Inspecting the Lamb

Passover is fast approaching.  It is the most important holiday in the hearts and minds of Jews today, and even more so among the disciples of Yeshua.  Yom Kippur is in many ways more holy, representing the cleansing of the nation and the individual from sin, but it is a solemn event marked by fasting.  Passover, on the other hand, is a great feast which celebrates the redemption of Israel–both from our slavery to Egypt, but ultimately also from our slavery to sin.

There will of course be a few hundred or even thousand blog posts and articles discussing Passover, its traditions and significance.  Sadly, I won’t be able to write as extensively this year as I’d originally hoped due to competing obligations and an upcoming marriage retreat with the wife.  So today I’m going to go with a repost of a post I wrote back in 2007 with a few minor edits, and tomorrow and the day after I’ll hopefully have some fresh new material to share:

A Seder table setting
The Seder Table

Passover is coming up again. It’s a time to remember how God has redeemed us by the blood of the Lamb, first from slavery to Egypt, and then from slavery to the world and sin. It is a time to partake of our Lord, to eat Him symbolically in the form of the lamb, the bread, and the wine, to act out taking Him into us physically to demonstrate the spiritual reality.

In most of the Christian world, the day to celebrate our Lord’s sacrifice, Good Friday, is scarcely noted, all the attention being on Easter. For those of us who are Messianic, while we also observe the true Resurrection Day, the Feast of Firstfruits, Passover is the main event, as it were. It is the ultimate Lord’s Supper, containing not only the bread and the wine, but every element that the talmidim (disicples) would have had at their Last Seder: The bitter herbs (which Judas “outed” himself when dipping into; Mat. 26:23), the haroset (a sweet mixture of apple, herbs, and wine which resembles the mortar the Hebrews used to make bricks), the Lamb, etc.

There are a few questions that those not in the Messianic movement often ask. For example, “Can you find any evidence in the New Testament that the Christians kept the Passover?” You mean besides the Last Seder? Indeed, I can. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes,

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch?  Purge out the old leaven, in order that you may be a new batch of dough, since you are unleavened. For indeed Messiah, our Passover [Lamb}, was sacrificed for us.  So then let us observe the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Co. 5:6-8)

One might argue, “Ah, but Paul meant that we should keep the Passover in a spiritual sense.” I agree, we should keep it in a spiritual sense, just as we keep the Lord’s Supper in a spiritual sense–but that doesn’t mean that we forego keeping it physically as well. Every ritual in the Scripture is designed to let us “act out” something spiritual physically, so that full participation in God’s blessings would not be limited to intellectuals and mystics, but be available to everyone.

The second question frequently asked is, “Don’t you have to be circumcised to observe Passover?” Indeed you do (Exo. 12:48). However, there are two caveats to keep in mind. The first is that the rabbis have always understood this restriction to refer solely to the actual Passover lamb sacrificed in the Temple.  The meat served outside of that Temple service today does not have the same restriction.  Therefore, it is nothing strange to see Gentile friends invited to sit at Jewish tables to celebrate the day all over the world.

But secondly, the issue of circumcision is more than just a matter of a cutting of the flesh. By the 1st Century CE, it was an entire rabbinic ceremony by which a Gentile ceased to be a Greek, a Roman, etc., and became a full Jew, expected to keep all of the Torah and the Jewish law and traditions. It was widely (though not universally) believed that only the circumcised Jews could be saved (see Acts 15:1), basically excluding Gentiles from God’s Kingdom. When the Apostles discouraged physical circumcision in favor of spiritual circumcision, they were dealing with an issue of Gentile exclusion–basically, that circumcision meant that a Greek had ceased to be a Greek and had become a Jew.  If allowed to continue, this would pervert the Good News and frustrate the fulfillment of passages like Amos 9:12 and Isaiah 11:10ff and 56:6f, which foretold that the Holy One would accept Gentiles as Gentiles among the redeemed.

However, the requirement for circumcision does illustrate an important spiritual point:  It is wholly necessary for anyone celebrating God’s deliverance of His people to be numbered among and fully identified with those people. In Col. 2:11, we are told that we are indeed circumcised spiritually (“without hands”) when we trust in the Messiah, whether we are Jew (“circumcised” physically) or Gentile (“uncircumcised”). Therefore we are grafted in to Israel (Rom. 11), adopted into the family of Abraham (Rom. 4:11f, Gal. 3:29), whether or not we have been circumcised under the extra-Biblical ceremony that the non-believing Jewish rabbis and community would recognize.

Besides, if Paul told the Corinthians, a mixed congregation (ch. 7-9) to keep the Passover, it must be appropriate for all believers to observe it.  Any other decision would re-erect the wall of separation (Eph. 2:14) that Messiah came to break down.

And finally, the question arises whether it is appropriate to have lamb, when the Temple has been destroyed these last 2000 years (cf. Deu. 16:2). Many Messianic Jews do forgo lamb and substitute another meat in accordance with Ashkenazi Jewish tradition and their own understanding about the requirement to have the lamb only in Jerusalem. That’s fine.  It is correct that the proper Passover sacrifice, like all sacrifices (Deu. 12), must be offered only in Jerusalem at the Temple. However, as Christian commentators have so often observed, our proper sacrifice has already been offered in the proper place.

Therefore, to us, the Passover is no longer a proper sacrifice, but a memorial: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Note that Yeshua does not repeat that formula for the wine, and yet every Christian considers it to include the wine in the Lord’s Supper. Messianics understand it it include the whole of the Passover Seder as well.  For that reason and because we follow Sephardi tradition, at Beth HaMashiach we offer lamb at our Seder.

To those readers who have never experienced the joy of having the Passover Seder, I greatly encourage you to do so. It was one of the three life-changing events that led me to becoming Messianic, for truly, every single element speaks of our Lord.

Shalom!

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