The Aphikomen

A Matzo Tash is a cloth container for the unleavened bread that is eaten by a Jewish family when celebrating Passover. There are three compartments in the Matzo Tash into which are placed three whole matzahs. Early in the Passover Seder, the leader will take the middle piece of matzah and break it in half (roughly). One part will go back into the Matzo Tash and the other part will be wrapped in a napkin. This broken matzah is known as the “aphikomen;” the leader calls it the “humble bread” and sets it aside. At some point while everyone is distracted with the ceremony, the leader will discreetly hide the part that is wrapped in the napkin, the aphikomen.

Toward the end of the Seder meal, the leader will call upon the children to search for and find the aphikomen. In a Jewish family it is typical for the youngest child to “find” the napkin with the aphikomen (usually with the help of the adults and older children) and to be rewarded with a piece of candy by the leader of the ceremony.

We don’t find any reference to the aphikomen in the Old Testament. It is a part of the ceremony that probably developed in the early part of the first century while Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism. Yet it remained a part of the ceremony even after it became clear to the Jewish people that these “Christians” were going to keep on insisting that Jesus was the Messiah. In the early third century, the rabbis standardized the Seder ceremony and the aphikomen remained a part of it.

But to what does it refer? Why are there three compartments in the Matzo Tash? Why is the middle piece of matzah removed and broken? Why is it called the “humble bread”? Why do the children look for it; why a reward when it’s found?

Groups of three can be found in Judaism, but not all of the parts of this ceremony fit them. The three patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — might be considered. Isaac was almost sacrificed in Genesis 22, but none of the other parts of the ceremony come close to fitting this triplet. The religious hierarchy of the priests, the Levites, and the people don’t seem to make sense of the other parts of the tradition either. Some think that the three matzahs is a reference to the three measures of flour that Sarah prepared for the three angels in Genesis 19, but this is a stretch because they weren’t any part of the exodus from Egypt.

There is, however, a triplet that the unbelieving Jews don’t recognize, but the early church did — the Triune God. This triplet makes complete sense of the tradition of the aphikomen. The middle matzah (representing God, the Son) was broken (or crucified); He was humbled (or humbled Himself); He was hidden (buried) and found (resurrected). A reward was paid (for the Christian, Messiah paid for our redemption). The Jews, though, don’t recognize this symbolism because to do so, they would have to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Yet, inexplicably, this remained part of the Seder ceremony even after Christianity parted from Judaism.

Interestingly, and to reinforce the point that the aphikomen is a symbol of Messiah Jesus, many Jewish people recite the Shema daily, a phrase of which is “Adonai echad” — in English, “the Lord is one.” The Hebrew word, “echad” (one) is a word for a unity that has multiple parts (e.g., one car, but with an engine, steering wheel, seats, etc.). So the Matzo Tash that originally held the unleavened bread was a single unit with multiple parts.

The nature of symbolism is that it can never be perfect, but the explanation of Y’Shua as representing the aphikomen comes far closer than any other. Curious people can look up “aphikomen” on the internet to find some very wild explanations to avoid recognizing the connection between Jesus and the aphikomen. Some people will go to great lengths to cram the square pegs of their worldview into the round holes of the reality that surrounds them.

All of the important symbols that the Jewish people remember in commemorating Passover point to Y’Shua ha-Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah. The necessity of a Deliverer was symbolized by the bitter herbs, evoking a sharp contrast with the sweetness of freedom; His sinless life was seen in the fact that the bread was unleavened; His substitutionary death was represented by the blood of the lamb that protected the people from the angel of death; and the aphikomen points to the nature of the Triune God, specifically Jesus.

The shallow understanding of Christianity in our world leads some people to imagine that God’s work has changed from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era. But from the beginning of time He was pointing ahead to a future Deliverer — not just in Passover, but in all of the feasts, in the ceremonial law, indeed, in all parts of the Old Testament. He never changed His plan, and never will. In the end, all of mankind will have to give an answer to the question, “How did you respond to Messiah Jesus?” Sadly, many Jewish people rehearse that plan each year at Passover but miss it. Just as sadly, many who identify themselves with Christianity miss His plan as well.

Jesus, the Lamb of God

All of the feasts of Israel pointed to Messiah, but probably the one that most clearly depicts the nature of the Messiah and the purpose of His ministry is Passover. It was a Passover Feast that was the occasion for twelve year old Jesus to meet the Jewish teachers in the Temple. It was the Passover Feast that He used to inaugurate the Lord’s Supper. Paul urged the Corinthians to keep the Passover Feast with purity because Christ was their Passover Lamb (I Cor. 5:7-8).

Passover was the beginning of the nation of Israel, their Independence Day. While Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) was celebrated in the fall as the traditional date of Creation, Passover began a new era for God’s people. He established them as an independent nation, not merely as the extended family of a single man.

Just as all nations celebrate national holidays, the Jews were told to celebrate Passover annually. But as their celebration developed over their history, it is significant that it pointed more and more clearly toward Messiah. A case could be made that in the evolution of the Seder itself, one could see the hand of God pointing toward Messiah. A case could also be made that the annual celebration of the various feasts was highly instrumental in preserving the national identity of the Jewish people for the 2500 years of their dispersion.

Central to the celebration of Passover is the idea of freedom. The former slaves to Pharaoh became a free nation. But it was more than mere political freedom. Their political freedom actually pointed to a deeper, spiritual freedom, and the celebration of that event ought to have become a visual reminder of the invisible truths. Throughout their history the Jewish hope of freedom was associated with the Messiah. They anticipated that he would deliver them from their oppressors, but what they didn’t see was His nature in and through the various parts of the Passover Seder.

The lamb that was sacrificed for Passover was a spotless lamb (Ex. 12:5). As already mentioned, Paul called Jesus the Passover Lamb (I Cor 5:7-8), a designation consistent with the idea of purity. Studies in his theology make it very clear that Paul understood and held to the sinless purity of Jesus. He was the One who though He knew no sin, yet became sin for us (II Cor. 5:21).

The Biblical doctrine of the sinlessness of Jesus is not just a superficial teaching but is integral to the notion of our freedom from sin. If Jesus had not been sinless, the sacrifice would not have satisfied the demands of God’s justice. The infinite quality of God’s attributes requires that any sin, however small in our eyes, will violate His holiness. That sin, therefore, cannot be simply overlooked, but must be covered (atoned for); the penalty for that sin must be paid. Of course, we on this side of the Cross, and who acknowledge the Cross, see the connection that was hidden in “spotless lamb” of the Passover and made clearer when John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Another parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus is the vicarious nature of both deaths. The lamb in Exodus 12 was to be killed so that its blood would serve as a protection from the angel of death. The lamb died so that the people wouldn’t. Likewise, Jesus’ death was in our place, protecting us from death as well.

This idea is so often woven into the Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – that it certainly is not incidental. When the Levitical priests laid their hands upon the head of the animal to be sacrificed, it was for the purpose of identification with their substitute. They recognized that that animal was experiencing death so that they would live. One of the ritual practices of the Day of Atonement used two goats, one of which was killed as a sacrifice, the other being set free. Our term “scapegoat,” meaning “a person bearing blame for others,” comes from this ritual.

One of the first events upon entering the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership was their rehearsal of the story of how the blood over the doorpost caused the angel of death to “pass over” them. The Hebrew warriors must have been impressed when a week later the massive wall of Jericho fell, all of it except the part where a scarlet cord was hanging from the window, protecting Rahab and her family from death.

The idea of substitution comes out also in the prophecy of Isaiah. These verses should be read emphasizing the pronouns, “Surely OUR griefs HE HIMSELF bore, And OUR sorrows HE carried; Yet WE OURSELVES esteemed HIM stricken, Smitten of God and afflicted. But HE was pierced through for OUR transgressions, HE was crushed for OUR iniquities; The chastening for OUR well-being fell upon HIM, And by HIS scourging WE are healed. All of US like sheep have gone astray, Each of US has turned to HIS own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of US all To fall on HIM” (Isaiah 53:4-6 NASB, emphasis added).
When a Jewish family celebrates Passover, they often are reminded that the substitution of the lamb for their sins was not available only for the descendants of Abraham. The offer of protection by painting the lamb’s blood over the door was also made to the Egyptians. Likewise, the blood of Y’Shua ha-Mashiach – Jesus the Messiah – is offered to all Gentiles, to all who will apply that blood to their hearts. They don’t have to have a particular pedigree.

The images of Passover in the minds of many of us come from the imagination of film maker Cecil B. DeMille who cast Charlton Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” By today’s standards he did a remarkably good job at sticking to the text of Scripture – that is, by today’s standards. One of the best scenes that drew out the mood of the characters who were actually there takes place in Moses’ home. He and his family were protected by the blood on their doorpost, but that blood didn’t erase the sounds of the night, particularly the wailing of those who ignored the provision of the blood of the lamb. It is a sad and sober truth that there will be more wailing unless we reach the world soon.

The picture given to us in the Passover Seder of the lamb whose blood was shed that we might have life parallels perfectly the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we consider the other elements of the Seder, we will see Messiah in them as well. But taken as a whole they comprise a testimony to the Messianic role of the Lord Jesus that is beyond dispute.

True Freedom

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them (Psalm 12:6-7, ESV)

The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century is the most significant historical event outside the pages of Scripture because it settled the question of the source of Truth. The Reformers understood that Truth is revealed in the Scripture rather than in the changing ideas of culture or the men who are the products of that culture. The very first question posed by Satan in the Garden of Eden was a question about the reliability of Revealed Truth (Gen 3:1). For the first millennium and a half following Christ, His followers recognized the Truth largely on the basis of the original teachings of the Apostles and those that followed immediately after. But by the time of the Reformation, the source of Truth had begun to erode. The traditions of the Church were taking precedence over Scripture just as they had in Jewish culture. Like the Jews, some of these traditions had no basis in Scripture itself and even contradicted it.

Those in our day that deny the objective nature of the revelation of Scripture suggest to us that God is shrouded in mystery. Nothing can be known about Him or about His will for men with certainty. We are left to ponder and wonder whether our understanding is right without any assurance that it is or it isn’t. They tell us that the historical writings we call “the Bible” certainly are one “witness” to God but cannot be considered reliable in an age 2-3 millennia removed from the time of their writing. Other religious teachings are similar “witnesses” even if they contradict ours because nothing can be known absolutely except what we can see or sense. Our senses tell us there is something outside of our realm of experience (hence, the various “witnesses”), but we cannot determine if our assessment of those sensory impressions is accurate because God has not clearly and absolutely revealed Himself.

In this society the warden of a prison reserves solitary confinement for his most incorrigible prisoner. He shuts him up and prevents any contact with the outside world. If the noise in the courtyard reaches his senses, he has to listen closely to determine if the noise suggests a riot (that might give him an opportunity for escape) or just an especially exuberant game of basketball, but he cannot know for sure because he can have no contact with the world beyond his cell. The purpose of this punishment is to break him, and it is usually effective.

Those in our world who deny that there is revealed Truth often try to suggest to us that God is a God of love, yet the circumstances that they have created by this denial of revealed truth parallel the circumstances given to the incorrigible prisoner as punishment. They are not the circumstances of one who is within the good graces of the warden. They like to tout how free they are to pursue truth, but it is a freedom within the confines of the cell created by unknowability. Nothing outside the bounds of the cell can be known; the “freedom” exists only within the closed system of the observable universe. Yet mankind intuitively knows that there is something outside. If he didn’t have this intuition, he wouldn’t be searching for the larger purpose or deeper meaning of life.

Solitary confinement affects the human psyche. Those that survive do so by adjusting their mindset; those that fail to adjust to this temporal reality ultimately go mad. We see the same phenomena in our world where men substitute very irrational theories to compensate for their rejection of revelation. Declaring the absurdity of “spontaneous generation” within the theory of evolution to be “rational” is just one example.

When the Reformers brought to light the authority of the Scripture over the changing opinions of men, they opened the door to a prison cell. Jesus had said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). No intermediaries, theologian’s interpretations, or speculations were necessary; God has spoken! The source of Truth is established.

Free Indeed

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalm 33:12)

This morning I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Restore America.” I don’t know if the sentiment is a faith-based one or merely the patriotism of conservative politics. I know I am on many email loops that complain about what is happening to our country, so maybe my eye is more attuned to these sentiments on various platforms, but there seems to be a lot of them these days. I am sure that if we polled each of the sources, we would come up with a couple dozen or more solutions to our country’s plight. They likely would all overlap on the plank of changing the residents of Washington, DC, but beyond that every opinion would be different.

The men and women that founded this country were people of rare courage, a courage that we don’t see duplicated in our day. The tyranny they fought against cost them “[their] lives, [their] fortunes and [their] sacred honor.” And it wasn’t just the men and women who used to be named in our history books; they included the unnamed minutemen in Massachusetts and the anonymous soldiers at Valley Forge, not to mention their wives and children that tended their homes and farms while they were away. But today, precious few of us have the courage to sacrifice the material substance that we have accumulated to stand against the re-energized forces of tyranny that have emerged in our country. What is the difference between then and now? What was the source of their courage in that day? Can it be recovered, and if so, how?

I submit that the source of that courage was the revival known as the Great Awakening that swept through Colonial America 25 – 30 years prior to the Revolution. This Revival, the chief spokesman of which was Jonathan Edwards (although there were many others), restored the spiritual foundation to the American Colonies that had led to the founding of most of them. That spiritual foundation was distinctively Christian – not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or even secular. Men and women were set free from the bondage of sin in their hearts and realized they were created to be free from every kind of bondage. Consider the famous words of Jesus: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36). Paul said it differently, but the meaning was the same: “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Men who have never been set free from sin are seldom willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to be set free politically. They are far more likely to learn to manage their bondage and make the best of it because they have no assurance, indeed no real hope, that their sacrifice would result in any substantive change. At best they would join a movement of others toward freedom, which is why we know the name of Thomas Paine and those of a few other humanists of that era (but none from any other religious system).

The cry in America for restoration will be just an impotent cry until there is a genuine revival of Christianity in America. The only source of the courage we need in an oppressive age is one that transcends time because the restoration we seek will not happen overnight and few of us  – outside of authentic relationships with Jesus – are willing to sacrifice for something that will not benefit us personally.

When I Think of Christmas…

…I think of the Normandy Invasion, commonly known as D-Day. Years of planning went into that event. First, and the most obvious, was physically amassing the men and equipment needed to pull off the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, landing boats, airplanes, troop transports, weapons and ammunition, communication devices, food and medical supplies all were assembled despite the threat of German U-Boats that were intent on preventing the invasion.

Then there was the element of strategy. How could the Allies pull off a surprise invasion when the Germans knew that it would happen and would fortify the likely landing zone? We know now that the Allies used quiet gliders under the cover of darkness to allow the paratroopers to drop in behind the German fortifications and take the battle to them from both sides. Our leaders created a unique communication device – a clicker – so that the paratroopers could communicate with one another in the dark. They also used the Navajo language to securely communicate information because of the difficulty of breaking this code.

Finally there was the sacrifice. The loss of life would be great; the human suffering would be greater. But the goal of freedom required it.

Amid the quiet scenes of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in the manger, we tend to forget that there’s a war raging. It’s a war where the two sides have clearly defined goals: freedom, on the one side; tyranny, on the other.

For centuries the Triune God had been preparing for the invasion of His Son into the world so the intense battle could begin and the final victory won. Just as the Allies in WWII amassed the soldiers and equipment, so God prepared the players for His Invasion: the Roman peace, the Greek culture, the Jewish religion, a godly virgin woman, a morally upstanding fiancé.

Then there was the strategy. Despite the prophecies, the enemy of our souls never dreamed that the Deliverer would come in the innocence of a Baby. Perhaps Satan was looking for the Father to put His endorsement on a prophet or priest, already in the Jewish system. But he never dreamed that the Triune God would Himself take on human flesh to become one of His subjects. The defenses of the enemy – a brutal political world and a legalistic religious system – were no match for the strategy of the Incarnation.

But the War could not be won without sacrifice. Our soldiers at D-Day laid aside their comfortable surroundings for the hardship of war, in many cases not returning. But freedom was at stake. Our Lord laid aside the prerogatives of His heavenly home – the fellowship with the Father, the honor and majesty of His position – to come to this war zone and fight – again, because our freedom was at stake.

The pictures in our old newspapers of the joy of our returning soldiers after WWII are indelibly impressed upon our minds, as they should be. But how much greater will be the victory parade in heaven when the King of Kings rightfully assumes His place.Jesus…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11).