[by Dean Smith] The Catholic tradition of Easter has diluted the connection between Jesus’ crucifixion and Jewish Passover and its annual sacrifice of a lamb. Even renaming it “Easter” disconnects it with the most important sacrifice on the Jewish calendar.
During Passover, each family bought an unblemished lamb (called the Paschal lamb) to the temple as part of their sacrifice. It was sacrificed in the outer court, the blood collected by the priests, and parts of the animal sacrificed. Later that evening the family would eat what was left of the lamb in the Passover feast called Seder.
The connection and Catholic diluting starts at Christ’s birth. We read in Luke 2:8-20, about shepherds out in the fields watching their sheep, when an angel appears announcing the birth of Israel’s savior.
Why did an angel announce the birth of Christ to a group of shepherds and no one else?
Traditionally, shepherds were in the fields in large numbers during lambing. They were there to protect the ewes during this vulnerable time and to ensure a safe delivery.
Their appearance suggests Jesus was born during spring lambing. Unfortunately, Catholic tradition muddles this connection proclaiming Jesus’ birth in December – due largely to whimsical speculation.
During lambing, the shepherds closely watched their ewes for signs they were ready to give birth, so they could be there for the lamb’s arrival.
This is what was on their minds and when the angel mentioned the birth of a Savior — it immediately had their attention. The angel even told the shepherds where Jesus was being born, knowing full well they would go there.
Predictably, the shepherds made their way to Bethlehem and finding Jesus in a manger, they were among the first witnesses of Christ’s birth.
Since a lamb needed to be a year old for the Passover sacrifice, many of the lambs being born that year would be next year’s Paschal lamb, but the angel was directing them to witness the birth of the last Passover lamb accepted by God.
For thirty years, Jesus waited until the time of His sacrifice was ready.
We see the first declaration of this early in Jesus’ ministry. As He came down to the river for baptism, John the Baptist declared Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) .
At time of Christ’s crucifixion, the Apostle John clearly associates Jesus’ death with the Jewish Passover and sacrifice:
14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he *said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14 NASV)
Even during the last supper we see hints of this. As I mentioned earlier, after the sacrifice God commanded the Jews to eat the lamb during their Passover meal that evening (Exodus 12:8-9).
Just prior to Christ’s crucifixion, which took place at Passover, Jesus and the disciples also ate a meal (Matthew 26:20-30). Many suspect Jesus and disciples were celebrating their version of a Seder or Passover meal as prayers and hymns are mentioned.
During the meal, Jesus took bread and told the disciples to eat is as it represented Jesus’ flesh (v 26). Communion actually fulfilled the Passover meal, with Jesus as the Paschal lamb.
The Apostle Paul similarly equates Jesus crucifixion with the Passover sacrifice when he writes:
7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NASV)
The verse literally reads “Our Paschal Lamb, Christ has been sacrificed.” Peter also talks about Jesus, the lamb without defect (1 Peter 1:18-19), a requirement for the Passover lamb.
The first Jewish Passover
If we had to find one word to describe the Jewish Passover it would be — REDEMPTION.
It’s roots traced back to Exodus 12, when before the last plague on Egypt — the death of the firstborn — God told the Israelis to sacrifice a lamb and spread its blood over the top and side posts of their door. If they did this the avenging angel would pass-over their home. It was this last plague that broke the Egyptian pharaoh.
In Exodus 12:25, the Jews were told to remember this sacrifice annually as it marked their deliverance from slavery (Deuteronomy 16:12), sparing from judgment (Exodus 12:14) and their coming out of Egypt (Exodus 13:3).
This is what we commemorate at Easter.