“Ponderings from the Pulpit”
Brothers and Sisters of Christ – As you read these words, Lent is about over and Easter is upon us. During the last few weeks of Lent we have reflected on our relationship with God through his Son, Christ Jesus. We now turn our attention to our “Holy Week” or “Passion Week” preceding Easter. As we seek the meaning of the events which so dramatically impact us today, we need to remember the Jewish traditions of our faith and the prophesy it made for us.
From the very beginning of the Jewish nation, God has intended to use that nation to bring salvation to the world, It all began with Abraham, when God told him that he and his seed would be a mighty nation and that through them, God would indeed bless the whole world.
Fast forwarding to Egypt and the first “Pesach” or “Passover”. Moses tells the Israelites to chose an unblemished male lamb and sacrifice this lamb as a burnt offering. The Lord tells the Israelites, through Moses, that they are to take the blood of that lamb and spread it on the doorposts as a sign of faith. The last plague was about to be poured out on Egypt – the killing of the first born – and this blood on the doorpost would be a sign for the Jews in that household to be “passed over”. You may remember the movie “The Ten Commandments” where a green vapor came through the streets of the Egyptians but passing by the homes of the Israelites that had the lamb’s blood smeared on the doorposts.
How very symbolic that blood of an unblemished sacrificial lamb saved the Israelites on that fateful night. If you ponder this in your heart, you will see great similarities with the saving blood of the Christ Jesus. Christ’s blood, when it is smeared on the doorposts of your heart, is your saving grace.
Because many are unaware of the customs of that ancient time, much of the symbolism of Christ’s last Passover Week is lost to us. For example, in those days, the Jews had been taught by God, that the blood of an unblemished, innocent animal was the substitutional atonement for their sins. The person actually passed their sin onto the animal and the sin was killed on the altar with the animal – the blood of the animal symbolizing a cleansing from their sin.
It was a Passover custom that the Passover lamb was to be chosen five days before it was killed in the Temple as the Passover sacrifice. Jesus came into Jerusalem five days before the lamb was killed. Therefore, Jesus entered Jerusalem on lamb selection day as the Lamb of God. The people greeted their Savior with shouts of “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” They spread palm branches in his path which were a symbol of freedom and defiance since Simon Maccabeus (the Jewish revolutionary who reigned in 142-135 BCE) had entered Jerusalem with that symbolism. They were expecting a political savior – not a spiritual savior. So Jesus was presented for inspection so to speak, just as the Passover lamb was. During these five days before the Passover sacrifice, the lamb was inspected and proclaimed to be a male lamb, without blemish. Jesus is examined during this time as well by the Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees. Each in turn are given their chance to question His credentials and prove that he is NOT the Messiah. But each in turn leave marveled and speechless. The Scriptures tells us in Matthew 22:46 that “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Here indeed was the lamb that Abraham had been promised: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8)
We celebrate Maundy Thursday, the traditional day of Jesus’ Last Supper, on the Thursday of Holy Week. That night was traditionally the night for the Passover or “Seder” meal which is the eve of Passover and officially begins the Passover celebration. It was during this very same Seder that Jesus proclaimed that the meal represented Him and that He was instituting a New Covenant which we find foretold in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah.
“The time is coming,” declared the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time.” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, was the day of the Passover celebration that the Passover Lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest always blew the “Shofar” (ram’s horn) at 3:00 PM which was the moment the lamb was sacrificed with care in that the lamb’s legs were not to be broken as instructed by God. At this time, all the Jews would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. At 3:00 PM, just as the Shofar blew, Jesus said, “It is finished,” as he died on the cross. The two thieves hanging on their crosses on each side of Jesus, had their legs broken to hasten their deaths, but Jesus has already dead – his legs unbroken. At the same time on that first Good Friday, the veil of the temple which separated the Holies of Holies from the people, tore from top to bottom. This represented the fact that there was no longer a separation between man and God because through His Son, Christ Jesus, we could all come into His presence. The spilling of His blood as our substitutional atonement had paid the price for that privilege.
That same Friday evening began the Feast of Unleavened Bread. By taking some grain to the Temple as a sacrifice, the Jews offered the first fruits of their harvest and in so dong showed God that they trusted in Him to provide for the rest of the harvest. It was at this point that Jesus was buried in a tomb (planted in the ground, so to speak). Jesus had said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23-24) Jesus represents the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide the rest of the harvest – resurrection of those who follow Christ Jesus.
Passover this year begins on Tuesday, April 3. Of course that is our Christian Holy Week. So on Palm Sunday this year you can remember that the Passover Lamb entered the city of Jerusalem and presented Himself as a perfect, unblemished man – the Lamb of God (and the last sacrifice ever to be required – that is why we refer to the Communion table as such and not an “altar”). On Maundy Thursday, he declared that he was the New Covenant and then on Good Friday, the Lamb of God was indeed sacrificed as the Shofar blew at the temple. God had indeed provided Himself the lamb for the burnt offering. He blessed the world through the seed of Abraham, by making Himself the Passover Lamb and providing the blood for the doorposts of our hearts.
During this Holy Week, as well as every day, Gayle and I pray that God continues to make his presence known to all his creation – top you and yours. Have a thoughtful, reflective, and thankful month in the Lord! God bless all.
And Until the Nets are Full, In His Grip – Always!