What Was God’s Purpose for the “Four Day Lamb”?
March 21, 2016
Have you ever played the game leap frog? Players take turns leaping over one another to advance to the desired destination. Many of us play leap frog with Holy Week. We start with Palm Sunday and then leap over four days to get to Good Friday and Saturday.
The beginning and the end are clear, the middle is foggy.
If you asked people at church, “What happened during the last week of Jesus’ life?”, you’d probably get answers like, “Well, there was Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, then there was the Last Supper on Thursday followed by a very unjust trial, and then Jesus was crucified on Friday. Nothing happened on Saturday.”
But, what happened from Monday to Thursday? Why were those four days important?
We know why Palm Sunday is important.
For one, Palm Sunday was the day that started the final week of Jesus’ life, at the end of which Jesus was crucified.
Second, a 450-500-year-old prophecy was being fulfilled about the coming of Israel’s king. Matthew recognized that was exactly what happened when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
“This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “Tell the people of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you, unassuming and seated on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Matthew 21:5-6, NET, a quote from Zechariah 9:9)
That’s how the people saw Jesus, as their king.
“Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat.” (Matthew 21:8, TMG)
The crowds who went before Him and behind Him all shouted out the same verse from Psalm 118, considered a Messianic psalm:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9, NIV, a quote from Psalm 118:26)
They knew that they were enacting the following verse which said:
“…with boughs in hand, join in the festal procession…” (Psalm 118:27, NIV)
But, why were the next four days important?
Knowing why Palm Sunday is important is easy enough. It’s clearly explained in all four Gospels. But, Monday through Thursday? Aside from the significance of each individual event in each day, is there a common theme that holds them all together? I think that there is an answer. Jesus, our Passover Lamb, mirrors the first Passover lamb, both were “Four Day Lambs.”
Click back to Egypt, 1500 BC (BCE)
God is about to bring judgment and tells His people how to escape it.
God was going to bring a severe judgment on the Egyptians, because of their refusal to free His people so that they could travel to the “Promised Land.” Nine times Moses had tried to convince Pharaoh and nine times Pharaoh had refused.
God’s judgment: The firstborn son of every family was going to die.
In order to spare His people, God forewarned them how they could escape. The Lord gave a directive to His people through Moses and Aaron: Each household was to have a one-year-old lamb.
Note the highlighted words from God’s instructions (Exodus 12:1-13):
“…on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb… The animal you select must be…with no defects...take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month”
Have you ever kept a one-year-old lamb roaming loose in your house? Not to mention for four days? Well, neither had the Hebrews. Remember that they were slaves whose living areas were probably small and cramped. Can you imagine living in tight quarters with a one-year-old lamb? What would your house sound and smell like? What would you and your neighbors be talking about?
What was God’s purpose for the “Four Day Lamb”?
The lamb was a non-stop AV (audio-visual) reminder of imminent divine-judgment.
Children were surely asking, “Why do we have a lamb in our house?” Parents would reply, “Because God is going to bring judgment and the lamb is going to save us from His judgment.”
The lamb was inspected thoroughly for perfection.
There could be no taking chances, no cutting corners, the stakes were too high – the lamb had to be without defect and without blemish.
Scroll forward to Jerusalem, 30-33 AD
For four days—Monday through Thursday—Jesus lived among the people before His crucifixion on Friday. What was true for the first Passover lamb was also true for Jesus. He intentionally drew attention to the message of God’s judgment. Jesus was a non-stop audio-visual, forcing people to focus on Him during their Passover events.
- Withering the fig tree for failing to give fruit, a picture of judgment on the nation who gave the appearance of religion but empty of devotion to God (Matthew 21:18-19)
- Fiercely cleansing the temple by knocking over the tables and chairs of the money changers and driving buyers and sellers out (Matthew 21:12-17)
- Severely rebuking the priests and elders in His last public sermon with a scathing reprimand of seven woes (Matthew 23)
- Warning of judgment to come, through a fig tree parable (Luke 13:6-9)
- Teaching about the coming judgment at the end of the world (Matthew 24)
In many other instances, Jesus incited opinion for or against Him as Passover drew near, climaxing in His sacrificial death as God’s Passover Lamb.
Jesus was thoroughly examined and passed inspection: He proved Himself perfect, without defect.
From the Gospel of Mark, we read opinions by people from every socio-economic, political and religious segment of society who examined and cross-examined Jesus:
- “…the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (11:18)
- “…(the Pharisees and Herodians) were amazed at him” (12:17)
- “And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions” (12:34)
- “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (12:37)
The summary of the life-long blamelessness and perfection of Jesus climaxed in the declaration of Pontius Pilate, as recorded by Luke:
“Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’” (Luke 23:4)
With irrefutable reason and evidence, Peter declared Jesus, a “lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:19, ISV)
A Four Day Celebration
There’s just one thing I didn’t mention: It’s easy to get attached to a lamb that’s been living with you for four days. Perhaps it was a difficult moment for the family when the first Passover lamb was sacrificed. Even though His disciples all fled during His trial and crucifixion, it was due to fear, not because they did not love their Rabbi. Their willingness to live and die for their Savior evidenced that love.
Over these next four days, have a private Passover celebration of your own. Give thanks to God for Jesus, that He is your perfect Savior who has delivered you from all judgment forever. Let Jesus know in special ways that you love Him.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)