October 2022

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them:
‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations,
these are
My feasts. (Leviticus 23:2)

This summer I promised to write in our next newsletter about the three festivals of the Old Testament that were non-negotiable for pious believers.  These three festivals are described in further detail elsewhere, but they are commanded and summarized soon after God spoke the 10 Commandments from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20.  Here we read from Exodus chapter 23:

“Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year:

You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.  (Exodus 23:14-16)

This same command is repeated again in Exodus chapter 34, right after which we read how the children of Israel begged Moses to cover his face with a veil, for he did not know that his face shone very brightly from having just spoken with the Lord.  These three feasts were very important to God.  As quoted above from Leviticus 23, he calls them His feasts.  He makes a big deal of this and repeats it often.  It is significant also, therefore, that our Lord Jesus, when rebuking the unbelief of the Jews, often uses the invitation to a feast to depict their rejection of him and the gospel.  I had planned to fit this into one newsletter.  But the more I prepared, the more I saw worth teaching.  Next month [May 2023] we will learn about the other two feasts.  This issue will be devoted to the first. 

The first feast we know best.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread is better known to us as Passover (Hebrew, Pesach).  The details of this feast are more thoroughly explained in Exodus chapter 12 and were given in preparation for its first celebration.  It is a seven-day feast that commemorates the night when the Angel of Death passed over the houses where the blood of the sacrificial lamb was painted on the door frame of each believer’s home (hence the name Passover).   All leaven was to be purged from all homes for a week and no work was to be done – like an extended Sabbath.  Anyone who kept any leaven (or yeast) was cut off from the congregation of Israel and therefore also from God’s promises.  Leaven can be compared to sin, as St. Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5 (Easter Sunday’s Epistle lesson).  Sin must be cast out and repented of.  Evil intent to disobey God cannot coexist with repentance and faith.  This is what the purging of the leaven teaches.  Likewise, labor and all good works must be laid aside and not trusted in.  This is what the seven-day Sabbath rest teaches.  Both evil works and good works must be laid aside – both leaven and labor.  This festival must focus on the lamb – on what the lamb does and suffers.  The lamb was to be slaughtered and roasted with bitter herbs and eaten in haste.  It was a solemn commemoration.  It was solemn because of the wrath that was passing over and killing the first born of every house that did not keep this feast when it was first instituted in Egypt.  It was solemn also because of what it pointed to.  It clearly pointed to Christ our Passover Lamb, the first born of God from eternity, who takes our place and for whose sake God passes over our sin and saves us.  Hardly is there a better description of how Jesus fulfills the Passover than in Luther’s Easter hymn.  Here is a translation that my twin brother Mark did years ago.  It is the only English translation I know of that accurately captures what Luther originally wrote in the German:

Here is the true Passover Lamb,
Of Whom God’s Word attested.
He hangs upon the cross’s stem
In fervent love is roasted!
See, His blood now marks our door,
Faith points to it – death passes o’er
And Satan cannot harm us!

Faith points to the blood of Christ.  The blood on the door of these ancient homes was only a shadow of what faith points to today.  Blessed are the eyes that see this fulfilled in Christ! (Luke 10:23-24).  What I love about this translation is that it captures the part where it says, “in fervent love is roasted.”  The hot wrath by which God roasted his Son on the cross is itself the burning love with which he has loved us poor sinners (Ephesians 2:4).  The consuming wrath against sin (think of purging leaven here) is itself the same as the fervent love by which Jesus labored for us to win our rest (Luke 12:49-50).  God instituted the Passover to teach his people the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  He instituted the Passover also to teach how his people would benefit from the work of Christ.  In other words, this unnegotiable feast that absolutely had to be celebrated reverently each year was for the purpose of preaching Christ crucified for us!  Both were and are necessary — for Christ to die and rise, and for repentance and remission of sins to be preached in his name (Luke 24:46-47)

Passover is also called Pascha, from the Hebrew.  Most every language uses this word to refer to Easter Sunday.  This is where we get the word Paschal.  It is a nice coincidence that this word, though unrelated, should remind us of a different word, which comes from the Latin (passio) and the Greek (pathos), from which we get the meaning “to suffer.”  We speak of Christ’s passion and we mean his suffering.  But in his suffering as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we see God’s passionate and even burning love for us.  It was during this feast that Christ was given over to the Romans to be crucified.  The Jews who did this to Jesus were so single-mindedly obsessed with their hatred of God’s Lamb that they failed to celebrate the high feast themselves.  For at the time when they were commanded by God to give their household’s lamb to the priests for slaughter, they inadvertently gave God’s household Lamb to the Gentiles for slaughter.  And so by Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has made a nation of priests out of many Gentile peoples who hear and believe the gospel (Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 61:6; Revelation 1:5-6, 5:9-10).  Passover is ours because Christ, the Savior of Nations and our High Priest, fulfilled it.  He is ours.  It was he who also originally commanded it.  Even on that dark night in Egypt, he had in mind to teach his people to remember the dark day when he himself would bear their sin.  We remember it.  We keep the Passover as often as we do. 

And of course, Jesus rose.  The Passover feast, which we in the Germanic and English world uniquely call Easter, is a festival not just of the Passing Over of the Angel of Death, but the rising again of the Messenger of Life (Easter means spring!).  The feast is Christ’s.  That’s why the Lord said it was his.  Jesus is Lord.  At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing. / Praise to our victorious King! / Who has washed us in the tide / Flowing from his pierced side. / Alleluia! 

Where the paschal blood is poured,
death’s dread angel sheathes the sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe.
Alleluia!  (LSB 633)

Oh, what a wonderful hymn that proves so beautifully how Jesus fulfills all the promises that our Old Testament fathers and mothers received and trusted in!  It is a hymn that teaches us how we benefit from all that Christ has done by receiving his Body and Blood in the feast of mercy he still prepares for us every Lord’s Day. 

Every Sunday is Easter.  That’s why we worship on Sunday.  We call it the Lord’s Day because he rose and ushered in a new and eternal day without end.  Christ is our rest.  In this world, darkness still sets, we still sin and labor and need to be purged, forgiven, and we need to rest between now and when the Perfect Day shall dawn and never dim (Proverbs 4:18).  For now, Jesus saves us from our dead works and from trusting in our good works (Hebrews 9:14).  It is good that we celebrate Easter.  It should be non-negotiable.  In the Old Testament God commanded it for a reason.  One who does not desire to hear the gospel and praise God on Easter is certainly not a believer.  Every Sunday is Easter.  Christians go to church because they believe the gospel.  Christians desire to hear the gospel preached and to sing praises to God.  Christians desire this because their faith points to it.  The Old Testament festival was only a shadow (Colossians 2:17).  But now that the Substance has come, and we have here the fruit of Christ’s fulfillment, we should look at attending church, reading devotions, and welcoming opportunities for a visit from the pastor as anything but a burden that God has commanded.  It is a blessed opportunity for peace and rest and joy in Christ our risen Savior.