Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday Sermon

Puzzles - Blog Version

I preached in November, just before the Advent season, and I spoke about the two on the road to Emmaus, and how, as Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets He (that is Jesus) explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures…” Then I covered some of the prophecies through the Bible.

Then, when I preached again in January, I went back to Genesis, chapter 3 and looked at the very first prophecy ever given about the Christ, the Messiah or the Redeemer. Remember, they didn’t know His name was going to be Jesus. They didn’t have the whole picture, just the very first piece of the puzzle…

And so now, I want to talk about some more pieces of the puzzle. And I’m excited, because I discovered one this past week that I didn’t know about. Oh, there’s a whole lot more that I don’t know about… that’s why I keep reading and digging, and searching for them, because I want to know more about Jesus.

Our scripture text this morning is from the book of Exodus. That’s the second book in the Old Testament. If you have your Bibles turn to Exodus chapter 12. In a few minutes I’m going to read verses 1-11. I gave you some additional scriptures in the bulletin that I’m going to be referencing in the sermon, and you can read them later.

But first, let me give you a little background; a little history… a little of “His Story…”

At some point in this coming week (I think it’s Saturday night) the movie “The Ten Commandments” will be on TV. You know - Charleston Heston, Moses, the plagues, crossing the Red Sea, all that… Did you ever wonder why “The Ten Commandments” always comes on at Easter time? It doesn’t have anything to do with Easter, does it?

Well, matter of fact, it has a whole lot to do with Easter… That movie portrays God’s freeing of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. They commemorate that event with a Festival called Passover, because the death angel “passed over” every home that had the blood of a lamb on the doorpost.

This morning’s text takes place just before they leave Egypt. God is telling Moses and his brother Aaron, how they are to celebrate this thing that hasn’t even happened yet! (You see, when God makes a promise - He keeps it!) But, He gives very specific instructions on how it is to be done. And there is a reason for every single act, for every single element of that feast. And, for the most part, the Children of Israel always did it that way, and in fact, Orthodox Jews still do it that way today! (Actually, the Jewish Passover happens to be on Tuesday of this week.)

As we learned in the Children’s sermon, this week is called Holy Week. As you know, we will be having special services on Thursday night and Friday night; these are called Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. (By the way, the word "Maundy" is from the Latin word which means "mandate" - it is a commandment or commitment...)

It is on that Thursday night that Jesus and His disciples were participating in what “we” call “The Last Supper” and what they called “The Passover” the most sacred of all Jewish Festivals or holidays. And as we’ll see, it’s a very important one in our lives as well…

Listen closely to the scripture reading, because every thing I read here, is not only a festival to commemorate what happened with the Children of Israel in leaving their bondage in Egypt, but is also a prophecy of what actually took place during this week, from today through Good Friday of what we call “Holy Week.”

In order to understand this last week of Jesus’ earthly life; in order to see just why Jesus’ death on a wooden cross over 2000 years ago is the very atonement, or covering for every sin we’ve ever committed, or ever will commit, in order for the picture to become clear, we’ve got to go back to the Old Testament to collect the puzzle pieces.

Exodus 12:1-11 (read)

The first 5 books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are called the Books of the Law or the “Torah”. On every January 1st, thousands of Christians decide that they’re going to read through the Bible, and they start at the beginning - at Genesis.

And it’s exciting! You’ve got the Garden of Eden, then the fall. You’ve got the flood, the tower of Babal, and the call of Abraham and Sarah. You’ve got Isaac, then Jacob and Easu. And Jacob has 12 sons by 4 different women then God changes his name to Israel, and the sons become known as the 12 “tribes” of Israel.

Due to a series of events, the whole family ends up in Egypt with the next to youngest son, Joseph being second in command to the Pharaoh, himself. And then Joseph dies in Egypt around 1500 BC.

And the book of Genesis ends with the words, “So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” It began in a garden, and ends… in a coffin in Egypt.

And then they get to the book of Exodus - and it’s kinda exciting too. There’s little Moses in the bulrushes, and then he grows up and God calls to him in the burning bush. There are all the plagues, the event of the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea.

After that it bogs down a little, and gets a little more difficult to read with the giving of the Law and the building of the Tabernacle. And by the time most Christians get to the book of Leviticus, they’ve given up completely. And that’s a shame.

You see, there’s no way you can understand the New Testament without understanding the books of the Law. It’s been said that the book of Leviticus is the most “New Testament” of the Old Testament books, and the book of Hebrews, is the most “Old Testament” of the New Testament Books.

In other words - neither one is complete without the other! We find most of the pieces to the puzzle about Grace in Leviticus, and then the book of Hebrews teaches us how to fit those pieces together! It takes both books to make a complete picture of why the sacrifices were necessary, and what they represented!

“Well, who needs to know all that?” you may ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved?’ Isn’t that all it takes - just believing? Why do I need to even know that other stuff…?”

I’m glad you asked!

Let me put it this way… think of someone you love… friend, spouse, parent… Now tell me, what do you know about them? Do you know when their birthday is? Do you know where they were born? What their favorite food is; what their favorite color is; what their favorite TV program is? Do you know their likes and dislikes?

For you adults, when you brought your first sweetie home, did your parents want to know all about him or her? (You betcha they did!) They wanted to know where they lived, who their parents were and what kind of person they were.

When Joe and I started dating, once my family (all my family) knew that he was Bob and Imogene’s son, or John Chesney’s grandson, or Russell Newman’s nephew, everything was ok. They had enough pieces of the puzzle to begin to get a picture of just who this boy was…

If we truly love Jesus, we’ll want to know more about Him, and as I told the children, every single book of this Bible is filled with pieces of the puzzle that give us a complete picture of just what Jesus really did, and how God planned for our salvation from the very first week of creation!

In order to understand what Jesus went through this week, for our salvation, we MUST understand the prophecy.

We know that Jesus’ crucifixion took place at the time of the Passover, but do you really know how closely the “Sacrifice of our Lord” corresponds to, or better yet, fulfills, the Feast of the Passover?

Look at our scripture… verses 1-6 (read)

The first month of the Jewish year was called Abib (or Nisan), and it corresponded with our timeframe of mid-March to mid-April. In 30AD, the year Jesus was crucified, the 14th day of the month of Abib (or Nisan), fell on a Thursday. That was the day of Passover.

That very day, the sacrificial lamb is to be killed, prepared and eaten at twilight. Now, the first one in Egypt was to be eaten (read v 11) in other words, “with your coat and shoes on, and your bags packed and ready!” However, after they enter the Promised Land, we read later that they are to eat it reclining at the table, because then, they have already been delivered, and there’s no need for haste.

We read of Jesus’ disciples’ preparation for this Passover meal in all 4 Gospels. Listen to the way Mark puts it:

Mark 14:12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples *said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?"

And then,

Mark 14:18 When it was evening He came with the twelve. As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me--one who is eating with Me.”

The meal they are eating there IS the Passover. Everything about this meal is symbolic; the way it is prepared; the order in which it’s eaten; the things that are said with each part of the meal. It’s not just a group of guys sitting down and eating supper together. It’s a Worship Service! Mark 14:22-24 says While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

These words that we recognize as our Communion Service was Jesus putting the pieces of the puzzle together right before their very eyes…

And then verse 26 says, “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Even the very song they sang was a prescribed part of the Passover Worship Service.

After supper, at sundown, about the time that Jesus was entering the Garden of Gethsemane was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened bread. Unleavened bread is bread with no yeast in it. You know, for Communion, we have this nice homemade loaf bread, or Hawaiian Bread, or some other big fluffy bread… no, what they had was flat and hard and without any yeast. Actually it sorta tastes like salt-free crackers - kinda bland…and, there’s even a reason for that…

When they were leaving Egypt, the Exodus happened so quickly that they didn’t have time to let the leaven (or yeast) work, or to let the bread rise.

But, symbolically it meant something else as well. The absence of leaven symbolized complete consecration and devotion to God. Leaven, in the Bible is often equated with sin, so therefore the “Bread of Life” was “Unleavened” - without sin…

The next day, Friday, what we call “Good Friday” is when Jesus would be hung on the cross. (By the way, on that first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, no one was to work - ever wonder why the crowds were so huge in the Temple area, calling for Jesus’ crucifixion? They had the day off, what else were they going to do besides go to the Temple?)

The day after the crucifixion (actually beginning at sundown on that Friday) was the Sabbath Day. Remember, that’s the reason the Jews wanted to make sure Jesus was dead and buried before sundown.

Saturday, their Sabbath is the “in-between” day for us, and I suspect, it was probably the longest day Jesus’ disciples ever lived. They couldn’t work, they couldn’t cook, they couldn’t go anywhere… all they could do was wait…

Sunday morning, our “First day of the week” began the Festival of First Fruits for the Jewish people. We find that in Lev. 23:9-11 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions. When you enter the land I am giving you and you harvest its first crops, bring the priest a bundle of grain from the first cutting of your grain harvest. On the day, after the Sabbath, the priest will lift it up before the Lord so it may be accepted on your behalf. (Emphasis added.)

Remember what Paul called Jesus? 1Corinthians 15:20 “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

But now, here’s the real “kicker” for me - this is what I didn’t realize until just the other night… This is that piece of the puzzle that I didn’t even know existed…

Look back at the beginning of our scripture text. (Read Exodus12:2-3) “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, (listen) 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household.” (emphasis added.)

And then verse 6 “You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.”

Now, think about it, if Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper is the time of the sacrifice, and that is the 14th day of their first month, count backwards to the 10th of the month and what have you got… Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday… today… You’ve got Palm Sunday! Their “Choosing of the Lamb” Day is our “Palm Sunday!”

The Jews saw the Triumphal Entry as Matthew 21:4-5 reads, This was done to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Israel, Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey - even on a donkey’s colt.” But, we can see a far greater significance; we can see it as “The Choosing of the Lamb” Day.

The Children of Israel see the sacrifice of the lamb, and the blood on the doorpost as being symbolic of the death angel passing over their homes. But we see the blood of Christ as being the covering for our sin.

There is no sin too big, for the blood of Jesus to cover. There is no sin too terrible, or too overwhelming for the blood of Jesus to cover. There is nothing you have ever done that is too horrible for the atoning blood of Jesus. His blood covers it all!

This adds so much more emphasis to John the Baptist’s words in John 1:29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

He is truly our Sacrificial Lamb!

Father, we fall on our faces before the Throne of Grace this morning thanking You for the atoning blood of Your beloved Son, Jesus. And we thank You for preserving all the pieces of the puzzle so that we can better understand and see the complete picture.

Father, You’ve given it to us in bite-sized pieces, for we could not comprehend it all at once, the glory of it would be too much to bear.

We pray now that You will touch the hearts of your children, that You will “tune our hearts to sing Your praise”, and that You will give us a passion to know Your Word, and to seek ways to serve You.

Father, if there are any here that do not know You and Your love; who do not know Jesus as their personal Saviour; I pray that You will touch their hearts and draw them in…

In Jesus’ name - Amen.

Betty J. Newman © March 30, 2007



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