In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Tell all the congregation of Israel that … every man shall take a lamb … Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. … Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. … And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. … This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. … And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.” Thus the Word of the LORD our God.
With these words, the LORD established for His chosen people Israel two of the seven annual feasts they were to keep to the LORD, as His people. Following the Feast of Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, are the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was at Mount Sinai that the LORD described these feasts and their timing through the year, in Leviticus 23. As He said of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Exodus 12, “you shall keep it as a feast … you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever,” so the LORD also said “it is a statute forever throughout your generations” of the Feasts of Firstfruits, Weeks, Atonement, and Tabernacles. The only one for which this was not said was Trumpets, but that doesn’t mean it was not important. The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:24–25).
As the LORD had consecrated Shabbat, the Sabbath, as a weekly day of “solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Lev 23:3) on the seventh day, so He consecrated the first day of the seventh month as “a day of solemn rest … a holy convocation” on which no ordinary work was to be done. So the Feast of Trumpets was given as a Sabbath rest in the seventh month. The Israelite who diligently studied the Sacred Scrolls, the holy Word of God, would no doubt have quickly made the connection, and would have observed the Feast of Trumpets and the Sabbath month as devoutly as he would the Sabbath day.
The first two feasts are our main focus this evening; however, we should not overlook these other feasts. All of them involved food or “a food offering to the LORD.” Sad to say, much of the Church has kept itself ignorant of these feasts, the rich liturgical heritage, sacramental blessing, and prophetic teaching that the LORD God bestowed on His people Israel in them. While the LORD called for the people to offer sacrifices at these feasts, the meaning of them is both sacramental and prophetic, His Means of Grace to His chosen people. Through the sacrifices and the feasts, He was painting prophetic pictures of the Coming One, the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus the Christ, showing them the ways in which He would be The Sacrifice. They were the visible Word of God. Through these sacrifices and feasts, He was also creating and sustaining in them faith in the Coming Christ, and through that faith giving them the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, together with Firstfruits, occur in the spring in rapid succession, over a period of eight days. The Passover began on the tenth day of the first month, with the selection of the lambs. “Your lamb small be without blemish, a male a year old” (Ex 12:5a). The lambs were killed four days later, at twilight of the fourteenth day. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was coming as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), and four days later, in the evening, He was sentenced to death, to be crucified as The Sacrifice, as St. Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). He is The Sacrifice for sin, the final Sacrifice, once for all, because He is the Lamb “without blemish,” without sin.
The Israelites were to eat the lamb, roasted whole, and they were to eat unleavened bread. They were to eat this Feast in haste, ready to depart, because the LORD was delivering them from their bondage in Egypt that very day. The blood, though, they were not to consume with the lamb—not with the meat of any sacrifice—because the LORD had said, even in Genesis, before the Sinai Covenant, “You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood” (Lev 17:14; see Gen 9:4). Indeed, He had another purpose for the blood: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev 17:11). Or as Hebrews puts it, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22b). And the LORD told the Israelites what they were to do with the blood of the Passover lambs:
Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it … For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Ex 12:7, 12–13)
“The sign” that was “the blood” of the Passover lambs points us to the blood of The Passover Lamb, as Martin Luther says in his great Paschal hymn, his Easter hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” (LSB 458, st. 5):
Here our true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door; Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!
The Destroyer “death passes o’er” because “His blood” shed on the Cross “now marks our door.” Through the Cross, God executes judgments “on all the gods of Egypt” and all the idols of every nation of mankind. He executes judgments “on all the gods” crafted in the human heart and mind, especially the god called “Self,” and on Satan, “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4).
The Passover lamb and the Unleavened Bread were eaten once a year. Now in the Feast of the body and blood of Jesus Christ—the body and blood of God—we are invited, even commanded, to eat and drink “often,” “Do this, as often as you drink it, in My remembrance” (1 Cor 11:25). Much of the Church continues to use unleavened bread, just as Jesus used the unleavened bread of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, because leaven stands for sin, and the unleavened bread best signifies that Christ the True Bread from heaven is without leaven, without sin. The unleavened bread, which is pierced and striped—as Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions … by His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5)—the bread is broken into three pieces, with each put into one of three pockets in a special pouch for Passover. The second piece is taken out, the others are set aside, and the second of three is ritually buried under the table. It is this bread that Jesus used. In and under this bread “The body of God’s lamb we eat, A priestly food and priestly meat.” In and under the wine, “On sin-parched lips the chalice pours / His quenching blood that life restores” (LSB 624, st. 6). Why does Jesus give us His blood to drink, when before the LORD had commanded Israel not to partake of the sacrificial blood? It is the one and the same Lord who gives both commands.
The old command was, “Do not consume the blood of these animal sacrifices.” There were peoples who did drink the blood of sacrifices, in order to gain the life-force of that animal, and of the god represented by that animal. That was idolatry, false worship. The LORD was saying, “I am the Source of your life and strength, not these animals, and certainly not these so-called ‘gods’.” Now the LORD gives us His own blood, and He as God certainly has the right to change His command, or rather, to give us a new command, along the lines of His new command, “Love one another as I have loved you”; in love He says: “Take, drink; this is My blood, which is given for you.” As with the trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden, what was once forbidden, God now permits, by His Word. And by His Word, He gives you faith to believe and lips to confess the full Truth of what He says of the Paschal Feast, the Passover and Unleavened Bread, at His altar-table: “This is My body, this is My blood, given and shed for you.”
What of the other Readings, from Joshua and 2 Chronicles? In Joshua, it is clear that the people of Israel still kept the Passover after the death of Moses, under Joshua’s leadership. The human messengers may change, but the Word of God endures. What He commands, the Word He gives to His people, He expects them to hold fast. We know from biblical and church history that far too often such is not the case! God’s people forget His Word and His ways. Also, the reading from Joshua comes at the end of their journey in the wilderness, as they enter the Promised Land. Through the wilderness, the LORD had continued to provide miraculous food. Once in the land of Canaan, “they ate of the fruit of the land” (Jos 5:12), so the LORD stopped providing the manna. The food of the Passover would henceforth come from the produce of the land. Likewise, the Lord continues to provide His holy food, His body and blood, not by raining down bread and wine from heaven, but through the fruits of the earth, which He gave in the Creation for us to eat and to drink.
In the case of King Josiah’s keeping of the Passover, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 35, God’s people had forgotten His Word and His ways, His command to keep these feasts. They were in danger of forgetting their purpose, and they were in danger of forgetting their God. Through Josiah, the LORD restored the knowledge of their salvation to them, not only of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, but the greater deliverance to come for all peoples in the true Paschal Lamb, Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed and Chosen One of God, God in the flesh. In the Feasts of the Passover and Unleavened Bread, the LORD was pointing His people to His own death and burial, and in the Feast of Firstfruits, on the day after the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, His resurrection from the dead. For “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). In the Feast of Christ Jesus the Eternal Son, the True Passover Lamb and the True Bread of Life from heaven, you receive all of that: His deliverance of His people from bondage, His judgment against false gods, His body and His blood for the forgiveness of your sins, His suffering the punishment for your sins, His death on the Cross for your life, His burial and rest in the tomb to hallow your grave and give you eternal rest, His resurrection as the pledge and seal of your own resurrection on the Last Day. As long as you come and receive, you are keeping His Feast “throughout your generations,” for you are in Him, the Eternal Generator and the Eternal Giver of the Feast.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.