ATONEMENT, PASSOVER, AND ETERNAL LIFE
God had created two memorial days that he could have chosen as the pattern of his salvation for humanity. One was the Day of Atonement. On that day, the high priest offered up sacrifices for purifying the Tabernacle (temple as well), his own sins, and the sins of the people. However, this sacrifice had a few short comings. The ritual of atonement was complicated and it involved several sacrifices. And worst of all, it was not effective. It had to be repeated every year. The ritual of atonement was complicated and it involved several sacrifices. You can read about the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. The other memorial day was Passover. Where the Day of Atonement was a solemn day, Passover was a celebration.
The Day of Atonement was about the holiness of God. God required that the holy place been cleansed as well as the altars and the high priest. The effect of all the rituals is that God is utterly holy and cannot be approached by any man without proper caution. The result of sinful man inappropriately approaching God would be death. Thus, a clear boundary was laid between God and man. And it defined the holiness of God and how man’s sin violated and offended his holiness.
This ritual was to be performed yearly. The book of Hebrews (chapter 10) makes it clear that the ritual had to be repeated every year because the blood of bulls and goats could not effectively erase the sins of humanity nor give us a clear conscience. However, the rituals anticipated the day when the one and final sacrifice would be offered. The one and only sacrifice was the death of Jesus. Again, Hebrews 10 makes it clear that Jesus was our high priest who himself offered as a sacrifice for our sins and that his sacrifice was perfect and needed to be offered only once. The effective nature of Christ’s work on the cross was that he was our substitute. He died for our sins. His sacrifice was so effective that it was never to be repeated and it did away with the old rituals, which were flawed and incomplete.
Emphasis on the Atonement reflects the holiness and righteousness of God. It also makes clear the serious nature of being in violation of God’s law. The Old Testament sacrifices are somewhat gruesome in that a death was required, that blood must be shed and, that blood would be a covering for sin. The images are so powerful that some have tried to either defeat them or moderate them to make them more palatable to human sensitivities. But this cannot be done. We must see in this ritual how serious and deadly our sins are and that the God of Justice must fulfill the demands of his own law. Otherwise, why have law in the first place? But we also must note that God himself pays the price demanded by his holiness and his justice. God himself became flesh to fulfill the Law, to satisfy the offence of his holiness. These are powerful images. We would be wise to understand what was at stake, what holiness means, what sinfulness means and the powerful extent to which God has gone to redeem us.
The Atonement with all its emphasis on holiness and Law, is not the season that God chose to carry forth his plan for redemption. It was another memorial day or feast that was chosen. God chose the time of Passover to bring forth his act of salvation. The emphasis of Passover is on freedom. God sets his people free. It is the other side of the same coin, holiness on one side, love on the other.
Passover was the other great defining moment in the history of the Jews. Both Day of Atonement and the Passover are still observed by the Jews. Whereas the Day of Atonement was Solemn and full of danger, Passover was a time of great joy!
Passover was that time when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. You can read about the first Passover in Exodus 12. You will notice there is a sense of urgency and excitement. The people were preparing for their escape. Moses would lead them out of Egypt, to what would be a long journey to the Promised Land.
The Passover remembers when God brought the final plague upon Egypt and the house of Pharaoh. Moses had warned that God would take the life of every firstborn child in Egypt. But the Jews were to kill and cook the Passover lamb. The meal was to be prepared in a hurry and eaten dressed to travel. They were to paint their lintels and doorposts with the blood of the lamb. The blood covered all who were in that house, and the angel of death would pass over them. Please observe that a life is taken and that blood was involved in the preservation of the people of God.
Since that day and at the command of God, Jews have celebrated the Passover with the same sense of urgency and with the same kind of excitement. The story is retold over and over again, in a family environment. Each one is to place him or herself back to that first Passover and relive that moment as if they were there.
Jesus died during Passover. The Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal. This is no mere coincidence. God chose the right time and the right place to bring about our salvation in Christ. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. He is the one who sets us free from a life of slavery of sin. Like the Jews of old, we need to look to Resurrection Sunday with joy and a sense of urgency. God has come to set us free.
Jesus was our Atonement and was our Passover. The blood of Christ made us right with God and with the Law of God. But, Jesus was also our Passover and he has set us free from sin, slavery and death. But, perhaps the most exciting of all is that Jesus rose from the dead! The sacrificial animal of the atonement did not rise from the dead. But our Atonement, our Passover Lamb did rise from the grave in splendor and glory. In fact the work of God excels in every way. The work of Christ extends the meaning of his sacrifice. Yes, he atones for our sins, but his work lasts forever. Yes, Christ, is our Passover Lamb, set us free from slavery to sin and death forever! But Jesus rose from the dead, proving all that he claimed and said was true. And, the most exciting of all, the proclamation is that we have eternal life because death itself was defeated. We have been atoned for! We have been set free! And we have been given eternal life!
As we enter Holy Week, I urge every reader to think about these things. May we gain the glory of God as we remember our Atonement, our Passover and our Eternal life in Christ!