Which festivals don’t actually appear in the Bible?
What happened at the first Passover?
The scene is set. Four hundred and thirty years of slavery and hard labour in Egypt was about to come to an end. God has acted and salvation is literally days away. Nine plagues have failed to convince Pharaoh to let Moses lead his people out of Egypt and we are standing at the edge of history. Something significant is about to happen and God issues His instructions. On the day of Nisan 10th every Jewish family is to buy a lamb, a male lamb without defect ...
"Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household." (Exodus 12:3)
Another scene flickers into view, in the Roman province of Judea, around fifteen centuries later. It is also Nisan 10th. On the eastern approach of Jerusalem a crowd gathers. They are celebrating the arrival of an honoured visitor. It is Jesus, Yeshua, riding on a donkey. It is his triumphal entry. This day is Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar (only rarely celebrated on the authentic date) and the Lamb of God has revealed himself to his people.
"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." (Matthew 21:10-11)
God instructs His people through Moses that this lamb is to be kept out of harm's way, looked after by the family, for four days. Jesus also spent these four days teaching his family of disciples and wandering around Jerusalem speaking to whoever was willing to listen. These were days of safety, the calm before the storm.
The four days are up. It is now the evening and Nisan 14th now becomes Nisan 15th (remember, Biblical days start in the evening) and God instructs that the lambs are to be slaughtered and to be roasted, eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. He gives further instructions.
"Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover." (Exodus 12:10-11)
It is this Passover meal that is to save them from what is about to happen. The Angel of Death is about to pass by all the houses in Egypt, to strike down the first-born of every family. This is the tenth and final plague. What actually saves the Jews is the sign on the outside of their houses. A sign that bears an uncanny resemblance to a ... cross.
"Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs ... The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." (Exodus 12:7,13)
It is the evening and Nisan 14th has become Nisan 15th and Jesus hangs on a Roman cross, bloodied and dead. I simply have no time for detailed theology of the redemptive power of the cross and the forgiveness of sins. We must take this as a given. His shed blood has saved us, just as the blood of the lamb on the doorframes of the Jews saved them from death.
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace". (Ephesians 1:7)
So Nisan 15th is a date anchored in history. Passover was the saving of the first-born Jews through the blood of the lamb and the Crucifixion was the saving of mankind through the blood of the Lamb of God.
"... For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Corinthians 5:7)
Of course, as with Palm Sunday - thanks to the decision of the early Church to cut away from its Jewish roots - Easter is rarely celebrated on the correct day. In fact the name itself has no Biblical significance, coming from Eastre, the ancient pagan goddess of the dawn. But that's another story!
But the story does not end there because that night Pharaoh relented and allowed the Hebrews in Egypt to leave en masse. This was the Exodus and well over a million souls marched out, celebrating their freedom from slavery.
The story continues next week ...