As we enter the Spring Holy Day season, it is important to recognize the “cumulative” nature of God’s annual Holy Days and what they represent. Most of us in God’s Church recognize that the “feasts of the Lord” given in Leviticus 23—kept by Jesus Christ and the Church He founded—lay out in beautiful detail God’s plan for humanity’s salvation. While we should, of course, spend considerable focus on the Holy Days and their meaning, we must not let our focus on the Days of Unleavened Bread keep us from fully appreciating the lessons of the Passover.
The Passover pictures a key step—the vital first step—without which the rest would be for nothing: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins. Without that, there is not much point in going on to what the Days of Unleavened Bread picture: the removal of sin from our lives.
It is so vital to remember this Passover lesson and keep it in mind as we step into the Days of Unleavened Bread. As John wrote so plainly, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The Passover in 31 AD demonstrated the depth of God’s love. God took the initiative—while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8)—and cleared the way for a relationship with us. He was willing to pay the ultimate price, the sacrifice of His own Son, so that the stark chasm of sin between us and Him could be bridged. That’s how much we mean to Him!
The Context of Our Lives
The Days of Unleavened Bread picture our only reasonable response to such unfathomable love: accepting it in obedience, thereby showing our love to God. As the Apostle Paul said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1–2). The only proper response to such love is to accept it, and we accept it with willing obedience. Else, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…?” (Hebrews 2:3).
But, in our efforts to live a life of obedience, we regularly fail. Perhaps less so as time goes on and we learn to more completely allow Christ to live His life in us (Galatians 2:20), but, still, fail we do. He who says he does not fail is a liar, according to the word of God (1 John 1:8). However much we strive to keep ourselves apart from the evils of this world, the truth is that—having been called in this evil age—we are “swimming against the tide,” as we seek to live our Christian commitment in a world bitterly opposed to our efforts. This world is not yet our Father’s world! Why not? Because humanity, in its general hubris, has chosen not to make it so. As we read in the first three chapters of Genesis, human beings chose from the very beginning to seek their own way over their merciful Maker’s—a choice first made by Adam and Eve, and a choice that has been repeated by each and every one of us in our own ways and in our own lives.
Mankind’s rebellious choices amount to a declaration that we have no need for God to bless our fields and crops to make them prosper, nor to bless our skies that they may not become our enemies, nor to bless our cities to keep them safe. God has given us free moral agency, so He must witness great suffering in a world that He intends for far better things. Yet, how it must stir Him—with a passion we can scarcely comprehend—in His yearning to set this world right once mankind has finally learned the tragic lessons it seems we can learn in no other way. How He must long for the soon-coming day when He will ensure such calamities never occur again. This is His love for us, while we were yet sinners—the love that motivated Jesus Christ to become our Passover lamb! We should be awestruck by that love, as we strive to live the lives pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread, emptying ourselves of the “leaven of malice and wickedness” and filling ourselves instead with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).
The truth is that we can sometimes become dejected and mournful, seeing how—time and time again—we fall short of Christ’s perfect standard. Yet that sorrowful, dismal perspective is misleading. Why?
Because we must remember that the Days of Unleavened Bread come after the Passover! The context of our lives, exemplified by the Days of Unleavened Bread, is that of God’s love shown to us earlier on the Passover!
Paul proclaims this so powerfully in Romans 8:38–39: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do we believe that amazing statement? Do we see in God a Father who is completely committed to helping us succeed? Do we see a Father whose passion is to have us in His Kingdom with Him? Do we believe our Savior when He says that it is His Father’s “good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32)? God is excited about His future with us!
And it is important enough to Him—and to His Son, Jesus Christ—that They were both willing to endure the agony of the Passover. Yes, it was agony for both of Them. In his booklet John 3:16: Hidden Truths of the Golden Verse, Mr. Gerald Weston draws attention to the Father’s role in the events of Passover. If we are to successfully live the lives pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread, we must understand the Father’s role in the Passover and learn what it teaches us.
Consider the “father of the faithful” as an example. Anyone who cannot recognize that God intended Abraham and Isaac to picture Himself and Jesus Christ either hasn’t reflected enough on the matter or doesn’t have eyes to see. Why was the sacrifice of Isaac such a test for Abraham? Because watching your own child suffer and die is one of the most horrible experiences a human being can endure. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if you knew that the suffering and death had to be at your own hand? Does anyone doubt that this was a trial for Abraham?
In this context, God wants us to look to the human father—a role He created—to understand our heavenly Father (e.g., Matthew 7:9–11). Through this, we can know that on that Passover night, when His Child asked for the cup to pass from Him if it were at all possible, it had to be heartbreaking for the Father to tell His Boy: “No.” It had to involve an indescribable sadness for the Father to watch His Son beaten and tortured, and then to have to turn from Him, allowing Him to become the perfect and complete sacrifice for sin as He hung to death on a stake—eventually stabbed brutally by a Roman soldier, His blood shed for our wrongdoing.
While hanging there, crucified like a criminal for our sins and not His own, the Savior cried out loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which Mark 15:34 tells us is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus was quoting Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?” (v. 1).
It was not that the Father did not love His Son—He had known and dearly loved Him from eternity past, in a relationship of intimacy and trust that we mere mortals can scarcely imagine. But that distance between Them, in that moment, was necessary. For the price of sin includes that distance. As the Apostle Paul explains: “For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This doesn’t mean that sin is some sort of “substance” that Christ was changed into. Rather, at that moment of torture and death, He represented the totality of our sins, which He bore on Himself. And because sin separates from God, that separation from the Father was another aspect of our penalty that the Son of God willingly bore for us, so that those who turn to God need not bear it themselves. Paul explains in Galatians 3:13 that Christ became a curse on our behalf, taking our curse upon Himself, since “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23).
Jesus Christ did nothing to deserve being accursed. He did nothing to deserve separation from God. The profound loneliness He experienced in those final moments of His suffering—when He no longer felt the presence of the One He had never been without—was a loneliness He did not earn. We earned it. Our sins separate us from God. It is part of the price—and He took that burden willingly so those who turn to Him never have to suffer that burden, themselves. Considering that God Almighty was willing to go through such an ordeal—that He and Jesus Christ believed that having you and me in Their Kingdom was worth that price—who are you, who am I, to question Their total commitment to seeing us get there? What awesome love is revealed by the Passover!
Why Passover Comes First
It is in the context of the awesome love of God, expressed in the Passover, that we enter the Days of Unleavened Bread—and we dare not forget that context! We do not enter the Days of Unleavened Bread as if they represent a great audition for the Kingdom, in which God is merely watching us from the sidelines to see if we’re going to “make it.” We enter them knowing that God is with us, and that He has done all He can to ensure that we know—and know that we know—that He is committed to us and our success, that He loves us, and that even our many slips and our inevitable stumbles aren’t enough to convince Him to abandon us. He has paid too big a price to give in so easily. We fall, yes—but He is ready at hand, right there, to pick us up and encourage us to keep on going.
The world’s counterfeit Christianity wants to glory in its incomplete and mistaken understanding of the Passover without accepting the “rest of the story.” After Passover and God’s action on our behalf must come our response, typified by the Days of Unleavened Bread: repentance and the commitment to removing sin from our lives. Of course, as we struggle to put our sin out, we must not forget that we have a Father and an Elder Brother who are with us in the struggle, and who, while we were yet in our sins, thought of you and thought of me as prizes worth the price. Their work did not stop at Passover. It continues, and we should be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Why? Because to the God of the universe, the work He is doing in you is no mere obligation. It is a labor of love.
Many of us, myself included, have seen and experienced the difficulty and sickness of heart that can come from struggling against the flesh to put out sin, rightly living the lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread, while losing sight of the vital lesson of the Passover. We need the context Passover provides concerning the incredible love of God for each and every one of us. With that context firmly in place, the life pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread can be the joy that God intends it to be: a life in which we are learning to feed on Christ and allow Him, more with each passing day, to live His life within us.
I will conclude this article by sharing a memory that has taught me a great deal. I have shared it many times, and I think it represents something important to keep in mind during this wonderful Holy Day season.
A good twenty-or-so years ago, my smaller-than-it-is-now family and I were in Waco, Texas, visiting my wife’s aunt. One of my sons, around three years old at the time, was desperately trying to pedal a little tricycle across the grassy lawn to the paved patio, but he was getting nowhere. Really, nowhere—he couldn’t move it even a quarter inch. The grass was just too formidable an obstacle, and his little muscles simply weren’t up to the task.
When I saw him frustrated—crying and wanting to give up—I told him that I would be glad to help him pull the tricycle to the paved patio, where he could easily ride it to his heart’s content. Well, that was no good—he wanted to ride it to the patio, so his crying and frustration continued.
It seemed a character-building moment, so I made him a deal. I didn’t want him to give up, and I told him that I would push him to the patio on one condition: He had to keep pedaling. I told him that I would guarantee that he would make it to the patio—a task he was utterly incapable of achieving on his own—as long as he did not quit pushing against the pedals.
That seemed like a good deal to him, so off we went. He continued to struggle against the pedals, and I was there behind him, pushing the tricycle forward. He was moving! Where previously he had been going nowhere under his own power, now he was making steady progress under “Dad power.”
That’s when, of course, he figured something out. After we had covered some ground, he just picked up his feet. “Free ride!” seemed to be the thought bouncing around in that brain of his—so then, I stopped, too. It was not my goal to give him a “free ride.” If he was going to build any character through this experience, he had to be in the fight.
His halted progress toward the patio was a quick tutor, so he began to strain against the pedals once more, and I began to push again, too. And soon enough, the goal had been reached—the tricycle was out of the grass and on good, smooth pavement, at which point he pedaled away on his own and my help was no longer necessary. (I’m not sure if I received any thanks, but I will happily assume that I did.)
Did he make it to the patio on his own? Hardly! Indeed, in the grass he hadn’t even been able to budge the tricycle on his own. It was all me—“Dad power.” Yet, had he not been willing to struggle for himself—to persevere, to be in the fight—I would not have been willing to push, because it was the character in him that I wanted. While I provided the power and the strength to do the job, he had a role to play, too, because my ultimate goal wasn’t a successful tricycle ride. My goal was to build a bit of character in a son I loved.
The lesson I learned is one I hope I never forget: As we pedal toward God’s Kingdom, we must take great care that we don’t foolishly begin trusting in our own power, or we will be dead in the grass. And, just as importantly, we must not allow ourselves to pick up our feet, hoping for a “free ride”—or we’ll be just as dead and defeating the purpose for which our Father has us pedaling in the first place: participating with Him as He builds character in us, children He dearly loves.
He will get us there. Indeed, He passionately desires to do so. But we must keep pedaling.
As we enter the Days of Unleavened Bread, pedal away! But don’t forget who’s pushing you to the patio and take comfort in the knowledge that your Father loves you more than you can ever understand—that He is going to get you there if you are willing to keep on pedaling. As we review this year the lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread, let’s not forget the lessons we should have learned from the Passover. When we think of the eternal lives we long to inherit, the Passover can remind us of the great and immeasurable love with which God desires to envelop us for all eternity. An unending existence awaits us where, for all time, that love, comfort, and encouragement will become our rich reality—an existence in which we will never know the lack of that love, nor ever fear that we might become distant from it.
Passover reminds us that our Almighty Father and His Son have gone to the ultimate length to make Their home with us. How wonderful that, in the eternal life to come, we will know the joy of Their intimate love and presence forever.