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Passover will be celebrated in Israel under most unusual circumstances this year. Remarkably, every Jewish family will be confined to their homes under strict quarantine as protection from the Coronavirus, drawing stark parallels to that very first Passover in Egypt when the Hebrews were saved from God’s last plague upon Egypt by following the instructions given to them via Moses.
Overlapping with Passover week, Christians around the world are also under strict stay-at-home orders. They will celebrate Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, perhaps even sharing Communion by some kind of online streaming service. Of course, the overlap in meaning runs much deeper than just timing, since the blood of the lamb that saved the Hebrew lives is clearly seen by Christians as a foreshadow of Christ’s shed blood that saves us from the penalty of sin, which is death. No wonder then that John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Egypt itself becomes to the believer a representation of sin, referred to by God in Exodus 20: 2 as “the house of bondage.” Jesus has freed us from the bondage of sin, just as God freed the Hebrews from slavery from Egypt.
The Apostle Paul sums it up this way in:
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6: 20-23
No longer slaves to sin, we are to be slaves to God and His righteousness. This is the freedom into which we have been called, and the freedom we celebrate when we reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection this week.
Last Sunday marked the start of Holy Week as churches around the world celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Apostle John in his gospel records an intriguing conversation Jesus had after this when some Greeks asked to see Him. It’s not clear from scripture whether Jesus’ response was to those Greeks or to His disciples, but what He had to say is certainly relevant for all of us.
Jesus speaks in John 12:24 of the necessity for a grain of wheat to fall to the ground and die to produce much grain. In other words, without death, there can be no provision of life. We see this clearly portrayed in the Passover story, with countless thousands of lambs having been slaughtered that night to save many lives.
But, Jesus’ use of this term grain, or seed reveals a deeper understanding on His part of the unique role to which He was called. When He entered Jerusalem on a donkey the people were shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!”. Perhaps they were expecting a king to drive out the Romans from the holy city, but He turned to the Temple and cleaned it out instead. Within a few days, the city responded by calling for His crucifixion at the hands of their overlords, the Romans.
Yet, the Apostle Peter explains their rejection this way:
“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” Acts 3:17-18
The Jews and their rulers could not comprehend Jesus’ calling as the suffering servant, and yet also the King of Israel. He presented Himself as their King and yet suffered and died as a lamb led to slaughter. Sometimes, in our human thinking we get caught in an “either-or” mentality. This certainly could have been part of the problem.
The term “seed” has two remarkable references in scripture that speak directly to Jesus’ credentials. The first one is found in Genesis where Abraham follows God’s directive to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. In response to Abraham’s obedience, the Lord says to him, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:18
This is the first time that God clarifies for Abraham that it is specifically through his seed that the nations of the earth would be blessed. The term seed here is in the singular referring to one individual who would come to save the world. This ‘seed’ is none other than Jesus Himself.
Another reference to a seed is evident in the Book of 2 Samuel, which records the covenant God made with David:
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7
God promises David that a descendant would come after him, whose kingdom would never end! So, when Jesus implied that He must die, the Jews responded to Him in John 12 vs 43 that the Messiah remains forever when He comes. They were looking for the seed of David but had forgotten that He is also the seed of Abraham. Yes, He is the rightful heir to the throne of David, but He is also the sacrificial lamb God promised to Abraham when he took Isaac up Mount Moriah.
Jesus declares in the book of John:
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32
So, the seed promised to Abraham, would be taken up Mt. Moriah, just as Isaac was and sacrificed for the sins of the world. And through this act, He would fulfill the promise made to Abraham that through his seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed through salvation. Perhaps the Greeks who came to speak with Jesus, were reminded of God’s promise to Abraham 2000 years before. The truth is God called Israel into existence to bring forth for the world the blessings of redemption – the Word of God, the law, the prophets and the messiah (Romans 9:4-5).
The Gospel of Mark records the message Jesus preached as He began His ministry:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15
Jesus message was simple and efficient, in just two sentences explaining that now was the time of messiah, that His kingdom was about to be established and that the way to gain citizenship in that kingdom is to turn from sin and believe in the good news that Jesus paid the price for our sins.
That message is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. This Passover, there is still time for people from every part of the world to respond to Jesus’ invitation, to look upon Him who was lifted up and receive His free gift of salvation.
When Jesus was taken up to heaven after His resurrection, Acts 1 records that two angels appeared to the disciples and told them He would return in the same way. In Revelation 19 we are given a vivid picture of this return as Jesus comes riding on the white horse of victory to rule the nations with a rod of iron. He is the seed promised to King David, and the one whose kingdom will never end.
But, before Jesus’ return the book of Revelation records the judgment that falls suddenly upon Babylon for her sins, destroying her in a single hour and causing the people of the earth to weep and wail at the economic destruction. In the midst of this, God speaks to His people saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4
There is a time coming, and perhaps in God’s grace we have been given a glimpse of it now, when the systems of this world will be judged as Egypt was that very first Passover. And the judgment will be quick, with plagues and devastation leveling the global economy in moment. Just six months ago, these verses may have seemed unbelievable to many people, but in light of the impact one coronavirus has caused, we can see how Scripture can be remarkably fulfilled.
As the people of God, we need to hear the words of warning and use this time of isolation to find our identity in Christ alone. We must live according to His righteousness and forsake the worldly systems that so easily corrupt.
We should take these days seriously, following the lead of Jesus who Himself said,
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” John 12:27-28
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Jesus was honest about what He was about to face, a betrayal and a foreseeable cruel death by crucifixion. It troubled him deeply. Yet, through it all, He understood His purpose, that as the “seed” He was called to that hour and through His faithfulness, God the Father would be glorified in all the earth.
We may find ourselves troubled by the events we see happening in the world today, or even so when we read in Revelation of the complete devastation to come. However, we need the mind of Christ at this time, to understand that He has called us to this hour for a purpose, that God Himself might be glorified. Jesus remains the perfect example for us to follow.
If we will set our minds to seek the Father’s glory, He will surely answer us as He did Jesus, and we will see His name glorified in the earth once more.
HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!