From the Passover Lamb to Jesus, the Lamb of God
Having grown up in a Conservative Jewish home, my first Passover celebration was at age 5. I remember it like it was yesterday: my family scurrying about to clean leaven out of the house, the smell of wonderful food cooking in the kitchen, the excitement of setting the special table and preparing the elements unique to Passover. My dad explained that this meal symbolized the freedom Israel received after more than 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
While Passover is recognized as a Jewish holiday, you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the Old Testament symbolism associated with it. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for more than 35 years and feel confident that Christian families can experience this meaningful ritual together as they prepare for the triumph of Easter.
According to the account of the first Passover recorded in Exodus 12, a lamb’s blood was shed and doorposts were painted so God would “pass over” that house, sparing the family from death. As a spiritual picture, this symbolizes the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, being painted on the doorposts of our heart. What a beautiful picture of forgiveness!
When we compare the principles of the Passover to the details surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus, it’s exciting to see how the two are related. God’s directives to His people thousands of years ago foreshadowed His plan to deliver each one of us through Jesus’ death and resurrection hundreds of years later.
Practical ways to celebrate
The Seder (pronounced say-der) is the religious ceremony telling the story of Passover. It’s a family-oriented ritual where everyone gathers around the table for a service that may include a meal. It often includes reading from a 48-page text — the Haggadah (a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder).
The Seder is traditionally celebrated in one night and consists of 15 steps, but families can celebrate it as they see fit. In many Christian circles, the Seder is celebrated on the Thursday before Easter as a part of Holy Week. Consider sharing the Seder as a family during a one-evening ceremony, or partake of these elements a little each day during the week leading up to Easter.
The following is a sample Seder that incorporates Jewish tradition with my family’s Christian perspective. I hope your family enjoys the celebration as much as mine has!
Preparation for the Seder
After all leaven has been removed from the house, the traditional Seder begins just after sundown as the mother lights the candles and recites a blessing. Throughout the meal, the family maintains a posture of reclining; using pillows or cushions to lean against.
A list of basic Seder elements includes:
For each individual:
1 2 parsley sprigs
2 1 tablespoon of charoset
3 wine/grape juice — 4 servings of 3 oz. each
4 saltwater — 1 bowl per 4-5 people
5 ½ teaspoon fresh horseradish (bitter)
6 ¼ square matzah (available in most grocery stores in the kosher or ethnic food section — use plain style)
Same as the “individual” amounts with the exception that only one serving of wine or juice is poured and left next to the place setting for the duration of the ceremony.
For the leader’s use:
1 2 white candles and candlesticks with matches
2 1 bowl of saltwater
3 1 lamb bone with no meat, roasted in oven until brown
4 3 whole squares of matzah (unleavened bread) and 4 napkins
5 1 roasted egg
6 1 bowl of clear water and a hand towel
7 1 pillow or cushion for reclining
8 1 small reward, such as a small toy or piece of candy
9 vegetable (optional)
1. The First Cup: The Cup of Sanctification
Each person fills a glass with wine or juice.Explain: This is the cup of sanctification. The word sanctification means to be set apart for God. Jewish families remember that God performed miraculous deeds to free (set apart) Israel from Egypt. We remember that Christ set us apart from the world as a holy nation to himself (1 Peter 2:9).Everyone drinks the first cup.
2. Washing of Hands
The leader dips his hands in a washbasin and wipes his hands on the towel.
Explain: Jewish families remember how the priest washed in the basin before he could come before God on behalf of Israel (Exodus 30:17-21). That ritual pointed to Jesus, who washes away our guilty conscience so that we can draw near to God (Hebrews 10:22). This symbol of cleansing also provides insight concerning the comments and reactions of the disciples when Jesus washed their feet at His Passover Seder (John 13:1-17).
3. Dipping of the Parsley
Everyone dips parsley in the saltwater, one sprig at a time.
Explain: The first dip refers to the tears shed by the Israelites while they were enslaved; the second dip refers to the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea and the miraculous deliverance that came for the nation of Israel (Exodus 14:13-31). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul compares the crossing of the Red Sea to baptism, which symbolizes our redemption from sin (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).
4. Breaking of the Middle Matzah
The leader takes the middle square from a stack of three matzah, breaks it in half, puts one half back in the middle of the three and wraps the other half in a napkin. Now the leader hides the middle half of matzah as the rest of the family closes their eyes.
Explain: We can see the beautiful picture of the Trinity in the matzah — the top piece representing the Father; the bottom piece representing the Holy Spirit; and the middle piece representing Jesus, who was broken for us and then wrapped in linen to be hidden away (Mark 15:46).
5. The Four Questions and the Passover Story
The leader and the youngest child in the family now ask and answer four important questions that explain why the Passover is celebrated. (Search “Passover: Four Questions” at ThrivingFamily.com.) Next, the leader reads Exodus 12:1-13 as he holds up the lamb bone.
Explain: At the original Passover celebration, a lamb was killed and its blood was spread on the doorposts and lintel of the house to protect the home from the 10th plague, the slaying of the firstborn. God said He would pass over the house when He saw the blood (Exodus 12:13). Each person had to eat of this sacrificial lamb — no one could eat for another person. We understand that we must each make a personal decision to spiritually apply the blood of Jesus to the doorposts of our heart so we never experience sin’s judgment (1 John 1:7-8).
6.The Second Cup: The Cup of Plagues
Everyone fills the cup a second time.
Explain: This is the cup of plagues. God poured out 10 plagues on Egypt in order to show His strength and deliver the nation of Israel. Thank God that He delivered Israel and He delivers us.
Next, each person dips a spoon into his cup, then makes 10 drops of wine fall onto his plate as he says the name of each plague: blood, frogs, lice, flies, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and slaying of the firstborn. Finally, each person drinks from his cup.
7. Eating of the Bitter Herbs
Everyone takes a piece of matzah, adds a small portion of horseradish and eats it.
Explain: Eating bitter herbs (horseradish) symbolizes the bitterness of slavery the nation of Israel endured in Egypt. We also remember the bitterness of our slavery to sin (John 8:34).
8. Eating of the Charoset
Each person enjoys a piece of matzah with a little charoset. (Search“Passover: Charoset Recipe” at ThrivingFamily.com.)
Explain: This mixture symbolizes the mortar that was used by the Israelites to make bricks while in Egypt. This sweet mixture represents bitter toil because even harsh labor is sweetened by the promise of redemption. We know that it was through Christ’s bitter suffering that the sweetness of redemption also came to us (Hebrews 2:9-10).
9. Sharing of the Charoset
Everyone takes another piece of matzah with charoset and feeds it to the person on his right, saying, “Shalom, peace to you.”
Explain: When Jesus brought sweetness into our lives through His forgiveness, He never intended for us to keep it to ourselves. As we feed each other the charoset, we are showing that we want to pass this sweet message on to others (Matthew 28:19-20).
10. Explanation of the Egg
The leader picks up the egg.
Explain: The egg is a reminder that because the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Jews were no longer able to sacrifice. The egg is referred to as the Hagigah, the holiday sacrifice that was made during temple times. We are also reminded that Jesus was the final sacrifice that took away sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-18).
11. The Eating of the Meal
Your family can now eat a full meal to recreate the meal that took place in Exodus 12. (Seder menus may vary, including items such as roasted lamb and potatoes, matzo ball soup and sponge cake. Research online to create your own Passover meal.)
12. Finding and Eating of the Afikomen
The Afikomen (“ah-fee-koe’-men”) is the piece of matzah that was hidden earlier. It’s time to play a fun game as you send all the kids on a hunt to look for the hidden matzah. Whoever finds the piece gets a token reward — a ransom is paid for the Afikomen. When found, the Afikomen is broken in pieces and distributed to everyone.
Explain: Jesus himself used matzah as a picture of His sacrifice when He broke the bread during the Last Supper and said, “This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19).
13. The Third Cup: The Cup of Redemption
Everyone fills the cup a third time.
Explain: This is the cup of redemption. The word redemption suggests the idea of a price being paid to bring someone out of slavery. The sacrificial lamb offered on Passover paid the price to deliver the nation of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. We know that Jesus drank with His disciples and declared, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Drink the third cup in remembrance of Jesus.
14. Looking for Elijah
As the ceremony draws to a close, one of the children goes to the door and peeks his head out to see if Elijah is coming.
“Is Elijah there?” the leader asks.
“No, he is not here,” the child says.
“Maybe next year Elijah will come!” the leader replies.
Explain: According to Malachi 4:5-6, the Jewish people know that Elijah will prepare the way for the Messiah. When they ask if Elijah is coming, they are actually proclaiming that they are waiting for the Messiah. We recognize that John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord more than 2,000 years ago (Luke 1:13-17).
15. The Fourth Cup: The Cup of Praise
Everyone fills the cup a fourth time.
Explain: This final cup is a reminder of God’s promise to Israel (Exodus 6:7): “I will take you as my own people.” The Jewish people look forward to a golden age when everyone will be at peace and will be reunited with God. In Jewish homes, it is traditional to close with “Next Year in Jerusalem,” a further indication of their waiting for Messiah. As followers of Jesus, we, too, have been chosen by God to be His people, and we eagerly wait for the return of the Messiah so that we will be with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). So, with the Passover ceremony finished, let us drink the fourth cup, proclaiming, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Passover: Four Questions
Child: Why is this night different from all other nights?
Leader: Once we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but now we are free. We set aside this night each year to remember the great things God did for us.
Child: On all other nights we eat either bread or matzah, but why, on this night, do we eat only matzah?
Leader: Matzah reminds us of two things — we were delivered from slavery in Egypt, and we have a new life.
Child: On all other nights we eat whatever kind of vegetables we want, but why, on this night, do we eat only a bitter one?
Leader: We remember how bitter our ancestors’ slavery was while they lived in Egypt.
Child: On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once, but why, on this night, do we dip twice?
Leader: We are reminded of tears and of a miraculous deliverance, as we just saw portrayed with the parsley.
Child: On all other nights we eat either sitting up straight or reclining, but why, on this night, do we all recline?
Leader: Before, we were slaves, but now we are able to recline to express the rest we enjoy as free people. This pillow represents our freedom.