Today is Palm Sunday. What is Palm Sunday? Well, for most of us today, Palm Sunday is the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It is the day when the people of Jerusalem shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord? Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 NIV) It is the day when little kids in churches all over the world dress up and wave Palm branches as they walk down the center aisle at the beginning of worship. Palm Sunday lets us know that Easter is coming in just one week. To be quite honest, for most of us, we really don’t see Palm Sunday as anything more than what I’ve just described. For that matter, we don’t really see Easter as anything more than the day that Jesus, after having died for our sins, rose from the dead. All of these things are true, important facts, but it is my prayer that this morning we will be able to see much, much more than these facts that took place so long ago.
The events that took place from Palm Sunday to Easter morning were not isolated events that took place in a vacuum. It was not like God interrupted daily life in Jerusalem with these earth-shattering events. No, the events of the last week of Jesus’ life happened in the flow of the daily lives of the people of Israel and yet they were planned from the beginning of time. God was working in history to change the course of history for all the world. Let’s take a look at our Scripture found in Luke 19:29-44 and we will get started. Read along with me.
29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.'” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:29-44 NIV)
In the events that are described by Luke, we read a very telling statement made by Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem. We need to stop and take this into consideration for ourselves. Jesus says, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42 NIV) Did you hear that? Do you “understand” what Jesus meant as He said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” The Greek word, which is translated, “known,” is the word, “???????” (ginosko) and it means, “to learn to know, come to know, to understand, or to have knowledge of.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,
The ordinary use is for intelligent comprehension (“to perceive,” “to understand,” “to know”), at first with a stress on the act. The word emphasizes understanding rather than sensory perception, it is a perception of things as they are, not an opinion about them.
The mass of people who lined the streets leading into Jerusalem were like many people in our own day. They had an opinion of Jesus, but they did not “know,” they did not “understand” the significance of what was taking place right before their eyes. They were looking for a military leader, someone who would come in and take down the Romans while restoring power and autonomy to the Jews. When I say, “They were looking for a military leader,” I don’t mean just a few of the Jews. The vast majority of the Jews were looking for a conquering king who, like David, would come in and defeat all of Israel’s enemies. Jesus wanted no part of that. God had other plans and His plans were set in place long, long ago.
God’s people were living under the power of the Romans, but in a day gone by God’s people were living under the power of the Egyptians when God chose to act on their behalf. God raised up Moses and sent him to Pharaoh to say, “Let My people go!” You know the story. Pharaoh wouldn’t give in so God brought ten plagues upon Egypt so that eventually Pharaoh would lose his grip on God’s people. The tenth, and final plague, was to be the worst, the death of the firstborn throughout the land. God told Moses to prepare for the plague by giving him these instructions.
3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. (Exodus 12:3-7 NIV)
God then told Moses that He would pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn, people and animals, as a way to bring judgment on all of the gods of Egypt. God told Moses,
13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (Exodus 12:13-14 NIV)
What God planned happened. Pharaoh’s own son died in the plague, the Hebrews were set free, God guided them to their new home in the Promised Land, and the Israelites have been celebrating the Passover ever since.
The celebration of this event, the Passover, was quickly approaching as Jesus sat on a donkey and began to make His way into Jerusalem. In Deuteronomy 16 we read where God required His people to go to Jerusalem from all over the land to celebrate three feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. I don’t think many of us really understand the magnitude of the Passover celebration that was taking place in Jesus’ day. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, writes that in the year before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, 70 A.D., there were 256,500 lambs that were slain for Passover. He also estimates that over 2 million Jews had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover. The Passover lambs were to be killed at the Temple on the 14th day of Nisan, but they were to be selected on the 10th day of Nisan. As the people selected their lamb they had to choose one that was without spot or blemish. It was to be inspected before it was selected. The 10th day of Nisan is the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
I want us to stop for a moment and let that soak in. Many years earlier God had instructed Moses to have the people select a lamb without spot or blemish for each of their households. They were to slay the lamb, smear its blood over the doorframes of their houses, and those whose homes were “under,” or “covered” by the blood would be safe.
Fast forward to Palm Sunday. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of lambs were being paraded around the city, examined by those who needed to buy a lamb for Passover, and Jesus, the Lamb of God, the only Lamb that has ever lived who was truly without spot or blemish, was among their number. God says to the people, “Here is My Passover Lamb, will you choose Him?”
Of all of the Passover lambs that had ever been slain, from the first Passover in Egypt until the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, no lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people had ever done anything but “cover” the sins of the people. The job of the priests, making sacrifices for the sins of the people, was a tireless, never-ending job, but the writer of Hebrews tells us,
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11-12 NIV)
The perfect High Priest, unlike the priests who worked at the Temple who had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could ever offer a sacrifice for the people, had come to the Holy City. The Spotless Lamb of God, unlike any lamb that had ever been offered to cover the sins of the people, came riding into Jerusalem as the long awaited Passover Lamb. He was not a shadow of things to come; He was the fulfillment of everything that had ever been hoped for by God’s people. Paul wrote, concerning the religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, and observances of the Sabbath days saying that they were merely “a shadow of the things that were to come.” Read along with me from Colossians 2:16-17.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 NIV)
Throughout the Hebrew Bible we see shadows of Jesus in the observances that God required of His people. All of these observances were to prepare their hearts for the day when Messiah would come. We read stories that foreshadow the coming of God’s Messiah. We see elements in the lives of David, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and others that point to the One who would come one day to free God’s people and restore them to God. As great as these people were they were merely a shadow of what the Messiah would be. God gave His people so many signs, so many indicators, throughout the years. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In Genesis 22 we read the story of Abraham’s offer of Isaac. Begin with me in verse 1.
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14 NIV)
God told Abraham to take his son, his only son, and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. Abraham and his son, Isaac, gathered all of the needed materials to make a sacrifice, and headed up the mountain. While they were on their way Isaac asked, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:7-8 NIV) When they finally made it to the place on Mt. Moriah that God had told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and raised the knife to sacrifice his son, the son that he loved. God stopped Abraham and said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12 NIV)
Many have read this story and thought out loud that God was cruel to put Abraham through such a test. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that God’s command was illogical and absurd. If this were the end of the story I might agree. Abraham waited 25 years for the son that God had promised. Now God was going to have him kill the long awaited son? That does seem more than extreme doesn’t it? It does if that is all of the story, but it is only a chapter of the story my friends. Or put another way, it is merely a shadow of another Father and Son story to come.
Isaac asked, “…where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb…” God did just what Abraham said. He provided the lamb. He substituted His own sacrifice for Isaac, the son of Abraham. God provided for Abraham in such a way, in such an astounding way, that Abraham renamed that place—“The LORD will provide.”
Fast forward to the day we call Good Friday. Jesus, the Lamb of God, who had come riding into town on “lamb selection day,” had been “inspected” throughout the week by the chief priests, the teachers of the law, the whole Sanhedrin, Herod Antipas, and Pilate. They wanted Him killed, but after examining Jesus, Pilate said, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:6 NIV) He was the Lamb without spot or blemish. Nevertheless, on Friday, the Innocent died for the guilty as the Father walked His Son, Jesus, up Mt. Moriah to a place called Golgatha where He was beaten and nailed to a cross…and the Father did not stop the death of His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loved. Pastor Tim Keller writes about this turn of events by saying,
And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”
On a mountain called, “God will provide,” God did just that. He provided for Abraham in his time of need so that he would know the God who provides. Years later God provided for the whole human family by doing for us, through His Son, what no Passover lamb could ever provide—not the covering of our sins, but the complete forgiveness of our sins. Paul wrote,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
If you don’t know you will not understand. So many today look at Jesus as a mythological figure, a person who may or may not have lived, but what they don’t know is that all of human history pointed towards His coming before He ever arrived. Because of His life, death, and resurrection history has been changed and even more importantly countless lives have been changed by the reconciling power of His Name. It is my heart’s desire to share with you God’s Word, all of God’s Word, so that you might know the God who provides. He has provided for you through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son and He is still providing for you each and every day. Won’t you recognize who it is that will bring you peace—peace with God, peace with others, and peace within yourself? Won’t you acknowledge what God has done for you this very morning and receive the Lamb of God who has taken your sin upon Himself so that you might not have to carry it?
Britton Christian Church
April 17, 2011