What does the Passover mean for us today? Well, we start with what it meant for the Israelites. And for them, it was a remembrance of God’s protection and redemption — when God freed them from the shame of slavery and made them into a free nation.
Several major events in Israelite history are marked by the celebration of the Passover. Here’s a story we don’t tell in fourth grade Bible class. You see, it begins with the fact that the Israelites born in the desert, during the 40 years of wandering, had not been circumcised.
Therefore Joshua had them all circumcised (surely an unpleasant process in an age without antibiotics or anesthesia — and very difficult to explain to fourth graders!) — and then they celebrated the Passover.
(Jos 5:10-15 ESV) 10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
The circumcision of the people, followed by the Passover, marked their entry into the Promised Land. No longer did they need manna. They could eat the fruit of the land.
After 40 years of manna, you know they were thrilled to eat ordinary food. Even manna gets old after 4 decades! And there’s something special about a meal you cook yourself.
And then —
13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
15 And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Imagine the scene. The people of God had dedicated themselves to obedience, and worshiped God by eating a Passover meal, recalling his deliverance of the people from Egypt. They are encamped in the Promised Land, preparing to conquer it for God — and the angelic commander of YAHWEH’s army appears before Joshua, announcing that Joshua is on holy land.
He tells Joshua to take off his sandals. You see, the story that began with Moses at the burning bush, where God told him to take off his sandals, had finally come full circle. Moses’ mission was completed! And the story, which began on holy ground, ends on holy ground.
What does the Passover mean? That we’re celebrating God’s victory, the end of wandering, and our presence on holy ground — alongside the angelic army of God, our victory assured.
They were just outside a city named Jericho, and they were about to undertake the mission God had prepared for them. But they knew victory was assured — despite having many battles yet to be fought.
Pointing to Jesus
Oh … as is always true … there’s another level yet again.
You see, to Christians, our “circumcision” is by the Spirit.
(Rom 2:29 ESV) 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
We receive our circumcision when we receive the Spirit — when we’re first saved — when we’re baptized.
And, of course, the Passover is reflected in Christian practice in the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism and Eucharist. The baptistery, the cup, and the loaf — all symbolize that at last we are no longer in the wilderness but in God’s Promised Land. We were circumcised, we’ve eaten the Passover, and now the commander of the Lord’s army appears to us.
But like the Israelites, the mission isn’t over. Rather, the promise is that the victory is assured even though there are many battles yet to be fought. You see, Jesus is the commander of the Lord’s army, and he stands before us —
(Rev 5:5-6a ESV) 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain … .
— the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the conqueror — but the Lion is really a slain Lamb. And so we stand on holy ground.