Reflecting on Easter
Some holidays are straightforward when it comes to timing, Christmas is always celebrated on December 25th. This is when we celebrate the birth of Christ, that does not mean he was born on that particular day, but that is a story for another day….
But when it comes to Easter, well…. when is that? You only know because you are told when it is because it moves around by a complicated formula: the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March equinox.
When I lived in America, I noticed that it was nearly coincident with Passover, but never actually coincident. This was a curiosity to me because I was aware that in the Bible, they ARE coincident. Allow me to explain. The term “Easter” is not a Biblical word at all, but Passover is. Passover is the oldest of the Feasts of the Jews – they have been keeping Passover for 3,500 years, ever since they were emancipated from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The Egyptians finally liberated them after the ten plagues and shortly thereafter they walked through the Red Sea which had been parted by God to allow them to escape to safety away from the Egyptian armies trailing them when Pharoah had a change of heart.
The night before they left Egypt, they had kept the Passover as instructed by God. This involved for each household the slaughtering of a lamb which had been kept from the 10th to the 14th day of Nissan (the first month in the Jewish religious calendar), and the blood of the lamb had to be daubed on the doorposts and the lintel of their dwellings, and God said when he sent the destroying angel that “when I see the blood, I will pass-over you”. And so that night, the firstborn of every household in Egypt died, but all of Israel was preserved. The resultant angst of the Egyptians was so great that they permitted, indeed encouraged Israel to go, and they liberally enriched them with gold, silver, and every manner of goods.
It is important to appreciate that Israel as a nation didn’t “cook up” this feast for themselves. It was instituted by God, He commanded them to do it, and they were fully cognisant that if any family did not exactly follow the detailed but clear instructions, they would experience the same fate as the Egyptians; the death of the firstborn in the home.
Now, as we look back on these momentous events, so far back in time, we should consider – Why? What does it all mean? Is there a significance to it that we need to pay attention to now in 2021? Or is it all just a historical curiosity?
Bear in mind a few things that marked the Passover:
It marked the emancipation of the entire nation from the clutches of abject slavery to which they had been subjected for 430 years.
Israel could not have walked away from this situation of their own volition, it required a significant divine intervention, viz., ten plagues sent one after another to punish Egypt for their refusal to let Israel go, culminating in the final one, the death of the firstborn.
A sacrifice was required, blood needed to be shed to escape judgment.
God uses the word “redeem” or “redemption” in this context to show that what was happening in the sacrifice was a redeeming (a buying back) of the firstborn sons, who otherwise would experience the judgment of God.
The climax of the events was that Israel walked away both, free and rich.
Now, let’s fast forward in time 1,500 years approximately, and we are in the time of Christ. Now when Christ’s ministry began, at the age of thirty, he was baptized by John Baptist. One of the remarkable things that John said when he beheld Christ for the first time was: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God, speaking through John Baptist as a Prophet, wanted us to clearly understand that Christ was “God’s Lamb”, that is, one who would be sacrificed, and that sacrifice would be to “take away” the sin of the world.
Now, if we fast forward a further three years, Christ’s ministry on earth is over and he is about to be crucified. Do you know what time of year it was? It was the Feast of the Passover and every male Jew (including Jesus) in Israel was at Jerusalem and this practice had been happening for 1,500 years at this point. As the Jewish leaders deliberated how they would take him without causing a riot – Jesus was enormously popular with the common people:
“Behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19).
They decided it could be any day EXCEPT a feast day. That is, by their reckoning, they could do it ANY day EXCEPT a day like Passover, which would be asking for trouble. “Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty and kill him. But they said, not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Matthew 26:3-5).
Behind the scenes they were colluding with Judas the Traitor, they had agreed on a price and he would deliver Jesus to them, but something unusual happened on the evening that Jesus commemorated the Passover with his disciples. He turned to Judas and looking him straight in the eye said: “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27). At that moment Judas knew that Jesus knew, Judas had betrayed him in clandestine meetings with the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Counsel). There’s a lesson in that, we can hide things from the eyes of man but not the all-seeing eye of God. Until this point, Judas had judged that the Jews would decide precisely WHEN to take him, and he knew that would be anytime, except now. But now Jesus was taking the initiative, He was going to direct events, even if it didn’t look like it with His arrest, but by speaking to Judas He had just precipitated a cascade of events that would result in his crucifixion by 9 am the next morning, Friday (often called Good Friday). This was…Passover!
Exactly, precisely. I can imagine the panic in the breast of Judas as he scurried to Caiaphas to say “He knows what we’re up to”. They would deliberate for hours before deciding to send a mob to arrest him. Judas led the mob to Him, knowing where to find him, the Garden of Gethsemane by the Brook Kidron.
Can you see the divine hand was arranging things thus? This was no accident, no chance. Even though the Jews wanted to have him crucified, they didn’t want it to be at Passover, but Jesus would ensure it was at Passover.
Can you grasp the unequivocal significance of this? If you are in any doubt, Paul spelled it out in 1 Corinthians 5:7 “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”. The reason Christ died at Passover, is because God wanted us to know unmistakably that Christ is our Passover. That is, He is the one who would die for us so that we might be redeemed, in a spiritual but real sense, just as the Israelites were redeemed physically from bondage. But of course, He would not only die, but He would rise again on the Sunday, and He told his disciples this long before these events happened.
After the transfiguration, we read: “And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9). Later we read in Matthew’s gospel:
“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19) Jesus on multiple occasions told His disciples that He would be betrayed, condemned to death and rise again.
In the middle ages, there was a high degree of anti-Semitism in the established Church. And so, rather than being dependent on the Hebrew calendar to fix the date of Easter keeping it in synch with Passover, they came up with a complicated formula, that moved it around every year but also ensured it was never the same weekend as Passover.
Isn’t it an interesting parallel that, in New Testament times, the religious authorities - who were Jewish but ungodly - wanted to avoid Christ dying on Passover, but despite all their machinations and schemes, Christ died exactly at Passover. In more recent times – specifically the middle ages, the religious authorities who were Christian in name but no more godly than the Jews who crucified Christ, again wanted to avoid any coincidence in people’s minds between the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian festival of Easter by reworking the dates so they were different.
Despite all this sophistry by ‘authorities’, the facts remain unalterable. Christ died at Passover and can be called “our Passover” – though we must believe in Him to claim that.
Now, when God sent His Son into the world, he had a clear mission: “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1John 4:14-15).
Sadly, from the beginning man has been an incorrigible rebel, disobedient, selfish, sinful, and in many cases downright wicked. Despite what man is – God loved the world and sent His Son to be the Saviour. To be the Passover Lamb and die as a sacrifice.
But now he asks us to confess him, to believe in him, to accept the truth of who he is - the Son of God.
Moses who led Israel spoke of the coming of Christ in a later day:
“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Have you hearkened to him? Have you followed God’s detailed and clear instructions? Or are you going to hope for the best but pretty much ignore the Bible and all that God has revealed? The greatest issue of our day is not Covid, or Brexit or Scottish Independence, or the Environment. The issue supreme above all is eternity. Despite what men may think, God is not enigmatic – unknowable, or remote, or distant. Paul could testify: “I know him” (Philippians 3:10), and “though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Christ rose from the dead on the 3rd day, we celebrate this on Easter Sunday. He rose to die no more, and now He offers us eternal life. If you believe in Him this Easter, genuinely with all your heart, I can tell you on the authority of the Word of God that you will receive a gift that only He can give, eternal life. Your life will change, not gradually, not through effort, but instantly, marvellously, irrevocably as God cancels out all the debts of your past you would rather not talk about. He will give you peace, not some kind of zen-like state achieved through mediation, but something much greater, what is described in Scripture as a “peace that is better than understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) You will have peace with God and the peace of God. (Romans 5:1) A. Lockhart