This Friday, Jewish people around the world will observe Passover. At the same time, Christians will commemorate Good Friday. On Sunday, most will celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Messiah. (Some Orthodox traditions and Messianic Jews, based on Leviticus 23:9-14, will observe Resurrection Day on April 8.) More and more, God’s people have become aware of the prophetic and historical connection between the Passover/Exodus and Crucifixion/Resurrection. One practical application of the nexus, however, has yet to be restored.
To more fully engage with the Passover, Exodus, Crucifixion and Resurrection, we must first ask what the foundational purpose of the Passover and Exodus actually was. Thankfully, God states quite plainly: “Let My people go that they may worship Me.” (Exodus 8:1) The goal, according to most modern Bible translations, is for His people to worship Him.
The word translated “worship” throughout the book of Exodus is a Hebrew root pronounced, avad. In both biblical and modern Hebrew, avad is used to mean, “work, service, or bondservice.” It does not refer to what you and I usually consider worship. For us in the 21st century Western world, “worship” generally describes a rhythmic or musical expression of exaltation or adoration. In biblical and modern Hebrew, however, words used for worship usually denote bowing down or humbling oneself. There is no specific reference to articulated or rhythmic expressions of homage. For that, words such as “sing,” “dance,” or “praise” are used.
In Exodus 5:1-3, Moses announces to Pharaoh that God has said, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness … and sacrifice unto the Lord.” (Masoretic text, JPS) The phrase hold a feast is translated from the Hebrew root pronounced chagag, meaning, “to move in a circular and sacred procession.” Perhaps from this and related passages, some translators felt they could substitute “worship” for the more literal “work/service.” The result is a bit unfortunate. A key word’s essential meaning gets lost in the translation. What then, does avad mean and why did God set Israel free to do it?
Biblically, avad refers to a lifestyle of surrendered service, which includes but is not limited to, worship in the sense of one’s heart bowing in exaltation or adoration of God.
God did not set the Israelites free just so they could sing and dance and praise Him in the desert under the anointing. Certainly that was one important aspect of service to Him. We can easily imagine the glorious scene as Miriam leads the Israelites in joyful thanksgiving for the parting of the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:1-21) But the worship wanted by God would exceed specific occasions of consecrated, musical exultation and adoration. Israel was being set free for a lifestyle and identity of service to YHVH who is praiseworthy at all times. Therefore, work and worship were to ultimately prove gloriously inseparable for His set-free servants. This call to avad, initiated at the Passover/Exodus, would await a fuller realization by God’s people made possible by the Crucifixion/Resurrection.
That is why Paul, a Messianic Jewish apostle who is familiar with the meaning of avad, instructs, “…Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) With implicit gladness, he self-identifies as “the bondservant of Messiah.” (Romans 1:1).
The Greek word translated “bondservant” (or “servant”) refers to a slave, either voluntary or involuntary. Under Roman law, the bondservant was the personal property of his or her owner. Typically, he or she was not treated particularly well.
Paul, however, probably has in mind the more gracious, Hebraic concept of bondservice that is based on Exodus 21:5-6: “If [a] servant shall plainly say, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall bring him to the door or the doorpost and his master shall bore his ear with an awl. Then he will serve (avad) him forever.”
Using the Hebraic concept of bondservant, Paul describes our full time, New Covenant ministry or avad unto Messiah: “He who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is [now] a freed man of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called, is [now] a bondservant of Messiah.” (1 Corinthians 7:22) “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters … as bondservants of Messiah, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:6, my emphasis)
Yeshua modeled for us the avad lifestyle. Perfectly He served the Father, driven by holy love. In bondservant-like surrender to the Father’s will, He took up a Cross. By the Resurrection, He set us free from bondage to sin and death. Today, He lovingly beckons us to take up our cross and follow Him.
At this Passover-Resurrection season, be encouraged, for whoever loses his or her life for Messiah’s sake will gain it. This is because Yeshua came to give you abundant life — if you willingly give Him yours. This is the good news of the Passover/Exodus/Crucifixion/Resurrection story. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Abundant life is not the same as easy or pain free life. It is fullness of life in the Holy Spirit despite the inevitable tribulation of this world, in this age. Abundant life is overcoming tribulation by being conformed to the likeness of Yeshua. In the process, you are being prepared for future Kingdom rule and reign with Him. Abundant life means serving Yeshua as a worshiping, voluntarily surrendered worker driven by love.
As you celebrate the Passover or Resurrection, or both, let the Master of Love renew you as His worshiping bondservant. To any stronghold of bondage in your life, He would declare with power, “Let him/her go that (s)he may serve Me! I have come that (s)he would have abundant life!”
The Message Bible puts it this way: “But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God…what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” (Romans 6:22-23)