Sunday marked the day that all of God’s people began to lose sight of everything other than the preparations for the most important day of the year. There was much to do. People had come from everywhere to celebrate Passover in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The streets were buzzing on Sunday with lambs being paraded through the streets and scrutinized to see if they could pass the test. The Passover Lamb couldn’t be just any lamb; he had to be a lamb without blemish or defect. A perfect offering to God and a reminder to the people of the sacrifice that had been made so long ago when the “Death Angel” passed over the shanty town homes of the Hebrew slaves and spared their firstborn. (Exodus 12)
While all of the Jews in Jerusalem were busy choosing their lambs for the Passover, a disruption happened on Sunday. A man like no other man they had ever known came riding into town on the back of donkey. Oh, they knew who He was, they had heard the stories, many of them had even been present when He had healed the woman with an issue of blood, some were there when He gave his Sermon on the Mount, others had witnessed blind Bartimaeus see with 20/20 vision for the very first time. They had seen Him walking around with a motley group of followers, but there was nothing “motley” about Him–they called Him Master.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey and the prophecy that had been given some 500 years before by the prophet Zechariah was fulfilled. Zechariah said,
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NIV)
In the first century, while Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem, a lamb was chosen by the high priest outside of Jerusalem on the tenth of the Hebrew month, Nisan. The one lamb chosen by the priest would be led into the city while crowds of worshippers lined the streets waving palm branches and singing Psalm 118, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus, our King, entered Jerusalem this same day, on a donkey (usually ridden by a king), as the fulfillment, the embodiment, of the sacrificial lamb who had just been paraded down the street by the High Priest. The crowds that had just celebrated the entrance of the sacrificial lamb broke out in exuberant praise to the Lamb of God. Jesus was making a bold statement to all the world–He was the Lamb to be slain.
Isn’t that just like God? While the city was preoccupied with examining the little lamb without defect or fault, God paraded the perfect Lamb of God right before their eyes. Evidently some of the people recognized the King of Glory riding on the back of a donkey because they began to wave palm branches and shout,
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:26 NIV)
Not everyone in the crowd was impressed. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law, when they saw the people giving Jesus the welcome of a king, knew they had to act fast and they had to act decisively to put an end to the threat to their power. Jesus, knowing who He was and what He had come to do before the crowds had ever erupted in praise, set out to continue His mission. All week long He continued to teach the people everywhere He went and point them to God.
Later in the week, Jesus told some of His followers to go and make preparation for the Passover meal that they would share together. Let’s read together our Scripture for today found in Luke 22.
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” (Luke 22:7-22 NIV)
Each and every Sunday, as we share in the Lord’s Supper, we mark the offering of the Lamb of God and look forward to His coming back again to take us home. The manner in which we share the Lord’s Supper is altogether different from the meal Jesus shared with His followers on the night before He went to the cross. We take the cup of the New Covenant and the bread, symbolic of Jesus’ body offered for our sins, and give thanks to God for the gift of eternal life offered to us through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. On the night that Jesus shared the Passover meal with His followers He was celebrating a 1500-year-old observance marking God’s deliverance of His people from oppression and slavery in Egypt. For 1500 years the Jews had been offering their lambs of sacrifice to mark the night in which the blood of the lamb had been smeared over the doorframes of their houses so that the “Death Angel” would “pass over” their houses and spare their firstborn while visiting the homes of the Egyptians and taking the lives of their firstborn. Every year that the descendants of those slaves would observe the High Holy Day they were reminded of God’s deliverance as they looked forward to God’s ultimate deliverance from all of their enemies.
On the night that Jesus gathered with His disciples they gathered in an upper room and began their Passover observance. I want to walk you through their night and demonstrate to you two ultimately important truths for you and me. First, I want us to learn that God is Sovereign. He is in absolute control. There is absolutely nothing that happens in all of history that happens apart from God’s guiding and merciful hand. God is a God of purpose, not coincidence or happenstance. Second, I want us to learn that Jesus is God’s Passover Lamb. When God first instituted the Passover, He had Jesus in mind. God knew that one day He would unveil, for all the world to see, the Lamb without defect or blemish who would provide the ultimate deliverance from the greatest enemies of all–sin and death.
The Passover observance consisted of four cups, an unblemished lamb without spot or defect that had been roasted, a spotless white napkin, unleavened bread, salt water, and bitter herbs. Each of these items had specific purpose in the observance of Passover. The four cups centered on the four “I wills” of Exodus 6:6-7. Here, God spoke to His people and said,
6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.'” (Exodus 6:6-7 NIV)
God said, “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” The Jews observed the first cup, the cup of sanctification. God said, “I will free you from being slaves to them.” The Jews observed the second cup, the cup of plagues. God said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” The Jews observed the third cup, the cup of redemption. God said, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” Finally, the Jews observed the fourth cup, the cup of in-gathering.
On the night in which Jesus shared His last meal, the Passover meal, with His followers, He took the first cup in His hand and He “gave thanks” over it in these words:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who has created the fruit of the vine! Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God King of the Universe, who hast chosen us from among all people, and exalted us from among all languages, and sanctified us with Thy commandments! And Thou hast given us, O Lord our God, in love, the solemn days for joy, and the festivals and appointed seasons for gladness; and this the day of the feast of unleavened bread, the season of our freedom, a holy convocation, the memorial of our departure from Egypt. For us hast Thou chosen; and us hast Thou sanctified from among all nations, and Thy holy festivals with joy and with gladness hast Thou caused us to inherit. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who sanctifiest Israel and the appointed seasons! Blessed art Thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who hast preserved us alive and sustained us and brought us to this season!
After “giving thanks” Jesus and all of those gathered washed their hands and took bitter herbs, dipped them in salt water, and ate them as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery and oppression.
Immediately following this observance the second cup, the Cup of Plagues, was filled and the youngest son in attendance asked some questions. Some believe that John was the youngest man gathered in the upper room that night and that he would have been the one to ask, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” Jesus would have responded with four answers to John’s question.
1. On all other nights we eat leavened bread or matzah, while on this night we eat only matzah.
2. On all other nights we eat vegetables and herbs of all kinds, while on this night we must eat bitter herbs.
3. On all other nights we do not dip herbs even once, while on this night we dip them twice.
4. On all other nights we eat in an upright or reclining position, while on this night we recline at the table.
This was the time when the head of the household would unfold the whole history of God’s people from Terah, the father of Abram to the time of deliverance. Still to this day, as modern day Jews observe Passover, the head of the house shares the story of God’s redemptive act on behalf of His people. What an incredible lesson young Jewish boys and girls learn today! God is faithful! He saw our affliction and He delivered us! He sees our affliction even to this day and He will yet deliver us!
After Jesus told His disciples why this night was different than all of the other nights of the year He would have taken the second cup, the Cup of Plagues. All of the disciples unfolded a perfectly clean, white napkin before them and as Jesus recounted each of the ten plagues that God brought upon Pharaoh the disciples took their little finger and dipped it into the cup of wine. They held their little finger over the napkin and a drop of red wine would fall on the white napkin for each of the ten plagues.
The unleavened bread was eaten with horseradish and bits of an apple like a sandwich to remind Jesus and His followers that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt in haste. After the unleavened bread and horseradish sandwich was eaten then the full meal of roasted lamb was partaken of by all of those in attendance with Jesus that night.
In Luke 22:20, we read that “after supper” Jesus took the cup, the third cup, the Cup of Deliverance and spoke to His disciples.
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20 NIV)
What was the cup that Jesus took after supper? It was the third cup, the Cup of Redemption. God had told the Hebrew slaves, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” Little did the followers of Jesus know that in just a short while God would provide redemption for His people through the outstretched arms of Jesus, God’s only Son. In Matthew’s account of the Passover observance by Jesus and His followers we see the transition from the second Cup of Plagues to the third Cup of Redemption.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:26-30 NIV)
Did you notice? Jesus took the third cup, not the first or second cup, but the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The observance that the Jews had shared in for 1500 years in remembering God’s redemption from Pharaoh’s oppression had now become flesh and blood. Jesus didn’t just hold the Cup of Redemption — He is the Cup of Redemption.
There is no evidence that Jesus ever took the fourth cup, the Cup of In-Gathering, and shared it with His followers. We read that after they had taken the Cup of Redemption that they left to go to the Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives.
There is a good reason why Jesus did not drink of the fourth cup, the Cup of the In-Gathering. One day, and I hope it is sooner than later, the Bible tells us that Jesus will return to gather to Himself all of those who have surrendered their lives to Him as Lord and King. On that day, all of God’s people will celebrate the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. We lift the fourth cup, the Cup of the In-Gathering, together in giving praise to the Lamb of God who was slain for the redemption of our sins! Praise God!
Matthew tells us that after they drank from the third cup they left the upper room and made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane singing a hymn. What were they singing? Which hymnbook were they singing from? Oh, you ask such good questions! They were singing from the songbook of the Jews, the Book of Psalms. Psalm 113-118 were used during the Passover as songs of praise to God for His deliverance.
Imagine with me for a moment if you will, Jesus and His disciples walking down the trail on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would pour His heart out to God in prayer. On the way they are singing from Psalm 118, these powerful words.
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. 27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. 29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 118:22-29 NIV)
Can you imagine! The disciples had no idea what they were singing, but the words had to have been an affirmation to Jesus that this was the reason He had come. Those who followed along after Him would later remember the words they sang on the way to the place of Jesus’ passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter wrote in his letter to the church,
4 As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him, 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10 NIV)
Don’t you know Peter was marked by the words from Psalm 118 as he sang them on the road to the Garden of Gethsemane that evening! The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone — our capstone is Jesus our Savior!
Paul wasn’t even there in the Garden with Jesus and yet, since Paul was a faithful Jew, he was more than familiar with the Passover festival. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast, as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NIV)
From the foundation of the world God had purposed that at the right time the perfect Lamb without spot or blemish would be brought forth by His sovereign hand to take the sins of the world upon His own shoulders in His death. Who has done this? Who has brought about our forgiveness? It is the Father who gave His only Son so that we, you and me, might be saved! Glory unto His holy name!
Did God have to do this? Was someone twisting God’s arm behind His back until He regretfully gave up His Son? Did God face a “weak” moment where He felt sorry for us and gave up His Son? No, God had determined at the foundation of the world that He would offer His Son on our behalf. Peter writes,
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21 NIV)
Our problem today is that we observe Easter each year with no pain and no sense of sacrifice in the least and are led to believe that somehow Jesus went from Palm Sunday’s praises to Easter’s hallelujahs. The pain and agony experienced by Jesus on our behalf, because of my sin, was excruciating beyond understanding. It was so horrific that Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Father, take this cup from me, but not my will, but Your will be done.” Could God have done anything about the pain of His Son? Oh, if you even stutter in answering that question then you are not familiar with the power of God. God could have delivered His Son at any moment and yet it was His love for you and me that caused God to stay His powerful hand.
Who was this Jesus that believed with all of His heart that He had come as the long awaited Passover Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world? It is interesting that when they hung Jesus on the cross they nailed a sign to the cross above His head. It was customary that during the Passover, a sign hung on each lamb’s neck, bearing the name of the owner of the lamb. Jesus was crucified with a sign hung over His head as well. Many today believe that what was called the Tetragrammaton probably appeared over Jesus when He hung on the cross. I will explain in a moment what “Tetragrammaton” means, but for now just remember the word.
During Bible times, messages were commonly written with the first letter of each word. An example in English would be NCAA: NCAA, stands for National Collegiate Athletic Association. The phrase “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews” was written in three languages on a sign above Jesus as He hung on the cross (John 19:19). The Hebrew initials for “Jesus of Nazareth and King of the Jews” were YHWH. YHWH was the name that God gave to Moses when Moses asked, “Whom shall I tell Pharaoh has sent me?” God replied, “Tell Pharaoh that YHWH has sent you.” YHWH, or what is called the “tetragrammatron,” was the personal name of Almighty God. The name that was so precious and so holy that no Jew dared to speak it because of their unclean lips. Hanging above the Lamb without spot or defect was a sign that read, “YHWH.”
That is why the priest asked Pilate to change the writing. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19: 21-22).
Jesus, YHWH God, came down from His heavenly throne to save those He had created and yet He was mocked, beaten, His flesh was torn to ribbons. The question has to be asked, “If Jesus would have known what was awaiting Him when He arrived on earth, would He have done it? Would He have offered His life as a perfect sin offering for sinners like me?” The answer is found in the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Read along with me.
13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness. (Isaiah 52:13-14 NIV)
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:4-12 NIV)
Jesus is our cup of redemption. He has given His life as a spotless, perfect offering for your sins and mine. I pray that today you will lift the cup of redemption and drink deeply of the salvation offered to you by the Lord of glory.