Passover and Good Friday

Jesus On The Cross
There is a great hunger to be forgiven—it is a universal need.

In the classic book by Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic, Whatever Became of Sin?, he described a situation where a mime on the busy sidewalks of Chicago would point at a total stranger and yell out “Guilty!” Amazingly, the reaction of most of the strangers was to slink away, as if to say, “How did you know?”

We all instinctively know that things are not right between us and the universe. There is a name for that, and it is sin. Sin is what is wrong with this world. But sin has been dealt with in a decisive way.

Soon another Good Friday will be upon us. This is the Christian Day of Atonement. This is the Passover to us, just as that original Good Friday coincided with the Passover.

Before a holy God, none of us can stand without condemnation—in our natural state. This is why God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to die in our place—to bring salvation for those who believe in Him.

Centuries before Jesus came, God instituted through Moses an elaborate system of sacrifice of animals. From a Christian perspective, all of those sacrifices were foreshadows of Jesus’ once- and-for-all sacrifice on Calvary.

One of the great pictures of Christ’s redemption is the Passover—because the ancient Hebrews were instructed to take the blood of a lamb without blemish and smear it on the top and two sides of the entrance to their homes—in essence forming the sign of the cross. The angel of death would “pass over” the homes where the blood had been smeared, sparing the occupants. People were either covered by the blood of the lamb or they were not.

Christ is the ultimate Passover Lamb who was slain for our sins. When John the Baptist, the great forerunner of Jesus, who prepared the way for the Lord, first saw Jesus, he famously said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In Latin, Lamb of God is Agnus Dei.

Often in cathedrals, you can see the image of a lamb with a cross—sometimes that cross is like a flag. That is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.

Years ago I interviewed a Jewish believer in Jesus, Murray Tillis of Atlanta. He came to believe in Jesus as His Jewish Messiah and has founded Light of Messiah Ministries.

He told me, “As I read Psalm 22 [written c. 1000 B.C.] for the very first time as a Jewish person, I was shocked that this writer, David, who is writing long before Jesus ever came and long before crucifixion was ever even a known method or means of execution, he was describing the crucifixion of Jesus.” The opening line of this psalm was something Jesus quoted on the cross: “My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

I asked Murray about Jesus and the Passover. He said, “The meal on the night He was betrayed was a Passover meal. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I earnestly desire to eat this meal with you.’”

That Last Supper, of course, was the celebration of the Passover. Says Murray: “It was within the context of a Passover Seder or Order of Service, where Jesus, sitting around the table with His disciples, was going through the Order of Service that Jewish people were very familiar with then and are very familiar with today—an order that consists of four cups, the cup of blessing, the cup of plagues, the cup of redemption, and then the cup of praise.”

Tillis adds, “The cup of redemption comes directly after the meal. In fact, in the New Testament, we read that Jesus took the cup after the meal. That was the cup of redemption…He raised that cup up, He looked at His disciples, and He said, ‘This is my blood which is shed for you.’”

And so in one sense, Passover and communion become one. Murray continues: “And then He took the unleavened bread, symbolic of sinlessness or sinless nature, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is broken for you.’”

Murray Tillis concludes: “And so, within the context of this Passover meal, Jesus was saying to His disciples, ‘My blood is going to be shed for you. I am going to be crucified for you. I am the Passover Lamb. And because of that blood, death will pass over you, as well.’”

It is His blood that is the key to forgiveness. It is His blood, received by faith, that washes away guilt. Happy Holy Week.

by Jerry Newcombe

Waiting for Redemption

Galatians 4:4-7

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, bringing sin into God’s perfect creation. They experienced an immediate separation from their Maker, and from that moment, all of creation began longing for redemption.

Old Testament prophets spoke about a coming Messiah—the One who would redeem and restore. For centuries, the Israelites waited hopefully. They must have wondered why God was waiting so long, and perhaps even doubted whether a savior would ever come.

There was a bigger picture, though, that they couldn’t see. From our viewpoint thousands of years later, we can piece together some reasons for God’s timing—down to small details like communication and travel.

For example, when Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world, he spread Greek throughout his expanding empire. The Hebrews then translated the Old Testament into Greek. As a result, many more people were able to hear truth, understand their need, and recognize the Savior when He came.

Next, the Romans defeated many nations and created new highways for travel. Seas and roads were safer during their rule than in previous times, so it was easier for Jesus’ disciples to spread the gospel message.

Now we clearly see that God wasn’t a moment late—He knew the perfect timing to send His Son to redeem mankind. But situations in our own life may not always make sense from our vantage point. Remember that our omniscient God has perfect timing. You can trust Him.

The Sun of Righteousness

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

This is the very last of the numerous Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. After this, there were four centuries of silence from heaven, as far as inspired Scriptures were concerned. Thus this prophecy must have special significance.

The Messiah (“Christ”) is called “the Sun of righteousness” in contrast to “all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly” that “shall burn as an oven” when “the day cometh” (v. 1)—that “great and dreadful day of the LORD” (v. 5), and it “shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts” (v. 1).

The “Sun of righteousness” clearly refers to the coming Savior, for He will come “with healing in his wings.” The sun does not have wings, of course, so many commentators think this word refers to the rays of the sun, with their lifesustaining energy. However, the Hebrew word means “wings,” and nothing else. It is as though the sun is rising rapidly on great wings, dispelling the world’s darkness with its light, dispensing healing to its sin-sick soul.

The “Sun of righteousness,” of course, can be none other than God Himself, for “the LORD God is a sun and shield” who “will give grace and glory” to “them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the “light of the world” (John 8:12) coming “from heaven with his mighty angels [his ‘wings’?], in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

But “you that fear my name” in that day “shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, . . . when I make up my jewels” (Malachi 3:17). In the last prophecy of the Old Testament, Christ is the rising Sun; in the last prophecy of the New Testament (Revelation 22:16) He is “the bright and morning star.” HMM

Humble Service

Thou therefore endure hard—ness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. —2 Timothy 2:3-4

Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet—not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ….

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.

Enable me by your Holy Spirit to make this prayer genuinely mine. Amen.

Believing: Directing the Heart’s Attention to Jesus

And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! John 1:36

The Hebrew epistle instructs us to run life’s race “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith,” for faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God!

Believing, actually, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to “behold the Lamb of God,” and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window.

I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world.

Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.

When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is, “Thou God seest me.” When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth!

Which Cross Do We Carry?

Having made peace through the blood of his cross. COLOSSIANS 1:20

One of the strange things under the sun is a “crossless” Christianity. The cross of Christendom is a “no cross,” an ecclesiastical symbol. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is a place of death!

Let each one be careful which cross he carries!

Thousands turn away from Jesus Christ because they will not meet His conditions. He watches them as they go, for He loves them, but He will make no concessions.

Admit one soul into the kingdom by compromise and that kingdom is no longer secure. Christ will be Lord, or He will be Judge. Every man must decide whether he will take Him as Lord now, or face Him as Judge then!

“If any man will… let him… follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Some will rise and go after Him, but others give no heed to His voice. So the gulf opens between man and man, between those who will and those who will not.

The Man, the kindly Stranger who walked this earth, is His own proof. He will not put Himself again on trial; He will not argue. But the morning of the judgment will confirm what men in the twilight have decided!

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your patience as You wait for people to repent and turn to You. I pray that this will be a day when many will respond to Your voice calling them to follow You.

Who Are You?

palm cross
When [Jesus] had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” —Matthew 21:10

From time to time, we read of people who are offended at not being treated with what they consider due respect and deference. “Do you know who I am?” they shout indignantly. And we are reminded of the statement, “If you have to tell people who you are, you probably really aren’t who you think you are.” The polar opposite of this arrogance and self-importance is seen in Jesus, even as His life on earth was nearing its end.

Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of praise from the people (Matt. 21:7-9). When others throughout the city asked, “Who is this?” the crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee” (vv.10-11). He didn’t come claiming special privileges, but in humility He came to give His life in obedience to His Father’s will.

The words Jesus said and the things He did commanded respect. Unlike insecure rulers, He never demanded that others respect Him. His greatest hours of suffering appeared to be His lowest point of weakness and failure. Yet, the strength of His identity and mission carried Jesus through the darkest hours as He died for our sins so that we might live in His love.

He is worthy of our lives and our devotion today. Do we recognize who He is?

Lord, I am in awe of Your humility, strength, and love. And I am embarrassed by my desires for self-importance. May knowing You change every self-centered motive in my heart into a longing to live as You did in this world. By David C. McCasland

The disciple of Christ should be preoccupied with exalting Him instead of self. The words “My utmost for His highest,” taken from Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, express the goal of the follower of Christ.

When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same. —Oswald Chambers

Dismantling the Wall

Jesus Christ wasn’t for Jews—this is the lesson Sandy learned all her life. But then God changed everything.

“. . . O come let us adore Him, hmm-hmm the Lord.” That’s how I sang it in fourth grade, when public schools still had Christmas concerts with unedited carols. Yes, I knew the words. But we were Jewish, and I had strict instructions not to pronounce that name.

I figured it was because in my world, “Jesus” and “Christ” (which I assumed was His last name) were spoken only as expletives. I wasn’t even aware what the holiday meant, other than having something to do with a baby. And I knew that much only because when we brought our neighbor the annual fruitcake, I’d see the curious little ceramic scene on her coffee table.

That visit next door was the only time I entered a non-Jewish home and the closest I ever got to a real Christmas tree. So while Mom and Mrs. Lovett chatted, I’d sink into the puffy beige couch and get lost wondering about ornaments, tinsel, and the porcelain infant sleeping among animals. Afterward, I would have questions, like who the baby was, and why, if Mrs. Lovett seemed to like him so much, wasn’t I allowed to say his name? The gag order, I learned, was Mom’s way of passing down the lesson that had been drummed into her: Jesus is not for Jews.

In retrospect, I understand where that came from. The 1950s Jew was quite familiar with persecution, from name-calling to the genocidal atrocities of the Second World War. Tragically, certain culprits were people who considered themselves Christians. The community’s reaction to that and the subtler threat of assimilation was to insulate itself against non-Jewish influence. Hoping the next generation would develop an instinct for survival, parents encouraged choosing playmates, dates, and, certainly, a spouse from among our own. But the unintended consequence was a skewed “us versus them” world view.

I was glad we were the “chosen people” but had no clue what we were chosen for.

Other aspects of my religious identity were likewise fuzzy. I was glad we were the “chosen people” but had no clue what we were chosen for. Along with a modicum of superstitious thinking—namely, that things simply went my way—this kept me operating with a seriously flawed foundation until my late 20s.

The head-on collision with reality finally occurred with the death of my month-old baby. Jonathan had arrived 12 weeks prematurely, which certainly didn’t fit my personal paradigm. But right until his heart monitor flatlined, I was convinced he’d miraculously recover, in keeping with lucky Sandra’s life script.

Depression started then and deepened six months later with a subsequent medical disaster. Like Job, I listened but found no comfort from family, friends, or spiritual professionals. My predictable, controllable world had removed its mask, leaving me needy and floundering.

Enter Ellen. Though she was a social worker in the ICU where Jonathan had died, we’d never met during his brief stay. My husband, a hospital resident, knew of Ellen’s reputation as “wise” and asked if she’d talk with me.

I don’t recall much about her first visit except that it was soothing to be with this good listener and I looked forward to her returning. So Ellen stopped by after work the next Tuesday. And the one after that . . .

She had a knack for following my lead: When I didn’t feel like talking, she was comfortable sitting with me in silence; but if I was agonizing over whys or over-flowing with sorrow, she’d sensitively engage in conversation. Looking back, I realize she didn’t manipulate the conversation toward the spiritual—I did.

“How can you stand working where children die?” I remember asking.

“My faith is strong,” she answered.

“What religion are you?”

“Christian. But it’s a relationship, not a religion.”

I couldn’t make sense of that. “What kind of Christian,” I asked, trying to recall names of local churches, “Catholic? Baptist? Gentile?”

“Just Christian.”

In time, our discussions made me question certain “us/them” notions, like my assumption that the Old Testament was for Jews, the New Testament for non-Jews. I wondered why Ellen (clearly a “them”) knew more about the Jewish Bible than I did. It was also mystifying why this rational person treated Scripture like (for lack of a better term) gospel truth; hadn’t modern scholarship proven it’s a collection of myths? Ellen’s naiveté created a disconnect, leaving me curious about her unconventional yet somehow sound wisdom.

I considered making her leave but knew I was drowning and recognized the stupidity of discarding my life jacket.

And so we bumbled along together—me aimlessly groping my way through bereavement and medical uncertainty, and Ellen (I later learned) prayerfully alert for God’s leading. Then one night something I asked changed the dynamic. I’ve forgotten the question but distinctly remember my indignant response to her answer: How dare Ellen tell someone Jewish that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ!

I considered making her leave but knew I was drowning and recognized the stupidity of discarding my life jacket. Instead, my rebuttal to her narrow-mindedness was that I believed Judaism to be true. Ellen shocked me by agreeing—but added that Christianity must be as well, since so many biblical promises remained unfulfilled until the New Testament. I didn’t know about such things, I said, but trusted Judaism’s sufficiency as a stand-alone religion.

In a kind way, she urged me to substantiate my claim and asked if I had a Bible. I did though wasn’t sure where. When I located it, I had no inkling what to look for, so Ellen offered to help. Thus began our little research project, for which my sole ground rule was: Old Testament only.

Over the next six months, as Ellen methodically took me through prophecies in my Bat Mitzvah Bible, the haze began to lift and a portrait of the Messiah emerged: He would be born of a virgin; He’d come from Bethlehem; His hands and feet would be pierced. It was thrilling to discover truth, yet unsettling—the Promised One unquestionably would be Jewish, but He was sounding like a “them”!

The clincher was Isaiah 53. When I read, “He was crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5), my mind’s eye saw the banner displayed every Easter at the church on North Main Street: Beneath a picture of Jesus was the proclamation, “He died for our sins.” For the first time, those words made sense. So I pronounced a cautious but sincere confession of faith—“Well, I guess I can’t deny this any longer”—and got born to real life, right there at my kitchen table.

Jewish friends tell me, “You’re no longer one of us.” That’s understandable—I, too, once thought faith was an “either/or” proposition. But now, knowing it is “both/and,” I can lift my Jewish voice to my Jewish Messiah and sing, “O, come let us adore Him, CHRIST THE LORD!”

Ever since that time, I’ve considered Ellen one of my life’s MVPs. Soon after we met, I detected both her strong Christian faith and profound concern for the Jewish people—and have always assumed she saw me as an exciting quest, especially once I finally connected a few dots. Not so, she told me last August, over breakfast on my porch. In fact, her biggest hesitation had been that I would ask about faith, in which case answering honestly could cost her the job she loved.

Early in her professional life, social work had seemed a good fit for Ellen’s empathetic nature. But over time, growing bureaucracy left her with few opportunities for personal connections. Frustrated, she quit and took assembly line work.

Unexpectedly, her factory stint became a time of exponential spiritual growth. Ellen was a believer who’d stagnated soon after conversion at 13 and now had no use for Christianity. But things changed one morning as she drove her orange VW Bug, twirling the radio dial for a good song. It was a voice that stopped her—though not a singer’s. Something about the way preacher John DeBrine spoke made her unable to change the station.

Ellen found herself tuning in day after day, and as her foundation solidified, hunger for Scripture developed. She wrote DeBrine, hoping to find a nearby Bible study, and he connected her with his friend Fred Richardson (whom I’d later inherit as mentor and spiritual dad). “God had set me aside for two years in this job that required no brain work,” Ellen said. “I’d come home thinking, I’ve got to exercise my mind!” So every night she studied, unwittingly in training for the discipleship I’d soon need.

Feeling ready to reconnect with social work, Ellen applied for a rare vacancy in pediatrics. But her interview at Rhode Island Hospital wasn’t exactly promising: Noting her two-year hiatus, the supervisor said, “You’ve probably forgotten everything you learned. If I’d seen your résumé before granting an interview, I never would have bothered.”

“I’m not sure what happened,” Ellen said, “but a few days later, I got the job.”

Though hired to work with patients’ families, Ellen also sensed deep need among staff: Nurses and residents had no training or emotional support for the situations they encountered, and she offered a listening ear. “I started staying over,” she said. “I mean, people didn’t die from 9 to 5. They died on weekends; they died at night.”

Ellen loved her work and knew the staff appreciated her “extracurricular” encouragement. But realizing management might disapprove, she avoided doing anything that could jeopardize her position.

So when our baby died and my husband asked Ellen to visit me, she felt torn. “It was scary,” she said, “because Elliot was a resident, and I knew you were Jewish.” Handling the grief aspect posed no problem. “But,” she told me as I refilled her coffee, “you were intense, withdrawn, and angry. You were thinking more on the intellectual level than the emotional, and I knew you’d eventually ask something I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer. If it got back to the hospital that ‘she’s trying to proselytize,’ my career there was done for.”

It had taken Ellen years to find her “sweet spot” in work that was not only personally fulfilling but also a blessing to others. My need was a test of sorts, where logic said, Protect the job; Sandy will find consolation elsewhere. Thankfully, Ellen chose trust over fear. And God did the safeguarding—of both her position and His new daughter.

By Sandy Feit