passover falls on the Hebrew calendar of Nisan; Nisan 14 to be exact. I celebrate Pesach as the true time when Jesus told us to remember this event. He actually didn’t tell the disciples to remember his birthday, or the day when He began His ministry at 30 years of age. He only told them to remember this day.
When the Jews welcomed Y’Shua into the city as He rode on a donkey, they were singing the Hallel songs (Psalm 113-118) and shouting “Hosanna,” which means “Save Now.” These Psalms were meant for the coming of Messiah and the religious leaders demanded that Jesus make them stop—this was blasphemy—hailing Jesus as Messiah! It was the first time in His public ministry that Jesus allowed Himself to be worshipped as the coming King. They got the picture. He made the amazing statement that if he told them to stop praising Him at that moment (the Lamb who would be slain four days later—the Lamb who had now become their own personal Lamb four days before the Passover), the very stones would cry out. This was a monumentous moment in history. The Lamb mounted the donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem four days before Passover. He was crucified on the first day of Passover. He was the fulfillment of the “Unleavened Bread” on the second day of Passover. He was resurrected on the “First Fruits” of Passover, three days and three nights after the first day of Passover. The last supper was the celebration of the Pesach feast.
The Afikomen (the three Matzos, one which was broken and buried), part of Passover celebrated today was not instituted as part of the Passover until later by Rabbinic tradition. The lamb was the traditional meat, the “lamb that was slain” and shed its blood. However, since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the sacrificial system ended and the Afikomen came to represent the Lamb, and everyone must eat of it. The name “Afikomen” is not a Hebrew name and there has been much debate as to the origin of this name. It is the only Greek word in the Passover Seder, everything else is Hebrew. It is the second aorist form of the Greek verb ikneomai. The translation is stunning—it simply means—He Came.
Since the Afikomen was unleavened, pierced and striped and the middle matzo was broken, half put into a linen pouch, hidden (buried) and later found (resurrected), it echoes perfectly Isaiah 53, the most powerful passage of Scripture which describes the events of the suffering Messiah. The three loaves of unleavened bread represent the Father (first Matzo) the Son (middle Matzo) and the Holy Spirit (third Matzo). Unbelieving Jews today still celebrate this feast, not knowing that it has been fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah or that the beloved Afikomen means, “He came.”
But not for long! The veil is being removed from their eyes (Romans 11). Blindness “in part” is being removed even as I write and when the “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in, all Israel will be saved. My celebration of this beloved Feast Day includes fasting and prayer for this prophecy of Romans 11 to be fulfilled! Amen.