I Corinthians 5:6-8
Paul had received news from Corinth that shocked him: the church was condoning sexual immorality of a particularly offensive kind. In rebuking them, why did he make this reference to the Passover?
The first Passover (Exodus 12)
After nine plagues, the Egyptians still refused to release the Israelites from slavery. The tenth plague was to be very different, both in its nature and in its effect. It was to be not only the means of achieving Israel’s freedom, but also a graphic and unforgettable lesson on the very nature of salvation: exemption from a death sentence and liberation from slavery, as the result of a substitutionary sacrifice.
During most of the previous plagues, the Israelites had been automatically spared while the Egyptians suffered. But that would not be the case on Passover night: unless the Israelites followed Moses’ instructions to the letter, their firstborn would also die.
The Passover lamb was a substitute; it died instead of the firstborn of the household. Its meat had to be eaten by the members of the family (who would thus make the lamb part of themselves), and its blood had to be displayed around the doorway of their house. (The lamb would have been slaughtered on the doorstep, and as the head of the family splashed the blood onto the top and sides of the doorframe, he would have made the sign of a cross.) By going in through the bloodstained door that first Passover night, the Israelites found safety. Protected and redeemed by the sacrificial blood, they would go out the next morning no longer slaves, but free people. “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9,10)
The Lamb of God
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
There were many occasions when Jesus might have been arrested and executed, but it happened (and to some extent He precipitated the event) at Passover. The Last Supper was a Passover meal and followed the traditional liturgy – until, at the end (when no further food was meant to be eaten), Jesus distributed some unleavened bread and declared Himself to be the sacrifice of which His followers should partake. The third cup of wine, the ‘cup of blessing’ or the ‘cup of redemption’ (which was said to represent the blood of the Passover lamb), He declared to represent His own blood. That same day (the Jewish day began at sundown) He was crucified – and, like the Passover lambs, had no bones broken (Exodus 12:46; John 19:31-37).
“Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (I Corinthians 5:7)
Passover is more than just one meal on one night. It begins the Jewish festival of Unleavened Bread (bread made without yeast), which goes on for seven days. For the first Passover was the not just the end of an old life – a life of slavery – but also the beginning of a new life, a life of freedom. Yeast symbolises corruption, and the unleavened bread represents a life of purity, purged of sin.
Christians also keep this festival – not with unleavened bread (the symbol), but with the reality of lives dedicated to God. And not just for seven days, but for the rest of our lives. Christ’s death is not just a historical event: it has changed our lives for ever! And so the difference it makes should be obvious, not only in our individual lives but also within the communities of our churches.