Jesus' Passover Gift to Peter and John
Bern’s Steakhouse is a Tampa landmark that is well worth a visit if you are ever in that city. It’s pricey, but the food and atmosphere are fantastic and they have an upstairs dessert room that will blow your mind. During our time of living in Tampa, my wife and I were able to go to Bern’s a couple of times to eat dinner and a few more times just to enjoy the dessert room.
Another great feature of Bern’s, that not everyone knows of, is the guided tours of the kitchen. An employee will escort your party through the kitchen explaining from where the food comes (they own a farm nearby), showing where and how the food is prepared (they trim their steaks to order), and sharing other interesting tidbits about the meal you just enjoyed. As a guy who enjoys cooking, I find this sort of thing fascinating because of the sheer volume of food and people moving around at such a frantic pace.
Sometimes, knowing what goes into making something happen can increase our appreciation of it.
That is helpful to remember as you interact with Jesus assigning the task of preparing the Passover meal to Peter and John (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-23). Now, remember that Peter and John were part of the inner circle of disciples meaning that they were among the closest of Jesus’ followers. Also remember that Jesus knows that His time is short. And yet, He assigns this seemingly mundane errand to Peter and John. Why? Why not keep Peter and John close to Him in these final hours and send two others – say Jude and Bartholomew?
Because Jesus was giving Peter and John a gift by having them prepare the Passover meal.
To see this, we need to understand what was involved in preparing for the Passover meal beyond the arrangements mentioned in Scripture. And to help us see what Peter and John experienced, I will call on the help of the Christian Jewish historian Alfred Edersheim and his two works, The Temple and The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
Arrangements for the Passover festival would have begun in Jerusalem about a month before. In addition to practical tasks such as repairing roads and bridges for the heavy foot traffic, religious-based duties such as painting all the nearby tombs white would have been completed. The tombs were painted bright white to warn the people to stay away from them lest they be defiled and become ceremonially unclean and miss celebrating the Passover. (This background also helps you understand Jesus’ comparison of the Pharisees to the tombs in Matthew 23:27.)
Peter and John’s preparation that day would have begun in the morning with them choosing a lamb. The lamb was to be between 8 days and one year old and was to be without blemish. The lamb was also required to serve a group of no fewer than 10 people and no more than 20.
Once the lamb was chosen, Peter and John would have made their way with it toward the temple mount along with the large crowd of other worshipers on the same mission. The crowd would have been divided into three divisions, or groups. The sacrifice would have begun at 1:30 pm with the first division entering into the Court of the Priests and the large gates being closed behind them.
The priests, wearing white robes, signaled the beginning of the sacrifice by blowing three times on their silver trumpets. Normally one course, or group, of priests served at a time, but on this day all 24 courses were needed, so every priest would have been at the temple. The priests were arranged in two rows leading up to the altar of burnt offering. The purpose of these rows was to collect the blood of the lambs slain by the people (not the priests) in gold bowls and to pass the bowls along to the altar where the last priest would splatter the blood on its base.
While this was going on, the Levites would be leading the people in singing and reciting the Hallel, part of the book of Psalms. The Levites would sing the first line of a Psalm and the people would repeat it. Then the Levites would continue through the Psalm with the people responding “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord” after each line. If the Hallel was completed before all of the sacrifices of the division were completed, it would be repeated a second and if needed a third time.
Once all of the lambs were slain, the priests would clean each animal and place the salted fat in a dish and put it on the fire of the altar of burnt offering. This process would then be repeated for the second and third divisions. Finally the incense was burnt and the lamps trimmed to mark the end of the day’s temple activities and the people left the temple complex with their lambs over their shoulders.
Peter and John would have carried the lamb back to the upper room, began roasting it, and completed the other tasks necessary for the Passover before Jesus and the other 10 arrived most likely at around sundown.
Peter and John carried a living lamb up to the temple that day, killed it, and carried its dead body back down with them. Surely, their hands and clothes were stained by the lamb’s blood – blood that was shed by them – as were the priests’ and all the other worshipers’ as well. Just a few hours later, Jesus would talk about His body being broken and His blood spilled to provide forgiveness of sin. And then a few more hours after that, Jesus would be crucified.
I wonder when Peter and John fully realized the gift Jesus had given them that day designed to help them see the gift He would give them the following day. When did it sink in for them and how did it impact them from that point forward? Surely, Peter and John’s experience of sacrificing the Passover lamb gave them a deeper understanding of how our sin brought about the sacrifice of Jesus. Surely Peter and John being covered by the blood of the Passover lamb gave richer meaning to how we are covered by the blood of Jesus – the Lamb. In His omniscience, Jesus graciously and kindly equipped Peter and John for the important ministries that they would fulfill by producing within them a vivid grasp of the atonement. What a gift!
As you prepare to teach this session to your kids, ponder God’s kindness in your life and in theirs. What experiences has God given you to see His hand at work? How does He position you and your kids to see the beauty of the gospel in vivid clarity in a way that is unique to each of you? How have you experienced the love of Jesus? How have you experienced forgiveness? Change? Hope? Comfort? What relationships has God gifted you to make Him known? To grow through? What tools has God used to teach you and mold your heart?
We always have to remember that the story of Jesus is simultaneously a corporate story – a story for the entire church – as well as a personal story – a story for individuals. The gospel is not just for you personally! But at the same time, don’t ever think that the gospel is not for you personally! Explore the ways that God has connected with you individually.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the April 12, 2015 session (Unit 32, Session 1) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.