After our lord and master’s crucifixion two disciples, dejected and perhaps fearing for their lives, were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus about twenty miles away. They were discussing his arrest, trial and death when a stranger (who they didn’t recognize was Jesus) joined them. Their new acquaintance inquired what they were talking about. They figured him to be a foreigner just passing through so they told him of Jesus of Nazareth, how he was a mighty prophet of God who many hoped would liberate Israel from their Roman oppressors but he had been arrested and crucified. They told how women had visited his tomb and found it empty and even claimed they were visited by angels who said he was alive, and how others went and found it empty too. Someone stealing a body a Roman guard detail was guarding is something they believe could possibly happen but an angel declaring Him alive? They just didn’t have a belief that went that far.
Then the stranger said “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses then the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”1
There is no recording of just what exactly Christ, still a stranger to the two, told about himself, in the third person, as they continued their journey to Emmaus. Surely it included His revelation to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14, of how his descendants would one day be strangers in a land not theirs where they would be oppressed but eventually liberated. If so He must have told of how the Lord used his mighty works to free them.
His Intervention to Liberate His Chosen
Fifteen hundred years before He sent nine plagues that destroyed the economy and will of the Egyptian people. When He was through their beloved Nile Delta, once teeming with every variety of grain, fruit and nut was but a shell of itself; nothing but stubble and barren vines and trees remained. Their great herds of semi-domesticated animals were virtually wiped out. Rivers and streams, even the Nile, stank from the rotting corpses of snakes, fish, hippos, and crocodiles that floated on its surface. The people were demoralized and losing faith in their leaders, and they had all witnessed the unthinkable- the Hebrew deity with no name, no temple, not even an image had humiliated and defeated their most trusted and powerful gods!
Isis brought no relief. Osiris? He was powerless against the devastation to the crops and animals from the blood poisoned waters, lice, flies, locusts, hail, boils and all manner of diseases. Ra-Horakhty, god of the sun, could only submit to the perpetual darkness, a darkness that could even be felt2 that the Hebrew god made linger for three days. Even Amun-Ra, the all-powerful, and Horus, protector of the Pharaohs himself were equally useless. Then Pharaoh’s own people turned from despising Moses. Once denounced as a traitor and murderer, they now revered him and the Hebrews.3 Still Pharaoh would not relent. So God described to Moses the final plague that would finally break Pharaoh’s will and the instructions for how the Hebrews could survive it.
Each household was told to kill an unblemished, year old male lamb at twilight. They were to smear its blood around and above their doorways; all in preparation for the midnight hour when the Lord would begin a deathly visit throughout Egypt. Additionally, while all Egyptians slept, they were to stay up that night, dressed to travel, cooking their lambs in a very specific way before eating it with bitter herbs symbolizing their harsh enslavement. They were also to eat unleavened bread.
Old Testament literature often uses the term “leaven” as a symbol of corruption. Many Hebrews had taken on certain spiritual beliefs of the Egyptians. Some had even intermarried with them over the course of four centuries of their co-existence. The eating of unleavened bread symbolized the process of rejecting the pagan influences of their captor hosts. Indeed these were strange orders and carrying them out must have felt odd. But when that terrible night (and oh what a terrible night indeed) arrived more “unusual” things were to come.
Yet the Hebrews rode out the night doing as the Lord instructed. It was in the wee hours of the next morning; as the first rays of the sun sent an orange glow over the eastern horizon that the screams of terror began. They grew and grew until they bled through the other side of the Hebrew’s blood laced doors. For generations the Hebrews did so in agony and pain from the whips of their taskmasters. Now those same cries came from every Egyptian in every house and tent in every city, town, and hamlet. They were finding every first born child or adult, even animals, all in perfect health the night before, now dead.
Meanwhile, think of the fear that must have run through the minds of the Hebrews as they contemplated Pharaoh’s reaction. Would he relent after this plague? He hadn’t from the others! Would he strike back by ordering his armies to kill every descendant of Joseph they found? Every Hebrew child was taught that once before another Pharaoh ordered the death of every new born Hebrew male.4 How would they defend themselves? They had no weapons!
Of course they had a weapon; the most powerful weapon one could ask for. They had the Lord and his awesome, unstoppable, mysterious ways. Yes, Pharaoh was defeated and the Hebrew nation was set free and officially born the morning after the Lord passed over.
The Burning Heart for God’s Word
This insightful stranger gave encouragement to the two travelers; so much so they invited him to dine with them. He accepted the offer. Perhaps, he reminded them of how the prophet Jeremiah predicted the coming new covenant between Christ and mankind5 as he blessed the bread, broke it and passed it to them. That was possibly when they realized who they were sharing company with.
Maybe they saw the holes in the palms of his hands, or the lash marks on his forearms from the Roman scourging when they sensed this could only be one man. The physical wounds, his intuitiveness and compassion; the sincere revelations of his resurrection, why this could only be their Lord and Master!
But before they could properly greet and praise Him he vanished instantly. Turning to each other they exclaimed “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while he opened the scriptures to us?”6 Then they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others how they saw Him alive.
The Passover Remembrance
Every year since the Lord’s deadly visit the Jewish people have remembered that very special, but terrible night. They continue, as all of their generations before, to obey Christ’s command to teach their children7 and celebrate how they were liberated. Instead of blood on their doorways they erect near the top of the right-hand doorpost something called a Mezuzah. It’s a small device hung or built into the structure that holds a container. Inside it is a prayer on parchment paper. In obedience to the Lord’s command to teach the law it reads:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. And these things that I command you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be an ornament between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”8
“And it shall happen, if you obey my commandments which I command you today, to love God within all your hearts and all your souls that I will give the rains of the land in its proper time, the light rains and the heavy rains, and you will gather your grain, your wine and your oil. I will give grass in your fields for your livestock. You will have enough to eat and you will be satisfied. Guard yourselves, lest your hearts lead you astray and you will serve other gods and you will bow to them. God will then become angry with you and will withhold the rain, and the land will not produce its bounty. You will quickly be lost from upon the good land that God has granted you. You shall place these words on your hearts and on your souls. You shall tie them as a sign on your arms and they shall be head ornaments between your eyes, and you shall teach them to your children to speak about them when you dwell in your house, when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you arise. You shall inscribe them on the doorpost of your houses and your gates. So that you and your children may live many years on the land that God has promised to your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”9
Like sentries protecting the entrance to a palace its prayer gives a daily reminder to the Jewish people as they come and go to always be on guard, to walk with the word of the Lord in and on their hearts and minds. Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it?
I’m certain Joseph and Mary thought so. They most surely had one and Christ grew up learning and practicing the custom of touching his fingers to his lips then raising them to the mezuzah when entering or leaving their home. No doubt he continued when He entered and left the homes of those he visited in His earthly ministry.
Yes, we Gentiles believe that Christ turned the Passover meal from a remembrance of a release from physical bondage to an escape plan from the eternal wages of sin for anyone anticipating His arrival before and alive in the 2nd Temple era and into the infinite future who would accept it.
The unleavened bread once representative of the scarred and broken bodies of slaves now portrays His body, bloody and hanging on a cross. Once symbolic of a slain lamb the wine now represents Christ’s shed blood. When both are partaken by Believers it restates the new covenant of eternal salvation and perfect freedom from the second death. Therefore to us Christians the Passover event isn’t just an historical event of Christ’s powers on display that freed the ancient Hebrew people. It was a foreshadowing of a cosmic act of redemption that would take place centuries later.
Still, as we celebrate Easter as the redemptive act of Christ, let’s keep keen on our minds the observance of the holy week our Jewish friends hold dear. Christ played executioner and liberator on that terrible night. Fifteen centuries later he would continue to celebrate its occurrence and would once again accomplish our redemption on the cross. Shouldn’t that inspire us to join in and honor it as well?
The next Passover remembrance begins at dusk on Friday, March 30th, 2018, and concludes at sundown on Sunday April 1st, 2018, when the Feast of First Fruits, a time we Christians consider a celebration of the ultimate first fruit-Christ. After that begins the week long celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. May this new awareness and respect enrich our understanding of Christ’s earthly walk, and our relationship with Him. May it also shorten the distance between our hearts and those of that special people He declared to be his first chosen.
- Luke 24:25-27.
- Exodus 10:21.
- Id. 11:3.
- Id. 1:15-22.
- Jeremiah 31:31-34
- Luke 24:32.
- Exodus 12:26-27.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
- Id. 11:13-21.
Packer, J.I. & Tenney, M.C., Editors, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980.
Price, Randall, The Stones Cry Out, Harvest House Publishers, 1997.
Illustrations courtesy of The British Museum & Wikipedia.com