How many of you use a planning calendar? They come in various forms. Some people use a desktop or wall calendar to keep track of important events. Others use a pocket planner or Day Timer to keep things straight. Or maybe, like me, you keep your schedule on a computer and access it with your iPad or other handheld device. But most of us use a calendar, so we don’t forget important dates or overbook our lives and suffer all the stress that comes from it.
But here’s something that may surprise you. Did you know that God has a planning calendar? Not because of any lapses in His memory or shortcomings in His planning ability. Just think how infinitely brilliant His mind is—coordinating all the details of our lives with all the billions of other events going on so that His plans for the world and individual lives are fulfilled with any failure on His part! This is what the Bible says about Him. Isaiah 46:10 is one example where God says of Himself, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Acts 17:26-27 is another example where Paul says of Him, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” God not only made the nations of this world, He also planned where each nation would live and when each nation would rise and fall.
But the most important event in history is described in Galatians 4:4-5 says where it says, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” The timing of Christ’s first coming was not an accident. He came right on God’s schedule, just when we needed Him most. And the Bible says God has the very day and hour planned when His Son will come again.
But what many people fail to realize is that God uses a different calendar than the world. The calendar the world uses to calibrate time is the Gregorian calendar of 365 days based on how long it takes the earth to orbit the sun. But God broke with that tradition 3500 years ago when He saved His people out of Egypt and made their nation a pattern for the world. Ra the sun god was Egypt’s greatest. So to make sure they had nothing to do with him, God not proved His supremacy over Ra by plunging all of Egypt in darkness–by the way, He also judged all of Egypt’s other gods through similar plagues–He also gave His people a new way of calibrating time based on the movement of the moon, not the sun.
In fact, that’s how God calibrated time from the beginning. God’s time is based on moonrise, not the rising of the sun. You can see that in Genesis 1 where at the end of each day of creation, it says, “And the evening and the morning were the first day” or second or third day, etc. God’s calendar begins with moonrise. Or if it’s a new moon and you can’t see it yet, then the day begins when the first three stars appear in the sky. That’s how the Hebrew day is calibrated. It is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth, which is a much more practical way of measuring time for an agricultural people, which the Hebrews were. All the Hebrew farmer had to do was look up at the moon at night and he could estimate what day of the month was. Did you know that the gravity of the new moon is also what pulls the water up through the soil and into the seed making it swell and burst, making the new moon the best time to plant new crops.
But of course, if you calculate the length of the year based on the moon, you’re going to get out of synch with the seasons because there are only 354 days in a lunar year. So to solve that problem the Hebrew calendar adds a leap month every two or three years to make up the difference. That’s why Passover gets earlier and earlier for two or three years and then suddenly jumps a few weeks. It’s because the Hebrew calendar is based on a lunar year!
But you say, “Why does any of this matter?” Well, it wouldn’t matter if God hadn’t hidden some very important information about the future in His calendar. But He has. Throughout the Jewish year, there are seven feasts—four in the spring and three in the fall, each one revealing something about what the coming Messiah would do for His people. The four spring feasts were already fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But three still remain. And if we understand how Christ fulfilled the first four, we can get a very clear understanding of how He’s going to fulfill the last three in the future.
That’s the study I want to lead us through the next several weeks together. Of course, many Christians balk at the idea of studying the Old Testament laws and feasts because as Christians we aren’t required to keep them. That’s true! As Colossians 2:17 says, they were merely “the shadows of things to come.” So we don’t have to keep them any more than we have to go to church on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, or offer sacrifices at the Temple. But understanding the feasts does open up many secrets about our faith that we wouldn’t otherwise know. In fact, the feasts were so important to Jesus that He kept every one without fail. The reason they were so important to Him and should be to us is because of the object lessons they teach about His work as our Savior.
You know what an object lesson is, I’m sure. It’s a physical object or action that pictures a spiritual truth. For example, if I were to teach a group of children about the spiritual gifts, I might show them a toolbox filled with different items like a hammer, a screwdriver, and a saw—each one having a different purpose and function. Then I’d go on to explain that in the same way the church is filled with people who have different abilities. No one can do everything, just as you can’t fix everything with a hammer. But when we work together, we can accomplish everything God calls us to do. That’s an object lesson.
And that is what the Jewish feasts are. They’re object lessons picturing what Jesus the Messiah promised to do for us. So let’s see what they involve. Open your Bibles to Leviticus chapter 23. This morning we’re going to look at two verses—verses 4 and 5 where God talks about the first feast, the Feast of Passover. There are three facts about it I want to look at—its celebration, its fulfillment, and its application for us today.
1. Its Celebration
Speaking to Moses in verse 4, the Lord says, “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover.” The first thing that ought to jump out at us is what God says about these feasts. He says, “These are My feasts (the feasts of the Lord) and this is My Passover.” In other words, even though Israel is the one being told to celebrate the feasts, they don’t belong to Israel or picture anything about Israel. The One they belong to and picture is Lord Jesus Christ. Israel is simply the tool through which He chose to reveal these things.
The second thing to notice is how little the Lord says about Passover here compared to all the space He gives to the other feasts. Why is that? It isn’t because the Passover is less important than the other feasts. On the contrary, Passover was the most important feast of all because of what it pictured about the Lord’s deliverance of His people out of Egypt. The reason there’s so little said about it here is because they’d had just celebrated it and knew all about it.
You may also know everything there is to know about the Passover. But in case you don’t, let’s take a moment to rehearse it together. God’s people, the children of Israel, were held in bondage in Egypt, forced to serve as slaves. So they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He sent them a deliverer in Moses who said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh refused, and instead of easing their burden, he oppressed them all the more. So God sent plague after plague upon Pharaoh and his people—water turned to blood; frogs, flies, lice, boils, disease afflicting the Egyptians and their livestock; locusts, hail, and darkness falling upon the land. Each one was a judgment upon one of Egypt’s gods— Ra the sun god, Seth the god of thunder, Isis the goddess of healing—proving that the God of Israel is Lord over all! But Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses until the final plague—the death of all the firstborn in Egypt—and only when his own son was struck dead, was Pharaoh willing to let God’s people go.
So there was great sorrow and mourning throughout the land of Egypt. But in the homes of the Israelites there was joy and feasting because God promised that wherever He saw the blood of a lamb was applied to the doorposts, He would pass over that home and their family would be safe. So from that night on, the Israelites were told that on the 14th day of the first month of their new calendar (Nisan), they were to hold a Passover feast (the Hebrew word is Pesach) to celebrate how God had saved them out of Egypt. But what’s surprising is how seldom they did so. Except for the reign of David and Solomon and the revivals of Hezekiah and Josiah, the nation of Israel in large part failed to keep the Passover. It wasn’t until their exile in Babylon that they began celebrating it faithfully as a way of holding themselves together as a nation.
Jesus faithfully kept the Passover. You’ll remember that was what He was doing during His first trip to Jerusalem at age 12 when He amazed the scholars with His understanding of God’s Word and where His parents forgot Him in the Temple. From that point on, Jesus attended the Passover feast every year in Jerusalem because that was one of the three great feasts at which all the men of Israel were required by Law to appear before the Lord in the Temple. So they all went. In fact, if Josephus the historian’s numbers are correct, there were 256,500 lambs sacrificed during the Passover at the time of Christ. That means, since the Law required that ten people share a paschal lamb, there were upwards of two million people squeezed together in Jerusalem at that time.
Today the Jewish people continue to faithfully celebrate the Passover. That’s one of the traditions that have served to hold them together as a people the past two thousand years. Unfortunately, it’s without the blessing of God because in order to celebrate the feasts, there has to be a Temple, for sacrifice is one of the key elements of the feasts. But with no Temple in Jerusalem today, no sacrifice can be offered. But then, that’s by God’s design, because God’s Lamb has already been sacrificed once and for all! That’s the second point we need to understand—not only the celebration of Passover, but also its fulfillment. Because rightly understood, the Passover not only looked back to God’s salvation of His people from Egypt; it also looked forward to Christ’s salvation of His people from sin.
2. Its Fulfillment
When you consider how all of the details came together in the life of Christ, you’d have to be a blind person not to see it. In fact, that’s exactly what the Bible says about those who do not believe. “The god of this world has blinded their minds so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” First, let’s consider how the lambs were prepared for sacrifice. Do you remember the words of the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem who were watching over their flocks by night? He said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” But have you ever wondered in what way that was a sign?
Most of you are familiar with Micah’s prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem of Judea, but have you ever read Micah 4:8 where the prophet said that the good news would be announced first at the Tower of the Flock (Migdal-Eder) near Jerusalem. That was a two-story tower in the pasture lands outside Bethlehem where the shepherds kept watch over their flocks. The remains of this tower were recently discovered, and you know what we’ve learned about it? The shepherds to whom the angels appeared were Levites from Jerusalem which was just 6 miles away, with the task of helping birth the lambs that were raised for sacrifice in the Temple. While these shepherd-priests kept watch over their flocks from the top of the tower, other shepherd-priests brought the pregnant sheep into the bottom of the tower where they’d take care of the newborn lamb, wrapping it strips of cloth made from priestly undergarments so they wouldn’t be blemished. They then took the lamb and placed it in a manger so it wouldn’t be trampled by the rest of the livestock.
That’s what was in their minds as they hurried to see what the angel had told them. When they arrived, what did they find? The baby Jesus lying in a manger wrapped in the same holy undergarments given to Mary, I believe, by Elizabeth her cousin who was married to priest. Remember that she just recently returned from visiting Elizabeth and Zachariah who knew that she was to give bear to the Messiah. And right away when the shepherds saw, they knew who He was! “The Unblemished Lamb of God, born to take away the sins of the world.” What an amazing sign that must have been to them!
Furthermore, when a Jewish family went to buy one of these lambs for sacrifice, they’d tie their family name around its neck to make sure they got back their own lamb to eat at the Passover meal. Why was that significant? Because God did the same thing with His Lamb! You remember when Jesus was crucified, Pilate posted a sign over His cross naming His crime: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. That’s why you often see four letters at the top of the Cross: INRI. That’s an abbreviation for what Pilate wrote in Latin: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (“Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”). You’ll remember that the religious rulers were furious about it and demanded that he change it. But he refused. He said, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.”
The reason the religious authorities were so angry about it is because Pilate not only wrote it in Latin, he also wrote it in Greek and Hebrew. What do the initials spell in Hebrew? The phrase is Y’shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim, which abbreviated is “YHVH,” the name of God first revealed to Moses at the burning bush and so holy that no Jew would dare utter it for fear of defiling it. Pilate wrote it the phrase but it was God who made sure He did, signifying forever that “This is My Lamb whose blood covers the sins of everyone in My family,” which includes you if you’ve turned from your sin and trusted in Jesus as your Savior.
But there is more, I also want you to know how the lamb was roasted when the family returned home from the Temple. It was tradition to erect a pomegranate pole in the yard with a crossbar piercing the lamb’s shoulders to hold it upright. Pomegranate was used because it was a sign of royalty and the priesthood of which Jesus was both, and as a dry wood it contained no water that would accidentally boil during roasting, because boiling was forbidden by the Law, lest the meat absorb impurities from the water. That’s why the family would also tie the lamb’s entrails around its head before roasting—so it cooked evenly without boiling from the heat. With the entrails wrapped around its head, it looked just like the crown of thorns that Jesus wore.
But the most important fact is when Jesus was crucified, for it was on the very same day and at the same hour that the first lambs were being sacrificed on the Passover. The same thing is true of all the feasts. Not only did Jesus fulfill in perfect detail the Biblical truth that was pictured in each feast, He also fulfilled them on the very days they were being celebrated.
For example, did you know that before the lambs were slain, they had to be set apart and tested for five days to make sure they were fit for sacrifice? Likewise Jesus, God’s Lamb, was tested for five days in the Temple by the religious rulers before His crucifixion. They challenged His authority and asked Him all sorts of trick questions in hopes that He’d give a wrong answer they could use against Him. In fact, even Pontius Pilate the governor joined in the act grilling Him and having Him beaten Him so He would tell him the truth. But Jesus passed every test with perfection, so much so that what did Pilate say about Him? “I find no fault in this man!” All this took place in the Temple during the five-day period from the 10th to the 14th day of Nisan while the Jews were testing their lambs for sacrifice. Then, just as the first lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple, Jesus was nailed to the Cross where He bled and died for our sins.
So Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” Peter adds, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” You see, in every way that was necessary, Jesus fulfilled the Passover for us, so that we could be forgiven of our sins.
We’ll talk about that more next week when we study the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it begins the day after Passover. But before I finish this study, let me ask you an important personal question: Have you applied the blood of God’s Lamb to the doorposts of your heart? Each feast pictures something Jesus the Messiah has done for us. But Passover is the first and greatest feast, for it pictures our first step of faith when we trust Jesus for salvation! Because just as God spared the life of anyone who believed His promise and put the blood on the doorposts of his home, Jesus, the Lamb of God, promises to save from eternal death anyone who trusts Him as their Savior. In fact, that’s the very meaning of His name. As the angel said at His birth, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
You say, “How do I apply His blood to my heart?” The Bible says it involves two things: repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is a change in our values and a determination that as pleasurable as sin may be, it is better to experience God’s love and forgiveness than be separated from Him forever. So we turn from our sin and trust Jesus to give us new life and new desires. Trust, on the other hand, is what you do when you depend on a friend, take the advice of a counselor, or rest in your doctor’s care. By that definition, have you repented of your sin and trusted Jesus as your Savior?
If not, I invite you to do so this very moment. As I close in prayer, open your heart to Jesus and trust Him to save you. And He will! For the Bible promises, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Sources: “The Seven Feasts of Israel” by Zola Levitt), “Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts” by Richard Booker), “Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts” by Michael Norten, and “Life Principles for Worship from the Feasts of Israel” by Rick Shepherd.