The Great Deliverance

Passover and Memorial

“And this day shall be a remembrance for you, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD through your generations, an everlasting statute you shall celebrate it” (Exodus 12:14, Robert Alter Translation).

by Jon Bivol

The time had come. The cry of God’s children reached His ears and it was time for a change. It was time for the nation of Israel to be delivered from Egypt’sbondage, slavery, and oppression. This became a reality when God sent a series of plagues upon the land of Egypt that culminated with the death of the firstborn. The nation of Israel was spared by sacrificing an unblemished lamb and sprinkling its blood upon the doorposts before the angel of death passed by.

The sacrifice of the lamb became a holy day for the Hebrews, to be remembered and celebrated for the following generations. Imagine the joy that passed through every Israelite heart, to be free from the rule of Pharaoh, and to be led by a loving God. Even if this joy did not last very long, and soon after their deliverance they murmured and complained, they could see the difference between being under Pharaoh’s rule and God’s loving care.

This Passover celebration was passed on from generation to generation, but as time went by it became merely a story, a history without any personal feelings. Not only would the Israelites forget about their deliverance from Egypt, but time after time they would forget their God, as mentioned many times in the book of Judges. “And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger” (Judges 2:12 ).

Children were born in the Promised Land, that fruitful land full of milk and honey, in liberty and peace. When things abound, some lose their appreciation for what they have and forget to count their blessings. As time passed, it became harder for the children of Israel to remember how their parents “sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage” (Exodus 2:23). Many times they would forget Him until things got very bad, then remember their God and repent, and He would help them
again. This was repeated numerous times.

When the period of the kings was coming to an end, and after multiple periods of disobedience and recovery under both bad and good kings, King Josiah held a great reform. King Josiah reminded the people of the great God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt and cared continually for them. We read of this revival in 2 Kings 23:22, “Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah.” Regarding King Josiah we read, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:25).

Sometimes we might lose hope when we see that the younger generation does not seem to hold the standard of Truth as high as their parents did, or are not as zealous as those before them. However, from King Josiah, we see that it is never too late. God will raise up representatives to continue His purposes.

Jesus as the Antitypical Lamb

Still, it did not take long for the nation of Israel to again forget their deliverance, Passover, and God’s commandments. Over 600 years later, God sent His only son to once again call on the nation for repentance and to present Jesus as the antitypical Passover lamb. The same night Jesus celebrated his fourth Passover with the disciples, he instituted the last supper, saying “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

John had proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Although the Passover lamb was not offered on account of sin, Jesus’ death was typified by that lamb. Similarly, as in the land of Egypt, the time had come for His people to be truly delivered from the bondage of sin and death and those who would hear His words and obey them would not come unto judgment but pass from death to life (John 5:24).

Imagine the joy that came into every true Israelite’s heart that accepted the precious blood of the lamb that brings justification and ultimately deliverance. Finally, people could be free. There is nothing in this world that would hold them back, nothing that would turn them away from the one who gave them a new life.

Here we witness the same pattern as had occurred with the nation of Israel. The generation that was personally touched by Jesus’ life, full of zeal and enthusiasm for the word of God and which preached the Gospel despite any persecution, was followed by generations that lost touch with that personal experience, and their faith became merely a tradition. This started to happen “while men [apostles and early believers] slept” (Matthew 13:25) when spiritual sleepiness found its way among subsequent generations of believers (1 Corinthians 11:30).

God raised many reformers to heal the Christian system, but it was not until the harvest at the end of the Gospel Age that the truth was more clearly seen. Just as God raised Josiah in Israel, He raised a messenger to bring forth the true meaning of faith, to raise the standard of Christ, to encourage God’s people to drink from the antitypical cup and eat the unleavened bread, and to die daily as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). The message of Truth became so powerful that every heart touched by it continued to live it and spread the glad tidings of good things.

Memorial Principles

As we approach the end of the Christian Age, we must guard against a lack of zeal for God’s standards and principles once again. We must take the lessons from Israel and put them personally into practice in our lives. As we approach the time of the year when we celebrate and remember the great deliverance from sin and death brought by our Redeemer, we must examine ourselves.

 Do we feel closer and more united with our Lord and his people each year, or has the celebration of the Memorial year after year become more of a tradition?
 As we continue to sacrifice our justified humanity, do we appreciate more and more the sacrifice of our Lord and his invitation to follow him?
 Do we meditate on how the Creator has delivered us from the bondage of sin, and through the blood of the antitypical lamb we are passed over? “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).

Keeping the Passover for the Jews was a commandment not to be broken. There were only two reasons why a person could forego keeping it at the appointed time: if they were unclean by encountering a dead body, or if they were on a long journey (Numbers 9:10). Even then, they were to observe it a month later. “But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:13).

Paul says that we must show this same diligence in keeping the Memorial of our Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:28-30). Besides baptism, the Memorial is the only event of Jesus’ life that he asked us to remember. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Pastor Russell wrote, “And even where an individual may be so circumstanced that he cannot possibly meet with others, we suggest that his faith go out with sufficient strength to the Lord to claim the promise — regarding the Lord and himself as the two. We advise that such unavoidable isolation be not permitted to hinder any from the annual celebration of the great sacrifice for sin” (The New Creation, page 475).

It should be noted that this is a symbol only of what we feel and live daily in our lives. The more we recognize our shortcomings, the more we will realize the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and how much we need His help along the way. This is what the Memorial should mean to us — to stop from our busy lives, from our daily routines, and reason upon
our commitment. We should not let the daily routine of living overshadow our greater purpose. We must realize that without the death of that antitypical lamb, without the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, we would not have hope in this troubled world. By him, however, we can: “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19,20). We ought to appreciate how the death of our Lord changed the course of our lives.

As we remember and symbolize what our Lord has done for us, naturally we want to show our appreciation for this by engaging ourselves in the lifestyle that he followed. “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

A Call to Change

The institution of Passover for the Jews initiated a great change. The nation would move from a life of bondage, where their lives were dependent on work for a foreign empire, to a life of serving the true and living God. They would leave everything behind. Everything would be provided as long as they stayed faithful in their commitment to Him and obeyed His commandments.

We have a similar calling. We are called to leave human hopes, ambitions, and temporary pleasures (Psalms 45:10). Like Paul, we are to realize that: “the [earthly] things that were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:7,8). We are called to be strangers and pilgrims looking for another home, a heavenly city (Hebrews 13:14, 12:22). Peter reminds us: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

The nation of Israel was taught and tested by Jehovah God. Their wilderness journey saw many failures. But after all but two of the generations that left Egypt died in the wilderness, the nation entered the Promised Land. Forty years was enough for the nation to be proved and ready to enter the land promised to Abraham. Similarly, the Church will have passed through a wilderness experience and finally arrive at the Promised Land. “Cast not away, therefore, your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward” (Hebrews 10:35).

Here, at the end of the Gospel age, are we ready to enter the Promised Land? Are we acceptable to Him and do we feel His approval in our lives? Are we living the real feast of Passover? Are we dying daily, following the example of his way?

Jesus asked his apostles: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink” (Matthew 20:22)? Without any hesitation, they answered, “We can.” Similarly, when we saw his goodness toward us, we too answered, “Yes, we can drink.” The apostles hardly knew what to expect, but it was their determination and desire through the strength of the Holy Spirit to be faithful to the end. Their example is detailed in God’s Word for us. Likewise, as we draw closer to Him, the more difficult the way may seem to become. Let us stand against Satan’s attacks and temptations.

Let us renew our vows of consecration, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Let us purge every little appearance of sin in our lives and be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Let us be examples and good ambassadors of Christ in this world. Let us always have the words of our Lord and Apostles in our minds. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

As our earthly lives draw to a close, let us be ready to say together with the Apostle: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Let us raise our voices together and say with our beloved Apostle Peter, “To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

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