We have been helping the refugee families at Tusculum Elementary School over the past couple of years. These are families from Burma, Kurdistan, Nepal, and many other places in the world. Living in the United States has got to be a bewildering experience for them in so many ways!
These feasts are described in more detail elsewhere in the Old Testament, particularly in Exodus and Numbers. In Leviticus 23 we find a summary, if you will, for the layperson or for the newcomer. These feasts are the “appointed” feasts which are accompanied by sacred assemblies. A sacred assembly was a national gathering for the public worship of God. Primarily it was an occasion for offerings of sacrifices but later on in Israel’s history it may have also included reading the Scriptures.
This chapter lists the annual feasts, but first the people are reminded of the weekly Sabbath feast. What we will see, and what we are looking at in the Sunday School class on the Sabbath, is that the idea of rest from regular activities is built into the yearly calendar that God mandates. The weekly Sabbath was a time of rest and an occasion to gather for a sacred assembly.
The Sabbath was mandated by God generally for two reasons. First, it was given to people in order for them to rest from their regular labors. God established this order for he rested from the work of creation on the seventh day. Second, we see that the Sabbath was also given as a day to remember their salvation. God had powerfully finished his work of rescuing his people from Egypt. The people could rest because God had saved them and was providing for them. Sabbath rest is something found throughout most of the feasts and each time it underscores the fact that God has saved his people and is providing for them; God’s people can rest in that.
II. Let’s look first at the Passover.
Verse 5 says that the Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. In the Hebrew calendar this was Nisan and began in our mid-March. Before the Exodus, the people likely followed another calendar but now because they are a brand new people, they follow a brand new calendar. The Passover’s purpose was to remember what exactly God had done in rescuing the people. When the people were rescued from Egypt, God killed the first born of everyone in Egypt unless the household had killed a lamb and put the lamb’s blood on the doorpost of the house. If the blood was there, the angel passed-over that house and no one was killed. This was the event that caused Pharaoh to release the people and God led them out on their way to the promised land of Canaan. The Passover was to be a sacred assembly, a time when all of God’s people gather together to worship thanking God for the amazing rescue he had done for them in Egypt.
So how did the annual celebration of Passover help the people remember what God had done? On the tenth day of the first month, the head of every family was to take a lamb or a goat, a male, one year old without defect, just like the lamb they killed in Egypt. The fact that it was perfect indicated the animal was to be dedicated completely to God. They were to keep it for 4 days before it was killed which may have been so that the people could see it and have it remind them of the meaning of their redemption and on God’s mercy. The lamb was to be killed on the 14th day at twilight. The meat was not to be eaten raw but cooked completely and then eaten in its entirety. The lamb was to remain intact and roasted for this made it look like a sacrificed animal. No bones were to be broken and if there was any left over, it must be shared with others. This is one feast that was to be celebrated in their homes with their families.
The Passover was the feast celebrating the great salvation God had worked for his people. Listen to this Jewish Passover prayer: “Even if our mouths were filled with songs like the sea, our tongues with joy like its mighty waves, our lips with praise like the breadth of the sky, if our eyes shone like the sun and the moon, and our hands were spread out like the eagles of heaven, if our feet were as swift as the hind, we should still be incapable of thanking you adequately for one thousandth part of all the love you have shown us.” God had the lamb killed so that the people would live.
III. The Passover then was followed immediately by Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Verse 6 says, “On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.” During the week no ordinary bread could be eaten. This recalled the people leaving Egypt so suddenly there was not time to leaven the bread. But there is an additional significance to the yeast. The yeast or sourdough was kept in a clay pot to be used later in preparation of the bread. They were to remove all the yeast from the house which pointed to the breaking with sin. In later celebrations of this in Judaism, the father went around collecting pieces of bread that had been placed around the house earlier; a symbol of removing all of their sin from their lives. In fact, Exodus 12:15 shows just how much God hates sin for anyone who keeps the yeast in the house will be cut off from Israel; they will be kicked out of the nation! The removal of the yeast is a symbol of the people being purified from their sin.
The celebration itself is described in verses 7-8: “On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present an offering to the Lord by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” The first and last days of this feast were rest days when “no heavy work” could be done. Ordinary work like farming or trading all stopped and a sacred assembly was held. For seven days, they are to present food offerings. The specifics of these are laid out in Numbers 28. They were to sacrifice 2 young bulls, one ram and 7 male lambs, all without defect. With each bull, they were to offer an offering of grain, a baked bread or cake. They were also to offer a goat up completely as a sin offering. Most of these things were given as food to be eaten by the people and the priests.
Now imagine the scene with me. Imagine the sounds of bleating animals and the smell of blood filling the air. Imagine the smell of cooking meat and baking bread. All of this was done to remind the people that God had saved them from Egypt and that he expected them to be his holy people. It was a day of celebration and feasting as they remembered what God had done for them.
IV. What is important for us to know is that these feasts have been fulfilled in Christ!
The Last Supper was instituted at the meal of the Passover and there Jesus clearly substitutes himself for the perfect lamb that was sacrificed. Because Christ is our Passover Lamb, we no longer have to fear eternal death and the punishment from God. Christ, the Lamb of God, died so that we could have life and freedom. Quite simply, our blood will not be shed because Christ’s blood was shed. Moreover, we find our identity in the blood of Christ. Most people find their identity in their ethnic heritage; much like the Israelites did then. Now through the blood of Christ, our identity is in Christ and there is no longer any Jew or Gentle, slave or free, male or female. We are part of God’s family because of Jesus and that is what matters the most. That is the importance of the fulfilled Passover for us.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us that we must sweep the leaven of sin from our lives. Let’s be very clear that when Jesus died and rose again, the guilt of our sin was removed. When God looks at us – as hard as it may be for us to imagine this – he looks at us as being pure and sinless because he sees Jesus’ obedience and punishment instead of ours. That should never cease to amaze us! Yet while Jesus did die to remove our sins, you and I both know that sin remains in our lives. It remains in the dark corners of our minds... and sometimes well out in the open. It remains when we lose patience, do wrong things or act selfishly. Let’s hear a call this morning to sweep out the sin from our lives! Let’s acknowledge that sin and be honest with God and confess it to him. Let’s continue to ask God to cleanse us from it and help us to overcome it.
Look at how Paul picks up this picture of yeast in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 5. In the church in Corinth was a man who was involved in an immoral relationship and Paul condemns his actions and urges the church to remove him from that church. He writes, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Paul urges Christians to get rid of the sin in their lives just like the Hebrews did in this feast. So let us sweep out those sins in our lives and look to Christ, the Lamb of God!