Thursday, February 23, 2017

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Should Messianic Passover Seder be open to the public?

I recently received this thoughtful question that deserves some important consideration: Should admission to a Passover Seder be offered to the public?  The original discussion of Passover indicates that it was made for families (Exodus 12:3) and that it was to be a holy assembly (Exodus 12:16).  If this is the case, why hold public festival observances?  Should pre-believers be allowed to partake?  Thus it is a good thing to ask how “kosher” it is to offer a Seder to unbelievers, let alone to hold one in a public forum.

I’ll spare you the drama: yes we have every scriptural right to hold public Seders.  How, you might you ask?  There are at least two main ways to address this.

First, nobody actually follows the exact scriptural procedure for Passover.  For example, the lamb must be slaughtered by the ones partaking the meal (Exodus 12:6), the blood must be put on the doorposts (Exodus 12:7), and one must be dressed in a specific manner to eat the meal (Exodus 12:11).  Don’t forget that during the festival there also were offerings – which require the altar of the Temple (Leviticus 23:8).  Most relevant to our topic, however, is that the Passover cannot be celebrated by foreigners/non-Jews (Exodus 12:45) and one must be circumcised to partake (Exodus 12:48).

To make matters more complicated, there are clear indications that the Passover cannot be celebrated in the way described in the Torah (i.e., the Books of Moses).  If anyone partook of leaven – anyone – they were to be cast out of Israel.  This included Jew and gentile (i.e., foreigner) alike, and this command cannot be carried out today because Israel was theocracy and we clearly are not.  The festival of Unleavened bread (which includes Passover) had to be celebrated in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16), not in Orange County CA.

Now I don’t say these things to mock the Scripture or those who celebrate the Passover (after all - I celebrate Passover too).  There were good reasons for these commandments.  But please realize that it is simply not possible to celebrate Passover as exactly commanded in the Torah.  These were commandments given to a specific people (Israel) for a specific time (ancient Israel).

But just because we don’t do it all according to the script of Scripture that is not a definitive license to “change” the Passover.  Perhaps it implies to some people we should do away with Passover altogether – but that would be a mistake too.

The second, and more important reason we can hold a public Seder, is to realize that Messiah changes the way Passover is enacted.  I don’t have the space here to explain all of it (that is coming), but realize that the Torah changes with arrival of the Messiah.  There is simply no way to avoid this fact.  One simple example will suffice: the priesthood of the Messiah.  The author of Hebrews makes it clear that Yeshua is a high priest, yet the Torah makes it equally clear that the high priest cannot be selected from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14) – any priest must be a Levite.  Note that although the commandment is altered (i.e., the genetics of the high priest), the principle itself is intact (i.e., a high priest in the first place).  And before you say “well that is just what Christians do,” realize that the Rabbis themselves have altered the Torah in response to the lack of a Temple by claiming mercy is now the new sacrifice.

But what does all of this mean for the celebration of the Passover?  The entire event is not forgotten, but it must be carefully re-examined in light of Messiah Yeshua.  This “Gospel-centered hermeneutic” was taught by Yeshua Himself (Luke 24:27) where we look at all things in Scripture (including the Torah) in light of His light.  So the Passover lamb is not “fluffy the lamb” but instead it is Yeshua Himself (John 1:29).  The blood on the doorposts is not the blood of Mary’s little lamb but instead it is the blood of Yeshua the son of Miriam (Matthew 26:28).  We understand the Passover’s true meaning in Yeshua.  Note the concept of the festival is intact – we just enact it differently.

But wait … how does this change who can come to a Seder?  I mean, sure I get the lamb thing, but what about the uncircumcised and the “unclean?”  How does a Gospel view of the Scripture enable us to hold a Seder in public or with the uncircumcised?

One aspect of the ministry of Yeshua is very significant here – He broke down the separation between Jew and Gentile as Paul makes crystal clear (Ephesians 2:11-22, especially Ephesians 2:13).  Note this does not mean Jews become Gentiles and Gentiles become Jews any more than we all become androgynous in Messiah (c.f. Galatians 3:28).  We don’t.  But it does mean, as Paul states, that those far off (i.e., Gentiles) are now near (i.e., like the Jews).  Thus anything that might keep people from a Passover Seder should be avoided.  Note: This is not a defense to have, say, an open pedophile or unrepentant sinner who claims to be a believer fellowship – there are limits (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

If you want a concrete example, look no further than Titus.  Paul refused to have him circumcised (Galatians 2:3).  But didn’t Paul know that this would keep Titus out of Seders?  Apparently not.  I’m sure Titus attended many Seders – yet without being circumcised this would have been a problem (Exodus 12:48).

Thus in the Messiah I don’t see how we are to deny access to our fellowship or our Seders or our congregation because someone is unclean or uncircumcised (save the example in 1 Corinthians 5:9-15).  Don’t forget that Yeshua took a lot of heat for “hanging out” with less than clean Jews (Luke 7:34).  Don’t forget that Yeshua Himself commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) – note there is no such command in the Torah (i.e., the Books of Moses).  Teaching all interested parties about the wonders of the Passover then is one way of spreading the Gospel – which is a commandment.

In the Messiah we have the freedom to honor Him through the celebration of the Passover, and this can be done in the presence of Jews, Gentiles, men and women, people of all backgrounds, and in Orange County.  Of course it would be great to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem – someday.

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