The beginning of this week marked the onset of Passover and The Feast of Unleavened Bread for the Jewish people. For Christians, the week culminates in Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is the most sacred and significant week of the year and illustrates how the story of Jesus intertwines with the appointed feasts of the Old Testament.
In Jewish tradition, this is the season of Unleavened Bread and Lambs!
Lambs were purchased by every family to be sacrificed and eaten during Passover (Pesach) and served as a reminder of Israel's deliverance from the tenth and most terrible plague of Egypt: the death of the firstborn.
Exodus 12:3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘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. (4) Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. (5) Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. (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. (7) Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. (8) They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
The following day marked the beginning of The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag Hamatzot), which lasted seven days.
Exodus 12:17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance.
In the spirit of this sacred season, I thought I would share a little historical aspect of the story that isn't mentioned much.
Everyone knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; but did you know that the shepherds in Bethlehem were responsible for raising the sacrificial sheep for the temple?
That's right! According to the renown scholar, Alfred Edersheim, Jesus was born in the very same vicinity as the lambs that were raised for the temple sacrifices. The shepherds of Bethlehem were tasked with the great responsibility of raising and tending the lambs "without spot or blemish" that would serve as the offerings of the people of Israel. That is why God chose to announce the birth of the Messiah first to the local shepherds. The significance of the location would not have been lost on them. In fact, somewhere deep in Jewish writings known as the Mishnah (an edited version of the Oral Traditions created after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D), a belief had arisen that the Messiah would be revealed from the Migdal Eder (or "the tower of the flock"). This tower stood close to Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem, and the sheep that pastured there were not the type used for ordinary purposes.
The name Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and Jesus represented Unleavened Bread as well as a Sacrificial Lamb. The location of Jesus' birth foreshadowed His destiny.
Like a sacrificial lamb, Jesus was born to make the journey from Bethlehem all the way to Jerusalem.
And because He made that journey, the world was forever changed.
Have a Blessed Easter!
* Alfred Edersheim (7 March 1825 – 16 March 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar. Born in Vienna, he was educated in the Talmud, Torah and Rabbinical languages, entering the University of Vienna in 1841. He emigrated to Hungary, becoming a teacher of languages before converting to Christianity, studying theology at Edinburgh’s New College and the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred married and entered the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. In 1875 he was ordained into the Church of England and was Curate of the Abbey Church, giving lectures on Judaism and Christianity at the University of Oxford. Edersheim died at Menton, France, on 16 March 1889.
Edersheim's collection of works are available at Amazon.com or you can read The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah for free online. (Note: It was written in 1883, so the english is an older variant. Nevertheless, it has been a classic for over 100 years.)
** Top photo: Frieze is from a photo I took of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem
*** Special thanks to the local sheep who let me snap their photos (and babies) this spring.