God's Easter Parable

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Exodus 12:1-11

Jesus taught with parables, Mat 13:34 "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them."

I believe that the Jewish Passover feast is God’s own parable of the ultimate sacrifice — the “Lamb of God” was sacrificed for the sins of man. It is really too bad that most Jews were blinded to the beauty of this wonderful parable.

There were many types of offerings and for each a specific animal was required. A few exceptions were made for the poor, but every animal was to be "without blemish." The scriptures dictated the who, what, where, when, how and why. The Passover was the most important Jewish holiday, the sacrificial lamb was special.

• A yearling male without blemish; separated from the flock by the 10th of Nisan (Abib);
• Groomed and fattened until the 14th;
• Slaughtered by priests in the temple on the 14th. Its blood was sprinkled on the altar;
• Eaten by the family with unleavened bread after sunset, on the beginning of the 15th.
• The Passover or Feast of Unleavened Bread.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Although this scene is depicted on many Christmas cards and played out in church programs, few give the matter much thought.

Normally, sheep were kept in a stall or fold at night. One shepherd would have sufficed to watch over a flock of sheep. The shepherds mentioned in Luke 2 were obviously watching sheep that were on their way to be sold in the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.

In earlier times, most Jews kept animals, including sheep, but the times had changed when Jesus was born. Many lived in towns or cities, had shops or worked at trades like the carpenter, Joseph, and the disciples, who were mostly fishermen. Not a few pilgrims traveled great distances to get to Jerusalem, so it was more convenient to purchase sacrificial animals in Jerusalem than to bring an animal.

Shepherds were always on the lookout for suitable animals for sacrifice because these could be sold at the temple for a higher price. Some drove flocks of sacrificial animals over great distances to be sold in the temple courtyard. They were careful not to drive them too hard. Upon arrival, the animals needed to get rested, fattened and cleaned up before they were saleable. The rural environs and close proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem made it the ideal "holding area" for sacrificial animals.

Over the years a cult-like tradition had developed around the Passover lamb. When the shepherds brought their animals into Jerusalem, it was a festive occasion that drew crowds of spectators much like our July 4th parades today. I am reminded of the festive end-of-summer cattle drives in the Austrian Alps, when cows are decorated with flower garlands and bells for their return to the valley for the winter.

Shepherds carried their carefully manicured lambs on their shoulders, on donkeys or on decorated wagons through the streets of Jerusalem as people cheered for their favorites. Great care was given to keep the animals spotless. Those with money would later vie with one another in the temple courtyard to purchase the nicest lamb while lesser endowed pilgrims had to settle for whatever they could afford. The poorest had to wait until the afternoon of the 13th or find another poor family to share the cost of a lamb. There was a certain stigma associated with being poor and piety was measured by a persons financial status.

We can now perhaps better imagine the scene on that eventful 10th of Nisan when the lambs were paraded into the city to the joyous cheers of thousands of pilgrims. Right in the center of all that activity, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21 and Luke 19). The crowds recognized him and began to shout, “Hosanna thou son of David!” They spread their garments and palm branches on the road before him. We are reminded of the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29, "Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!" Children and disciples continued to shout praises even after Jesus entered the temple. It is easy to understand why the Pharisees became furious and demanded of Jesus that he silence his worshippers. Instead, Jesus admonished the Pharisees for not knowing the scriptures and said that if these should be silent, the rocks would cry out!

Before the feast of the Passover could be celebrated, the houses had to be cleansed of all leaven. Homes were searched between the 10th and 13th of Nisan to ascertain that no trace of leaven remained by the evening of the 14th, when the lamb was slain and the Passover meal prepared.

The Apostle Paul gave this practice new meaning for Christians when he wrote, "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
(I Corinthians 5:7-8)

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple area and physically threw out the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. The “cleansing of the temple” took place at the time when Jews were searching for and ridding their homes of leaven in preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

An explanation is in order here. Jewish leaders insisted that the tribute money (temple tax) required of every adult be paid in the special coinage of the sanctuary. The same was true for purchasing (over-priced) animals for sacrifices. This money was only available at exorbitant exchange rates from official money changers who sat in Solomon’s Porch or the Court of the Gentiles. Jewish leaders should have forbidden such an unethical practice, for it was explicitly forbidden in Proverbs 20:23 and other Old Testament passages. Instead, they actually endorsed the practice because it had become a lucrative source of income. Jesus claimed that they had turned his house of prayer into a den of thieves!

The 14th of Nisan was the day of preparation for the feast of unleavened bread.

The King James Bible says, Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover? (Matthew 26:17). For this reason, some argue that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover feast like all other Jews. The Greek merely says, “the first day of unleavened bread” and the word “feast” is inserted in italics. This is an important distinction, for the “feast of unleavened bread” was eaten on the 15th of Nisan (after sunset), but the first day of unleavened bread was the 14th of Nisan, the day of preparation.

John’s Gospel speaks of a “supper” and even states emphatically that “it was not yet the Passover” (John 13:1-2). Although this meal was not the regular feast of unleavened bread, it was celebrated as such because Jesus wanted it that way. He said, I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15).

He would be in the grave when the Jews ate their feast, but he yearned to partake with his disciples. It is interesting to note that Leviticus 23:5-6 says, In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD.

According to John 13:30, it was already night when Judas left. The other disciples assumed that he was going shopping for things they would need for the actual Passover feast. The markets were still open. This would not have been possible if it had been on the 15th of Nisan, which was a holy day.

The Passover was to remind Israel of God’s salvation by sacrificing a perfect lamb, and it was on this afternoon that the Passover lamb was to be slain.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all nature has been under the curse of sin. There has, consequently, never been a perfect sacrificial lamb. All those millions of animals sacrificed in Old Testament times could only be symbols of the perfect Lamb of God which would someday be slain for the sins of all mankind.

The disciples celebrated the feast of the Passover with the very Lamb of God! After the crucifixion of Christ, no further sacrifice would be necessary for the forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 10:12-18). At this meal, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and shared the cup and bread with them as symbols of his ultimate sacrifice for their sin.

After Jesus ate the meal with his disciples, he went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. While he prayed, sweating great drops of blood, three disciples who accompanied him slept. Shortly afterwards he was betrayed by Judas and taken captive by the soldiers. He was persecuted throughout the night. A crown of thorns was pressed onto his head. Soldiers spit on him, beat him and mocked him.

When it was morning, the cock crowed and Peter went out and wept bitterly. The Day of Preparation had dawned. On this day, Jesus was tried and pronounced “not guilty” three times, yet in order to appease the Jews, Pilate delivered him to the executioners. Jesus was crucified in the third hour and he died at the ninth hour. There was a great darkness and an earthquake. The crucifixion of Christ took place at the very time in which the Passover lamb was normally slain!

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemas placed his body in the tomb shortly before sunset on Thursday, the 14th of Nisan.

The 15th of Nisan began Thursday evening at sundown. This was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and a holy day.

In that first Passover night, Exodus 12:11 instructs God’s people to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S Passover. Certainly this described the anxious disciples hiding behind bolted doors. Unbelieving Egyptians, however, ate and drank as usual, unaware of pending judgment. In similar manner, Jewish leaders celebrated their supposed victory in the death and burial of Christ, and enjoyed their sumptuous Passover feast according to tradition.

The 15th and 16th of Nisan were days of rest (John 19:31 "megas sabbath"). The Pharisees, Sadducees, High Priests and Scribes rested and waited after the strenuous activities of the past few days. Only the Levite priests fulfilled their normal obligations in the temple.

The body of Christ had been laid to rest in the tomb and his spirit was resting in Paradise. The disciples awaited their uncertain destiny in a room with the doors secured. Several of the women were waiting for the Sabbath to end in order to buy embalming spices. Soldiers waited at the tomb. Theirs was presumed an easy task, preventing frightened disciples from attempting to move the heavy stone and steal the body of Jesus.

We too must wait while evil men seem to be in control. Waiting is not easy and it tests our faith, often to its limits. Although the price has been paid for our sins, eternal life is assured us. The enemy has been defeated on the cross, but we must wait and endure until that glorious appearing of our Savior.

The gospels give varying accounts of what happened early Sunday morning and Bible critics delight in pointing out the minor differences in these eyewitness reports. Mark and Luke speak of three women while Matthew mentions two Marys and John only speaks of Mary Magdalene. Three gospel writers mention two angels but Matthew only one. What is of utmost importance, is the proclamation of the angels and witness of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead!

Mary Magdalene stood near the empty tomb weeping. There was much she could not understand. Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary thought he was the gardener. Why the gardener? Might he who would not break a bruised reed (Matthew 12:20), have been straightening flowers which the soldiers had trampled under foot in their hasty retreat from the tomb? Jesus then called her by name, “Mary!” Only then did she begin to understand (John 20:1-16).

As with the feast of the Passover, the Lord's Supper or Communion looks to the past, observes the present and sees the future.

The Jews celebrated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt in keeping the Passover. Today, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Communion looking back on the cross. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death (I Corinthians 11:26).

But we are also partakers with him in the present. Jews could take comfort in the fact that God was on their side. He would always provide for the faithful and never forsake them. Attempts of evil men to destroy them would be futile. Christians today are told to be faithful and believe in him in spite of persecution. Jesus told his followers that they must take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). The Lord had not yet been crucified when he made that statement but the disciples knew exactly what he was talking about. We are entrusted with the Great Commission, to take the gospel to all the world and to be his witnesses.

Finally, the Lord’s supper looks ahead — till he comes. The Jews were led out of bondage, but they were heading for the Promised Land. We too are pilgrims and strangers here on earth, but Jesus is coming again to receive his own. We must wait patiently and watch.

There are portions of the Bible that I do not comprehend, but God only expects me to obey what I do understand. I refuse to place myself in a position above the Bible. I subject myself to God’s Word and blame my own inability to understand rather than question the Bible’s credibility.

Like the patriarch Job, I personally know that my Redeemer lives. He calls me by name and leads me like a shepherd through dark valleys and on mountain tops. He answers prayer and gives peace and joy in spite of difficult circumstances. This cannot be understood by anyone who does not believe.

Some call me a fool for believing, but after more than 60 years of living for and serving Christ, I don’t regret a moment of it and encourage others to do the same. If I have been deceived, I certainly didn’t miss anything good and I’ve been spared much evil.

People should be thankful if I was really "deluded" at 19 years of age in a Memorial Day service at Camp Haluwasa, in Southern New Jersey. They should be happy that my life took a dramatic turn for the better! That rebel, Ralph, became a missionary. Those drug addicts who were freed from the chains of addiction during our years of youth work in Linz, Austria, profited immensely by my “delusion.” The young people who were trained in our Bible Institute to become missionaries, pastors and Christian workers have enjoyed the blessings of their “delusion” as have individuals whose lives were touched by these graduates.

No, it is not those who give their lives in service to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who are deluded and missing out on life. People who attempt to live godlessly are to be pitied. They have nowhere to turn for comfort and help when life takes a bad turn and no one to thank for sunshine, rain and the beauty of nature. They may think that they are doing fine and are in control of their destinies. They can believe that Christians are "deluded," but the day of Christ's appearing will bring all to light. Evil will be judged and faith eternally rewarded.

Perhaps you believe that Jesus is dead. You believe the soldier’s fantastic tale, that they saw the disciples break the seal and roll the heavy stone from the tomb and steal a corpse while they slept. Or you may deny that Jesus was crucified or that he ever existed. Perhaps you believe the disciples wrote those unflattering tales of their own failures and weaknesses in order to win a following. Are you any better off for believing that? Or does your belief allow you to live immorally, to be dishonest, untruthful, and to seek your own advantage at the expense of others?

If so, you are not much different from the Pharisees of Jesus day. They concocted their own religion which allowed them to take advantage of poor pilgrims for their own enrichment. They ridiculed and slandered the innocent, the righteous and repentant sinners. They robbed orphans and widows while praying pious prayers. They tortured and crucified a man whom they knew had done no wrong. They paid bribes to the traitor Judas and lying soldiers, and when they were finished, they sat down to enjoy their religious feasts just like many hypocrites do at Christmas and Easter today.

A sealed tomb could no more contain the living Christ than a barricaded room full of scared disciples could prevent him from entering, but disbelief can keep him out of your heart and life. I prefer to believe, for even when I doubt, Jesus breaks through and assures me of his living presence!

Ralph V Harvey