This post was written by Melissa Hendrickson, a member of the INCM Blog team.
For so many of us, we could tell the story of Easter in our sleep.
We prep lessons with construction paper crosses or popsicle sticks, and we retell it to our kids on Easter Sunday with excitement and lilted voices.
But, we also know that deep within all the hustle and bustle of Easter, the work that Jesus did on the cross is not to be missed. So, let’s take a few minutes to hear the story from the beginning, connecting how our King Jesus ties together the beginning to the end.
The Passover lamb, or goat, was selected on the 10th day in the month of Nisan. The animal was to be a year old and without imperfection. It wasn’t the weakest of the bunch, but rather one that would be a loss to sacrifice.
At twilight on the 14th day, the preparations for the animal would take place. It would be slaughtered and prepared for the meal that night, which would mark the beginning of the 15th day of the month. Each family was to spread the blood from their animal on the doorposts and lintel of their home and then remain inside for the night.
That first Passover, God let His people know that His Spirit would be passing through Egypt and that the animal blood on their doors would be the sign that their homes were protected. True to His Word, God’s Spirit moved through the land, and every Israelite home was left untouched. Yet, much life was lost in Egypt that night. Every Egyptian home experienced a loss of human life, as well as loss among their livestock. The price of freedom for the Israelites was death for the Egyptians.
Plague after plague had stripped Egypt of its power and resources. The extreme loss of life was too much for Pharaoh. He finally relented and told Moses and Aaron to take everyone and everything and go worship the Lord.
In the days that followed their departure from Egypt, God downloaded to His people details about setting up the Tabernacle. This would be their place of worship. It is where God’s presence would reside with His people. The Tabernacle would move with them for 40 years while in the wilderness, and eventually, a permanent temple would be built in Jerusalem. The details that God gave to Moses and the Israelites regarding this Tabernacle were so specific. Every measurement exact. Every stitch of fabric, metal, and sacrifice explained.
The priesthood that was established would carry out the daily and yearly sacrifices for the people of God. Animal blood would be shed at the altar time and time again. On the Day of Atonement each year, the High Priest would go solemnly behind the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle and cover the mercy seat with blood while offering an atoning sacrifice for the people that year. No one besides the High Priest was allowed behind the curtain, or surely they would die.
Hebrews lets us know that all of these plans given by God were mere shadows of what was to come.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. – Hebrews 10:1 NLT
Thousands of years after that first Passover, on what appears to be the 10th of Nisan, we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the day when the Passover lambs were being selected in every Israelite home. It is not an accident or a coincidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem that day. And while the people were crying Hosanna and wishing for a king who would stand up to Rome, they couldn’t perceive the kind of King that stood before them.
John 13 tells us that Jesus and His disciples gathered for a meal together the day before everyone else would observe the Passover. During this meal, Jesus reminded the disciples of who He was and what was to come. Yet, after years spent with Jesus, they still did not fully understand. They were ready to do battle. They were not prepared for the grief of the cross.
That night after dinner, Jesus was arrested. Throughout the night He stood trial. On the morning of the 14th day of Nisan, He was condemned to death on a cross. Matthew 27:45 tells us that from the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness fell upon the land. In the middle of the day, when the sun would normally be brilliant, Jerusalem stood in darkness. Late in the day, around 3 o’clock Jesus yielded His Spirit. Around the same time of day that the lambs would have been slaughtered for the Passover feast, Jesus became our lamb without blemish, our perfect sacrifice.
At that moment the curtain in the Temple was split in two from top to bottom. The sacrificial system, the shadow of things to come, that had been established to offer atonement on behalf of the people year after year had been fulfilled by Jesus. There was no longer a barrier that only the High Priest could enter, but rather Jesus stands as our High Priest who atoned for us once and for all, allowing us direct access to the Father.
Jesus was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb before sunset. That night when the sun went down Passover began for the Jews. As each family gathered together and recounted the Passover story, I wonder how many imagined that in three days’ time Jesus would be among them again? I wonder if they could grasp the magnitude of what had happened that day? I wonder if all they could see was the loss of the one they thought would rescue them from Rome?
That night as they remembered that first Passover and recounted the story of God’s rescue, another rescue was underway, but this time it would be for the whole world.
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NASB
Friends, we who believe in Jesus are a diverse and holy kingdom. A priesthood made up of men, women, and children from every tribe and nation – ruling and reigning on the earth today. We have a lot of work to do!
God has empowered us, through His Spirit, to look at the world around us and to notice the broken bits. He has invited us to join Him in shining light into the darkness. As His priests we are called to stand and advocate on behalf of the world around us – to fight for justice, to offer mercy, and to love deeply. And how wonderful it is that we are called to impact the children of this generation!
May we be evidence of a different kind of kingdom – one that points to Jesus over and over again.
Melissa Hendrickson has served children and their families for the past 26 years. She recently founded www.holyformed.org and is writing and teaching on Spiritual Formation. Melissa has been married for 21 years and has two sons. The oldest recently started college, and the youngest is a high school freshman. Melissa loves to read a good book, enjoys a nice cup of Rooibos tea, and always looks forward to traveling with her family.