“Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
(1 Corinthians 5:7-8 KJV)
Today, until sundown, is the 14th day of Abib (or Nisan, as the month is known today), the first month in the Hebrew calendar. Why is this day different from all other days? And why is it significant for Christians? The Lord told Moses, “On the fourteenth day of the first month, the Lord’s [Yahweh’s] Passover is to be held” (Numbers 28:16; also Leviticus 23:5). It was in the early hours of this day (what we would refer to as last night, after sundown) that Jesus observed the last Passover of His earthly ministry with His disciples:
“Where do You want us to prepare it? ” they asked Him.
“Listen,” He said to them, “when you’ve entered the city, a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him into the house he enters. Tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large, furnished room upstairs. Make the preparations there.”
So they went and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Passover is the first of seven of what God refers to as the Lord‘s festivals [“appointed times”; Hebrew: moed ], although they are sometimes dismissively referred to as merely and exclusively the “Jewish holy days.” And yes they are, on one level, replete with symbols of Israelite history and culture, and of that ancient nation’s special relationship with God.
But like so many things Biblical, there is a deeper, spiritual, universal level of meaning to the Feasts of God. Those of us Christians who observe them find each of them overflowing with the message of Christ, salvation, grace, and the coming Kingdom of God. God never changes, and His Plan has been unfolding since the words “Let there be light” were spoken. Scripture tells us, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18 KJV) and that the Lamb was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 KJV). And perhaps most important, Christ died on the 14th of Abib. It should hardly be surprising, then, that God would use His 14th of Abib appointed time (and all of His other Festivals) as yet one more way to reveal and teach us His plan.
Every year, from Passover to the Last Great Day, the Gospel is acted out through these festivals, using their inherent drama to reinforce deep underlying messages. Once Israel began to observe them, the symbols of each festival (appointed time) became ingrained into their lives, minds, and spirits — so that when God’s true Passover Lamb appeared on earth and was sacrificed, the message and its significance were clear from centuries of repetition. (If you watch a movie enough times, you’ll eventually be able to recite the entire dialogue from memory. For proof, ask my brother- and sister-in-law’s offspring about The Princess Bride!)
Therefore, when John the Baptist pointed to Christ and called Him “the Lamb of God,” the reference must have been unmistakable to his listeners. Probably only Jesus and John knew, at that time, what this fully and truly meant. But the association of “Lamb of God” with the Passover must have been crystal clear to every lifelong resident of Judea who was present. Three and a half years later, as the “Lamb of God” hung on a stake and died, undoubtedly the tumblers began to fall, and the full meaning was unlocked for His followers.
The “Lamb of God” symbols of Passover did not stop there. Each year, four days before the actual Passover, households were to select a lamb for sacrifice, which was required to be “without blemish,” thus foretelling the perfect nature of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. That this Lamb had come to “take away the sins of the world,” as John said, had been foretold by the sin offerings made throughout the year at the Temple. And, of course, the ultimate fate of the Lamb of God was a sacrificial death, also vividly portrayed in the annual Passover sacrifice.
That all of these Holy Days point directly to Christ is one of many reasons so many Christians — yes, including my wife and me — keep the Lord’s Feasts. They provide appointed times set aside for us to learn and grow in our knowledge of Christ and the grace and salvation He brought. But even this is not the main reason to keep the Feasts. It took a Rabbi friend of mine to cement in my mind the fact that there was a different, wholly transcendent reason.
He was a professor of mine, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi — and you may be surprised to learn that he was the greatest statistics teacher I have ever had or known. Not only did he revolutionize my thinking about how to teach stats (Thank you, Shlomo!), he became a dear friend and great mentor. He was both mystified and bemused when he learned that I kept the “Jewish” Holy Days, and he asked me why I did so. As I remember the conversation, I turned the question back to him and asked, “Well, why do you keep them?” Without a second’s hesitation, he said, “Because I am commanded to.”
And he was absolutely correct. God’s commandments are both necessary and sufficient in all cases.
Some Christian friends (whom I love for being concerned about me and for caring for me) have asserted that what we are doing is archaic, anachronistic, legalistic, Judaizing, antiChristian, superseded by Easter — or some combination of these. But I ask them (and you) to at least concede this: these are not “Jewish” holy days. The Lord [Yahweh] Himself repeatedly called them “the Lord’s appointed festivals” (Leviticus 23:2,4-6,34,37; Numbers 28:16; Ezra 3:5; Hosea 9:5, etc.). Some have wryly gone further and asked me, “So do you kill a sheep every year?” No, dear friends, the perfect Lamb has already been sacrificed for us. Therefore, we keep the Feast with the New Testament symbols of unleavened bread and wine, as commanded by Christ:
In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Christ told us to remember Him every time we did “this.” Paul said we are proclaiming the Lord’s death when we eat “this” bread and drink “this” cup. What was the “this” Christ was doing? Which bread and cup were “this” one Paul referred to? Completely beyond question, Christ was celebrating Passover, eating the Passover bread and drinking from the Passover cup.
If there were any Biblical evidence that these festivals were for the nation of Israel only, or if Christ in the New Testament had abrogated them or provided substitutionary feasts, we would of course faithfully and gladly follow. But in our human, imperfect way, we attempt every year to believe and obey Christ literally, by taking the bread and wine at Passover in imitation and remembrance of Him.
These festivals were instituted to proclaim and teach the sacrifice of the true Passover Lamb, and the plan of salvation He made possible. They are therefore no less efficacious for me (and all Christians) today than they were in ancient Israel. Christ Himself kept the Feasts. So did His apostles and all the early church — even the Gentile ones. And prophecies show that in the Kingdom of God, all the nations will keep the Feasts (Zechariah 14:16-19).
We know that God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), that His word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8), and that Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). So are not His commands and teachings equally immutable and everlasting?
And truly, that is the “prime directive” reason for those of us who keep Passover and the other Holy Days, using bread and wine, and with Christ-centered learning and worship. To paraphrase my Rabbi professor and friend, it is “because we are commanded to.”
I invite all my Christ-loving brothers and sisters to join us in the discovery of these ancient, God-designed moeds (appointed times). A great place to start is to memorialize the sacrifice of Christ, using the Passover bread and wine. Here are some suggested readings we often use in our Passover observance:
● Isaiah 53:1-9 the most beautiful and powerful of Messianic prophecies
● Luke 22:7-20 Christ’s last Passover until His Kingdom is established
● John 6:47-58 the new covenant of eternal life, symbolized by the bread and wine
● John 13:1-17 Christ’s lesson about and example of servant leadership
● 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 the symbol of His body and blood in the bread and wine
● 1 Peter 1:18-21 the Lamb without blemish, chosen before the foundation of the world
● 1 Peter 2:19-25 the Perfect Messiah bore our sins, and we are healed
The Feasts of God are treasures and gifts of God beyond price.
If the idea of the “appointed times of God” has caught your attention, and you would like to learn more, let me point you in the direction of my pastor, the late Ronald L. Dart (1934-2016). He studied and wrote about this extensively, and it was from him that I learned so much. Here are three sources from him.
Second, as part of his nationally syndicated daily radio program, he did a series of 24 half-hour programs on Christian Holidays. Here is a link to the introductory program, a compact, thorough, easily accessible examination of the appointed times.
Finally, at the bottom of this essay is an hour-long sermon he delivered on Why the Holy Days? It is an intelligent and thoughtful summary of the topic, delivered in his inimitably conversational style. I commend it highly.
Ronald Dart’s writings, sermons, and radio programs available on its website.