They say that when we get older, two things happen. First, our memory gets fuzzy. And the second thing is…I don’t remember.
We all have the tendency if not to completely forget the past, to at least modify our memory. That’s why we talk about the “good old days” even though they may not have been all that good. Someone once asked my mom why she would dress all three of her boys in the same outfits and her response was if she did not, then we would exchange shirts and get the one we wanted. Well, you see, that’s a memory modification because we would exchange shirts but only after we had fought about it and the strongest got the shirt he wanted. I won’t say that was me but I am the oldest.
Memory modification allows us to improve our history, adjust our self-image and protect ourselves from pain and embarrassment. How else can you explain the phenomenon of how the older a man gets, the faster he could run as a young man?
God understands this tendency we have to forget so throughout the Bible we see him setting up memorials and giving us emblems to help us remember and never forget. The rainbow in the sky and the day of rest are two examples of things God gave us to remind us of his mercy and power. The Old Testament also includes specific smells, the using of certain types of incense in worship for instance, that would always make the people think of God. Those are powerful symbols that we can understand – we all have a hundred memories that rush back to us at the smell of fresh cut grass, or of cookies baking, or the smell of a pipe or cigar.
Israel first came to live in Egypt as an honored family. Remember the story from Genesis? After Joseph was sold into slavery he wound up in Egypt where he rose to be second only to Pharaoh. A great famine swept over the land and everyone had to come to Joseph for help, including his brothers who had sold him into slavery. After a tearful reunion, the whole family, some 70 members, settled in the land of Goshen, a very rich and prestigious neighborhood of Egypt.
And for the next 430 years the family lived in Egypt. To put that into perspective: Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was founded in 1607 - only 411 years ago. The Bible tells us that when the Hebrew children finally left Egypt there were 600,000 men. Add in the women and children and we are talking about a group of maybe 2 million or more people. Most of us have been on the Beltway during rush hour (I did when I moved here almost a year and a half ago) and it is said there are as many as 600,000 vehicles on the Beltway from 3-6 pm. It was this extraordinary growth of the Israelites that changed their status from honored landowners to slaves. The Egyptians, after a generation or so, forgot who Joseph and his family were and they became afraid because these foreigners’ numbers were growing so fast. They were afraid the Israelites would try to take over so they forced them into manual labor to hold them down.
First the Egyptians made life miserable and used them ruthlessly and then they tried to destroy the race by killing all the boys that were born. The Israelites cried out to God for help and he heard their cry and sent Moses. Pharaoh did not want to lose this free labor so he refused to let them go and God, through Moses, attacked the land with the ten plagues. Interestingly, the ten plagues were all attacks on the various gods and goddesses the Egyptians worshipped.
The last plague was to be the death of the first born and God devised a plan to protect his people during this plague. In Exodus 12 he gives detailed instructions on what they were to do that evening and told them that they were to re-enact the meal served that night every year as a reminder of how God passed over them and delivered them from slavery.
The Passover has long been the most important feast on the Jewish calendar and God used the emblems of the feast not only to remind the Jews of how he saved them a long time ago but to teach how he saves us now. You see, it was not just a coincidence that Jesus died during the Jewish Passover. The Passover is also a foreshadowing of Jesus.
So, let’s never forget…
I. THE PURPOSE OF THE PASSOVER
Look at Exodus 12:1 & 2. 1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.
What God was about to do was going to be so important that the Israelites would change their entire calendar. The Bible says that the Israelites constantly whined and complained the whole time Moses led them. I wonder, when Moses told them that they were going to change their calendars, if the people complained. Did some gripe because they had just bought a new calendar using the old system? Did some bellyache because they preferred the old way?
You’ve heard the seven last words of the church, haven’t you? “We’ve never done it that way before!” They are the last words because when we have that attitude the church becomes stifled, God cannot work miracles, and we become as good as dead.
Verses 3-5: 3Tell 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. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.
These are rather specific instructions and God continues to give specific instructions in the next few verses. Why is God being so specific? First, it seems to be because God was not interested in waste. If a lamb was going to be sacrificed, it should be completely eaten or the act was wasted. Second, the Passover was to be a time celebrated with a group – not a solitary ritual you could do by yourself. Later, the tradition of the rabbis’ suggests that you need ten people to celebrate the meal together.
We celebrate together today in church. Sure, you can read Scripture, you can pray, you can sing songs and you can even give an offering by yourself but God wants us to share those things together. Everyone’s greatest need is to be needed and fellowship at church should meet that need. We do ourselves a disservice in church by having pews lined up in rows. Instead of fellowship, we stare at the back of the head in front of us. Instead of interacting, we set up comfort zones or our personal space and cut ourselves off from each other. Americans like their personal space that’s why you will seldom see any of our pews, which can seat 6, have that many sitting there.
Verse 6 is very interesting: 6 Take care of them (that’s the lamb they would be sacrificing) until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.
Verse 3 told us they were to pick out a lamb on the 10th day of the month but verse 6 says they would not sacrifice that lamb until the 14th. Why this delay? Now some suggest that it was to fatten the animal up a little and I suppose there is some truth to that. In addition, if you pick out your lamb four days in advance you will be sure to have one. There will be no last minute rushing around trying to find the right sacrifice.
But I wonder if part of the reason for picking this animal four days before the sacrifice was to cause the family to bond with the lamb. I have found no commentary that supports this but it has really stuck in my mind. You see, it is one thing to kill a random animal but another to sacrifice a family pet.
I never thought I was that attached to Midnight. The girls had brought him home one day and asked if they could keep him and after they all moved out of the house, he became JD’s dog. I basically ignored the animal except to make sure it was fed. Most of the time, we kept him chained up in the back yard. But then one day he got very sick and the vet recommended we put him to sleep. I was surprised at how hard it was for me to put his collar on and take him to the car. He always loved going for a ride but this was going to be his last. My heart broke as the person at the vet’s office took him to the back room and he, as best he could when you consider how sick he was, excitedly went with them, wagging his tail behind him. They asked me to wait and after a few minutes they came back out and gave me his collar and I cried all the way home over that silly dog I did not want anyway.
Now, animal sacrifice is a messy and nasty thing, especially in our eyes today. Someone has said that if you visit a sausage factory you will never eat sausage again. The idea of killing an innocent animal is vulgar, barbarian and completely opposite of what we hold to be true and good. And that is exactly why the system was set up: not because it was easy but because it was horrible. Punishment for sin is not a pleasant thing and what God did for us takes on new meaning when we understand that. Sacrifice, by definition, is not easy so maybe God wanted the Israelites to think about that when they offered their Passover lamb.
Verse 7: 7 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.
Now blood on a doorpost is not a good look, no matter who you are. I imagine that for the rest of the evening the Israelites would stare at the door and think about the death of that innocent lamb. Most churches today have a cross somewhere. Hebrews 9:22 tells us what we should be reminded of: 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
The law required that nearly everything be cleansed with blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Without Jesus shedding his blood on the cross, we cannot be saved. May I suggest that the crosses we put up at church are a sanitized version because they have no blood on them?
Exodus 12 continues with that thought in verses 8-14: 8That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire--head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 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.
12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 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.
14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD--a lasting ordinance.
God delivered the Israelites from slavery and protected them from the judgment he was about to pass on the Egyptians but notice that, again, he gave specific instructions. God saves us on his terms not on ours. It is not up to us to decide how we are saved rather it is up to God to spell out his conditions. He did that for the Israelites in Egypt and he does that for us today. Simply put: Salvation is by faith, through grace, in baptism, for good works. Anything more or less is our attempts to make the rules.
Notice also that God told the Israelites to eat the meal quickly and to eat it dressed and ready to leave. There was anticipation involved that said God was going to do something and that he was going to do it quickly. Do we come to church anticipating what God will do? Or are we satisfied with going through the same old motions?
God wants and is willing to work through us here at Sterling Park. The only question is: are you looking for God to do something? What will he do today?
Well, as great as the Passover was, we should never forget…
II. THE CONNECTION WITH CHRIST
Let me read just part of a verse, 1 Corinthians 5:7.
…For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
The similarities between the Passover and Jesus are clear and obvious. If God ever did something in the Old Testament to point us to Jesus, this would be it. Just as it was the blood on the door that caused the angel of death to pass over the Israelites and save them, the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary takes away God’s wrath and saves us.
In Matthew 26, Jesus is celebrating the traditional Jewish Passover with his apostles and he changes the meaning of part of the meal to represent the new covenant, or promise of God. He took the unleavened bread and gave it new meaning. Before it represented how the Israelites were going to leave Egypt quickly now it represents (or reminds us) of the body of Jesus which hung on the cross for our sins. Then he took the cup of wine served with the meal and proclaimed that it now represents his blood shed for us.
Much confusion has infiltrated the church over the centuries as theologians have tried to grasp with what this ceremony means. The result is I’m afraid we often have been sidetracked from the real purpose. Arguments and church splits have occurred as to whether the bread and wine is actually the body of Christ or just represents it. Feelings have been crushed and confusion has reigned when churches have tried to determine who is worthy to take the emblems. Even the first century church struggled with the ceremony as some non-Christians wondered if Christians were cannibals, actually eating a body and drinking blood, and Paul had to discipline some in Corinth who made the communion service a party by getting drunk and selfishly hogging everything for themselves.
Even today many do not understand why we serve communion every Sunday. Many churches only serve it once a month or once a quarter or only on special occasions. All those things, however, miss the point and cause us to forget why we have the symbols of the Lord’s Supper in the first place.
The communion is simply a devise to help us focus and remember what Jesus did for us on the cross. It’s that simple: nothing more, nothing less. The communion juice we use is just grape juice. The S & M Communion Bread Company out of Nashville, Tennessee use an old family recipe of bleached wheat flour, vegetable shortening, salt and water and is the most popular supplier of communion bread in the country.
We could make our own bread and we could use another brand of grape juice or, as some churches do, we could use wine. Some churches have been known to use only one cup to drink out of (and in the Catholic Church only the priest drinks the wine). We take the bread and cup when it is passed to us but I have been in churches where you hold the emblems until you are ready and in some churches they pass the bread out, everyone eats the bread then the cups are passed out and everyone drinks together. Sometimes here we just leave the cups and bread on the table and invite you to come forward and serve yourself. All those things are methodology which can change from time to time and place to place. What doesn’t change is the purpose.
And the purpose is to never forget what Jesus did. That is why we have communion every Sunday – to help us focus on and never forget because our minds wander and we so often forget. The complaint against weekly observance is that it becomes routine. That may be true but that means when we have communion we should think more about what we are doing and why. If we do that then it never gets old or routine.
We gather weekly to remember that Jesus died for our sins. That’s why we take communion every week – because everything else is secondary and of far less importance than the fact that Jesus died on the cross for you and me.