Jonathan Bernd of Jews for Jesus explains the traditional Jewish Passover meal Monday at Central Baptist Church of Clovis. CNJ staff photo: Darrell Todd Maurina.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
Jonathan Bernd has a message not only for ethnic Jews like himself but also for the gentile Christian community.
“Just as my ancestors had to put the blood of the lambs on their doorposts so the Angel of Death would pass over them, we today need to have the blood of the Messiah on the doorposts of our hearts,” Bernd told about 100 people assembled Monday at Central Baptist Church for a “Christ in the Passover” presentation by Bernd, a Boston-based missionary of Jews for Jesus.
Bernd, a missionary for the organization since 1992, explained the ancient rituals of the Jewish Passover feast and showed the cups, plates, and traditional foods used in the meal.
Bernd said Christians whose knowledge of the Passover comes mostly from the Old Testament narratives are often surprised to find one item missing that was crucial to the ancient celebrations. Moses’ directions for celebrating the first Passover in Egypt specified that families were to kill and eat a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their homes so they would not die when God killed the firstborn of all the Egyptians. Instead, modern Jews place a dry shank bone of a lamb on the plate.
“The whole point of the Passover was eating a lamb, but in most American Jewish homes, the lamb will never, ever be eaten at Passover,” Bernd said. “The purpose of this item (the bone) is to remind us of the sacrifices that according to God’s law we have to make, but we cannot make since the Temple has been destroyed by the Romans.”
While the Passover lamb is missing except for a dry bone, other elements are still present in the modern Jewish Passover ritual including the unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Bernd described the detailed rituals that have been practiced for centuries by Jewish families to teach the story of the exodus from Egypt to their children. Bernd said many of the foods consumed today have a well-understood symbolic purpose, such as strong horseradish, which can force people to cry while eating it as a remembrance of the suffering of the Jews.
However, Bernd said other parts of the Passover celebration have a variety of interpretations within modern rabbinical Judaism.
Bernd said Jews for Jesus, following a late-1800s interpretation by a Jewish rabbi who converted to Christianity, teaches that certain elements in ancient Passover rituals were originally intended by God to symbolize the stripes and piercing of Christ during his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.
“This is the actual origin of the communion service we observe as Christians. This is what Christ was doing the night before he died in his celebration with his disciples,” Bernd said. “My Passover lamb is Jesus — you can see this all points to Jesus.”
Bernd told the audience at Central Baptist that his organization focuses on Jewish outreach, but experiences the same difficulties missionaries face in nations where Christianity is largely unknown.
“Less than 1 percent of my people know Jesus, but the vast majority of us live in predominantly Christian communities, so we are largely an unreached people group,” Bernd said. “(Jews for Jesus) exists to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue for Jews worldwide.”
Pastor Joseph Vest of Central Baptist Church said he first encountered the Jews for Jesus organization years ago when he was in seminary and was glad to invite Bernd to Clovis.
“Man, that dude can speak!” Vest said. “The first time I saw this ministry was when I was a youth pastor in Dallas, and my associate pastor here asked recently if we could have the organization come. He asked me and I said yes.”
Added associate pastor Shayne Childers: “I thought it would be something our church and our community would enjoy. This helps us learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity.”