Posts tagged ‘Passover’

Passover and Holiness, Part 4

To wrap up this series on Passover and holiness, I want to reflect a bit on some historic connection between the Passover story and the Holiness Movement.

The story of Passover is contained in the book of Exodus, and although when we talk about Passover we most often think of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, we should not forget that the Passover is merely part of the tale of Exodus. The early proponents of the American Holiness movement did not miss this, and they were able to use the story of the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert as an analogy for the spiritual journey that the individual Christian took to get from justification –their initial salvation experience — to entire sanctification.

In the early 19thcentury, the holiness teachings that American Methodism had received from John Wesley had begun to be abandoned. Timothy Merritt, a Methodist Episcopal minister in New England, was an early voice to reaffirm the doctrine of entire sanctification as essential to those seeking holiness.

In his The Christian’s manual, a treatise on Christian perfection: With directions for obtaining that state, Merritt drew parallels between the Exodus and the spiritual journey a Christian must make to achieve entire sanctification. He posits the connection as being obedience to God:

“The distance between justification to sanctification is not great, and it is soon passed over, if we be obedient to our spiritual guide, and do not fall into idolatry, nor turn back in our hearts to spiritual Egypt. The children of Israel came to the borders of Canaan within a year and a half from their leaving Egypt …But those who could not trust the Lord were easily discouraged by the difficulties which lay in their way … God was displeased and ordered them to turn again to the wilderness, where they were doomed to wander forty years. This was not in the original design of God concerning them. Had they been obedient to his command, they might have been in their possession of the promised land forty years sooner.”

As the Holiness revival bloomed fully in the 19th century, the Exodus continued to have meaning to those who sought to be sanctified. This was particularly important during the era of the holiness camp meeting. The first such meeting, labeled the National Camp Meeting, was held July 17-26, 1867 in Vineland, New Jersey, and resulted in the birth of the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. In years to come, this ecumenical organization would oversee a transformative movement that grew rapidly and fruitfully. Seizing upon a tide of interest in holiness, the Association formed a publishing venture, the National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness, which launched the Methodist Home Journal and a host of other inexpensive holiness literature.

A dominant image preached at the camp meetings and promoted through literature was that the sanctified Christian might encounter a small piece of heaven while still on earth. Drawing from Scripture and the writings of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, the camp meetings developed a metaphor in which, according to Charles Edwin Jones, “holiness writers established between the pilgrimage of Bunyan’s Christian and the Exodus; between the Wesleyan theology of salvation and Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan; and between the experience of entire sanctification or perfect love and the believer’s residence in the Promised Land, also referred to as Canaan or Beulah.”

Holiness songwriters seized on this metaphor, most notably in Edgar Page Stites’ “Beulah Land” (1875):

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heav’n, my home, for evermore!

These are metaphors that are seldom heard in holiness circles these day, but should perhaps be revived. How does your journey of sanctification relate to such metaphors? Have you been obedient, or have you had to tarry in the wilderness with the Promised Land in sight?

Passover and Holiness, Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I talked about the significance of the matzah, the unleavened bread which is eaten as part of the Passover seder, or meal. This third post will examine the importance of the matzah for what it can tell us about God.

One of the items that is found on the Passover table is called the matzah tosh. This is a pouch, separated into three layers, into which three sheets of matzah are placed. During the seder, the middle layer of matzah is removed from the pouch, and after a blessing is recited it is broken in half. One half is set aside and the other half is given a special name: afikomen. The word is a Greek term which means “that which comes later,” which is an excellent description, since that is exactly what happens. The afikomen doesn’t get eaten at that point; it is kept for later. At that  point in the seder, it is hidden away, or buried.

Much later in the seder — usually after a fantastic meal has been consumed — any children present are sent to search for the afikomen. That which was broken and buried is brought back, and in this customer of the afikomen we can see a picture of Christ. He too was broken, buried, and brought back.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” (Mark 16:6)

The matzah itself — being unleavened, and therefore symbolizing a sinless nature — speaks to us of Jesus. Jewish rabbis long ago set forth the regulations by which matzah is acceptable for use at Passover. One of these is that matzah must be pierced. Jesus was pierced. God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, saying:

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  (Zechariah 12:10)

Wondering what any of this has to do with the matzah tosh? Read on!

Judaism has always had a fair bit of disagreement about the meaning of the pouch, and its nature as three in one.  Some rabbis and sages have taught that the matzah tosh symbolizes the three Patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is plausible, but fails to account for why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back.  Other teachers within Judaism have said that the matzah tosh represents three divisions of worship in the ancient kingdom: the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel.  This too is plausible, but again fails to explain the middle matzah is  broken, buried, and then brought back.  Yet other Jewish sages and scholars have taught that the matzah tosh symobolizes three crowns: the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.  Once more, this gives no explanation as to why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back  In contemporary Judaism, there is no recollection of the origin of the traditions of the matzah tosh and the afikomen.  Thus we can see numerous and sometimes competing explanations.

There is, however, an explanation whose roots go back to the 1st century. The matzah tosh contains three layers that form a unity — the matzah tosh is triune.  There is a Hebrew word, echad,  which can be used to describe just such a unity. In Scripture, it is found in some important places, such as the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” 

The word used for “one” in the Shema sentence is “echad” –a unity.  During the Passover celebration, the middle layer of this unity — this echad — is made visible to us, while the other two remain hidden from our view. This should resonate with Christians when we consider the New Testament’s statement of the Godhead:

“In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

 The  unity of the matzo tosh can bear testimony to the triune nature of the one God who has revealed Himself  to mankind in three persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy  Spirit.  The explanation of  the  middle matzah being broken, buried, and then brought back is as  a symbol of Jesus, the Son, who was    broken, buried, and then brought back. We have just memorialized this glorious Resurrection, as we do each  year at Easter.

Passover and Holiness, Part 2

In Exodus 12, we read of the institution of the Passover feast. In addition to the lamb, we see  another item that the Lord commands to be eaten during the celebration of Passover.

 “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven  from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the  seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a solemn  assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those  days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance. In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:5-20)

The eating of unleavened bread — in Hebrew matzah — is a separate holiday called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Today the observation of the two feasts are not seen as separate, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning on the first night of Passover. Exodus tells us that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste that their bread had no time to rise — in other words, it was not leavened.

In Scripture, leaven is often used to symbolize sin, such as in Paul’s admonition to the Galatians.

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (Galatians 5:9)

Leaven is what caused the dough to rise. In the same fashion, sin causes us to rise in our own estimation. When the leaven of sin is in our lives, we become unable to make Jesus our primary focus. Leaven is the enemy of holiness. During Passover, ceasing to eat leaven is a way of saying we wish to remove sin from our lives. In fact, when Orthodox Jewish families prepare to celebrate Passover, they often spend up to 6 weeks prior to the holiday cleaning their house and ensuring there is no leaven within. Perhaps this is why Paul wrote to the Corinthian church,

“Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Is there leaven in your life? If so, what will it take to clear it out?

Passover and Holiness, Part 1

 It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it carries great meaning to me. The Jewish  holiday of Passover falls during Holy Week this year. I was born and raised in a Jewish  family, came to faith at a Messianic Jewish congregation, and spent eight years in Jewish  missions prior to my involvement with the Church of the Nazarene. I believe many of the  biblical feasts carry great significance for Christians, so in this and the next couple of  posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on why Passover should mean something to holiness  people.

Passover celebrates God’s redemption of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt, as  told in the book of Exodus. Part of the story involves the ten plagues which God sent  against Egypt, in order to convince the Pharoah to let the children of Israel go.

  • The Plague of Blood
  • The Plague of Frogs
  • The Plague of Gnats
  • The Plague of Wild Beasts
  • The Plague of Pestilence
  • The Plague of Boils
  • The Plague of Hail
  • The Plague of Locusts
  • The Plague of Darkness
  • The Death of the Firstborn

It is during the last plague, the death of the firstborn, that the Passover feast was instituted. According to Exodus 12, God commanded Moses,

“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. ”
 (Exodus 12:2-14)

Note that it is the blood of the Passover lamb which protects the Israelites from the consequences of the final devastating plague which is visited upon Egypt. The lamb was without any blemish, and its bones were not to be broken. Its an amazing picture of God’s grace and redemption towards His chosen people, but it is merely a shadow of an even greater redemption: the Messiah Jesus. It was Jesus of whom John the Baptist declared,

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The Passover event foreshadowed a greater sacrifice, in the death of Jesus. Christ was without the blemish of sin, and none of His bones were broken in His death — just as none of the original Passover lambs’ bones were broken when they were sacrificed. Just as the blood of the lambs saved the Israelites, the blood of the Lamb saves us all from death. Those first lambs redeemed the Israelites from the physical death which the tenth plague brought, yet Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for something far greater: redemption of the whole world from sin. For a Christian to miss this is to miss the entire meaning of Holy Week : what took place on the cross was an atonement greater than any animal sacrifice, a gift that gives eternal life to those who place their faith in Him.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This is what the focus of all who claim to follow Jesus should be during Holy Week.

In the next posts, I will discuss the symbolism of special foods eaten during Passover, and how they can point us to holiness and an understanding of the nature of God.

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