Choosing The Lamb
by Ray Haynes
“What a contrast between the green branches and the cross, between the flowers and the thorns! Before, they were offering their own clothes for Him to walk upon, and so soon afterward, they are stripping Him of His, and casting lots upon them.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux
For me, that’s a poignant reminder to keep a tight guard on my heart. Today is the beginning of Passion Week; since the fourth century, this day has been known as Palm Sunday. In light of Bernard’s words, the reactions of the crowd to Yeshua Jesus should really cause us to pause.
The very ones laying down those leaves before Yeshua Jesus and shouting Hosanna [hôšîʿâ-nā], which is quite similar to His name, soon shouted crucify. Are our hearts so different than theirs? How often does our pride lead us overconfidently down the wrong road?
The real name of this day is The Great Sabbath. While Palm Sunday has a nice ring, this day already has a famous name. Two thousand years ago, the arrival of this day caused millions of men to flood the streets of Jerusalem to find a lamb for their family for the upcoming Pesach Feast. They would find their lambs, and also, by their words and actions, they would also choose The Lamb of God that day.
In Egypt, the tenth day was on the Sabbath, so it’s commemorated each year on the Sabbath before Passover, even if it isn’t the 10th of Nisan! The tenth of Nissan is so significant that it’s called The Great Sabbath (Shabbat HaGadol).
At the Eastern Gate, the crowd lined the path with giant palm leaves as Yeshua Jesus the Suffering Servant rode in upon a donkey. It was undoubtedly to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah and contrast for One, who had always walked into town through the Southern Gate.
Only King David and the Judges had ever rode into town like that. So the throngs greeted Him with loud shouts from Psalm 118, which were written to welcome the Messiah, Judge, and King when He came to deliver them from their many oppressors. It was, however, the beginning of His journey to the cross as their [pesach] offering. The palm leaves on the ground revealed their misunderstanding.
Palm leaves had always been part of the rituals of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall. The Torah specified it. They built their temporary shelters with them, waved them in the air to rejoice before God, and the priests in procession went round the altar singing from the Hallel, “Hosanna, O Lord, give us help, O Yehovah! Give prosperity!” It was their way of pleading for the Messiah to come and deliver Israel.
But they had no rituals for welcoming the Lamb of God, Who would come to take away the sin of the world. Of course, they didn’t understand that their Redeemer would come once in the Springtime to suffer and die as the [pesach] lamb – and then He would come a second time mightily as Judge of the whole earth – this time in the Fall season of Tabernacles.
It’s sadly ironic that we are still focusing on palm leaves on this day reserved for something entirely different. We even still call it the triumphal entry when it was not. He planned to suffer, bleed, and die. The white horse entry is even now still to come.
And that leads to the questions we must ask, “How should we honor Him on this day He set aside?” What’s our part? It’s a day of choosing Him and inspecting our hearts. Did we welcome Him with extraordinary joy? How is that joy now? Are we burning for Him, our hearts aflame for our Great Bridegroom to come? Are we eagerly laying down palm leaves attached to our expectations but wavering when disappointed? It’s a day of reflecting – choosing Him means He has chosen us to represent Him – meaning others will be looking at us – inspecting us to see how much we look like Him.
Let’s journey to that Eastern Gate and shine a light on this festive day. Since the time of Moses, God set this day apart for each family to choose a Passover lamb. And as Yeshua Jesus, their long-awaited Messiah revealed Himself to all of Israel as the Lamb of God, they said “yes” briefly. It’s a fantastic story worth looking at beyond the palm branches.
There can be no Passover on the fourteenth of Nissan without the singular task set aside for the tenth of Nissan. Exodus 12 says, “On the tenth of this month [Nissan] every man shall take for himself a lamb…Your lamb shall be without blemish.” This was why Jesus the Messiah and sinless Lamb of God had to enter Jerusalem specifically on the 10th day of Nissan – the day the lambs were chosen by each family – to be their [pesach] offering four days later.
It was the day the first [pesach] lambs were selected in Egypt. Then forty years after Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea, Joshua led the next generation out of the wilderness and crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land on the same day – the tenth of Nissan. The river parted for them as the waters had split for their fathers and mothers leaving Egypt. God’s plans were still right on time, even after a 40-year hiatus. There are some important lessons for us to learn here.
A new day had arrived. They had stepped into the promises of God. Joshua 5 tells us, “At that time Yehovah said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” Why? None of those born in the wilderness had been circumcised – those who had were now dead because they had not obeyed. “So He raised up their sons in their place…And Yehovah said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”
What is the reproach of Egypt, and how can we avoid repeating their mistakes? Those whom God delivered from Egypt were circumcised in the flesh but refused to obey God with their hearts. Instead, they acted like slaves or Egyptians (who were slaves to sin), so they were condemned to die in the desert. Their sons were also to bear their shame, and God refused to let them be circumcised until they crossed the Jordan in faith.
So the mass circumcision was God saying, “you are My people, and there is no path back to Egypt or their false gods.” The tenth of Nissan is about finding our identity in Him. It’s not about blaming our parents, family, upbringing, or life situations. It’s about looking forward, moving forward, and becoming who God tells you to be because that is who you are.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this day is how God’s detailed commands for choosing a [pesach] lamb unmistakably revealed Yeshua Jesus as the Lamb of God 1,500 years before He arrived. It’s so subtle that it’s pretty easy to miss. “On the tenth of this month [Nissan], every man shall take for himself a lamb…your lamb shall be without blemish….”You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight.”
Notice God’s subtle progression. First, it was “a lamb”. Then it changes; It’s now “your lamb”. But then, a truly profound shift occurred on the day of Passover. God now called all of Israel to “slaughter him (אתוֹ) at twilight.” Not a lamb or your lamb, but “Him” – as if there was only “One Lamb.”
This word “Him” (אתוֹ) in Hebrew is spelled Aleph-Tav [את] (the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet), with a Vav (ו) in the middle – which uniquely identifies this “Him” explicitly as “the First and the Last” – the Messiah Yeshua Jesus.
So, why was the [pesach] lamb selected four days before it could be sacrificed? The 10th day was the first of four Inspection Days. For the remainder of the week, the lamb would be inspected by each family and the priests for any defects.
Likewise, Jesus would endure fierce tests and threats against His life as He proved Himself to be pure, holy, worthy, and blameless. Jesus lived among the people for over three years before His crucifixion. During these years and the four days before Passover, Jesus was thoroughly examined and proved Himself perfect, without defect.
Matthew says, “The whole crowd was amazed at His teaching…[the Pharisees and Herodians] were amazed at Him…Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man…Peter declared Jesus “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And He was more than just blemish-free. Yeshua Jesus also proved His standing as Messiah by performing countless miracles and providing a real-time example of deliverance. One week before His dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, He declared that He was “the resurrection and the life”, and then He raised Lazarus from the dead.
And Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies that uniquely identified the coming Messiah, even a relatively obscure one, with the raising of Lazarus, “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy.” It was this miracle that swelled the crowd for His triumphal entry.
“Now the crowd that was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that He had performed this sign, went out to meet Him.” John 12
On this Great Sabbath, the crowds would also fulfill prophecies. “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the name of Yehovah!” Hosanna in the highest!” John 12
Are these words from the people of Israel significant? Yes! They come directly from Psalm 118 – part of the Hallel – the Psalms chanted throughout the Passover Feast and spoke uniquely of the coming Messiah.
The name “Jesus” and “Hosanna” don’t seem related in English, but in Hebrew, [yēšūaʿ] and [hôšîʿâ-nā] share the same root: [yāšaʿ], which means to save, savior, and to bring salvation. So the two words are remarkably similar. One significant difference is that [hôšîʿâ-nā] includes the word [nā’], which is a plea, meaning “please, now”. So, [hôšîʿâ-nā] means please save us now!
And with the overlapping meaning of “salvation” in both words, essentially, the people at the gate that day were pleading, “Yeshua, please save us”; and it could also be a declaration, “Yeshua will save us!” Why did they choose these words to shout?
In Ezekiel, the prophet watched as the glory of Yehovah left the Temple through the Eastern Gate and over to the Mount of Olives. Later, Ezekiel saw a vision that the glory of Yehovah would return to the Temple one day through “the gate facing east”.
The Jews in the First Century were waiting for the Messiah and expected Him to pass through the Eastern Gate when He came to rule. So, shouting [hôšîʿâ-nā] to Yeshua as He entered the Eastern Gate was an unmistakable declaration that they were declaring Him their Messiah.
But, four days later, the palm branches of honor would be replaced by thorns forced into His skull and a rough wooden cross lifting Him as a spectacle to be mocked. They saw all the “signs” but also misunderstood them.
So, on this Great Sabbath, or Palm Sunday, whether in a service holding palm leaves or the quiet, it’s a day of choosing Him and inspecting our hearts. Our most important task is to choose the Lamb Yeshua Jesus and welcome Him in our hearts. To roll away the reproach of Egypt – to refuse to blame others or look back.
“The Stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone; Yehovah has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Yehovah has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” Psalm 118:22-24