I Will Keep the Passover

Several decades ago, a Lutheran pastor wrote an excellent commentary on the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. He titled it The Crucial Hours. The word crucial is derived from the Latin word for “cross.” In that sense, the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday were crucial because they all led to Jesus’ cross. This word now has come to mean “decisive” or “critical.” At our midweek Lenten services this year, we will consider those decisive and critical hours and the ways in which they were just that for Jesus, those around him, and us. This evening, we consider Jesus’ words, “I will keep the Passover.” (Mathew 26:18). Of course, Jesus was going to keep God’s command to celebrate the Passover, the remembrance of God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt—when the angel of death put to death every firstborn Egyptian male as a judgment on Pharaoh and his refusal to obey God’s commands, issued through Moses, to let his people go. However, the name of the festival didn’t come from what the angel of death did at each Egyptian home. It came from what the angel of death did when he came to a Hebrew house with the blood of the Passover lamb on its doorposts. The angel passed over those homes, harming no one. Of course Jesus was going to keep the Passover that evening, like most Jews. There were probably some who had decided that they would just keep most of the Passover. They would get together for a meal like everyone else was doing, but they wouldn’t worry about attending to every detail of the Passover. There were some Jews who were keeping the Passover fastidiously in outward appearance—the lamb slaughtered, the bread fully unleavened, etc.—but their hearts were somewhere else, concerned about the Jesus situation and their plans to kill him. If they admitted to themselves that they weren’t exactly keeping the Passover in full, they could argue that at this moment, this year, they had more pressing things to attend to. If there were anyone who could have thought, “I think I have more pressing things on my mind right now,” it would have been Jesus! He had the Jewish equivalent of the senate plotting to get rid of him, a traitor in his midst, and a band of self-centered, quarreling disciples surrounding him. If anyone ever had a good excuse to skip the Passover it was Jesus! If anyone could have said, “I need some me time. I need to put myself first for now,” it would have been Jesus. But he didn’t. Instead, he kept the Passover. That’s an interesting choice of word—"keep.” It makes us think of how we talk about the need to keep God’s commandments, but there are times when we believe we have more pressing things on our mind; times when, instead of keeping God’s commandments, we can set them aside for now. At times we say, “I will keep God’s commandments . . . ,” but then we add, “later.” “I will keep the Third Commandment . . . next weekend, because I have more pressing things to do this weekend.” “I will keep God’s commandments . . . when it isn’t too inconvenient for me.” “I will keep God’s commandments . . . at least the ones I think are really important.” “I will keep God’s commandments . . . more often than I break them.” So often our keeping of God’s commands is a conditional, partial, “How about I give you 75%?” commitment. Frequently, we don’t even live up to that level of commitment! Whatever level we aim for, whatever level we attain, it’s not enough. Paraphrasing a passage from Deuteronomy (27:26), Paul wrote, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10). Because we have said in our hearts, “I am not going to keep that command written in the Book of the Law,” or, “I am not going to continually keep that command from God,” we deserve to be cursed by God. The Passover was not to be kept nine years out of ten any more than God’s commandments are to be kept only 90% of the time. The Passover was not to be kept in the years where it fit easily into people’s schedules any more than God’s commandments are to be kept only when we find convenient. No, the Passover was to be kept year after year, every single year, including that year. So, Jesus kept the Passover. That should not be at all surprising. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus indicated how committed he was to doing “everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10). He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17,18). Those of you who remember the King James Version will recall that Jesus said that not even “one jot or one tittle” would disappear from the Law. In Jesus’ time, a jot referred to the yodh, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet (in the Greek alphabet, iota). (Who knows, perhaps in the interest of time and expediency, Hebrew schoolchildren sometimes left out the yodh, and perhaps some 49-year-old rabbi ranted about it.) A tittle was even smaller, referring to a slight projecting point on some of its letters. It was very small, but it made a difference. Think of how similar an S and the numeral 5 look. Just a tiny bit of sloppiness on the two right angles of the numeral 5 turns it into an S. Praise Jesus that he kept every tiny thing in the Book of the Law! If Jesus was going to be our substitute, then he would have to keep everything written in the Book of the Law. So Jesus kept the Passover that evening. He even took charge of the whole affair. He arranged for a place where he could celebrate with his disciples. He appointed Peter and John to make the preparations, to ensure that they would have a lamb “without blemish or defect” and have it killed. Jesus served as the host at the meal itself, distributing bread he had made sure was unleavened. Yes, leavened bread might have tasted better, but Jesus would keep even the jot that stipulated that the bread be unleavened. We remember the events of the upper room that night because of the lasting significance of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ vivid illustration of love in washing his disciples’ feet. But his keeping of the Passover is also enormously significant because it’s one more reassurance that our Substitute kept everything written in God’s commands. Then, when the meal was completed, after Jesus had kept the Passover according to the details commanded by God and with the pure heart God desired, Jesus really kept the Passover. You see, the Passover meal was even more than a remembrance of God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt through the blood of a lamb. It also foreshadowed God’s deliverance of his people from sin through the promised Messiah, who would sacrifice his body and shed his blood to save us from our sins. Now Jesus became the Passover Lamb. John the Baptist had proclaimed that Jesus was the one who would not only keep the Passover feast in obedience to God but also would be the final fulfillment of that feast. John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). So he went to the cross where, like the Passover lamb, he would die instead of sinful people. There he paid for every time that we have failed and every time that we have refused to keep a part of God’s commandments. Because he did it perfectly, there is no need to keep this Passover year after year with sacrifice after sacrifice. We want to remember Jesus’ keeping of the Passover in the upper room and his fulfilling of the Passover on the cross. You can do that especially by doing what you have done here tonight and what you can do for the next five weeks. You can come to hear about, and to worship, the one who perfectly kept the Passover—and all things—for you. Amen.

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