Tag Archives: new testament

Exodus, Jesus, and Wine

How much do you know about the story of Easter? Maybe less than you think. Read on!

Most of us are familiar with the ancient Easter story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, especially if we grew up in the Church. But the reality is that the Easter narrative began thousands of years before the death of Jesus. The dramatic lead-up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is quite elaborate and was set in place generations before Rome even existed.

If you turn to Exodus 11-12, you will read the story of Moses liberating the people of Israel from the heavy hand of slavery in Egypt. You may have heard this in Sunday school or on Prince of Egypt. Here how the story basically went: Israel was in slavery in Egypt, so God sent Moses to free them. Moses stood before Pharaoh, the king, and told him to free the slaves. The pharaoh refused until God sent ten plagues to the land. The final plague was the death of all the firstborn sons in Egypt. The only ones who were spared were those who obeyed God by killing a lamb and painting some of its blood on their doorposts. Finally, pharaoh relented and forced the people out of the land. They left while their bread was still without yeast and baked the flat cakes during the journey. God instituted Passover in remembrance of this event. I’ll give more details on the Passover feast below.

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Seder Plate for Passover. The horseradish sauce represents the bitterness of slavery, the lamb represents the lamb whose blood caused the Angel of Death to “pass over” the Israelite homes, the herbs dipped in salt water represent the Red Sea crossing, the honey represents the sweetness of freedom, and the egg represents the Temple sacrifice.

 

Fast-forward a thousand years to the account in Matthew 26:1-30. It’s the year 30 AD in Jerusalem, and crowds of Jews have gathered to their holy city to celebrate the Passover. They will be observing the Passover meal tonight, and tomorrow they will all bring a Passover lamb to sacrifice at the Temple to atone for their sins. The lamb must be perfect, with no broken bones or blemishes. The priest will slaughter the lambs for about six hours, and when the last lamb has been sacrificed, he will say, “It is finished.” It’s a gruesome sight– so much blood will be spilled and many innocent animals lives lost. It’s designed to be that way so that the people will see how awful their wrongdoings are and be thankful that God took the life of the animal in exchange for the life of the sinner.

On this night, Jesus celebrated Passover the same way that the rest of the nation did. He gathered with his closest friends to eat the symbolic flatbread and drink the symbolic wine. And then he taught them that the entire Passover was designed to point the way to himself. He was the final Passover lamb, the perfect one who would die in the place of the sinner. He would be the lamb who wiped away the wrongdoing– not just for a year, but forever.

Jesus and the disciples reclined at the table, first-century style. This Passover meal would come to be known as the Last Supper and be the foundation of the sacrament of Communion or Eucharist. Together, they drank the first cup of wine: the cup of holiness. This cup reminded them that God is holy and He desires holiness from His people. Next, the ceremonial washing of hands began. But Jesus did not simply wash the hands of himself and his friends. He washed their feet, a sign of servanthood. His friends were confused because he was their teacher and leader. Jesus told them that he was setting an example for them. He expected them to also serve one another.

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Washing hands

 

After the washing of hands comes the herbs dipped in salt water. The salt water dripping from the herbs reminds us of the tears of the Israelite slaves and the salty Red Sea that the people passed through to find freedom in a new land. For Christians, it is also reminder of baptism. In fact, the institution of baptism has to do with the story of the Red Sea. Christian baptism is a symbol of leaving the old life of bondage to wrongdoing and passing into a new life of freedom with Jesus.

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Parsley dipped in salt water

 

Next, Jesus took up the flatbread, which is called “Matza.” Traditionally, it is broken into three pieces, representing the Jewish patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as Jesus broke it, He said, “This is my body, broken for you.” He had been telling them for days now that he would have to die, but they didn’t quite understand yet.

Next Jesus picked up the second cup of wine, the cup of judgement. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The old covenant had been dependent on the blood of animals, spilled to atone for wrongdoing. Soon, Jesus would spill his blood on the cross and initiate the new covenant. The new covenant is that Jesus blood, his death, is sufficient to make up for wrongdoing. You don’t need to kill and animal, and you don’t need to do anything to earn right standing with God and entry into Heaven. You only have to trust that Christ’s death is enough.

Jesus began to pass around the cup. Each person dipped their flatbread in the wine and ate. As they did so, Jesus dropped the bombshell: He really was going to die, and one of those at the table would betray him to the authorities and make it happen. They began to question who it was. Judas had already struck a deal to betray Jesus, so he got up and left to finish the job.

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The rest of them continued in conversation and Jesus taught the last of his lessons to them. After, they sang a hymn. I imagine that it was the song “Dayenu,” which is sung at every Passover meal. The song talks about how God continually does good things for His people: led them out of Egypt, gave them the Sabbath, gave them the Torah. We can add one more to the list: gave us Jesus.

After the song, Jesus and his disciples left to pray on the Mount of Olives. After an hour or so, Judas returned with a great mob to arrest Jesus. That night, he was tried before the governor and found guiltless. But the governor was pressured by the people to crucify him, so he turned Jesus over to them to die. Jesus was hung at 9:00 am, as soon as the lambs in the Temple began to be slaughtered. At 3:00 pm, when the last lamb was slaughtered, the High Priest said, “it is finished. A few miles away, Jesus felt himelf dying. He cried out, “It is finished!” and exhaled his last breath.

He was buried that night.

Three days later, the tomb was found empty. A few women claimed to have seen him. The governor tried everything he could to find the body. But it was nowhere to be found. More people began to claim to have seen him, and the days continued to go by. The governor gave up looking for the body.

The body was gone.

Jesus had risen from the dead.

He was who he said he was!

And we can have everlasting life because he is the perfect Passover lamb who took away the sins of the world.

First Sunday of Advent

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

My family loves celebrations and traditions. Growing up, we had many wonderful traditions leading up to Christmas– little gifts for Christmas countdown, paper chains, setting out a new nativity scene every day for two weeks, picking out a live tree, decorating parties. Of all the traditions of my childhood, one stands out in my mind as a particular favorite. Every Sunday for the month leading up to Christmas, my mom would cook a special dinner and my dad would lead us in Christmas advent devotions. My memories of this annual event are so vivid. I can almost smell the scent of burning wax and hear my dad’s voice reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. This year, we’re thousands of miles away from my parents, but we’re carrying on the Advent tradition in our own home.

The Advent candle tradition has been observed for centuries by Catholics and protestants alike. Traditionally, a wreath is constructed from evergreen boughs, laid flat on the table, and four candles are arranged in a circle on the wreath. One tall, white candle is set in the center. Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, a new candle is lit. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second, two are lit, and so on. On Christmas, all four candles on the wreath are lit, and finally the white candle is lit, as well. This candle is the Christ candle and it honors the birth of Jesus.

The four candles in the circle have no set meaning, although there are many different names and symbolisms given to the candles. Some call them the peace, hope, love, and joy candles. In my home growing up, they each represented a different group that announced the coming of Jesus. The first candle was the prophet candle, representing Old Testament prophets; the second was the angel candle, representing the angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; the third was the shepherd candle; and the fourth was the wise men candle.

Generally, the lighting of the candle is accompanied by devotional and scripture reading. My dad would always read from an Advent devotional book and then choose portions of Scripture to accompany it.

The lighting of the Advent candles is not a religious ritual. It is simply a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christmas season. Like many people observe Lent to help themselves remember and focus on the approach of Easter, Advent devotions help us to remember that Christmas is coming and also remember why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s a time to take a break from the distractions and busyness of life and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless Walmart isles of toys and the explosion of red and green in Hobby Lobby, Pinterest and our news feeds. But the true reason we even have Christmas at all is that 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born in a cave in the Middle East, and He changed the world.

Now that’s something to celebrate.

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In preparation for Advent Sunday, I bought some candles at the Chinese market next door– they didn’t have pink or purple candles, which are traditional, so I bought red, green, yellow and white instead. Oh, well. At least they look Christmassy! I went to a baby shower today and ended up with some bits of green ribbon, which look great tied around the candles. We don’t exactly have evergreen here, so my ribbon will suffice. Also, I think the circular formation of the candles must have some significance, but I don’t know what it is–anyway, it looked weird without a real wreath.  I set them up in a line and they looked beautiful.

Ben found an Advent devotional on his Logos app on his phone. We sat down to dinner with Matt, I lit the candle, and Ben began to read.

The devotional he chose called the first candle the Shepherd Candle. It signifies the Lord’s guidance in our life as a shepherd. In many places in Scripture, God is called our shepherd. It seems like a weird metaphor to a society without a whole lot of shepherds (or sheep for that matter), but it was a very tangible comparison for Middle Eastern ancients. A shepherd watches vigilantly and lovingly over his sheep, and he protects them from harm and cares for them.

Here are some Bible references that talk about Jesus as a shepherd:

If you don’t have Advent plans for this evening, why not take a few moments to read these scripture passages? Whether or not you have an Advent wreath, candles, or even a Bible in print, you can celebrate the Christmas season by celebrating Jesus.

 

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Or how does your family observe Advent?