Two thousand twenty is one of those special years when the Jewish feast of Passover and the Christian celebration of Easter align almost perfectly, with Good Friday and the crucifixion it commemorates nestled nicely in between.
I love when these two holidays collide on our calendars because, honestly, they are two renditions of the same story, each explaining and filling in the other. Passover, the Jewish liberation from Egyptian bondage, was pointing to that Spring day, that Roman cross, that crucifixion, which brought about the world’s liberation from the bondage of sin and death. The Passover foretold of the crucifixion; the crucifixion was the Passover in living color, in real time, and how the two stories are beautifully woven together to become one is something only God would endeavor to do.
Twenty centuries ago, two dramas played out in perfect choreography that day in Jerusalem. One a ritual, one a redemption. One a shadow of salvation, one its substance. A Messianic Jewish writer describes it all this way:
“The Feast of Passover was given by G-d* to be a rehearsal of the first coming of Yeshua [Jesus]. The Passover ceremony was observed in remembrance of the past and in preparation for the future.”[i]
The remembrance of the past paved the way for the future. What had been rehearsed for centuries would dramatically come to life on Jerusalem’s stage, the actors all flawlessly following their scripts…though they hardly knew it.
By the time of Christ, the Passover festival was an enormously large endeavor. Due to the size of the population, it posed a significant logistical challenge. Because the Jews were still required to follow Moses’ instructions for the Passover, they brought their sacrificial lambs into the city on the tenth day of the first month of the Jewish religious year. A few days later, the priests and Levites at the temple assisted the people in making the sacrifices for their individual households.
However, only one lamb was chosen to be sacrificed by the High Priest for the entire nation of Israel. This lamb had to be free of defect or blemish. The surrounding villages were given the honor of providing the lamb for the nation. Bethany, just two miles from the city, was often the village of choice. Five days before the Passover, known as lamb selection day, the lamb without blemish was chosen and led through the city to the temple. Jerusalem would be packed with cheering people lining the streets to see Israel’s chosen lamb. This lamb was then put on display in the temple courts until the time of the sacrifice later in the week. This allowed any and all to inspect it and confirm that it was in fact without blemish or defect.[ii]
Six days before the Passover, the Apostle John tells us Jesus was in the village of Bethany. And on the next day—lamb selection day—John records that the one called the Lamb of God, was led on a donkey through the city and up to the temple, cheering crowds lining the streets in celebration. Coincidence?
Matthew tells us Jesus spent the next few days in the temple courts. Just like the actual lamb tethered nearby, it was as if He too, the Lamb of God, was on display, made available for inspection. He was questioned, provoked, and challenged, and after several days of this, the “inspection” was complete and no defect could be found for Matthew tells us:
“No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask Him any more questions.”
And then, at 9:00 a.m. on the first official day of the feast, the little lamb chosen for the national sacrifice was tethered to the bronze altar in the temple court to await its death later that day. At precisely that same time, just outside of town, we find the Lamb of God being tethered with nails to the altar of the cross.
Back at the bronze altar, when the bulk of the day had finally passed and 3:00 p.m. arrived, the High Priest would slit the throat of the lamb and sacrifice it for the sins of the nation, declaring a familiar: “It is finished!”[iii]
As we know the script, we know He was not the only one to utter those words that day…at that very moment. Luke tells us that at that very same hour, the Lamb of God declared His work done and surrendered His spirit, breathing His last.
So I love when Passover and Easter collide on the calendar because the past and the future collided at Calvary that day. God perfectly fulfilled His plan to liberate us all—once and for all. Through the sacrifice of His flawless Passover Lamb on Calvary, He ensured that we can pass over from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from guilt to grace.
But unlike the poor, unsuspecting lamb tethered to the altar in the temple courts, the Lamb of God tethered to the altar of the cross went to His death willingly, and through the Passover Feast built a bridge of redemption that would ultimately unite Jew and Gentile into one family, His family.
So as you celebrate Easter this year, or Passover, remember that they are really the same story, the story of our redemption, the story of our liberation…
The story of love.