THE FIRST AND LAST PASSOVER
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 19, 2020
12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
— John 2:12-22, ESV
We are rapidly reaching the last of the firsts in the Gospel of John. We have already read about the first Word, the first witness, the first disciples, and the first miracle. Soon enough we will arrive at the first “I Am” statement (ref. John 6:35). Today, however, we attend the first Passover with Jesus. Or, was it His last?
The Gospel of John records three Passovers during the public ministry of Jesus Christ. This is the main marker that measures His ministry at approximately three years. The other Gospel writers record only the last Passover, plus Luke’s insertion of a much earlier one when the twelve-year-old Jesus was temporarily separated from His earthly parents. All four Gospels tell about the same story, of Christ cleansing the Temple, and most scholars claim it is the same story, which John chooses to insert at the beginning of his Gospel rather than the end. This would be no error, of course, since the Gospel genre does not require chronological order.
So, is this Jesus’ first Passover or is it Jesus’ last Passover? The answer is yes!
The First Family
Present politics aside, we Americans like to refer to our President’s family as the First. The wife is the First Lady, the children are the First daughter or the First son, and altogether they are the First Family. It is our way of saying, at least in some ways, they are the most significant family in the country.
Who, then, is the most important family in the world? What about the most important family in history of the world? My vote is for any family where you find the Lord Jesus Christ in the center, especially Jesus’ own first family. John gives us a snapshot of them in verse 13. God the Father is not visible, neither is Joseph the step-father, who is believed to be diseased by this time. Mother Mary is smiling brightly, surrounded by her firstborn and (contrary to Catholic theology) His biological half-brothers and half-sisters. Jesus’ fledgling band of first followers photo-bomb the shoot.
Here is a picture of the family of Christ at the onset of His public ministry. He had been born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, flashed His first miracle in Cana, and now relocated to Capernaum. His home base for the ministry would be in or near the house of Simon Peter, a stone’s through from the beautiful synagogue in that small, idyllic town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
After a few days of setting up camp, the Lord is ready to march His campaign to the cross. His first orders are to travel the hundred miles that rises a half mile above sea level from Capernaum to the city of Jerusalem. Once He arrives at the Passover, His actions and words will sound off like a thousand trumpets. There is no triumphal entry mentioned, so it could have been Jesus’ first Passover appearance as the Messiah. But He violently clears out the Temple, just like the other Gospel writers say He did at the Last, an act of which He probably couldn’t have gotten away with twice. So, was it the first Passover or the Last?
The First Passover
For now let us say this is the first Passover that John writes about in His Gospel, and we may well leave it at that. The chronology is not the important matter. The theology is, and we will discover it as the narrative unfolds. The key to the interpretation is the celebration of the Passover, the most important religious ritual in Jewish life.
The Passover was inaugurated by God through Moses before 1400 BC. The occasion was the tenth of ten plagues the Lord reigned down on Egypt in order to force them to release God’s people from slavery. It fired the starting gun for the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. As the morning revealed the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, the Israelites were spared. On the night before, God had commanded the Jews to sacrifice a lamb, put the blood above and on both sides of their doors, prepare a meal with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine, and be prepared to be set free. It was the blood of the cross that spared them and set them free.
Jesus and his family and friends, being devout Jews, kept the commandments of the Passover. Public worship was very important to the Lord Jesus Christ, and it remains so today. His first family made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for their first, middle, and last Passover together during Jesus’ ministry. They obeyed the word of God and observed the religious rituals of their day. They made preparations for the meal. They anticipated the holy worship service at the Temple. But they were shocked, and Jesus was quite angry, at what they found upon their arrival at this first, or last, Passover.
The First Priority
If you ask me what is the first priority of a child of God, I will tell you it is worship. We are to worship God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many other things that devout Jews under the Old Covenant did and sincere Christians under the New Covenant do, but they all fall under the banner of worship.
Worship begs for rites, rituals, and a regular meeting place. Of course we can and should worship the Lord in the ongoing, everyday road of life, in quiet times and easy chairs. But Scripture and history also assign regular times and formal places for corporate worship, and those places are referred to as “the house of God.”
The Jews had synagogues and the Temple. Christians have the local meeting place, kirk, church. The Jews met weekly in the synagogues and at the three main festivals each year at the Temple. The Christians’ only pilgrimage is weekly on the Lord’s Day to the Lord’s house. It is a small price to pay in light of the amazing grace afforded to us by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The house of God, then and now, is supposed to be a reverent place with regulated principles of worship. When the place is ignored or misused, or the principles are marched over by modern inventions, Jesus gets angry.
In the case of the first, or last, Passover, Jesus witnessed the reverence of the Temple being overcome by commerce. There was nothing essentially wrong with selling and buying animals for the sacrifices, but this was to be done earlier, outside, not “in the Temple.” Worship was supposed to be conducted with praise to God, prayers to God, offerings to God, and most importantly, the word of God. Worship that is not godward displeases God, as the Son of God shows us at this Passover.
I love the late, great Fred Rogers and his neighborhood, but Mr. Rogers Jesus is not. Instead of slippers and a sweater, Jesus took out a fist and a whip to defend “My Father’s house” of worship. “Zeal” is how all believers should feel when it comes to the time, place, and manner of holy worship.
If He were here physically today, what do you think Jesus would do with winky, blinky prosperity gospel preachers? What would he do on a stage full of smoke, mirrors, and rock bands so loud you cannot think, especially about God? What would He do in places where the word is not preached and the sacraments are not regularly and rightly observed?
Worship matters to God. It matters where it is done, how it is done, and most importantly, that it is done. Make sure you are making the trip, doing the time, and keeping the zeal for the worship of God in the house of God. Don’t make Jesus get after you with a whip.
The Last Passover
I want to think this was the first Passover in Jesus’ public ministry, for John is my favorite and he records it here, in the beginning, plus two more later on. I am persuaded, however, by the consensus of scholarship that asserts the parallels in the synoptic Gospels prevail in chronology. It makes sense to them, and me, that when Jesus showed up the religious establishment in this way, He signed His own death sentence that had to be carried out soon.
So was it the first Passover, or the last Passover? The answer is yes.
This is the first Passover in the Gospel of John, at least. And, it is the last Passover, not because of the time, or place, but because of the person. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Temple, at the close of the Old Covenant and within a generation the Temple was no more. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Temple. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Passover, at the close of the Old Covenant, and the last Passover became the first Lord’s Supper. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Passover (ref. 1 Corinthians 5:7). “The temple of His body,” crucified and resurrected, is the first, the last, and the only Passover we will ever need.
Like the door of a Jewish home on the eve of the exodus, the cross of Christ was stained with blood, upward, on each side, and downward, too. Today it reaches people who receive it, in repentance and faith, and apply it to the framework of their own hearts and lives. Those who do will go in and out to worship the Lord, on the Lord’s terms, in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s Day.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org