“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Thursday, February 18, 2021. Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash
“It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest [Jesus] by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people” (Mark 14:1-2).
The Jewish historian Josephus estimated that two million people were in Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread at the time of Jesus, more than three times the usual population of the city. I picture something like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, or Bike Week in Daytona Beach, FL.
Old Testament law required heads of households to attend this festival each year (Deuteronomy 16:16), remembering and celebrating how God powerfully delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The crowd in Jesus’ time would have been hoping and praying for similar deliverance from Roman occupation. It wouldn’t take much to stir up a crowd whose pilgrimage songs included, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord” (Psalm 126:4), “The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4), and “O Israel, hope in the Lord…With him is plentiful redemption!” (Psalm 130:7).
Ironically, the ideal moment to apprehend Jesus was also the worst. Yes, he would be in Jerusalem, usually at the temple. But so would many of his followers. The same followers who shouted, “Hosanna!” that is, “Save us now!” (Psalm 118:25). Good thing Jesus looked harmless, riding on a donkey rather than a horse, accompanied by some fishermen and women from Galilee. Not enough fanfare to provoke Roman action. But enough to make the religious elite think twice about apprehending Jesus and taking him away.
Many years later, we know that this feast was really all about Jesus. Long ago in Egypt, death passed over Israelite homes where a lamb had been slaughtered and its blood smeared on the door posts and lintels. That tenth plague broke the hardened heart of Pharaoh, and God’s people were free. Jesus would now be the one killed. He would be the Lamb whose blood shed on the cross would break the power of sin and death. God’s people would be free indeed!
The chief priests and the scribes were right about one thing. Jesus would be at the center of an uproar. One day John would see the Lamb who was slain surrounded by countless voices loudly proclaiming, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12)!
Isn’t it great to be part of the uproar, stirred up by the arrest, sacrifice and salvation of Jesus?
Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus, our Passover Lamb, for setting us free from the power of sin and death, and for stirring us up to praise and worship. Amen.