There is a beautiful and breathtaking symmetry to the life and ministry of Jesus.
Case in point, as you will hear in this PODCAST, here in John 12, the beloved disciple brings us full circle. You may not see that now. But trust me, you will by the time we conclude this discussion.
Let me give you one tantalizing little hint: This beautiful symmetry to which I refer has little to do with palm branches, but everything to do with lambs.
Now watch this: When John introduced us to Jesus for the very first time, this is what he wrote: “The next day John (the baptizer) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” That’s in John 1.
Here in John 12, this is what we read:
“The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”
Now listen: In both cases, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John 1, and here at the very ending of Jesus’ ministry in John 12, it’s all about a lamb.
I know that as you read any or all of the accounts of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as recorded in all four of the Gospels, you may not see a lamb. But trust me, it’s there. Front and center, it’s there.
Just as it is in John 1, so it is here in John 12, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Miss that, and you miss the whole point of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, on this — the Sunday before Passover.
Which raises a most intriguing question: Why did Jesus choose to ride into Jerusalem on that Sunday? Jesus could have ridden into Jerusalem on Saturday (If He did, we would call it Palm Saturday!), or on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday.
Why did Jesus choose to ride in on the Sunday before Passover? Answer that, and you get the whole picture.
Here’s a secondary question: Since Passover did not officially begin until that Thursday night (Remember Jesus sharing with the disciples their final Passover seder in Upper room on Thursday night?), why were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem so early on that Sunday?
Answer that, and you get the whole picture.
Which underscores this point: The Bible is God’s picture book, and Jesus’ Triumphal Entry is yet another three-dimensional, High Definition portrait of breathtaking significance. A panoramic masterpiece that, though we studied one portion of the Triumphal Entry last week (Daniel’s prophecy), this picture is far too important to ignore this week.
Isaiah put the connection between Jesus, us, and sheep like this:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:6-7)
Curiously, Jesus is both our Good Shepherd AND our sacrificial Lamb. For a New Testament version of this, we can read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:7
For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.
And Peter joined his voice to the chorus in 1 Peter 1:
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
And then, for good measure, the Apostle John put the Bible’s “exclamation point” on this whole idea, by referring to Jesus as our Lamb of God 28 times in the Book of Revelation.
Now, going back to the Old Testament, the principle animal of sacrifice prescribed in the Torah was… you guessed it, a lamb. It was to be offered twice a day, EVERY DAY at the Temple. So, there was this foreshadowing image burned into the memory of all of God’s people, twice a day every day, that Jesus would be the necessary Lamb sacrifice for us all to bridge the gap between our sinful selves and our perfect God.
Now, when it comes to God’s picture of us as lambs, it reveals how vulnerable and fragile we are, how needful and prone to wander we are… we are in desperate need for a good and gentle Shepherd.
However, God’s picture of a lamb – as it applies to Jesus – is that of a gentle, innocent and pure sacrifice. Isaiah put all of this together when he wrote:
God tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; (Isaiah 40:11)
But, nowhere in the Old Testament is the analogous relationship between Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God to be sacrificed for us, and us – those vulnerable sheep who are so prone to wander if not for our Good Shepherd, then what we read in Genesis 22.
Now, there is a genre of Biblical literature that Genesis 22 falls into. Its technical term is “typology”. In other words, it’s an Old Testament picture or “type” of a New Testament reality. This story of Abraham, Isaac, God and a lamb in Genesis 22 is a perfect example of typology:
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together,7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
There is SO much typology there, including Abraham and Isaac’s wood to Jesus’ wooden cross, Abraham and Isaac riding on a donkey and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday, and culminating to the substitutionary sacrifice of a ram – a male lamb – instead of Isaac.
This whole story is a “typology” of the verse so many Christians memorize across the globe, even today – John 3:16,
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
So, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem during what we now call His Triumphal Entrance, riding on a donkey as Zechariah had prophesied and the people should have recognized:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Because they did not recognize this sacrificial Lamb, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, Jesus pulled aside and wept for His beloved city. They didn’t recognize that He was entering the city as a lamb instead of a conquering lion… because they didn’t know their Torah, as they should have.
They should have known, even based on how God had instructed them through Moses regarding how to celebrate Passover, which they had done every single year:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…
6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast…
11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance…
24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants….
49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exodus 12:1-49)
Now, on what evening did Jesus and His Disciples meet in the upper room in order to share their final Passover meal together?
Thursday… the fourteenth day of the month.
Now, looking closely at Exodus 12:3, each household was to choose a lamb for their sacrifice on the tenth day of that month. Counting backwards, the tenth day would have been the very day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
What we call Palm Sunday was Israel’s “Passover Lamb Selection Day”.
Palm branches had nothing to do with making that day special for God’s people.
It had everything to do with Jesus proclaiming that He was the Lamb, or as John the Baptist called Him – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the people!