Do you really know why Jesus had to suffer and die? What should the Passover mean for Christians today?
Only 3 1/2 years after He began His ministry, Jesus of Nazareth was apprehended by the religious authorities at the time of the Passover feast (Matthew:26:2; Mark:14:1). After a brief trial-while mocking Him, spitting on Him and beating Him-they took Him before the Roman authorities and accused Him of "perverting the nation, . . . saying that He Himself is Christ, a King" (Luke:23:2; Matthew:26:59-68).
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, after analyzing the charges, declared to the chief priests and the others present: "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man . . .; no, neither did Herod . . . I will therefore chastise Him and release Him" (Luke:23:14-16).
But the people would have none of it. They cried out, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas [a murderer]" (Luke:23:18).
Pilate found himself in a difficult position. Wanting to release a man he knew to be innocent, he urged Jesus' captors to reconsider. He was answered with angry shouts of "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" (Luke:23:21).
Pilate tried to reason with the crowd. "Why, what evil has He done?" he asked. But the mob was insistent, demanding that Jesus be put to death. The priests and the crowd prevailed. The Roman governor freed a murderer and sentenced an innocent man to death (verses 19-25).
Jesus was mercilessly beaten and scourged by the Roman soldiers and subjected to a horrible death.
But why? Why did Jesus Christ have to die?
Meaning of the Passover
Many Christians have been taught that the Passover is an outdated "Jewish" observance done away with at Jesus' death and replaced by Easter, the commemoration of His resurrection.
But why did Jesus Christ keep the Passover? Is there a connection between the Passover and Christ's death? What does the Bible teach us about this most important observance kept by Jesus and the apostles?
In ancient Israel the first Passover was a time of deliverance, the rescuing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on the doorposts of the residences of those Israelites who put their trust in God, and He promised to deliver them from harm (Exodus:12:13, Exodus:12:23). The Israelites were spared while the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain.
God ordained the Passover as a commanded feast: "So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance" (Exodus:12:14).
Much later, during the time of Christ, the observance of the New Testament Passover was revealed as the first step toward salvation. It reminds Christians not only of how God delivered ancient Israel out of Egypt, but, more important, of our deliverance out of sin today. "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans:6:6, New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added throughout).
The Passover is the first of the annual festivals commanded by God (Leviticus:23:5). Jesus knew this and kept the Passover with His disciples (Luke 22), showing that this is not a command to be taken lightly.
During His final Passover with His disciples, Jesus Christ introduced new symbols, which commemorate Him as "our Passover, [who] was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians:5:7). Jesus said, after He had broken the unleavened bread and given it to His disciples, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke:22:19).
The Passover is an annual reminder that, through Christ's sacrifice, we have been set free from slavery to sin so we can serve God in righteousness (Romans:6:1-22).
Sacrifice for sin
But why was Jesus sacrificed for us?
All human beings are in slavery to corruption and death caused by sin (Romans:6:16; Romans:8:21; Hebrews:2:14-15), "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans:3:23). And the Bible says, "the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel:18:4, Ezekiel:18:20).
What frees us from this bondage to sin? The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God! God the Father willingly gave up His firstborn Son, and Jesus willingly poured out His life's blood.
Why? Why couldn't God just forgive our sins without a sacri- fice? Why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die for our sins (Philippians 2:8)?
The truth is that there is no other way to save humanity from the consequences of sin!
God will not compromise with His perfect law (Matthew:5:17-20; Matthew:19:17; Psalm:19:7). All of God's commands are summed up in the law of love: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew:22:36-40).
As the apostle Paul wrote, "Love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans:13:10). God's law would, if observed, produce and maintain a peaceful, abundant and joyful society (Deuteronomy:4:5-8; Deuteronomy:6:1-2; Deuteronomy:28:1-14; Galatians:3:21). Tragically, no human (other than Jesus Christ) has kept God's law perfectly. All have broken it by sinning (1 John:3:4).
The Bible likens sin to leaven: If sin is not removed, it grows and spreads (1 Corinthians:5:6). The whole world suffers the curse of sin. Wars, famine, disease, oppression, crime, poverty, family problems, emotional disturbances and every type of evil result from sin, the breaking of God's law (Leviticus:26:14-39; Deuteronomy:28:15-68).
The ultimate result of sin is death. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans:6:23), just as God in His love warned the first man, Adam (Genesis:2:17).
Why Christ's sacrifice was necessary
God's way of redeeming humanity-all of us-from the death penalty without compromising His perfect law is for the penalty to be paid in our place by the Son of God.
Why? Because "truly, no ransom avails for one's life, there is no price one can give to God for it. For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice that one should live on forever and never see the grave" (Psalm:49:7-9, NRSV). And that applies to us all, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans:3:10, Romans:3:12, Romans:3:23).
Our partaking of-participating in-Christ's sacrifice makes possible our reconciliation to God, setting us on the road to eternal life. "... God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . . . When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, . . . through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans:5:8, Romans:5:10-11).
Our sins separated us from God, because through sin we lived hostile to God and His ways (Isaiah:59:1-2; Romans:3:10-12; Romans:8:7). As sinners we had the death penalty hanging over us. We fell under that penalty for breaking God's law (Romans:3:9, Romans:3:19-20).
But, because Jesus Christ's sacrifice paid the death penalty for our sins, God "passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate . . . His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans:3:24-26).
Except for Jesus Christ, no man or woman has ever lived without sinning. But notice these encouraging words in the Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John:3:16).
We read that the wages of sin is death, "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans:6:23, King James Version).
What must we do?
Does Jesus Christ's death, then, save us? Let's see what the Word of God-the Bible-says.
If Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by His crucifixion, what must we do to receive God's gift of eternal life? Notice Acts:2:38: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Though "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans:5:8), His sacrifice does not redeem us from the death penalty until we have repented of breaking God's law, turned from sin and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master. Then what happens?
Notice Romans:8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the [lusts of the] flesh, but according to the Spirit."
We no longer seek to go our own way, but are led by the Spirit of God (Romans2:2-16; 1 Corinthians:2:10-16), building our relationship with God and Christ through prayer and study of God's Word (Ephesians:6:18; 2 Timothy:2:15).
When we embark on this new way of life, following Christ's example as shown in the Bible, we are then saved by His life in us (Romans:5:10; Galatians:2:20). Gradually God begins to write His law of love (Romans:13:8-10) in our hearts and minds (Hebrews:10:16). We become transformed by taking on the thoughts of God (Romans:12:2; Philippians 2:5).
With the help of God's Spirit we can obey God's law, submit to Him and overcome sin. Sin is no longer in control over us. We become servants of God rather than the servants of sin (Romans:6:12-16). Keeping the Passover brings these great truths into sharp focus.
Will we follow Jesus' example?
Jesus Christ observed the Passover. The Bible makes this clear in many passages (Matthew:26:2, Matthew:26:17-19; Luke:2:41-42; Luke:22:1, Luke:22:7-20; John:2:13, John:2:23; John:13:1-30; 1 Corinthians:11:23-29). His words and actions at His last Passover provide us profound lessons about our relationships with Him and our fellow human beings.
"Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed" (Luke:22:7). According to God's instructions, a new day begins with the evening (Genesis:1:5), not at midnight.
Jesus Christ and His disciples assembled that evening in a large upper room. "And supper being ended . . . [Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, and took a towel . . . and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel ..." (John:13:2, John:13:4-5).
Assuming the role of a servant, Jesus washed His disciples' feet and said to them: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you . . . If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John:13:14-15, 17).
Jesus carried out this humble act of service to show His disciples that His true followers must be led by a giving, serving attitude. He tells us all by implication to follow His example (see "A Lesson for All Time ").
On that same evening Jesus "took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is [or 'means,' James Moffatt Translation; i.e., 'represents'] My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (Luke:22:19).
He also "took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is [represents] My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'" (Matthew:26:27-28).
A lasting memorial
The Bible makes it clear that all who will follow Christ should observe this New Testament Passover in remembrance of His love and sacrifice for our sins and as a reminder of our commitment to Him for what God has done in our lives (1 Corinthians:5:7-8; Luke:22:19; Luke:14:21-24).
We are to avoid observing the Passover in an "unworthy" manner, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians:11:26-27).
Many readers of this scripture have not comprehended the significance of Paul's warning. Some, incorrectly feeling they were not worthy of Christ's sacrifice, have elected not to take the Passover. Others have taken the Passover in attitudes ranging from casual to ritualistic to superstitious. Nothing is magical about the unleavened bread and the wine Jesus used; they were simply symbols to remind us of His sacrifice for our sin.
We are to take the Passover in a worthy manner, but what exactly does that mean?
Paul warned, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians:11:28).
In a later letter, Paul wrote: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians:13:5, KJV).
We are to examine our own hearts before we take the Passover symbols of bread and wine. We are to ask ourselves some searching questions about our intentions toward God and our fellow human beings. Do we show humility and service to others? Do we honor God in our everyday lives?
Just what should your attitude be toward the world, toward God and His laws and toward others? "Do not love the world or the things of the world," the apostle John wrote. "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John:2:15-17).
As long as we live in "this present evil world" (Galatians:1:4, KJV), which is under Satan's influence (Ephesians:2:1-3), we will be tempted to break God's law. We are tempted through our own desires (James:1:14) to cheat, lie, boast, swear, gossip, hate, commit adultery and put other things before God (Matthew:5:27-28; Galatians:5:19-21).
Each of us, even though called, repentant and forgiven, will fall down and sin. But, as long as we are genuinely repentant, striving to overcome sin, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John:2:1).
And, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John:1:9). God forgives and accepts us, applying Jesus' sacrifice, as long as we allow God to lead us (Ephesians:2:8).
No one is worthy of Christ's sacrifice on his own merit. But that is not what Paul is discussing. Not taking the Passover is choosing to disregard Christ's instructions and example. Taking the Passover in an unworthy manner is choosing to take it with little or no respect for Christ's sacrifice, showing indifference to the importance of His death as payment for our sins.
"For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians:11:29-32).
If we take the Passover while reverently respecting and appreciating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we not only won't be condemned, but we will be on our way to salvation.
Observing the Passover in its New Testament context, and obeying God's Word in respect to His Holy Days, gives understanding of God's great plan for humanity. We are to strive to obey God in all things (Matthew:4:4), a truth that is summed up in the two great commandments-love toward God and love toward our neighbor (Matthew:22:36-40).