Someone recently noticed that I believe we should obey God’s law, and she said, “If the law is still in place, then Christ died in vain.” Is that true?
Another friend asked, “How do you teach others to obey God’s laws, yet still make it clear that these are practices that lead us to righteousness, not salvation? Salvation is free, and while living by God’s law is also a gift we have, Christ does the work in us. Many do not yet understand the power of God, so they will try to practice the Law apart from Christ.”
The season of Passover and Jesus’ resurrection is coming soon, and this will be the sixth year our family has celebrated Passover with our children and other family and friends. It started as a desire to experience a little bit of Jewish history and a more meaningful look at how our Messiah redeemed us. It has grown into a deep longing to put away all idols and be set apart in obedience to God, not just by observing Passover but by carefully trying to follow all God’s laws.
“I remember your ancient laws, O YHWH,
and I find comfort in them” (Psalm 119:52).
So I wanted to try to spend some time clarifying my claim that we should remember God’s ancient laws — and still obey them — while still believing completely in salvation by grace through faith, not of works. There is no better place to start than with Passover, because that’s where God starts.
“Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am YHWH, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am YHWH your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am YHWH’” (Exodus 6:5-8, NIV).
My Sin Problem
I’ve been thinking a lot about the predicament those Israelites were in. Exodus 1:14 tells us the Egyptians “made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.”
They couldn’t make their own choices. They were told how many children they couldn’t have (with baby boys thrown into the Nile). They were told where to live, how to spend their days (making pyramids and other pagan building projects for vain Pharaohs), and they only knew the idolatrous worship of the land where they suffered.
We also are born into bondage. We don’t know life any other way. We’ve in bondage to sins ranging from food addictions, to anger issues, to greed and spending, to adultery, alcohol and drugs. Our flesh keeps us in bondage to our sin, and it controls us, stealing our health, money, and relationships. Like a rose cut from its stem, we may look beautiful in our master’s vase — but we’re wilting… as good as dead.
We carry heavy burdens. Our sin causes us to stagger under guilt, worry, fear, and defensiveness. Sin adds to sin, and the burdens pile on.
My Loving Redeemer
“I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them” (Acts 7:34, KJV).
The cry of the Israelites went up to God. They groaned, but God was not indifferent. He heard. He saw. Acts 7:34 repeats the phrase “I have seen, I have seen.” The Scriptures emphasize that God knew their predicament — and He was concerned for them.
God cares about me, too. He cares about all the things in my life that burden me and bind me. My cries rise up to Him, but best of all, He comes down to deliver me.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
His interest in me is constant and unending, a love that moved Him to not only shower His affection on me, but to “come down” to deliver me personally.
He not only hears and sees. He does something about it. He delivers me.
His Redemption and Deliverance
“I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6).
When God delivers me, He never leaves me in the land of the Egyptians. First of all, if He only paid for my sin by dying and shedding His blood for my redemption, how loving would He be to leave me in the land of Egypt to remain in bondage to my sin and burdened down by grief? No, He brings me out from under the yoke of slavery. He frees me from slavery to sin (Romans 6:15-23).
The word “free” in Exodus 6:6 means to deliver or to snatch away. It is complete deliverance, without any chance of being captured back by the Egyptians again.
Because my redemption is based upon the payment made by Jesus’ blood, as the Israelites had pictured for them by the lambs’ blood painted on their doorposts, I know that my deliverance will be complete. Blood is too great a price! My redemption was too costly! I was not only redeemed; I was delivered, never to be enslaved again.
His Offer and His Terms
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am YHWH your God” (Exodus 6:7).
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it must have been like to be an Israelite in those days. One day you’re in bondage, and you’re groaning and crying for relief. But do you really think relief will come? Most likely, you’ve resigned yourself to a lifetime of slavery.
Then one day, Moses arrives in your land, and you watch in amazement at the “mighty acts of judgment” God does to all the Egyptians around you. You wonder who this “YHWH” is, a god you’ve never heard of before. While the Egyptians agonize over the plagues YHWH sends, all of the Israelites in Goshen are spared.
In obedience to Moses, you and your family bring a lamb into your home for four days, and with sadness, you slaughter it at twilight. Your husband paints the blood on the walls of your home. (It might not be a fancy home — you’re slaves, after all — but really? blood on the walls? A little disgusting!)
You eat the roast lamb with shoes and coats on, prepared to leave quickly — but where will you go? Your little ones huddle close to you as they stay up way past their bedtime. At midnight, the screams from the Egyptians’ homes make your children cry, and you keep glancing at your oldest son, hoping he also doesn’t die. Your neighbors load you down with their jewelry, but you struggle to find a place to stash it, as you pack the few precious possessions you have and quickly wrap up your kitchen equipment inside your clothing, making bundles that can easily be carried. And again, where are you even going?
Rumor has it that Moses says your ancestors worshiped this YHWH, and He indeed seems to be a mighty God. It’s said that He plans to make a new nation out of slaves, but what power do slaves have? No weapons, no training, no education. The only thing your people seem to be good at is having lots and lots of children!
But at least Someone seems to care about you. Finally! Someone has heard and rescued you. Now He takes you and your children out to a wilderness place, with miracles to guide you on the way, and He explains that you must no longer live like the Egyptians. All your customs and former nationality must go. The way you look at life will be altogether different. The food is even unique.
You will no longer worship the Nile, the cats, the frogs, or especially the Sun god. Now you are to worship only this YHWH. He will make a great people out of you, and He has already redeemed you — but He requires your complete devotion and obedience. You see with your own eyes that those who don’t obey… well, they die.
“And God spoke all these words: ‘I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
These are the first words of the “Ten Commandments.” They begin with a reminder that YHWH brought us up out of Egypt, the land of slavery. Redemption is “past tense.” Redemption means purchase, and our slavery was paid for by the spilled blood of the Lamb of God, “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
YHWH wants to take us out of our Eygpt (or land of slavery), to make us His own, unique people.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
So let’s get this clear: How were we redeemed? We were redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. Our good works do not redeem us, any more than the children of Egypt somehow saved themselves or brought themselves out of Egypt by their own will or strength. It is only God’s “outstretched arm” that saves us, redeeming us by paying the wages of sin that we owed (Romans 6:23).
However, when He “calls us out of darkness” and makes us “a chosen people,” He expects us to have no other gods before Him. How do we do this? By obeying our new God and His decrees. Instead of doing works that lead to death (Hebrews 9:14), He asks us to show forth fruit as evidence of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The slaves in their homes, with shoes and coats on, had done nothing to deserve redemption except cry out in helplessness. The miracles helped them see God would deliver, as His miraculous power in our lives can help others see their need of a Savior, too.
Would we say to the Israelites, who were then given God’s laws and who tried to obey, “Your good works are what saved you from the Egyptians.” Or were they redeemed by God’s own mighty hand and by the blood of the Lamb?
Yet would we deny that in the desert, many Israelites died because they did not follow or obey God’s law carefully?
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed [Note: Passover night], took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).
Why I Need to Remember Passover Each Year
God’s law says that we should remember passover each year, personally and with our children (see Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23:4-8). But why should I, a Christian in the 21st century, worry about a law given to Israelites thousands of years ago?
First, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples the night before He gave His blood as their Passover lamb.
“On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
…While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'” (Matthew 26:17, 26-28).
He was the Lamb of God, sent from the Father because of His great love for us.
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
The first Passover lamb was only a symbol of His own sacrifice made for the forgiveness of sins. Every time we eat of the unleavened bread or drink the wine, we are remembering His redemption of us.
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Secondly, each time we partake of Passover, we have an opportunity to share God’s message of redemption with others.
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
We proclaim it to our own hearts, I’m sure, but we also proclaim it to our children.
“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’ (Exodus 12:24-27).
Do you see that it’s a “lasting ordinance”? Just as the apostle Paul wrote, we’re to proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Why? So our children will ask us, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” Then we can tell them not only how the first Israelites were redeemed, but also our own redemption story.
And as we obey by proclaiming, they will learn about God’s mighty hand — and pass it on to their descendants, too. Wow!
Thirdly, we know that the first-century believers continued to observe Passover. For instance, Paul wrote,
“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Paul himself spent the Feast of Unleavened Bread one year at Philippi (Acts 20:6), and he kept the other Old Testament feasts as well, for he wrote that “he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16).
Early church historian Epiphanius wrote that Christians everywhere were continuing to observe Passover each year until at least A.D. 135 (Epiphanius, Adversus haereses 70, 10, PG 42, 355-356).
In his Sermon on the Passover, the Bishop of Sardis, who died around A.D. 190, wrote these wonderful words:
This one is the passover of our salvation.
This one is the one who patiently endured many things in many people.
This is the one who was murdered in Abel,
and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac,
and exiled in Jacob,
and sold in Joseph,
and exposed in Moses,
and sacrificed in the lamb,
and hunted in David,
and dishonored in the prophets.
This is the lamb that was slain.
This is the lamb that was silent.
This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb.
Most of all, I want to observe Passover because it is an annual reminder of how God has called me out of slavery and given me full rights as a child of God.
“So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:3-7).
This is truly reason to celebrate!
“I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts” (Psalm 119:44-45).