Bread of Affliction.

Christianity, Religion

“‘You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.’” Deuteronomy 16:3

The Passover is the most significant of all the Jewish holidays. During this sacred annual observance, the Jewish people remember the mighty acts that God performed to free their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. At the heart of the Passover celebration is the somber and solemn recognition of the great lengths which God would go to free His people.

One of the most iconic pieces of the Passover celebration is matzah or unleavened bread. As the Israelites were preparing to make their exit from Egypt, God gave them specific instructions for the Passover meal. He was going to pass through the land of Egypt striking dead all the firstborns of the land. But the houses which had followed His instructions, and taken the blood of a firstborn lamb and painted it upon the doorframe of the house, these houses would be spared; He would pass over them. This lamb which was slain for its blood to be used as a sign to God was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The Israelites were to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice; there was not even time to allow the bread to rise.  As a result of having no leaven, the bread they ate with the Passover meal was flat, and this flatbread became synonymous with the Passover. Due to its association with their bondage in Egypt, matzah is often referred to, even during Passover services, as “the bread of affliction.”  During Passover celebrations, the matzah is taken, blessed, and broken, and each participant takes a piece to eat as a reminder of the affliction suffered by their ancestors before being freed by God. Matzah is a tangible reminder of the suffering experienced in Egypt; the matzah reminds each new generation that, without God’s intervention, their affliction would be yours too.

On the Thursday after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples gathered to observe the Passover. Christ was obedient in His observation of the mandated holidays, and He and the disciples had—like the generations before did and after them would as well—matzah to remember the affliction of the forefathers in Egypt. During this Passover, Christ would institute a new observance: The Eucharist, or Communion—the Lord’s Supper. He took the matzah and blessed it and broke it and distributed it to the disciples; however, He did not tell them this was the “bread of affliction,” instead, he said, “This is my body, which is given for you,” (Luke 22:19). Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see where Christ refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life,” (John 6:35), and He said that “whoever feeds of my flesh and drinks of my blood has eternal life,” (John 6:54). Christ is changing the paradigm; something new is happening. He is using the observance of the Passover to teach the disciples—and all future generations—of the new Passover which is about to take place, one complete with a new Paschal lamb and new matzah.

The connections between the original Passover and Christ’s sacrifice must not be lost on us. Just as the first Passover proved to the Israelites just how far God would go to save them from Pharaoh’s oppression and bondage, Christ’s Passover shows how much farther God went to save His people from slavery and bondage to an even more powerful and vile oppressor: sin and death. God would offer up His Son—the firstborn of His flock and of all things—to be the Passover sacrifice, and being covered by His blood would free us from death just as the Passover lamb’s blood spared the households it covered from death. In His agony, Jesus—the Bread of Life—would become the ultimate matzah—the bread of affliction. He bore our sins and guilt so that we might be liberated from sin’s shackles. He suffered our affliction so that He might give us life. He provided our exodus from sin and this world.

Just as God instructed the Israelites to remember the Passover and to commemorate it, Christ taught the disciples—and all future generations—to observe the Communion, and to do so “in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:19). In taking Communion, we remember that Passover in Jerusalem when Christ became the ultimate Passover sacrifice. We remember how He took our affliction and shame and sin and guilt. We remember how the Bread of Life became the bread of affliction and was broken so that we might be freed from sin and death. Communion is our tangible reminder that, without Christ’s intervention, our sins and afflictions would still enslave us. Each time we partake of Communion, we are reminding ourselves of and celebrating the ultimate Passover. With a somber and solemn heart, we try to comprehend the great lengths to which God went to redeem us and save us, and we pray:

Christ, our Passover Lamb

Christ, our Matzah, our Bread of Affliction

Christ, our Liberator

Christ, our Redeemer

Christ, our Messiah

We do this in remembrance of You.

photo courtesy of http://www.oneforisrael.org https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-meaning-of-matzo-unleavened-bread-in-the-bible/

First Love.

Christianity, Religion

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4

No biblical book has been the subject of more scrutiny, questioning, or speculation than Revelation. Given its apocalyptic and eschatological nature, many try to unpack it with the intent of discovering some hidden “clue” about the end of time. Even the most learned of scholars will admit that the book’s imagery and language make it difficult to grasp, and this is only compounded by the prevalence of popular misconceptions surrounding Revelation. Of all the books in the Christian canon, Revelation stands at the top of the list of being the most enigmatic. Though this is true, it is God-breathed, inspired Scripture, and it is beneficial for teaching and training in righteousness.

Before John the Apostle received any of the visions dealing with the apocalypse or the end of time, he received messages from Jesus to deliver to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. These churches, located in various cities throughout the region, received specific letters from Christ regarding their faithfulness and obedience to His teachings. Christ speaks directly to each church, calling them out where they have fallen short, and encouraging them to correct whatever wrongs they have made. The specificity with which Christ spoke to each church made it evident that He had been watching them and knew what they were doing.

The first church to be mentioned by Christ is the Ephesian Church. Ephesus was a major city; it was the capital of the province of Asia. The church there had been founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys, and he stayed there for roughly three years teaching and preaching to the Ephesians. Along with this claim to fame, other leaders in the early church period would come from out of Ephesus. It was a church that certainly had the right credentials and would develop a respected pedigree of church leaders.

Christ’s message to the Ephesians begins with several commendations: He reminds the Ephesians that He knows “your works, your toils, and your patient endurance,” (Revelation 2:2).  He compliments their faithfulness to His word and the fact that they are so diligent in opposing evil and rooting out false teachers. The Church in Ephesus was committed to true and sound doctrine, and they would fight those who espoused false teachings. Christ goes on to commend the Ephesians for their patience and perseverance in carrying out their work. It seems as though the Ephesians are doing everything right, but Christ’s issue with this church is not with their doctrine nor is it with their attitude; it is a matter of their heart. Though the Ephesians were not doing anything that they were not supposed to be doing, everything they did was for the wrong reasons.

 The Ephesians had left the love—for Christ and for one another—that they had at the beginning. The exuberance and enthusiasm with which they first sought after Christ had given way to a sense of normalcy and routine.  Their zeal for their work replaced their love for the One who saved them. They committed themselves to stamp out false teachings while forgetting how to live out the right doctrines properly. The Ephesians were doing good work, but they were merely going through the motions. They were not driven by love for Christ but instead were inspired by a sense of duty and obligation and recognition. The Church in Ephesus was committed to working, but they had lost sight—or sadly, forgotten—why they were doing that work in the first place. The church in Ephesus was doing everything that it was supposed to do, except loving Christ.  Even with their “credentials,” the Ephesians had gone off track, and Christ was calling them to come back; to return to their first love, to love Him as much as they once had.

We are no different or better than the Ephesians. Far too often, the “fire” and love we have after first encountering Christ dwindles over time. When once we found ourselves serving Him out of love, we find ourselves doing so for other—selfish and artificial—motivations. Like the Ephesians, we go about the work left for us to do, but we allow our love for the work to supersede our love for Christ. We are driven to complete our work because of the accolades we will receive from other men and women, instead of doing so out of love for Christ and bringing Him glory.  We make an idol of doing things the “right” way—our way—and fail to realize that we are serving the One who is the Way. Like the Ephesians, the work we are doing may be good, but if we are doing it for the wrong motivations, what good is it? Are you doing your work because your love for Christ compels you to do so, or because you love the recognition you get for doing it? 

Examine your heart and your motives for serving Christ. Identify where you might be abandoning your first love, and return to it. Love Christ as you did when He first changed your life.

Artwork: “Two People. The Lonely Ones,” Edvard Munch, 1899