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God’s Word for You

Numbers 9:9-14 Passover and Supper

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 23, 2021

9 The LORD spoke to Moses 10 and told him to tell the Israelites this: If any one of you or your descendants is unclean because of contact with a dead body or is on a distant journey, he may still observe the Passover to the LORD. 11 Such people are to observe it during the second month, on the fourteenth day, at twilight. They are to eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it until morning. They are not to break a single one of its bones. They are to observe the Passover according to every regulation for it.

Someone who wants to be argumentative might ask, what if the same person gets defiled by a dead body a second time? The answer must be: Another family member can take care of the second dead body. Let the person who missed Passover the first time celebrate “Second Passover.”

The Lord allows not only for defilement from a dead body, but also for someone who was on a long journey and missed Passover. This was a hint about the coming prosperity of the Promised Land. Traveling long distances would be possible for the people, with the certainty of a happy return home.

The three main points of the Passover are reviewed: (1) eating the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, (2) leaving nothing until morning, and (3) not breaking any bones. Any other traditions, such as precisely which prayers to use, the duties of the members of the household, the number and style of candles to be lit (or whether to use candles at all), were human traditions. For many Christians, it’s easier to point a finger at the Jews for their traditions than to see the flaw with insisting on traditions of our own.

Not breaking the bones of the sacrifice was a detail that was also upheld in the crucifixion of Jesus (Psalm 34:20; John 19:38). The application of that Psalm also has a marvelous gospel promise: “The Lord redeems his servants, no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:22). Those who reject God will be condemned (Mark 16:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:12), but all who trust in Jesus will be saved. They will be carried in the arms of the angels to their eternal home in heaven (Luke 16:22).

13 But anyone who is clean and is not on a journey yet fails to observe the Passover will be cut off from his people. He will bear his sin because he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. 14 If an alien dwells among you and desires to observe the Passover to the LORD, he is to do so according to the regulation for the Passover and its ordinance. You are to have one regulation, the same for the alien and for the native of the land.

For us, the most direct application of this passage is to see the differences between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. First, the Hebrew who avoided Passover was to be cut off, excommunicated from his people. The Passover was a meal of the law with strict ordinances. The Lord’s Supper is a gospel meal which offers the forgiveness of sins. There is no condemnation for those who miss the Lord’s Supper for a reason apart from travel or uncleanness. A Christian is free to take communion one week and then choose not to take it the following week. Indeed, when I preside over the sacrament, there are five services in a weekend, and I usually only partake of the meal in one of those and not all five (my practice was always to take communion in the same service as my wife, even if we didn’t go up together because I was serving). The Lord wants us to take it “often” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Second, there is nothing said about any Hebrew who observed the Passover for the wrong reason, since it was a law and a law must be kept regardless of why one keeps it. Today, a policeman doesn’t care why I obey traffic laws. He only cares that I obey. However, with the Lord’s Supper, the condition of the heart and of one’s doctrinal understanding is a concern. In my heart, I must believe that this is truly the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:29) or I will call down judgment on myself, a judgment that will hang over my head when the Books are opened on the Last Day (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12).

If for some reason I find myself in a church outside our fellowship when the Lord’s Supper is offered, I must not take it since I would be proclaiming by my action that I believe just the same as that group believes (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). That doesn’t mean that I need to stand up and proclaim our differences then and there in the service, since I am a guest. But I might choose at a later time to make my position known if asked about it.

In the Passover, there was a provision for the alien (foreigner) who wanted to observe. He was to do so “according to the regulation for the Passover and its ordinance.” That is to say, he was to observe the Passover according to the Word of God, and not according to his own opinion or impulse. Churches should also insist that visitors or guests who wish to participate, must be in full agreement with the doctrine of the church, what the Scriptures say, and be a member of a sister church or have completed certain learning requirements toward becoming a member. Too many churches draw an arbitrary line, asking visitors to believe at least some things but not requiring them to believe other things. But that’s a false line of fellowship. Jesus said that we should teach “everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), not just some things. And what if someone maintains membership in a church that teaches blatant false doctrine? Don’t they, by virtue of their membership, agree with that doctrine?

Two summers ago, a large Lutheran group which was once the largest Lutheran church body in the USA (it is no longer) took a vote in convention about its doctrinal position on salvation. The ELCA said then and still maintains that there are paths to heaven outside Christ and altogether outside the Christian church and the Bible. It was said in that convention that clinging to Christ alone was an embarrassment to their ecumenical outreach efforts. Although I am not a representative of my church body but am just a local parish pastor, I wrote and sent a letter to the head pastor of the ELCA, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. While we would also question the ordination of a woman into the office of pastor, I chose to address the more crucial and damning error, and only that error, in the letter, which I include here:

The Right Reverend Elizabeth Eaton
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
September 14, 2019

Your Grace:

  I was grieved to learn about the ELCA’s decision at this summer’s convention regarding inter-faith beliefs and practices. I am not a member of the ELCA clergy, but of a small Lutheran Synod with a different history, the WELS. While I want to say more, I fear that a long letter will go unread, and so I will come to the point at once. You have made a grave mistake. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). There are many ministers in the ELCA who might say, “Jesus would say this or that,” but a pastor, bishop or not, must never venture into guessing what “would” be said, but must remain with the truth as the Bible teaches it. Jesus Christ said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), as was pointed out on the convention floor.

  I urge you in the name of Jesus to reconsider the position you and your church have taken. Your Grace, you are leading millions into a sin, a sinful attitude about Christ our Savior, that will rest on your head in eternity. There is no path to heaven except by the blood of Christ. If your people are led to imagine that there is some other way, they will fall into the idolatry for which Solomon was not commended, but for which he had to repent. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God…. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely” (1 Kings 11:4,6). This sounds precisely like what you are leading your flock into.

  Your Grace, repent of this sin and lead your people to repentance. Do the work of a shepherd. There is forgiveness that remains to be given. I am not your pastor, and I am not your husband. But if you wish to confer about this further, I am at your disposal. I am praying for your soul, and the souls of all the Christians in your church.

Your Grace, repent of this sin.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the only Savior from sin,

Rev. Timothy J. Smith
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
201 N. State Street, New Ulm, Minnesota 56073

The Passover showed the mercy of God to his people against the backdrop of a terrible, deadly plague (Psalm 135:8). The Lord’s Supper shows, offers, and gives the mercy and forgiveness of God to his people through the body and blood of Christ our true Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Pharaoh who watched the exodus of Israel and was left behind did not pray with his whole heart, but we could use his words and understand them perfectly today: “Forgive my sin once more and take this deadly plague away from me” (Exodus 10:17). In Christ there is truly forgiveness, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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