The significance of the Passover almost transcends human understanding! Therefore, as this most solemn observance of the year approaches once again, we should review the meaning of the Passover, and consider the tremendous price Christ paid — FOR US — so we can partake of the Passover "in a worthy manner," and with a sense of deep appreciation.
To most of the Jews, He was just another rabble-rouser — a religious fanatic who disrupted society. To the Pharisees, He was an archrival, a competitor, a dangerous ringleader of a new "cult," a threat to their authority over the people. To the Romans, He was just another Jewish troublemaker — a popular "magician" who deceived people and stirred up discontent. To Pilate, He seemed "harmless" — but since the Jewish leaders wanted Him put to death, and to avoid a seditious riot, Pilate gave in to their request. But what is Christ Jesus to you? Those of us in God's Church know the truth. We know, as Peter declared, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God — the Messiah — our Savior!
Importance of the Passover
Every year as the Passover season approaches, God's people stop to examine themselves and their relationship to Jesus Christ, our "Passover Lamb" who was sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7). The Passover is the most solemn occasion of the whole year, a time when we review in our minds the meaning of human life, and how Christ made salvation possible for us. The Passover marks the BEGINNING of God's Plan — the first step toward salvation. Christ made salvation possible by giving His life for us. For this reason the Apostle Paul wrote: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of NO reputation ["emptied" Himself], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). We need to think deeply about the price Christ paid, and consider the example He set — for we are commanded by God to have the same attitude toward each other that Christ had toward us — one of self-sacrifice and outgoing love.
Our Savior Was Human
We read in John 1:14 that the Word, the Logos of God, actually "WAS MADE FLESH." So Christ most definitely was not a remote, unreachable, isolated, nonhuman "God-being" who could not be hurt or afflicted by anything physical, fleshly or earthly. He divested Himself of His primordial divinity. He literally became a man! Says the Apostle Paul: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.... For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him [the nature of] the seed of Abraham" (Heb. 2:14-16). Christ was human — just as you and I are human. He had to struggle against Satan and his world just as we do. He also had to resist temptation and fight against the lusts of the flesh. As Paul continued, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (verse 18). Hebrews 4, verse 15 explains further: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." How plain it is that — Christ went through all the human temptations which are natural to man. But there was one great difference — He never gave in. He never SINNED! Yet considering the fact that Christ was in excellent health, and lived a vigorous masculine life, and considering the sufferings and trials He had to go through; no doubt He was tempted far more than any other man who has ever lived. "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being MADE PERFECT, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:7-9). Christ, the Son of God, the Logos made flesh, was acutely human. But He rose above His humanity. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He struggled against temptation. And in so doing, He became our Savior. He, God in the flesh, died for us — took our place on death row — so that we might live forever with Him! The Passover is God's yearly memorial of that fact. But just how much was Christ tempted! Just what did He have to go through for us? Is there any way in which we can begin to grasp just what He did for us, as individuals? Let's review the events leading up to the crucifixion and death of Christ, and think deeply about those final hours in His life as His earthly ministry came to a close.
That Fateful Evening
The last day of Christ's human life probably began much as any other day — with one difference: It was the celebration of the annual Passover when the people of Israel killed the Passover lamb, in remembrance of the first Passover kept in Egypt when the firstborn children of Israel were spared But Christ knew, as that Passover approached, that it would be His last one on earth at that time. At that last Passover dinner Christ told His disciples: "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me? (Matt. 26.21), He added: "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (verse 23). One of the twelve apostles — Judas Iscariot — was the one who betrayed Him. One of Christ's closest friends — a person with whom He had spent many hours during the past three and one-half years. Christ felt as David wrote in the Psalms: "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Ps. 41:9, RSV). Can you imagine what it would be like for one of your closest friends and confidants to betray you? What must it be like to know that a close and loved friend is about to cause you to be put to death? After partaking of the Passover supper and changing the emblems of the Passover to the bread and wine, typifying Christ's broken body and shed blood for our sins, Christ Jesus gathered with His disciples for a final hymn (Mark 14:26). Late that same evening Jesus took His disciples, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives — that mountain to which He is soon going to return (Zech. 14:4). They came to a garden nearby called Gethsemane, meaning "an oil press," probably a small olive grove. Jesus then took with Him James, Peter and John, "and began to be greatly distressed and troubled" (Mark 14:33, RSV). He was no doubt thinking about His impending death and crucifixion. Knowing that He would soon die — the first and only time that God has ever DIED! — and that His death would be preceded by extreme pain, suffering and humiliation — Christ was human enough not to want to go through with it, if there were any other way. "And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:35-36). The outpouring of deep emotion prior to such a traumatic ordeal was a natural reaction. But notice that even in the midst of such inner torment and mental suffering Christ was perfectly submissive to the Father's will. He did not beg, whine, or wheedle for His own way. His request was earnest, heartrending and heartfelt — just the way we should pray. But there was no alternative to be found. There was only one way mankind could be saved. A life more precious than that of all men put together would have to be sacrificed to pay the penalty for man's sins. Only one life could do that — the life of God. So Christ had no option; there was no other course. Even in the midst of this tremendous personal suffering, Christ did not falter. "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). But the disciples, during this fervent prayer, fell asleep (Matt. 26:40-45). Immediately after that Judas came to betray Him.
The Arrest and Trial of Jesus
Christ, very God in the flesh, the Creator of mankind (Col. 1:13-18), was hunted down like a common criminal — a man with a "reward" on His head. A band of soldiers, an armed posse with swords and clubs led by the traitor Judas, searched for Him. Judas, to whom Christ had given every opportunity for greatness, despised and rejected His promises, and came to Him saying, "Rabbi," and betrayed Him with a kiss (Mark 14:44-45). "And they laid their hands on him and took him" (verse 46). They took the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior — their very Creator — into custody, arresting Him at the instigation of the chief priests and Jewish authorities who looked upon Him as a menace and a dire threat to the establishment. Jesus was brusquely seized, and His hands were tied (John 18:12). He was hauled away to Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year (John 18:13), and then to Caiaphas himself (verse 24). Then Caiaphas began to question Him about His disciples and His teachings, even though Christ had taught nothing in secret — His teachings were well known (verses 19-20). When Jesus reminded Caiaphas of this fact, one of the officers standing nearby smashed Him across the face. The high priest and the whole council sought witnesses against Jesus so they could legally put Him to death, but their witnesses disagreed among themselves (Mark 14:56-59). The testimony was false and self-contradictory. Frustrated, the high priest stood up and demanded of Jesus, "Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?" (Matt. 26:62.) But Jesus didn't reply. In obvious anger, the high priest then exclaimed, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God" (Matt. 26:63). When Jesus then answered, and told him the TRUTH, the high priest became livid with fury. He ripped his clothes and shouted, "He hath spoken blasphemy, what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye?" (verse 65.) All those around nodded their heads and replied: "He deserves death" (verse 66, RSV). This was without a doubt the most staged, biased, contrived, unlawful court procedure in history — the original "kangaroo court." There was no evidence to condemn Christ — so He was railroaded, framed! "And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, 'Prophesy!' And the guards received him with BLOWS" (Mark 14:65, RSV). "And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against him" (Luke 22:63-65). And this was only the beginning.
The Daylight Hours
As soon as the sun rose that morning. the chief priests, elders, scribes and the whole council gathered together to decide how to put Jesus to death. They tied Him up again and led Him away to Pilate the governor (Mark 15:1-5). Pilate, asking Him what He had done, and if He were the king of the Jews (John 18:33-35), marveled that Christ did not bother to dispute all the false testimony of the Jews who railed against Him (Mark 15:5). He told the assembled Jewish leaders, "I find no fault in this man" (Luke 23:4). At that unexpected setback, the chief priests became vehement, and cried, "He stirreth up the people" (verse 5). Pilate, upon learning that Jesus was from Galilee, sent him to Herod who had jurisdiction over the land of Galilee (verses 6-7). Herod had heard of Jesus' miracles and had wanted to see Him perform some "trick." The chief priests and scribes accused Him before Herod, but Jesus answered nothing. "And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate" (verse 11). Christ was further humiliated, mistreated, and abused. Pilate, by this time, perceived that the chief priests had delivered Christ to film out of envy and malice (Mark 15:10). He was therefore ready to release Jesus from custody since it was the custom at that time for a prisoner to be released on the day of the Passover (Mark 15:6). But the chief priests arid elders swayed the multitude of people to demand that Christ be put to death! And they cried out, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas" (Luke 23:18). Pilate asked them, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:22.) And the mob cried out: "Let him be CRUCIFIED!" "Why, what evil hath he done?" Pilate asked. But the mob screamed, "Let him be CRUCIFIED! (Matt. 27:22-23.) Pilate, wishing to calm down the roaring, tumultuous crowd and prevent a riot, had Jesus scourged and sent Him to be crucified (Matt. 27:26). The soldiers led Him away to the court called the Praetorium. They clothed Him with purple, jammed a crown of thorns down on His head, and mocked Him. They struck His head with a reed, spat upon Him and beat Him severely. What did it mean to be "scourged"? A scourge was an instrument made of cords or thongs of leather fastened to a handle. Usually there were three of these thongs in each scourge, and they were often reinforced with bits of metal which tore the skin and flesh. Thus Jesus literally had flesh ripped from His body under the lashing and whipping of the Roman soldiers. Isaiah described Christ's disfigurement in prophetic language: "As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men" (Isa. 52:14). Christ was whipped to within an inch of His life! His body was a mass of welts, bruises, raw open cuts, bloody lacerations and jagged wounds. And then, about eleven o'clock in the morning, the soldiers led Him away to be crucified. He was so weak from fatigue and loss of blood that He could only carry His own cross a short distance (compare John 19:16-17 with Luke 23:26). Why was Christ beaten, bloodied and scourged before His final crucifixion? There is a very important reason which we must understand as we observe the Passover. The Apostle Peter put it plainly: "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (I Peter 2:24). The Prophet Isaiah elaborated: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes [or bruise, margin) we are HEALED" (Isa. 53:5). Christ suffered physical beating and torture to pay the penalty of our physical sins — that we might be HEALED of our physical illnesses, sicknesses and diseases. For He Himself had clearly explained that such sickness is the result of sin, and that healing is the forgiveness of that sin (Matt. 9:1-7). And so Jesus not only paid the penalty of our spiritual sins by dying for us, but He also paid the penalty of our physical sins by allowing Himself to be beaten and His flesh ripped open. Therefore, when we are sick, God commands us to call on the elders of the Church for prayer and anointing, and promises to HEAL us (James 5:14-15).
Death by Crucifixion
"And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him" (Luke 23:22, RSV). According to historians, crucifixion was a punishment inflicted by Egyptians (Gen. 40:19), Carthaginians, Persians (Esther 7:10), Assyrians, Scythians, Indians, Germans, Greeks and Romans. It was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death — the degradation was part of the inflicted punishment. Only the vilest of criminal's were generally crucified among the Romans. The one to be crucified was stripped naked and laid down upon the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the cross beam, if any, or together over the head if not, and at the center of the open palms the end of a huge iron nail was placed; the nail was then driven through the hands into the wood of the beam by a hammer. Similarly, an iron nail was driven through the feet as they were placed one over the other. To prevent the hands and feet from being torn away by the weight of the body hanging from the stake, there was a wooden projection near the center of the stake strong enough to support part of the weight of the body. Then the upper end of the stake was heaved upward, the bottom jarring into a hole in the ground prepared to receive it. There, in the sight of all the people, Christ was pilloried — abused, denounced, sneered at, taunted and mocked with hoots of derision and scorn. The very CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE suffered the derisive taunts and ridicule of the very ones He had created! As His lacerated nerves throbbed, and His inflamed wounds ached with pain, as His muscles cramped and His head felt dizzy, He suffered the taunts and reproach of those who vilified Him. From noon until three in the afternoon, He hung on the stake, the object of obloquy and shame, the endurer of indescribable agony.
"FATHER, FORGIVE THEM!"
And yet, while experiencing the most horrible form of suffering known to man, Jesus still was most concerned with something greater than His own personal pain. While life was ebbing away, He cried, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). "Father, forgive them" — think about those selfless words. It wasn't just the chief priests, elders and scribes among the Jews who were responsible for Christ's death; nor was it the common people who had cried out "Crucify Him!" Nor was it only the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the stake. It was OUR SINS — YOURS AND MINE — that caused the DEATH of our Savior, our Creator, the Messiah! YOU were responsible! I was responsible! We were guilty of the blood of the Son of God. When we were yet unconverted, we, with those who lived then, would have cried out, "CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!" But thank God for His priceless mercy and forgiveness and pardon! Thank God — that Christ was willing to pray, while under extreme duress, "Father, forgive them." Thank God that we can confess our sins and still receive mercy (I John 1:9). As David wrote: "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his merry toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:11-12).
Christ BECAME Sin
In the midst of such incredible, unparalleled suffering, Christ cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) — for truly the Father had turned His back on Him. Christ had become SIN for us — He was paying the penalty for OUR transgressions — and therefore the Father had to disregard His very own Son and let Him die — FOR US (see II Cor. 5:21). Christ went through extreme suffering for all mankind, But consider also the enormous grief and pain the Father must have gone through, seeing His only begotten Son die an excruciating, shameful, horrible death. Yet, as the Apostle John wrote. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:9-10). Consider the great all-encompassing scope of that supreme LOVE! Yes, "brethren, God loves you. He loves ALL MANKIND! Otherwise He surely wouldn't have allowed Christ to go through with the awesome ordeal He experienced! Don't ever forget that supreme LOVE which God has for you.
Christ Died for OUR Sins!
About three o'clock in the afternoon, the end of the agony came. "Then Jesus crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!' And having said this he breathed his last" (Luke 23:46-47, RSV). Christ had been stabbed in the side with a spear, and His blood gushed out of the wound, running down onto and over the ground (John 19:33-34). His precious blood was shed for your sins and mine — to reconcile us to God. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the DEATH of his Son, much more, being reconciled we shall be saved BY HIS LIFE" (Rom. 5:8-10). So now we can have peace with God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). We now have access to the Throne of God in heaven (Heb. 10:19-22). We need no longer be CUT OFF from God because of our sins (Isa. 59:1-2). God now promises to HEAR US when we cry out to Him in prayer and supplication (John 16:23-24). Because of the sacrifice of Christ, and our repentance from sin, God now gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to KEEP His commandments in the spirit (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:1-2; Phil. 4:13). With God's help and inspiration, we are now on the ROAD TO ETERNAL LIFE AND SALVATION! But brethren, it was all made possible ONLY because Jesus Christ was willing to die for us, suffering the miserable death of crucifixion. It was only possible because God the Father was willing to let His precious Son die for us, because He loved us so much! Notice what the Apostle Paul was inspired by God to write: "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that DIED, yea rather, that is RISEN AGAIN, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:31-34). Christ now LIVES! And He is seated at God's right hand in heaven, to intercede for us when we sin — when we fall short of the mark — so that we can be forgiven and continue to press forward in the Christian faith, overcoming and growing in grace and knowledge of Christ until we become spiritually mature and are ready to be born into God's Kingdom! (See Heb. 4:14-16; 7:25; Phil. 3:12-14.)
The MEANING of the Passover
Thus the whole plan of God revolves around the sacrifice of Jesus Christ — our Passover Lamb, "Christ our passover [who] is sacrificed for us" (I Cor. 5:7). The Passover is most assuredly of PARAMOUNT importance in God's sight, something we must not take lightly! As we partake of the Passover symbols this year, and remember the sufferings and death of our Savior, let's do so with a profound sense of gratitude, appreciation and thanks. As we partake of the broken bread, symbolizing the beaten, whipped body of Christ, by whose stripes we are HEALED (I Pet. 2:24), and as we drink of the cup of wine, symbolizing His shed blood on behalf of our spiritual transgressions, let us do so with incisive awareness, with renewed faith, with penetrating understanding and a thorough comprehension of the REALITY which these symbols represent! "... The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is BROKEN FOR YOU: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread. and drink this cup ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (I Cor. 11:23-26). Remember the gruesome ordeal Jesus Christ went through — for you. Keep in mind His humility and attitude of service when you wash the feet of your brother or sister and partake of the Passover. Be renewed and inspired in faith as you commemorate His death in reconciling you to God imparting to you a NEW lease on life! "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily [without being in a repentant attitude and without fully understanding or appreciating the significance of the Passover], shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man EXAMINE himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation [judgment] to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (verses 27-30). When we partake of the cup, symbolizing the shed blood of Christ for our spiritual sins, let's be deeply aware of the price He paid for us. And when we partake of the bread, symbolizing His beaten, bruised, whipped body, let's realize that He suffered such punishment on our behalf so we might be healed of our physical infirmities, sicknesses and disease. The Corinthians did not fully grasp the significance of the broken body of Christ, represented by the broken bread — therefore many of them were weak, sickly and had died. Brethren, let's take the Passover this year — worthily Let's take it fully understanding its total meaning, being in a humble, sincerely repentant attitude, and deeply appreciating the Passover's awesome significance as a memorial of the day Christ — GOD in the flesh — suffered and died — FOR us! As the solemn occasion of the Passover approaches, examine yourself, scrutinize your attitude, look over your life during the past year, and determine with vigorous zeal to overcome weaknesses, sins and shortcomings that still plague you. And let's go forward in the faith of Christ with renewed zeal, energy, dedication and inspiration to DO THE WORK of God! Let's draw closer to God, imbued with FAITH, and stir up the Spirit which He has given us so His Work can be accomplished with DYNAMIC POWER!