Word of the Week: Palm Sunday, Passion Week and the Passover
Pastor Jeff Needleman, New Beginnings Church
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday! This is the day that we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus had spent three and a half years traveling from town to town ministering to people. He gave them hope, He gave them comfort… He gave them warning. He healed them spiritually, emotionally and physically. He fed the multitudes and He raised the dead. But most of all He taught the crowds about God and the Kingdom of God.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Passion Week, the final seven days before Jesus’ suffering, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection. It was a busy, stressful and brutal time for Jesus that was filled with symbolism and fulfilled prophecy! This starts the beginning of the end of Jesus’ work on Earth. What was J’s work? We find Jesus’ purpose on Earth in:
Luke 19:10 NLT For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” For us, this was the time, this was the place, and this was the person to secure that salvation.
Palm Sunday is the day that Jesus arrived in preparation for Pesach. Pay who? Not pay who, but Pesach. Pesach is the Jewish holiday of Passover which begins this coming Friday night! Palm Sunday and Passion Week are best understood in light of Passover. So, just in case you’re unfamiliar with Passover, let me give you the short version- go to the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, and read about it. But for the sake of expediency, here’s the longer version!
Exodus 12:21-23 NIV Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning.
23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
God told the Israelites to sacrifice a perfect blemish-free lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood. Then the Angel of Death sent to pass through Egypt would pass over their households. The blood of the sacrificial lamb saved the Jews from death. Later, God gave them instructions for the future observances of Passover in:
Deuteronomy 16:2-3 NLT Your Passover sacrifice may be from either the flock or the herd, and it must be sacrificed to the Lord your God at the designated place of worship—the place he chooses for his name to be honored. Eat it with bread made without yeast [we call this Matzoh].
3 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, as when you escaped from Egypt in such a hurry. Eat this bread—the bread of suffering—[also called the Bread of Affliction] so that as long as you live you will remember the day you departed from Egypt.
Growing up, my family celebrated Passover, and for many years we gave up bread. We were a multi-national bread loving family- we gave up Italian Bread, French Bread, English Muffins and Polish bagels, and of course American Wonder bread. We ate only Matzoh as commanded by God.
Every supermarket on every corner carried Matzoh… it was that important! Although I gotta tell you it’s impossible to find matzoh in Fernley.
I remember having to eat matzoh with my lunch at school during Passover. Once there was a blind kid sitting next to me, so I offered him some. He took the Matzoh, fingered it for a moment, and asked; who wrote this?
As well, and hard to believe; that they actually invented some flavored matzoh and did a taste test study on them… Some flavors were rejected outright- Liver, Anchovy, Mendudo… but the one that breaks my heart- Bacon Flavored Matzoh.
Even as a little boy I understood that the Passover Meal, called a Seder, was rich in symbolism that commemorated what God did for the Hebrew people. But it wasn’t until I was a Christian that I learned of the incredible imagery portrayed of Christ, in the Passover. It confirms Jesus as the Messiah.
This morning we’re going to look at the symbolic parallels of Christ in the Passover. Sadly, we only have time to look at just a few of the many. If you are interested in more, just go to YouTube and search for Christ in the Passover by Jews for Jesus.
Let’s start by beginning at the beginning- Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem because Old Testament law specifically required that the observance of Passover had to be in Jerusalem. We read in:
Deuteronomy 16:16-17 ESV Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.
Jesus arrived on the Sunday before Passover. This was selection day, our first parallel. This was the day the blemish-free lambs were chosen for the Passover sacrifice. And on this day the people chose Jesus. Let’s read:
Matthew 21:6-9 NIV The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the [palm] trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
On Palm Sunday- selection day, Jesus was given the red carpet treatment, a royal welcome! The crowd chose Jesus to be their savior, but a savior that they wanted to usher in political freedom from the cruel and brutal Roman occupation. They yelled “Hosanna”- which means Save I pray! What the crowd was really yelling was “Save us from these Romans, we’re sick of ‘em! Give us freedom!
The palm branches weren’t symbols of peace and love but of Jewish nationalism, of triumph and victory. The palm fronds were branches of desire for physical, political, and economic freedom. The people wanted Jesus was their savior! He was, but just not in the way they wanted to be saved!
And it was just 5 days later, right after the Seder that these same people who chose Jesus with joy and adoration were crying out for His death.
Meanwhile, at the Seder, Jesus established our tradition of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Matzoh, the bread of affliction, is a major element of Passover. In the rush to leave Egypt, there wasn’t time for the Hebrews to allow their bread to rise, so God commanded them to make it without leavening or yeast. So it’s a simple mixture of flour and water.
Even in modern times, the mixture is baked over a high heat so the matzoh is bruised by burn spots. It’s pierced with a sharp tool to prevent it puffing up with air bubbles. As well, darkened lines or stripes develop as it continues baking. In this we find the parallels of Christ in the Passover. We have the freedom to compare Jesus to the Bread of Affliction because in John 6:35, Jesus himself said “I am the bread of life”.
Yeast is a Biblical metaphor for sin and wickedness. And in Psalm 22, which is a clear prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion, King David wrote about the Messiah having His hands and feet pierced. In Isaiah 53, the prophet tells us that the Messiah was afflicted and bruised for our sin, guilt and transgressions, and that by His stripes we are spiritually healed and made whole.
So the Matzoh, with its lack of leaven, bruised heat spots, pierced holes, and striped by the cooking process, is clearly representative of Jesus, who was afflicted, bruised, striped, pierced and without sin. The symbolism is undeniable!
Next, let’s take a short look at the sacrificial blood placed on the door posts. The lamb’s blood identified God’s people and saved them from physical death. Now the first time I went into a church, I heard the term “being under the blood of Jesus”. Ew… that just sounded disgusting. I had no idea what it meant… but now I have a deeper understanding.
The blood represents Jesus’ sacrifice. I love the parallel of the sacrificial lamb of Passover saving the Hebrews from death and Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God- who saves us from spiritual and eternal death!
Let’s get to the last symbol. By Jesus’ day, new symbolic elements had been added to the Passover meal to help remember that first Passover. One of which was a wine cup refilled four times to recall parts of the Passover story.
Now although three of the four cups have varying symbolisms, the third cup is always the same; the Cup of Redemption. This is the cup that Jesus offered His disciples at the Seder, and it’s this cup we symbolically use in the Lord’s Supper.
Now, over the course of history, so many elements had been incorporated in the Passover celebration that the meal could last three hours. By The way… as a young kid I hated it. I was usually sat up against the wall, so I couldn’t sneak out or escape and I would have to crawl underneath the table just to go to use the facilities.
Although I grew up celebrating Passover, I grew up spiritually celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
Now my favorite part of the Passover was the Afikomen, an integral part of the Seder! While its purpose and meaning has been lost over time, the symbolism is unavoidably loud and clear! The Afikomen consists of three pieces of Matzoh that are hidden in a napkin or a beautiful bag made specifically for this reason.
During the Seder, the leader breaks the middle piece in two. He sets aside the larger portion as the Afikomen. Now sometime during the evening, the leader hides the Afikomen and a small reward is offered for its return. Alternatively, if a child could steal it, they received a ransom for its return.
Now for me, depending on which uncle was holding the Seder, it could be quite profitable. But whatever the case, after its return, the Afikomen is broken into pieces and is shared by everyone during the closing portions of the Passover as a desert spread with a sweet mixture called Charoset.
An associate of mine from Jews for Jesus, Rich Robinson, clarified the symbolism of the Afikomen. To sum up his article, he wrote that it’s believed the word Afikomen was derived from a Hebrew word meaning “the one who has arrived.”
There’s a striking parallel between what is done to the middle matzoh, the Afikomen, and what was done to Jesus. The Afikomen is broken, wrapped in a linen cloth, hidden and later brought back. After his death, Jesus was wrapped in linen, buried, and resurrected three days later.
Jewish Christians find symbolism in the three matzos. They represent the tri-une nature of God; The Father, The Holy Spirit, and the Son, dramatically represented by the Afikomen. Jesus the Afikomen, Jesus our Passover and Messiah.
Earlier in this article you saw the Hebrew Pesach, which is the Jewish name for Passover. In its basic form it means to be exempt. The exemption comes from a place of compassion and protection for someone. This beautifully describes Jesus’ compassion for us, and our exemption from eternal punishment.
So, the Lord’s Supper instituted by Jesus and the Passover meal share common elements that are significantly rich in imagery. They both celebrate freedom; Passover the physical freedom from bondage of slavery to others, and the Lord’s Supper spiritual freedom from bondage and slavery to sin.
They both unify people who are spread out around the globe and identify their commonality as Believers in God. Passover is celebrated around the world by the Jews who were forcefully scattered away from their homeland, just as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated by followers of Christ around the world.
Passover celebrates the physical death that passed over the Hebrew homes identified by the blood of the Sacrificial Lamb. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper celebrates that spiritual death that passed over us because we’re identified by the blood of our sacrificial lamb, Jesus who willingly went to the cross meant for us.
Acting upon God’s instruction, His people were saved from both bondage and death through a sacrifice. Jesus, God himself in human form, sacrificed Himself to save His people from bondage and death. What a truly amazing set of parallels. Coincidence? I think not… remember the wonderful definition of coincidence is God working anonymously.
So just as God showed His love for His people through the first Passover, Jesus symbolically showed His disciples…and to those that believe in Him, His love for us through His death and resurrection.
There is one last tradition I would like to share with you. Growing up, our Passover meals always had an extra wine cup at the table; this was the Cup of Elijah. Tradition dictates that towards the end of the meal, the children open the door to see if Elijah would appear to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Once, when I was quite young, I opened and closed the door and then shuffled back to the table. Suddenly, the door blew open! My dad said; “It must be Elijah!” I was little and it scared me. But I’m sure it was the wind that blew the door open… I’m sure of it. Really…
The book of Malachi 4:5-6 NCV tells us that: “God will send you Elijah the prophet before that great and terrifying day of the Lord’s judging. Elijah will help parents love their children and children love their parents. Otherwise, I will come and put a curse on the land.”
The Gospels state that John the Baptist came in the power and spirit of Elijah. When John stood baptizing in the Jordan River, he looked up, saw Jesus and declared, John 1:29 ESV “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
Although I was only able to explain a few of the parallels of Christ and the Passover, I pray that you see it as more than just a simple explanation of a commemorative meal. It’s the promise of redemption and liberation from the bondage of sinful lives both now and for all eternity. It is an object lesson of the life and mission of Christ, our Passover, the Lamb of God “Who takes away the sin of the world.”
As I close, let me share that sometimes my faith moves into doubt. I see a post-Christian world that’s divided, hurtful and filled with pain and hurt; a world without love or grace for one another and falling apart. And then I question if this whole Christianity thing is made up. I assume there are others like me that also fall into doubt, so you’ll understand what I’m saying.
But reminders like Christ in the Passover reaffirm and encourage my faith. Reminders like this solidify my belief that Jesus is real and He is the actual cure and relief for what ails our world and that things are not falling apart but falling together!
And all, all are given the option of choosing Him. If you have not, I pray that today will be your Palm Sunday, your selection day, your day of choosing Jesus as the Lord of your Life, and your Savior for all eternity.
The Lord’s Supper is something that can be shared by all believers- anywhere and at anytime! Easter Sunday is a wonderful day to celebrate it with family in your own home! As you do… please read through these Scriptures!
1 Corinthians 11:23-29
On the night He was betrayed, He celebrated Passover with His beloved disciples. He took the matzoh, and after giving thanks, He broke it and said to His disciples, “take and eat; this is my body which has been given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Then Jesus took the cup, the third cup, the Cup of Redemption, and after giving thanks, He said, “take and drink. This is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”
Many blessings and Happy Easter!
He is Risen!
Pastor Jeff Needleman
New Beginnings Church