Passover is the story of redemption. It reveals how God redeemed our Jewish people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and also delivered those Egyptians who chose to identify with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Passover begins with a seder, a Hebrew word that means “order” or “service” and refers to the ancient ceremonial meal that begins the Passover festival. Each aspect of the ceremonial meal can be used to proclaim the good news of Messiah Yeshua with those who have never experienced salvation through faith, by accepting and putting their trust in Yeshua, the Passover Lamb, as their Messiah and Savior.
Sharing the Good News . . .
Through the Matzah
One of the most important elements of a traditional Jewish Passover Seder is the matzah or unleavened bread. At the beginning of the Seder, the leader will hold the matzah and explain that the Jewish people were forced to flee Egypt in great haste. They had no time to bake their bread and could not wait for the dough to rise. Therefore, God commanded Israel to abstain from eating yeast for seven days, beginning on the first night of Passover every year, as a remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 12:17-20).
Since leaven is often a symbol for sin in the Bible (1 Cor. 5:7; Matt. 16:6), the removal of leaven from the household before Passover has come to symbolize the need to examine our hearts in repentance as the preparatory work necessary in order to receive God’s redemptive blessings in the Messiah. The matzah of Passover itself, which appears bruised, pierced, and broken, was also used by Jesus Himself as a representation of His sinless body that was broken and offered to God for our sins (Lk. 22:19).
Through the Bitter Herbs & Parsley
Two other important elements of a traditional Jewish Passover Seder are the parsley (karpas) dipped in salt water and the bitter herbs. Towards the beginning of the seder, all participants will take parsley, dip it twice in salt water and eat it. The salt water symbolizes the tears that Israel shed in Egypt, as well as the salt of the Red Sea. The parsley symbolizes the hyssop that Israel used to place the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts, as well as the spring season during which Passover occurs.
The bitter herbs, usually horseradish, are eaten during the beginning of the seder meal as a reminder of the bitterness of being enslaved in Egypt. God commanded Israel to eat the bitter herbs every year during Passover (Ex. 12:8) so that they would remember the harsh conditions of their slavery and not look back to Egypt with nostalgic longing. Even so, followers of the Messiah today, by consuming the parsley dipped in salt water and the bitter herbs, can remember how Jesus delivers us from the bondage of sin and death.
Through the Shank Bone
In addition to the matzah, parsley, and bitter herbs, another crucial element on the seder plate is the shank bone of a lamb. This recalls the sacrificial lambs of the first Passover. Exodus records that God told the Israelites to place the blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their houses. When the angel of death went through the land of Egypt, all who had the blood of the lamb as a covering on their houses were passed over and saved. Thus, God said in Exodus 12:13, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.”
The centrality of the lamb at Passover gives us one of the clearest pictures of the Gospel in the entire Old Testament. The concept of the Passover lamb was ultimately understood by the prophet Isaiah as depicting the sacrifice of the Messiah for the sins of Israel and the Nations (Isa. 53). Thus, when we celebrate the Passover today we remember the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave His life for our redemption. As Paul says, “Christ our Passover has also been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). In the same way that Israel needed the blood of the lamb in order to experience redemption from Egypt, all people today need the blood of the ultimate Lamb, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, in order to be forgiven by God for their sins and to escape eternal judgment.
Through the Cup of Redemption
Apart from the primary elements on the seder plate, a traditional Jewish Passover revolves around four cups of wine which are consumed at different times, from the beginning to the end of the seder. These cups of wine correspond to God’s four “I will” statements in Exodus 6:6-7 and are often called, 1) the cup of blessing, 2) the cup of judgment, 3) the cup of redemption and 4) the cup of Elijah.
We read in the Gospel of Luke that at His last seder meal with the disciples, Jesus “took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ ” (Lk. 22:20).
The cup used by Jesus as a symbol for the New Covenant was the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, which ultimately found its way into Christianity via the traditional communion service. This serves as a constant reminder of the central theme of the Passover, that God accomplishes our redemption through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Messiah.
In so many ways the Passover Seder makes the Good News clear. To anyone honest and open to God and His message to them, it becomes obvious that through God’s intended elements and man’s additions to the service, Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel, the Passover Lamb.
Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection are observed from the very beginning with the dipping of the parsley to the last cup at the table. It is these elements that make it possible to explain the Gospel at the Passover seder with all people, for Jewish people especially, and also Gentiles. All who love the Lord should make it their desire and prayer to God that the Good News in the Passover seder be used by Him for the salvation of God’s beloved Jewish people (Rom. 10:1).