As I pondered and prayed over what to write on for this Palm Sunday and Easter, I thought it would be good to concentrate our attention on some clear, powerful revelation of Jesus, the Son of God. His coming as Messiah is the focus of Palm Sunday. His dying to deal with sin is the focus of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And His resurrection and reign are the focus of Easter Sunday.
The purpose and climax of the life of Jesus Christ was His sacrificial death. He came into the world to die. In Mark 10:45 Jesus says, "Even the Son of man came . . . To give His life a ransom for many. " That was not an alteration in the plan; that was the plan. It was not a bad ending to a good beginning. Jesus came to die for the sins of the world. One writer stated that the cross was not the end of the story, but the theme of the story.
The meaning of sacrifice has been progressively given by Old Testament revelation. In the story of Adam and Eve we first learn that sacrifice is necessary to cover sin (Gen. 3:21). In the sacrifice of Abel we learn that a certain sacrifice is necessary to please God---a sacrifice of death (Gen. 4:4). From Abraham we learn that God will provide that sacrifice, just as he provided an animal in the place of Isaac (Gen. 22:13). The Passover reminds us that the sacrifice must be without spot or blemish (Ex. 12:5). All those aspects of a sacrifice prepare us for Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.
Everything in the New Testament focuses on the cross. Between twenty and forty percent of the text of the gospels center around the final week of the Lord's life. The book of Acts is the record of the world's reaction to the death and resurrection of Christ. The epistles were written to those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ to instruct them in the implications of it. In the book of Revelation we meet the Lamb that was slain. And He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords.
The death of Jesus Christ is the focal point of all redemptive history. It is no accident; it is the apex of the plan of God. From the slain animals whose skins were used to clothe Adam and Eve to the slain Lamb of Revelation who is worshiped in glory and majesty, the cross is everything.
Throughout his gospel Matthew has successfully presented Jesus as king. But the end of Christ's life forces Matthew to accomplish something that appears to be impossible: maintaining the majesty and dignity of Jesus Christ in the midst of His betrayal and execution. It is thrilling to see how there is no diminishing of His glory. In Matthew 26:17-30 He appears more majestic and sovereign than at any time in the gospel of Matthew. Beginning in chapter 26, Matthew unfolds the glorious event of the death and resurrection of Christ. Verse 17 begins a section where we see Christ prepare Himself for His death by experiencing His final Passover and then establishing the Lord's Supper.
"On the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover? And He said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with My disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them, and they made ready the Passover."
The Lord was committed to keeping the Passover. Matthew 3:15 tells us He came to fulfill all righteousness, which is the law of God. One element of the law of God was keeping the Passover. Luke 22:15 tells us Jesus had an intense desire to keep the Passover with His disciples.
The festival of the Passover has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years. It is the retelling of the great story of how God redeemed the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt. The celebration itself was given to the Jews while they were still in Egypt. The original celebration centered around the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed and its blood put over the doorposts as a sign of faith, so that the Lord passed over the houses of the Jews during the last plague poured out on the Egyptians - the killing of every firstborn. The New Testament says that Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb. The Passover lamb was to be a "male without defect," which is the same description given to Jesus. In addition, when the lamb was roasted and eaten, none of its bones were to be broken. This fact was also prophesized for the Messiah, whose bones were not to be broken. It was customary during crucifixion to break the leg bones of the person after a few hours in order to hasten their death. The only way a person could breathe when hanging on a cross was to push up with his legs, which was very exhausting. By breaking the legs, death followed soon by asphyxiation. However, in the case of Jesus, they broke the legs of the other two men, but did not break His, since He was already dead.
Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; five days before the lamb was killed in the temple as the Passover sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. Five days before the lamb was to be sacrificed, it was chosen. Therefore, Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: lamb selection day as the lamb of God. The people did not understand the significance of this, since they greeted Him with palm branches and hailed Him as King, shouting "Hosanna," which means "save us."
Obedience to the instructions of the Lord regarding the sacrificial blood of the Passover lamb brought deliverance from the wages of sin and death for those within the house (Exodus 12). The lamb died in their place that they might be saved. At the time of God's choosing (Deuteronomy 16:7), Jesus, who was without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:19), became the perfect Passover lamb sacrifice; meeting all the requirements set forth by God for a Passover lamb to fulfill the blood sacrifice requirement for the remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). His blood sacrifice was made so that when we believe and obey; accept the substitutionary shedding of blood for our sins, we might be saved from the wages of sin and death. God made a way for mankind to enjoy Him forever, establishing a new covenant with man for the remission of sin, by giving us His son (Luke 22:19-20), the perfect Passover lamb sacrifice.