The prepared text of this morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church is below. Of course, the school of Christ is best when heard in person but we have made a provision for those who need to make-up this course by uploading the sermon audio to this link. Next Sunday we will begin to set out on our wilderness journey with Numbers 9:15-10:10. My commentary on Numbers can be found at this link.
If you have to miss class, a lot of teachers will tell you just to get the notes from someone else in the class. Of course, unless they are able to replicate the class through their notes you might miss something. But there are some classes that you simply must be present or it won’t work. An example that sticks out would be foreign language classes. In any case, some teachers are willing to work with you if you give them as much notice as possible and the reason for skipping class is considered legitimate. They can schedule a make-up class if several students have to miss or perhaps a private class if there are only one or two. The Passover was a worship class. Through the Passover meal, the people of Israel learned about God, about salvation from sin and death, and about themselves. The class was mandatory—everyone had to be present and to participate or they would be expelled from the school. That is, if you didn’t participate in the Passover meal, then you would be cut off from the people of God. This refresher class took place once a year on the same day every year. But there may be some legitimate reasons that you couldn’t be present or if you were present that you couldn’t participate in the Passover meal. Since attendance was so serious, some people in one such situation went to Moses with the problem. These people were present, but they weren’t being allowed to participate because they were unclean. They were probably defiled through no fault of their own. But they were defiled, and you had to be ceremonially clean to take the class. Now we might think that it would be ok to lower the standards for participation just this one time, or that it would be ok to miss this refresher course just once because it was a good reason to miss it, or that the students should be told that they are out of luck—maybe another school will accept you as a student, but we’re kicking you out. But listen to God’s answer to this problem:
God, in His grace, provided a make-up Passover exactly one month later not only for those who were unclean from touching a dead body but for them and others who might be unable to participate on the appointed day.
We know that failure to participate in the Passover meant exile from God and His people, but here were people who wanted to participate but weren’t able to do so because they had touched a dead body. Either they came into contact with a dead body because someone died in their presence or they came into contact with one because they needed to prepare it for burial. In any case, it wasn’t their fault that they were unclean—they were defiled because of the continuing presence of death in the world. Nevertheless, between the holy glory of God and the realm of death there can be no peace. If these people had been allowed to participate in the Passover, the consequences for them and for the people of Israel would have been disastrous. But by not allowing them to participate, the consequences for them were also dire. Now some people might expect God to be unyielding and unforgiving and thus to demand their expulsion and others might expect God to overlook their sin in some way. But the make-up Passover He provided meant that He would do neither. A make-up Passover for those who became unclean through touching a dead body meant that God’s standards were not lessened and that the consequences for disobedience were intact. (But God didn’t limit this second chance to just the situation confronting Moses at the moment, He saw that there may be other situations for which it was also appropriate.)
God gave a second chance to celebrate the Passover to those who were unclean from touching a dead body and to those who would be on a long journey during future Passovers. His answer wasn’t just a one-time exception that year and never again, nor was it an exception for just the situation of the moment. God’s answer was much more inclusive – His answer provided for this situation and similar situations that year and in future years. They didn’t just get to celebrate the Passover whenever they wanted nor did He let them participate in it unclean. He scheduled a make-up class. It wasn’t an option for those who had willfully missed the first Passover with no legitimate excuses—they were still cut off from the people of Israel. But it was an option for the people of Israel and for the sojourner living among them who were unable to participate on the regularly appointed day. The note about the sojourner is common when God speaks about the Passover—it was the same rules whether you were of Hebrew ancestry or you were a sojourner living in their midst who believed in the true God. All of the men participating in the Passover had to be circumcised—whether they were Jews or Gentiles—and all of the people had to follow all of the required regulations. But if you had a legitimate reason keeping you from participating on the appointed day, such as being ceremonially unclean or going on a long journey, then you could go to the make-up Passover on the appointed make-up day. (But what does this have to do with us? Sure, it tells us something about the character of our God—which may apply to other situations—but what does this particular passage say to us today?)
There are practical ways that the passage applies today through Christ, but far more important is the purpose of the Passover in pointing to Jesus Christ.
Jesus, our Passover lamb, died at the appointed time on the cross for our sins and He rose at the appointed time from the dead. On account of His death and resurrection, He defeated sin and death. The water that came from His side on the cross makes those defiled by the realm of death to be clean. You may recall that He was pierced in the side with a spear, but none of His bones were broken just as the people of Israel were told never to break the bones of the Passover lamb. John 19:33-34 says, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” The reason for breaking legs was to speed up dying from crucifixion. But Jesus was our Passover lamb and the blood and water that came out from His side is highly significant. Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the obligations of the covenant perfectly for us. He didn’t even need accommodations such as this passage provided. When He came into contact with the dead He didn’t become unclean—He raised the dead. They ate the Passover meal with unleavened bread, but the leaven of sin never spread to His body. They ate the Passover meal with bitter herbs, but His bitter death is transformed into something sweet for us. His blood is sweet. (Speaking of His body and blood, the most natural application of this passage concerns the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a Passover meal without lamb—for He has been sacrificed once for all—the meal is one of the bread and blood of life.)
While there are no regulations concerning how often we must celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the passage supports the irregular celebration of the Supper when necessary. That is, if the regular celebration of the Supper is on a Sunday morning but someone is not able to be here for some legitimate reason then the irregular celebration of the Supper is when communion is taken to them at another time. This is an important observation because the book of Numbers reminds us that worship is to be done according to the revelation of God. We don’t just worship when and how we please. We worship according to the pattern God has revealed. We do what He commands in the way that He commands. So sure, we see the Passover was celebrated on the appointed day and we know that the Lord’s Supper is celebrated regularly on Sundays but just as God made provision for an irregular Passover so too an irregular Lord’s Supper is pleasing to Him. (It isn’t as urgent as Passover since Passover was only once a year and communion can be as often as every Sunday, but it is helpful to know that God approves.) This idea is surely to be applied to other situations. This example I have given concerns a situation that isn’t necessarily the fault of the person. It is a situation where it isn’t their fault that they cannot be here when we have communion. There are other situations that might be our fault but nevertheless the same idea applies. The problem is that we live in a world with sin and death. Thus there are sometimes and situations where we may have to deal with irregularities. One suggested irregularity is when a tribe of polygamists become Christians. If the men who have become Christians divorce the extra wives then those wives will experience many hardships. Therefore, missionaries have encouraged people in these situations to remain as they are but have not allowed any more polygamous marriages. Over time this irregular situation will become a regular one. Whatever you think of this example, the point is that we too may have to deal with irregular situations because we live in a world with sin and death. There may be times when obeying one of God’s commands will come into conflict with other commands because we aren’t in the perfect world that is to come. But whatever make-up classes or other concessions need to be made in this world with sin and death, we have a Savior who was without sin who died for our sins so that we can sit with Him in the perfect city that will come down soon. Maranatha. Jesus, come soon.