As we approach the season of our Lord’s death and resurrection, we need to make sure we never distance our Easter from Passover. They are intrinsically connected and yet calendar wise they are often separated. As Christians it is imperative that we understand how these two events are intertwined and how Christ is the fulfillment of the Seder.
One question that threads its way throughout the entire Haggadah in the Seder service is: “Why is this night distinguished from all other nights?”
First Question – Why did Jesus choose this night?
Remember Jesus orchestrated his capture, which led to his death and resurrection. The timing of this event was not in the best interest of the Sanhedrin. For them it would be the worst of times to have this entire “drama” taking place on a feast day, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would be making their way into Jerusalem for one of the three mandatory pilgrimages. It is important to note that Jesus was calling the shots and the timing of this event was not a coincidence!
Call to mind the prophetic utterance of his cousin as He was making his way down to Bethbara to be baptized:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world!”
And let’s rewind a bit to what we as Christians refer to as the Triumphal Entry, which occurred on the 10th of Nisan. It was on this day that Jesus prearranged to present himself as King, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. This was the same day that Jewish families were arranging to purchase their “Passover” lambs—those that were without spot or blemish.
Jesus Christ can be seen in all the major feasts of Israel. It comes as no surprise that the actual Hebrew word for “feast” can also be translated, “rehearsal.” The final fulfillment of Passover concludes with the Passover Lamb being taken down from a cross with not one of his bones broken and laid in the tomb of a rich man.
As we look at the Passover Feast itself, as detailed in the Haggadah, what other questions are raised? As you sit down and view the Seder plate and the items on the Passover table, there are some interesting things to note. First, let’s look at the three matzahs on the table.
Second Question – Why are there three matzahs, why is the middle one broken, and why are they striped and pierced?
As it has often been said, “Where there are two Jews there will be three opinions,” so when we are exploring traditional questions there can be a plethora of answers. Let’s start with why there are three matzahs.
- Jewish tradition suggests that the number three is symbolic of unity.
- Refers to the unity of the Fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- Refers to the unity of worship – Priests, Levites and the rest of the congregation.
- Refers to the unity of the crowns – the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kinship.
May I suggest a fifth answer? How about the Trinity?
Also, why is the middle matzah broken, and why are they striped and pierced? May I suggest the following scriptures?
And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. - 1 Corinthians 11:24
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. - Isaiah 53:5
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. - Zechariah 12:10
As we begin the Seder, we note that there are silver cups for wine and that there will be four cups served.
Third Question – Why are there four cups?
The four cups correspond to the four verbs found in Exodus 6:6-7:
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
In the Mishnah (Pesahim 7:13), we read that Passover wine was to be red and mixed with warm water. Why? Apparently for the Jews the warmth of the wine represented the blood of the Passover Lamb, as well as being a symbol of joy. Interestingly enough, late in the day when Jesus was crucified, a Roman soldier was commanded to break his legs, but he disobeyed his orders and instead thrust His side with a spear. Take a look at these related Scriptures:
In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof. - Exodus 12:46
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. - John 19:31-37
Fourth Question – Why does Jesus only partake of three of the four cups?
The fourth cup of wine has to do with “I will take you to me for a people” and it was this cup that Jesus omitted from the Last Seder. Why?
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. - Matthew 26:27-30
Can you imagine when that last cup is poured and we all raise our glasses at the wedding feast of the Lamb? To the KING!
As the Passover service begins, early on we encounter questions from children. Within the service a prominent place is given to the questions asked by the four sons. I believe these questions are essential—even to us as Christians.
Fifth Question – Who are the Four Sons?
The first son is the Wise Son, and he is the one who wants to know the technical details. The second is the Wicked Son, who excludes himself from the community; he will learn the penalty of doing so. The third son is the Simple Son, who needs to know the basics. And the fourth is the Foolish son, who is the one who does not even know enough to know what he needs to know.
These four sons represent mankind. Which one are you? Unfortunately, the Church as a whole is filled with the mentality of the fourth son. God, please wake us up from our prolonged slumber and help us to be wise!
Before concluding, let’s revisit the breaking of the middle matzah.
Sixth Question – What is the Afikoman?
Remember when the middle matzah is broken in half, one half is placed back into the bag, while the other is wrapped in a cloth, and hidden. This hidden half is what is called in Greek the Afikoman. After dinner, a child is sent to find the broken half of the hidden matzah, or the Afikoman, the “dessert.”
Afikoman is the only Greek word found in the Passover Seder, and its use began after Jesus. The word means, “He came.”
Seventh Question – Why does the Church go to such great lengths to separate Easter from Passover?
As Chuck mentioned in last month’s news journal, the early church deliberately committed to separating itself from the explicit record of Scripture. Those Christians insisting on celebrating Passover on the fourteenth day of Nisan were excommunicated! We also discover that not only was this was a major emotional controversy within the early church, but that the commitment to deviate from the Scriptures was driven by a deep anti-Semitism!
In a.d. 325, the Council of Nicea unanimously ruled that the Easter festival be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox; and that if the full moon should occur on a Sunday, and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the following Sunday.
As a result of the Council of Nicea, and amended by numerous subsequent meetings, the formal church deliberately attempted to design a formula for “Easter” which would avoid any possibility of it falling on the Jewish Passover, even accidentally!