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History of Communion: Passover
The Sacraments, Lesson 7
Have you ever lost a child? Maybe they were terminally ill, or had a tragic accident, or committed suicide. I don’t have any children, so I can’t even imagine the pain that would bring, but I know it happens more often than any of us would like to think. I know many people who have been changed forever by the loss of a child.
Whether you’ve personally experienced the loss of a child or not, for today, I want you to hold on to the feeling of what you imagine you would feel or what you have felt at the loss of a child. This week, we look at the first Passover, a time when countless people lost their firstborn to the final plague in Egypt.
Let’s start with a bit of the backstory. The three patriarchs of the Israelite nation are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was also known as Israel. Jacob had 12 sons from 4 different women. His favorite wife was Rachel, and her firstborn was Joseph. Of course, this made Joseph Jacob’s favorite son. And all Joseph’s brothers knew it. After Joseph told his brothers some dreams that he had that indicated that he thought he would rule over them all, including their parents, his brothers couldn’t stand it anymore. They sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37) and told their father that Joseph was dead.
During his time in Egypt, Joseph went from slave (Genesis 39) to prison (Genesis 39-40) to being in charge of all Egypt (Genesis 41). After 7 years of abundance, when Egypt stored up all their grain at Joseph’s direction, a famine hit Egypt and all the surrounding area. Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy some grain (Genesis 42). And who did they see there? Joseph! Except they didn’t know it was Joseph, even though he recognized them. After some demands and tricks from Joseph, Joseph finally reveals himself, and Joseph’s whole family, including his father, make the move to live in Egypt permanently (Genesis 46).
After Joseph died and a new king came into power, the new king saw that the Israelites had become a large nation (Exodus 1). So he forced all the Israelites into slavery. They lived under cruel oppression for many years, and God finally responded to their cries for relief by sending Moses to rescue them. But that wasn’t such an easy task. Moses went to Pharaoh, the king in Egypt, and demanded that he let the Israelites go, and he refused. God sent plague after plague—blood in the Nile River, frogs, hail, boils, and everything in between—9 plagues in all, and still Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go.
So God sent one final plague.
Exodus 11:4-7: 4 So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
Even with this warning, Pharaoh refused to budge. He would not let God’s people go.
When Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go, God sent Moses and his brother Aaron to the Israelites with some instructions they were to follow to avoid this final plague:
Exodus 12:1-13: 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. 3 Tell 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. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 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. 8 That 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 boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 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 of both people 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.
Essentially, the Israelites were to take a perfect lamb that had no defects, care for it, then slaughter the lamb. They were to take the blood of the lamb and put it on their doorframes and then roast the meat and eat it. When God came through the land of Egypt to slaughter the firstborn, he would see the blood on the doorframe and pass over that house, and the firstborn would not be killed. Moses passed on these instructions to the Israelites:
Exodus 12:21-23: 21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
And amazingly, “The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 12:28). (Side note: This didn’t happen very often…)
When the time came for the destroyer to come, the Egyptians went to bed none the wiser. It was no different than any other day. But the Israelites had prepared. They had slaughtered the perfect lamb. They had prepared unleavened bread. They had slathered the lamb’s blood on their doorposts. And then:
Exodus 12:29-30: 29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
For those of you who have lost a child, you might identify with the loud wailing of the Egyptians. That soul-wrenching pain when the child you love is gone. But God’s protection was on the Israelites. Not one firstborn was struck done in any Israelite house that had blood on the doorposts. God’s destroyer passed over those houses. And in the Egyptians’ agony and the Israelites’ preparation, God set his people free from bondage to Pharaoh.
Exodus 12:31-36: 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
Not only did God set the Israelites free, he also gave them provisions for the road when they plundered the Egyptians.
When God gave the Israelites instructions for the first Passover, he also gave them instructions to celebrate the Passover every year.
Exodus 12:14-20: 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. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.
17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”
Exodus 12:24-28: 24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
This annual celebration of Passover what was Jesus celebrated with his disciples on his last evening before the crucifixion. We call this the Last Supper. We’ll talk more about that night next week.
What is the connection between Passover and communion? Repeatedly in the Bible, Jesus is called the Lamb of God or the Passover Lamb.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8: 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Peter 1:18-19: 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
One of the main qualifications for choosing a Passover lamb was that it must be without defect. 1 Peter 1:19 gives that same characteristic to Jesus: a lamb without blemish or defect. In the case of Jesus, this means that he was without sin.
Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Jesus was our perfect Passover lamb—the only one whose blood can save us from the wrath of God. When we celebrate communion, we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.
The Passover meal was the starting point for the practice of communion we follow today. Just as the Egyptians experienced the devastating death of a firstborn on the first Passover, while the Israelites were spared, so too God sent his only Son to earth to die so that we could be spared. Jesus became the Passover lamb for us. He placed his blood over our lives so that God’s wrath would pass over us. Keep this in mind the next time you participate in communion.