Today’s blog post is by Theresa Pierce. Theresa is a contributor to our book Room at the Table: Encouraging Stories from Special Needs Families, where Theresa writes about living with her brother.
My favorite Christmas memory was being part of a living nativity scene at Spilman Baptist Church in Kinston, North Carolina. The living nativity of Spilman Baptist Church was epic! Everyone in town rode slowly by and many families filled the churchyard to take a closer look. That is what they told us, but to tell you the truth, I was always in the spotlight and could not see the record crowds. Every year, for as long as I could remember, I was an angel, literally.
An Angel in the Living Nativity
I was an angel next to Mary, the mother of Jesus. One year, I remember trying not to laugh as the donkey kept trying to eat my momma’s scarf while my dad swatted his efforts. They tried not to laugh. Eventually, they promoted me to the roof, where we crawled precarious ladders to position ourselves as angels who appeared to hover over the lowly manger. When the Halleluiah melody belted out, it was our angelic responsibility to raise our arms for the entire chorus. It felt like an eternity. Our arms ached, but we did not dare to let them drop. We took our duty seriously. Even our Sunday School teachers reminded us that our ministry mattered. And it did!
I was fortunate to grow up across the street from the church, what I believe to be divine intervention. My best friend and I got to watch the church men build the nativity set from the ground up. We watched farmers deliver sheep and a live donkey. I must admit there was slight disdain on our part because the portrayal of Christ’s birth took up the space where we usually played kickball for two weeks. We were children with limited space for our daily play. I know God understood our childlike innocence.
We worked in thirty-minute shifts as angels and shepherds. When our hands felt like they might freeze, we changed places with opposing actors. Just when our hands thawed, they offered us hot chocolate and cookies. The chocolate burned our tongues, but the marshmallows had to be eaten before they lost their foam. We traded burned tongues for frozen hands for about three hours and loved every minute of it.
I vividly remember how the wise men rotated bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds knelt with their sheep. My big brother wore a bathrobe and headdress. The manger was in the spotlight, and I remember worshipping in my own childlike way. “And He shall reign forever and ever.” At such an impressionable age, it was a privilege to portray one of the angels who witnessed the birth of Jesus.
Theresa Parker Pierce lives in Historic Salisbury, North Carolina, where she enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has thirty-five years of experience teaching reading and history. She has a Master’s degree in education and is National Board-certified. two-time Rowan Salisbury Teacher of the Year, Theresa enjoys storytelling about her childhood in eastern North Carolina and the history of life in Rowan County.
Her manuscript, Up Dunn’s Mountain, won first place for Young Adult Literature at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2020. The sequel, Miss Clairmont’s Christmas, won third place for Novellas in 2022. Most recently, her poem Mrs. Claus Bakes was published in Christmas Spirit. The sales of this collection will benefit Samaritan’s Purse.
Theresa is a member of Word Weavers International, Blue Ridge Christian Writers, Room at the Table, and the 540 Club. She writes monthly for Senior Savvy magazine. She shares her volunteer time between the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and the Rowan Museum in Salisbury.
Growing up, I loved Easter Sunday. We dressed up in our new dresses, ate the candy from our Easter basket, went to church, and spent the day with family eating a lot of food.
I grew up hearing the same story every year of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. I’m not sure how much it really meant to me until I was out of college.
I remember hearing a song called Watch the Lamb by Ray Boltz in the late 1990s. It was an amazing song, which really helped me put myself in that moment of time. (Here’s the video https://youtu.be/UNT1AThOgME)
I heard little about the Jewish feasts, the Passover Lamb, and the Jewishness of Jesus in church. So, I began reading and seeking people who could fill in the gaps of my understanding.
The Lamb of God
Years ago, while reading the first chapter of John, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me about the passage. That passage was John 1:35-36.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”John 1:35-36
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit helped me understand that John prophesied about Jesus. John could not have known without the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Lamb of God.
Many years later, I heard a familiar story from Genesis explained in a way I had never heard. Genesis 22 recounts the story of Abraham taking Isaac to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him. In Genesis 22:7, Isaac wanted to know where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham told him, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
In Genesis 22:11, an angel stopped Abraham from killing his son. When Abraham looked up toward the land, he saw a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. This ram became the sacrifice.
Why does this matter?
Rabbis and priests read this story to thousands of people every year. The Hebrew words lamb (seh) and ram (ayil) are very different and do not rhyme like they do in English. As a result, once the people heard how Abraham said the LORD would provide a lamb, the Jewish people waited for a lamb–a type of Joseph or a suffering Messiah. As John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” he was letting his disciples know this was the Lamb they were waiting for.
On the tenth day of Nisan, before the Passover feast, the Jews brought an unblemished lamb into their houses. They cared for the lamb until they took it to the priest for slaughter on the fourteenth day of Nisan at the ninth hour or three o’clock in the afternoon. The Levites hung the slain lambs on a hook with their forearms stretched out like a crucifixion and skinned them. They called this the day of preparation. The Passover started at 5:30 pm or sundown (the 15th of Nisan).
You already know that the Sabbath or Shabbat takes place every week from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. The Jews also had other Shabbats. The first day of the Passover feast was a Shabbat. There were six additional Shabbat days, each one of those occurred on the day of each of the other six feasts. That created two Shabbats on each of the weeks having a feast, in addition to two preparation days, since no one worked on either of these Shabbat days.
The Triumphal Entry
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!Luke 19:38 ESV
We see in Luke 19, John 12, and Matthew 21, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on what would have been Sunday, the 10th of Nisan–the same day families took their lamb into their homes. The family tested the lamb to make sure it was free of blemish. That is exactly what we find in Luke 20. The priests and scribes challenged Jesus’ authority as a way of testing Him.
On the day of preparation before the Passover Feast, Jewish families cleaned their houses to remove any traces of leaven or yeast. Of course, this represented sin.
After Jesus came into Jerusalem, He entered the Temple and cleansed it.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”Matthew 21:12-13 ESV
The Last Supper
On the evening of the 14th of Nisan, Jesus sent His disciples to prepare the Passover for them.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” 9 They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’
Now, remember, the day began at sundown. On the 14th of Nisan, the following afternoon, they slaughtered the lamb.
The significance of the man carrying a jar of water is that he was an Essene. They were a certain sect of Judaism who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, who didn’t marry–hence they carried their own water–and celebrated Passover the day before the Orthodox Jews.
Jesus would have celebrated Passover the day before all the other Jews because He was the Passover Lamb.
If you have never been to a Passover feast or commonly called a Seder Meal, please do it sometime–it is so worth it, especially with a Messianic Rabbi leading it. It all points to Jesus the Messiah!
After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The soldiers arrested Jesus that night and took Him to Annas, first. They then took Him to the high priest where they questioned Him, and the soldiers mocked and beat Him.
At daybreak on the 14th of Nisan, they took Jesus before the assembly of elders, scribes, and the chief priest (Luke 22:66).
Then, they led Jesus to Pilate, His armed guards, who were Jewish, didn’t go into the governor’s headquarters because it would defile them, and they could not eat the Passover feast (John 18:28).
Of course, we know Pilate sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.John 19:12-16 ESV
As you can see from this verse, it is the eve or Preparation Day of Passover (Thursday, the 14th of Nisan about 12 pm).
The daily sacrifices would end soon about one or two o’clock in preparation of the slaughter of the Passover lambs.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this, he breathed his last.Luke 23:44-46 ESV
Jesus died the ninth hour or about three pm, while the priests slaughtered and hung the Passover lambs on a hook with their front legs spread out as if crucified.
Jesus had to die on a cross at the very time the Passover lambs were being killed to be the Lamb of God. He is our unblemished, perfect Passover Lamb who took away the sins of the entire world with His precious blood.
Everything that happened during the Passover, Jesus fulfilled PERFECTLY! God is amazing.
He wanted His people to see the feast they kept for thousands of years was all about His Son. Yet some missed it.
Please don’t miss the precious gift God has given–His Son.
Since it was the day of Preparation [Thursday], and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. (Emphasis mine)John 19:31 ESV
As I already said, Jesus died on the day of Preparation for the Passover. The Sabbath, mentioned in the above verse, is the day of Passover.
John tells us as Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, she saw two angels.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.John 20:11-12 ESV
Imagine, as Mary looked within the tomb at those two angels sitting there where Jesus had lain. She was told He was not there. He had risen! Hallelujah, Jesus arose on Sunday morning!
But, look at this.
In Exodus, God gave Moses directions to build the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy seat.
You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold…. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.Exodus 25:17-20 ESV
Can you imagine? God looked down through history to the day His Son would be laid in a tomb. He sees Him lay there for three days and three nights until His Resurrection. He sees Mary come to the tomb, the angels–God placed at each end–sitting there facing one another with their wings spread out over the place Jesus’ bloody body had been.
Then, He told Moses to build it.
The Bible is such an incredible book!
However, there is no One like our Savior, Jesus the Christ. He suffered and died a horrible death for you and me, because He loves us. Take time this week to thank Him for all He has done and will do.
Remember, He was thinking of you and me on that cross.