Last night was the first night of Passover, when observant Jews conduct a Seder in their homes. As Jewish believers in Jesus, my family observes the Jewish feasts, and Passover is arguably the most important festival in the spiritual calendar. The Hebrew word “Seder” means “order,” and we use a very tightly scripted order of service for the Seder called a “Haggadah.”
I love the richness of the Seder, and the prophetic meaning in every action, pointing to a time when all will be set right, all injustices addressed, all hurts and diseases cured, and the world restored to its pre-fall condition, without sin, grief or tears. “Next year in Jerusalem” translates with perfection from the Old to the New Testament; the Jerusalem of the Israelites has become the New Jerusalem of the return of the Savior (Revelation 21).
The story of the Hebrews’ redemption from bondage by God Himself, and our duty to tell that story to every generation is loaded with wisdom and power. As a current and poignant reminder this year, after a year of lockdowns, sickness, worry and actual plague, the giant freighter Ever Given was blown by a strong east wind and now blocks the Suez Canal. It takes not even the slightest effort for God to disrupt our economic lifelines, to interrupt and divert the plans of Man, and to cause the Earth itself to perform promises made thousands of years ago.
That same “strong east wind” from Sinai blew all night and made a path for the Hebrews to cross the Red Sea and escape Pharaoh’s pursuing army. The pyramids and other structures still survive in that ancient land, reminders that these events in the opening chapters of the book of Exodus are not mere myth. Those people lived and were redeemed to wander in the desert for 40 years, purging the sin from their midst before being allowed to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.
At the time of Jesus, Herod’s wall stood strong as the commercial courtyard outside the Second Temple complex. We now know it as the Western or Wailing Wall. The Temple itself is lost in prophecy, where Jesus said “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2.) In its place stands the Dome of the Rock mosque, and even the foundations and dirt beneath that structure is off limits to Israeli archaeologists.
The connections from Moses, to Jesus, to Suez and modern Jerusalem today are material, etched in historical fact, and as real as our modern social media-infested, economically-obsessed lives. Using the Haggadah as a guide through a prophetic walk of symbolism, deep meaning, and the retelling of real events makes Passover my favorite holiday.
(And yes, the meal itself leaves me beyond satisfied. We had homemade matzo ball chicken soup, roast lamb, potato kugel, tzimmes, and of course, charoset, horseradish, wine, matzo, and this unbelievably addictive dessert called “matzoh crack.”)
I still use the Haggadot that were handed down to my by my parents. It was first published in 1949; the 1984 version I use is from Ktav Publishing House in New York, based on a Haggadah by Rabbi Z. Harry Gutstein.
It’s this book:
The book has the Hebrew and English translations, and allows us to go as deep as we want (a proper Seder can take many hours), or to skip around and get to page 28, “Shuchan Orech” — the festival meal — quickly. Last night we took our leisurely time. As always, with the notable exception of 2020, we had guests. This year, it was a family from church. We love inviting non-Jews to experience the Seder, and they generally love coming and being immersed in the Jewish tradition.
I run the Seder in a fairly traditional Jewish way, however I do note the Christian connections to Jesus, whose last meal on Earth was during this festival. Everything from the hand washing, to the cups of wine, to the prayers and the storytelling, has immense value in building faith and understanding the mission of Christ as our Savior and our Redeemer. But there’s one prayer in the Haggadah I will not pray.
Near the end of the Seder, after drinking the third cup of wine and opening the door for Elijah to enter, we are supposed to rise and read this prayer:
Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy name; for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Thy rage upon them and let Thy fury overtake them. Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Eternal.
Then we are to close the door.
I will not read that prayer.
The first sentence of the prayer is found in the Old Testament in two places: Psalm 79:6 and Jeremiah 10:25. Since the days of King David, the theological stance of Israel and Judaism has been for God to consume those who oppose Him with fire. Even Jesus’ disciples James and John asked in Luke 9:54, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Jesus replied with a rebuke.
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
During the Seder, the prayer for God to pour out His wrath upon the ungodly, unbelieving nations is at the time when the door is opened to invite the Spirit of Elijah into the home. Jews set a place at the table for Elijah, with a cup of wine set aside for him. Elijah is said to be the one who announces the arrival of the Savior, the one who makes the road straight.
In Jesus’ day, John the Baptist was widely believed to be the Spirit of Elijah, coming before the Messiah. Jesus came, was baptized by John, and proceeded to perform miracles, heal the sick, and attract a large following. Jesus predicted his own death. He preached some difficult concepts, like forgiving and blessing your enemies. He preached that his followers would consume his body and drink his blood. People didn’t get it, and many left Him.
Before arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus raised the dead Lazarus, who was in the tomb for four days. Many witnessed this miracle.
Jesus walked into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, welcomed by throngs shouting “Hosannah!” It is known as the “Triumphal Entry” written about in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 12.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.
At the moment of Jesus’ death, raised from the earth on a cross, the Gospel accounts record an earthquake, many of the dead emerging from their graves, and the veil of the Temple separating the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant stood, from the Most Holy Place, rent in two from the top to the bottom.
Understand that this “veil” was not a gossamer-thin curtain. It was a thick, extremely valuable, embroidered fabric, which, according to Jewish theology and the priests who entered through it, literally separated Heaven from Earth.
The veil was the boundary between earth and heaven. Josephus and Philo agree that the four different colours from which it as woven represented the four elements from which the world was created: earth, air, fire and water. The scarlet thread represented fire, the blue was the air, the purple was the sea, that is, water, and the white linen represented the earth in which the flax had grown (War 5.212-213). In other words, the veil represented matter. The high priest wore a vestment woven from the same four colours and this is why the Book of Wisdom says that Aaron's robe represented the whole world (Wisd.18.24; also Philo Laws 1.84; Flight 110). He took off this robe when he entered the holy of holies because the robe was the visible form of one who entered the holy of holies. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which explores the theme of Jesus as the high priest, there is the otherwise enigmatic line: his flesh was the veil of the temple (Heb.10.20). In other words, the veil was matter which made visible whatever passed through it from the world beyond the veil. Those who shed the earthly garments, on the other side of the veil, were robed in garments of glory. In other words, they became divine.
At the death of Jesus, the veil between the Divine on Earth and God’s own manifestation was destroyed. Jesus, the divine Son of Man had returned His Spirit to the Heavenly realm, descended to the place of the dead, took the keys to Death and Hell from the devil, and then ascended to Heaven before returning to Earth in His glorified body, clothed anew, bringing the Holy of Holies to the entire world.
Before that event, it was proper to pray that God would visit His rage and anger upon the unbelieving and unrepentant. Even the prophet Jonah became enraged after unwillingly completing his mission, delivering God’s message of repentance to Nineva, when the inhabitants of that sinful place actually repented. He wanted them to resist and be destroyed for their prior acts against God, but God offered mercy instead.
We pray, today, for spiritual renewal, and against awful things like “transgender story time,” or the most sexualized, libertine society being pushed on our youth. We pray against the totalitarian, illiberal, socialist plans of the political left, and pray that they themselves fail and fade into oblivion. We pray that God would visit his wrath upon those who declare themselves free of Biblical notions of morality, and declare lies to be the truth, and the truth to be lies.
As Jesus told His disciples, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” We don’t have our prayers answered because we pray for the wrong things. We are praying for a sword to bring to a gun fight, and God won’t give us ineffective weapons. The Apostle Paul wrote in the well-known Scripture 2 Corinthians 10:4-6:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
As those who saw Jesus walk into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday before His death, we look to a political solution for a spiritual condition. Jesus did not offer a political solution because human affairs, which govern politics, cannot govern Heaven or God’s Kingdom. The language and currency of Heaven is Love. The power of Heaven is God’s sovereignty. The mission of Heaven is to redeem the Earth and make disciples of all nations. These things will not and can never happen through human efforts.
We are merely vessels for the divine. No longer is there a veil through which a High Priests can pass only one time per year on behalf of the People. We are now all priests and kings, a peculiar people and a holy nation. 2 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
We should no longer pray for God to execute judgement on those who need mercy. We should not utter those prayers because doing so denies “what manner of spirit” we are of.
Our political gods are idols, which are made by man, cannot speak, cannot move on their own, cannot do anything because they are not alive. Those who believe in idols become as ineffective as the idols themselves. It is only in the power of God that we obtain the fruit of the Spirit.
The Haggadah records all the events that occurred at Passover. I am not sure of the historicity of these claims, but they appear in the book.
The walls of Jericho fell on Passover. Midian was destroyed by a loaf of barley break measuring an Omer on Passover. The soldiers of Pul and Lud were burned in a mighty conflagration on Passover. Sennacherib met disaster at Zion’s gate on Passover. The hand wrote on the wall in Babylon on Passover. The table was set and all arranged on Passover. Queen Esther assembled the community to fast three days at Passover. Haman was hanged on the gallows fifty cubits high on Passover.
What the Rabbis are longing for: The Messiah arrived to His Kingdom on Passover. The veil between Heaven and Earth was rent in two on Passover. They didn’t miss it, as in they don’t believe; they just haven’t seen it yet.
This Passover reminds me that we must put down our earthly desires, troubles, goals, and politics, and take up our crosses. It is only through the perfect spiritual weapons obtained through Cavalry that we are victors. It is only through love that the message of repentance can be heard. (1 Corinthians 13.)
The prayer God will always answer is the one for love. This Passover, this Palm Sunday, I pray for more love.
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Interesting, insightful and inspiring. Traditions are wonderful things as long as people aren't trapped by them.