~ CHAPTER ONE ~
Exodus 12:5 “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats.”
How excited about your birthday party would you be if you were one of these lambs – “a male of the first year,” as the Law of Moses calls them, and if you were chosen as a Passover sacrifice? Maybe you would be happier to be a girl goat instead of the prized boy lamb. Or maybe you’d actually be happier to be missing a tail or to have your eye ruined from a run-in with a sharp stick. Because if you were a boy lamb, perfect in every way, one year old, and chosen as the Passover sacrifice? Your birthday would also be your death day. Once a family arrived in Jerusalem with their one year old lamb, called a yearling, they would kill the young thing to remember how God’s people painted a lamb’s blood on their door posts to save them from the Death Angel. The lamb had to die so the people could live. Why exactly did a lamb have to die so the Lord’s people could live? Because that’s what Jehovah God said in his law.
Our story tonight is about Ariel. He’s the boy, not the lamb. When our story starts this shepherd boy was trudging on the dusty road from his home in Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He made this walk every spring, and as far as he knew, so had his father. He was pretty sure Grandpa Levi and Grandma Maria had, too. Every other Passover Ariel nearly skipped up the road vibrating with excitement. But this year there was zero spring in his step because when he got to Jerusalem his beautiful, innocent pet lamb Joshua would be killed as his family’s Passover sacrifice.
Our story is also about Joshua lamb. So far he had no clue what lay ahead for him on this Passover. As always, he followed close on Ariel’s heals, occasionally bumping his head or shoulder against Ariel’s leg as a way to assure his beloved shepherd he was still close. Only today, every time Joshua lamb bumped against Ariel’s leg, it hurt Ariel’s heart.
Ariel’s big family was stretched out on the road to Jerusalem. If the last straggler in line and an excited boy at the head of the procession yelled, they could just about hear each other. Ariel’s two little sisters walked hand in hand with his mother. His older sister walked close to her future husband. Grandpa Levi walked with the help of the sturdy old stick he used when he was a young man to defend the flock from wolves, and Grandma Maria kept shielding her face because the bright sun irritated her old eyes. More than twenty people from Ariel’s big family were walking to the Temple like a happy parade – uncles, aunts, and cousins chattering with holiday excitement. Uncles debated the latest policies of the Roman governor Pilate; aunts caught up on family gossip in enlightened and superior tones; children dodged between and around the procession in a dusty game of tag. Everyone was joyous except for Ariel.
Ariel was eleven, almost a man according to Jewish tradition, but little rivulets of tears had streaked his dusty face. These were not baby tears. They were tears of fierce anger, and frustration. At the end of this little stroll to Jerusalem and after a couple hours of preparation, his sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would be eating slabs of roasted Joshua. It was his lamb’s first birthday. And his death day. Happy birthday, Joshua Lamb!
Joshua’s lamb eyes were dark in color but bright with intelligence. Ever since he was a bony, fragile lamb just learning to walk, whenever Ariel came near Joshua would prick up his ears. Now a year old, his wool was already thick, soft, and white like pearls. His shoulders were becoming knotted with the sturdy muscles of a mature sheep, so Ariel and Joshua would wrestle. Joshua’s brow was starting to become princely. His gait was balanced and springy. He stood straight with a proud chin and tail. This noble and innocent lamb as a holiday meal? Ariel could not see how this was fair, no matter how sternly Poppa reminded him, “It is the Law of Moses!”
Earlier I said the only one in the family who was not joyful on the way to the Passover celebration was Ariel. I forgot. Poppa wasn’t happy either. Ariel was bothered about Joshua, and Poppa was bothered about Ariel. For a year Poppa had been telling his son, “Do not make a pet of that lamb!” For months he had been warning his son that the Passover was coming. For weeks he had been arguing with his son from morning to night about why sacrificing Joshua was the only way to give Jehovah God their best.
Ariel knew why there was a Passover celebration. More than a thousand years ago Jehovah God had delivered the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt by a mighty hand. God sent the Death Angel to kill all the firstborn in Egypt both man and beast. Moses’ own sister Miriam, the firstborn in their family, was in danger of the Death Angel, but to save her and the other children of Israel Moses instructed the people to kill yearling lambs. Ariel’s ancestors painted the lamb’s blood on their door posts so the Death Angel would spare the believers inside the house who were eating the roasted lamb. Moses’ older sister Miriam and all the firstborn of Israel were saved that fearful night. Since then, every year, to remember the saving grace of Jehovah God, yearling lambs and goats were killed and eaten just like the ancient Israelites had done. But Ariel could not see how killing his prized pet was going to save his older sister, the firstborn in his family. Neither could he see what good it would do for Jehovah God. Poppa would growl, “It is the Law of Moses!”
Two weeks before their walk to Jerusalem Ariel and his Poppa sat on a rock while they were watching the flock, and Ariel put his own understanding of the Law of Moses against Poppa’s. “Poppa,” Ariel started, “The Law of Moses says, ‘Three times in a year shall all thy men and boys appear at the feast of the Passover, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles.’”
“Yes, Ariel, you have learned well your lessons.”
“Well, Poppa, some of the rabbis teach that if a man appear at all three festivals in one year – I mean – in only one year his whole life, he has fulfilled the Law of Moses.”
Poppa admitted suspiciously, “I have also heard this interpretation.”
“So, Poppa, we shall stay home from the Passover feast this year. This year only. We have already attended all three of the great festivals in one year. In fact, we have already done so in many years. I have done it ten times already and you have done it many more. This year we will stay home.”
“I see, my son. If we skip the Passover this year then that lamb of ours will be too old by next festival and safe from the sacrifice.”
“Yes, Poppa, and we will be clear in the Law of Moses.”
“‘Clear in the Law of Moses,’ my son?”
“Yes, Poppa, we have already fulfilled the Law of Moses – technically.”
“Technically?” replied Poppa. “An interesting term – technically.”
“Yes, Poppa, the three great festivals in one year. Technically I have already fulfilled the Law of Moses ten times – you, more times than me.”
“My son, have you also read in the Law of Moses about righteous Abel? How Abel gave the best of his flock to Jehovah God?”
“Yes, Poppa.” Ariel cast his eyes down at his own feet scraping the dirt and kicking pebbles. Even Joshua lamb, who was standing nearby, put his head down and his ears back.
“And have you not read the first command, a command that righteous Abel followed?”
“Tell it to me. Tell me the first command, Ariel.”
Ariel already knew what his father was getting at. Ariel’s Poppa was a simple shepherd, but he was like a scholar when it came to the Law of Moses. After a sad pause, Ariel finally muttered, “Thou shalt love the Lord God above all else.”
“I think you can do better than that, son.”
Ariel spoke a little louder, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
“Very good, my little rabbi.” Poppa clapped his son on the back. “And, young man, I have another question for you. How long is the walk from our home in Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem?” Poppa was skilled at using a series of questions for inventing a little trap in the Law of Moses.
“One morning’s walk,” Ariel replied, already defeated.
“And do you think, my little rabbi, that we are offering the sacrifice of righteous Abel, and do you think we are loving Jehovah God with all our hearts if we stay home in the one year we happen to own such a prized animal as that yearling lamb of ours?”
Ariel knew he had now heard the final question. It always went this way: Ariel would answer the final question in the series, and then Poppa would state the lesson. Ariel only shook his head, no. He couldn’t bring himself to say how wrong it would be to keep Joshua lamb from Jehovah God.
Poppa said, calm and low, “My son, Ariel, I have not missed a Passover in my life, and this year also we will keep the Law of Moses, and we will sacrifice that lamb.”
Ariel had always tried to be a good and honest son. As a young shepherd, he had always tried to be like a little man in the fields instead of a boy. To his mother he tried to be uncomplaining. For his grandparents he had been a comfort in their old age by sitting with them when he would rather go exploring. But he had lately developed the habit of using sarcasm when he could not get in the last word in a discussion with Poppa. As he turned away from Poppa, he muttered, just loud enough so he was sure Poppa would hear, “And it will be a great birthday for Joshua when he dies.” Ariel was surprised when Poppa did not call him back to apologize for his smart mouth.
~ CHAPTER TWO ~
Two weeks of arguments with Poppa about the Law of Moses had produced no mercy for Joshua. Every time they argued Poppa made such perfect sense that Ariel felt sillier.
Now, on the way up the hill to the Temple and the killing grounds, Ariel was no longer a clever little rabbi. Tears of desperation streamed down his face, and he no longer cared if he sounded silly.
“Poppa, we have six lambs that are one year old. Why do we have to kill Joshua?”
“Ariel, I told you, that lamb is the best yearling lamb in our flock.”
“But you sold two perfectly good lambs.”
“Other families don’t have their own flocks like we do, so we sold two good lambs so those people would have a Passover sacrifice to share. We kept this animal because it is the best of all. We will give Jehovah God our best, son.”
“Grandpa has a yearling lamb. Uncle Mordecai has a yearling goat. Why can’t we kill one of them?”
“You know why. Grandpa’s lamb has runny eyes. Uncle Mordecai’s goat has a scab. The Lord requires a perfect sacrifice.”
“Last year we had two perfect lambs. We killed only one. Why can’t we kill the other one this year?”
Poppa’s clenched fists were on his hips. “Ariel, I am surprised at you. You know Jehovah God wants a one year old lamb. It must be a male. It must be perfect. It must be one year old. It is the Law of Moses.”
“So we will eat Joshua! It is like eating my brother!”
Now Poppa pointed his rough finger at Ariel’s bony chest. “Ariel I warned you not to name that animal. You made a pet out of him when we all knew a year ago that animal would be our best yearling.”
Ariel didn’t care that Poppa was telling the truth. An entire year’s worth of admonitions were ringing in his ears – “Ariel, stop carrying that animal! Ariel, stop bringing that lamb in the house; he’s not your brother! Ariel, do not name that animal. It will be all the harder to kill it when the time comes! Ariel, you must not have so much concern for one lamb and let the other sheep go astray!” Poppa always called Joshua “that animal” or “that lamb.” He never once called Joshua by his real name even though he called all the other sheep by their names. To Ariel it seemed like Poppa didn’t love the best, most beautiful lamb in his entire flock.
Now, as the family pushed through the Jaffa Gate past the Roman Citadel with its soldiers with their banners and spears, everyone could see the gleaming white Temple of Jerusalem above the rooftops. The road was now mobbed with people chattering in a cacophony of languages as they approached the Passover killing grounds from every corner of the world. People jostled each other. Some grumbled and groaned at the chore of fighting through a crowd, while others sang hymns from the book of Psalms. Many slung sacks over their shoulders stuffed with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine for their Passover meals. Some dragged their yearling lambs and goats with ropes up the hill to the Temple, their animals bleating and digging in their hooves every step of the way.
Joshua trustingly followed Ariel without a sound. But his hide shook like he was cold even though the day was hot. That’s when Ariel picked him up, one arm under Joshua’s butt, and one under his chest. When Ariel got Joshua nestled against his own chest, he clasped his hands together around his pet lamb. Joshua was as heavy as a younger brother, and Ariel began to breath heavily as he carried Joshua closer and closer to the killing grounds.
Poppa cast a worried eye toward Ariel but said nothing.
The noises of the crowd grew rougher and rowdier when the killing grounds came nearer, and Ariel buried his face further and further into Joshua’s woolly neck, so he couldbarely see where he was walking. The commotion began to fade out of Ariel’s consciousness. As Ariel felt Joshua’s trembling against his own heart, he imagined simply refusing to go a step further. He would put his Joshua lamb down, so he and Joshua could flee back to Bethlehem together. Joshua would run after him as always because he loved his shepherd so. The two of them would ignore his father’s commands to return and the incredulous faces of uncle and aunt. Ariel and Joshua would run against the flow of people walking up the hill to kill their beautiful animals, their best yearling lambs and goats. Ariel would push his way through the crowd. He and Joshua could do it. They would run and run, even past Bethlehem, past the shepherd fields, away from home. They would run to the desert if they had to. They would climb into the mountains if they had to like the shepherd David hiding from King Saul. They would run to Egypt if they had to. He would not sacrifice Joshua. He would not kill this lamb who was like his brother. He would run and run. In a year maybe, he could come back. Joshua would be safe then, and he would be a man.
Lost in his thoughts, Ariel’s pace had slowed. Besides Joshua was so heavy, and they were walking uphill. Poppa stopped and turned, now so far ahead of Ariel that he had to search behind him until he spotted his eleven year old son barely advancing up the hill with the one year old lamb. “Are you coming, Ariel?”
Poppa’s voice shook Ariel from his dream of running away. His throat was burning from the limestone dust in the air, from carrying Joshua, and from choking back his tears. He didn’t know if he could lift his foot even one more time, but he was done dreaming. He did his best to speak like a man, “Yes, I am coming, Poppa.”
Just then a Roman soldier emerged from an archway and pushed aside the crowd using his spear like a shepherd’s staff. “Make way!” he growled. “Out of the way! Coming through!”
Heavily armored soldiers followed, marching in formation with their swords in their hands. The angry procession of soldiers came right toward Ariel and Poppa, and Poppa took Joshua lamb out of Ariel’s arms into his own. Poppa told Ariel, “Don’t look, son,” but it was too late. In the center of the soldiers was another soldier holding a sign on a tall pole. It was scratched with the one word, “Thief.” Then came the saddest sight Ariel had ever seen. Between the passing soldiers, in flashes matching the rhythm of the passing little army, Ariel glimpsed clear images of a prisoner, nearly naked, dragging a beam of wood along the Jerusalem street. He was struggling with the weight and hunched over. His back was bloody from a whipping. A rabble of citizens of Jerusalem tried to keep up with the soldiers, railing at the wounded man, “Thief! You trouble us all, thief!” Before the soldiers could escort him around a bend toward another city gate, Ariel heard more marching of the now familiar heavy leather sandals. Then he saw more soldiers and another sign over the heads of a throng. Again it read, “Thief.” It was a different man, but he was struggling and bloody like the first. Ariel thought, I will never be a thief as long as I live. To be a thief is the worst thing a person can be.
Finally a bristling crowd came from the archway and began to push against the mob who were heading to the Temple with their Passover sacrifices. Ariel heard bitter shouts, but he couldn’t yet make out what they were saying. Then he thought he heard a yell, “Crucify him!” The soldiers were coming down the sloped street. More Romans pushed the crowd ahead of them, as a few people fell back and some of the Passover animals broke loose. People shouted and chased after their yearling lambs. Some in the Passover crowd seemed like they would climb over the guards to spit on yet another prisoner, a third wounded man. Women were following this new mass of people weeping and wringing their hands. Poppa and Ariel pulled back from the seething mass of hatred and vengeance just before they were swallowed by it. Joshua began to bleat and squirm like he was being poked, “Baaaa! Baaaa! Baaaa!”
Ariel saw a new sign again on the end of the pole. This one did not say “Thief” like the others. Ariel could read the Hebrew, but he didn’t understand it. It read, “King of the Jews.” Ariel elbowed and ducked to get a glimpse of the hated man in the center of the mass of soldiers and citizens. He was like the thieves, naked and bloody. But he was more bloody than the others because someone had woven a strange crown out of the wiry, thorny vines he and Poppa would use to make fences around their sheepfolds. They had pushed the thorny crown down over the wounded man’s brow. Like Ariel’s tears had made little rivers down his cheeks, this man’s wounds made streams of blood flow down his hair and face. Ariel heard angry men spitting words at him, “You saved others! Why don’t you save yourself, Jesus!” Poppa gasped.
By this time Grandpa Levi had run up to Ariel and Poppa in a panic. Grandpa Levi wheezed to Ariel’s Poppa, “It is Jesus of Bethlehem! The prisoner is Jesus!” Puddles were forming above the wrinkled rims of Grandpa Levi eyes. His mouth was wide and red against his white old face. Shaking Poppa, he repeated “It is Jesus of Bethlehem!”
A stranger was close enough to hear, and he snapped, “He’s not from Bethlehem! He’s not from the tribe of David! He is a worthless Galilean – from Nazareth of all places! Jesus of Nazareth! He made himself out to be the Christ! He is no Christ! He is a nobody!” The stranger howled like a wolf to the echoey walls of the ancient city, “Crucify him!”
Joshua lamb still in his arms, Poppa lunged between Grandpa Levi and the stranger. “Stop, you! My father knows where this man was born. My father was there the night this man was born in the City of David. My father was a shepherd in the fields of Bethlehem the night of Jesus’ birth. A great light shined around him, and an angel spoke to him and all the other shepherds, that this same Jesus is the Son of David, the Savior, and Christ the Lord.”
“Ah, you fools!” shouted the stranger as the procession led Jesus after the two thieves. The street full of people was now in stunned silence. They had come to celebrate the Passover. Now they wondered if strangers were going to settle their arguments with their fists.
Poppa seemed conscious of the crowd surrounding him and their hunger for more information, so he proclaimed, “I’m no fool. My father knows this man. I know him, too. I was born the same year as Jesus! I grew up with him. Every year my family came to the Passover celebration.” Poppa pointed up at the glorious white Temple. “And every year we would meet Jesus and his family in that Temple on Mt. Zion. This man was my friend.”
The stranger snarled, “Get away from me you! Unless you want to join me. We’ll watch Roman soldiers nail him to a tree.” He ran down a side street to catch up with the Roman soldiers and Jesus.
“Stop!” Poppa cried still pointing up the hill. “I sat near him in the Temple when he questioned the rabbis. My father has known him for thirty years since he was born. Something’s wrong!” Poppa paused and the man disappeared around a corner. Then Poppa continued, as if he wanted to address anyone in the old city of Jerusalem who was willing to listen, “This Jesus is the Christ! He is the Christ! He is! I know him! He is like my brother!”
~ CHAPTER THREE ~
Poppa re-settled Joshua in his strong arms and commanded his family, “Wait for me here! By the Jaffa Gate!” He began down the street where the raging stranger had disappeared, Joshua bleating, “Baaaa! Baaaaa!” and squirming in Poppa’s arms. Ariel’s mind was spinning – the Passover, killing Joshua lamb, the soldiers, the thieves, a man named Jesus, the shouting, the hate – there never was such a Passover. And what was the matter with Poppa, defending a man about to be crucified? What did he mean that Jesus was the Christ? Ariel thought the Christ was a warrior. The man Jesus, carrying that beam of wood, didn’t look like a warrior. But Poppa and Grandpa Levi said they know this man! Poppa stopped before he disappeared around a corner and called back, “Ariel, come with me! Come with me now, Ariel!” Ariel ran, his thumping heart and burning lungs fighting for space inside his chest.
Poppa led them down side streets and through markets towards the Damascus Gate out of Jerusalem. Even though Ariel had never been to this quarter of Jerusalem, he knew as well as Poppa this was where the killing grounds were, not the killing grounds where yearling lambs and goats are killed for the Passover, but the killing grounds where poor, despised men are crucified for their crimes. This is where the Roman guards were taking the two thieves and the King of the Jews. Joshua stopped his bleating as they ran and ducked and paced and side-stepped through the narrow alleys. Ariel received new energy from Poppa’s determination and from the mysterious mission they seemed to be on.
As Ariel and Poppa arrived near the Damascus Gate, Joshua still in Poppa’s arms, the crowd was so jammed in the gate’s archway that Ariel and Poppa had to stop. Scores of people were pushing into the city for the Passover, and just as many scores were pushing out of the city to see three men crucified – two thieves and the man who claimed to be King of the Jews. Even though there were so many people packed into the street it was eerily silent. Most mouths were clamped shut. Those who spoke did so in brief whispers. From just outside the wall came the dull sound of a heavy hammer pounding on iron spikes and the shrill cries of a man being nailed to the heavy beams of wood. Ariel counted – one hand, the second hand, the two feet together – that’s the first thief. One hand, the second hand, the two feet together – that’s the second thief. Ariel heard the Roman Centurion command, “Your backs into it now, lift!” as they raised two crosses. Then, Ariel could hear from inside the wall, they did it to Jesus.
Unable to go any further Ariel and Poppa sat against the wall that encompasses the city of Jerusalem. Joshua leaned against Ariel still trembling. They were stranded inside the city because of the crowded gate. The crucified Jesus was outside the city where they could hear but not see what was happening. Poppa began agonizing out loud, “I don’t understand it. I have known Jesus all my life. Grandpa Levi was there when he was born, Jesus was born in a stable near Bethlehem. Then when I was your age, Jesus and I used to sit on the steps of the Temple during the Passover, and Jesus would tell me such things. He would tell me that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What did he mean that Christ is the Lamb of God? Takes away the sins of the world? I never understood him, but he kept insisting, ‘The Lamb must die so the people can live.’ Jesus is the most honest, humble, loving, unselfish, and innocent man I have ever known. I have never known a man with such a burning passion for the house of the Lord or the Word of God. This same man is being killed out there on a cross. Oh, Ariel! Oh, Lord Jehovah!”
There were so many things Poppa didn’t understand, but there were even more things Ariel didn’t understand. He didn’t know why his father would know a criminal. But Poppa said Jesus was a good man and surely innocent. How could it be? An hour ago they were walking to Jerusalem to kill Joshua lamb. They would do it to keep the Law of Moses. Now it seemed like Poppa had forgotten it was the Passover. Ariel had trudged up the hill thinking Joshua lamb would be dead by now. What was going on? And of all the things Poppa was saying one stuck in Ariel’s mind: “The Lamb must die so the people can live.” Ariel looked at Joshua trembling beside him. Then he looked at his grieving father. Was this really his Poppa?
As the crowd began to thin in the gate, Ariel noticed that sometime during all the yelling and ducking through alleyways the sky had become as dark as night even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Then as Ariel and Poppa sat with their backs against the city wall they felt the wall and ground trembling. At first Ariel thought it was just the trembling Joshua, but the shaking grew more violent. Little pebbles in the wall worked loose and rained on their backs. Then large blocks of stone at the tops of the wall toppled into the street. They instinctively stood to dodge the next stone. Ariel grabbed Joshua by the fleece at the back of his neck. People in the streets scattered in every direction panicking. Shouts came from the Temple Hill. Poppa suddenly picked up Joshua into his arms and said, “Come with me, Ariel!”
Everyone was hurrying away from the Damascus Gate before it might collapse on them during this shaking of the earth. To Poppa it was like a blessing. He forced his way through the crowd, and as they made their way it felt to Ariel like he was walking on a ship being tossed upon the sea. When Ariel and Poppa stumbled through the gate and out of the city they saw Jesus on a cross between two thieves on theirs. His feet spread wide to keep his balance while the world swayed, Ariel read again the signs, “Thief,” “King of the Jews,” and “Thief” agian now nailed above the crucified men’s heads. Aminute later, the earth quieted and the ground under their feet became solid again.
Before those crosses, it seemed like Poppa had forgotten Ariel was with him, he was so focused on Jesus. With Joshua in his arms Poppa advanced so carefully one would think he was approaching the king. He stopped a few feet from Jesus, where he was hanging on a cross barely breathing. After staring for a few moments, Poppa edged near a little group of weeping women and a young man where they were kneeling, staring up at Jesus. Ariel sensed they were Jesus’ friends. Jesus open his bloodshot eyes. Though he was in agony, he was also calm and determined. Ariel was sure Jesus was looking right at Poppa. Jesus slowly nodded his head toward Poppa, down then up. Poppa nodded the same way in reply. Poppa did know this man! This man Jesus did know Poppa! Ariel watched in amazement as Poppa clutched Joshua even tighter and kneeled down near the small group of Jesus’ friends without ever taking his eyes off of Jesus. Jesus moved his gaze from Poppa upwards higher and higher until he was looking into the dark heavens. Carefully, deliberately, Jesus uttered clear, strong words between his breaths, a word or two with each breath, “Father – into thy hands – I entrust – my – spirit.” Then Jesus closed his eyes and Ariel could tell Jesus had stopped breathing. The pain was over. He was dead. Poppa’s friend Jesus was dead. A man who claimed to be the Christ was dead. It was the first time Ariel ever saw a man die. Ariel looked at Jesus, then Poppa, then Jesus, then Poppa. What was next?
Poppa finally put Joshua down, and faithful Joshua stayed. In low tones Poppa talked with the little band of women and the young man who still knelt at Jesus’ feet. Ariel could not hear, but soon Poppa whistled for Joshua to follow him, and he strode to where Ariel stood stunned. Poppa looked suddenly aged and worn. His eyelids were red like Grandpa Levi’s. In a low but decisive tone he spoke to Ariel, “Come, son, we must gather up the family and go home. Then I will return here to help bury Jesus.”
“He was your friend, Poppa.” Ariel felt stupid, but he did not know what to say. Ariel felt like he was talking to a stranger.
“Yes, son, and my friend was the Christ.”
“The Christ, Poppa?”
Ariel didn’t understand a dead Christ. But Poppa was already leading him and Joshua back into the city and back to the Jaffa Gate where they might find the family. Because Ariel felt silence was even more uncomfortable than saying something stupid, he asked Poppa, “What about Joshua?”
Distracted as Poppa was he didn’t understand the question. “Joshua?”
“The Passover sacrifice. The Law of Moses. Giving Jehovah God our best – ” Ariel felt scared and out of breath. He remembered the thieves. He did not want to be a thief, least of all did he want to steal from God. He asked, “Is it time to kill Joshua?”
Poppa stopped so suddenly that Ariel almost ran into him from behind. All three of them stopped in an alleyway in the ancient city of Jerusalem on the Passover Day when Jesus Christ was crucified. Poppa looked down at his son for a long time without saying anything. Ariel waited, but he did not know what he was waiting for. Then tears began to flow out of Poppa’s red-rimmed eyes and down his weather beaten cheeks. And through his man-tears, he amazed Ariel by smiling while he whispered, “You good boy!” Poppa knelt before his son and grabbed Ariel by the shoulders as Joshua lamb looked up at them both with his black eyes wide. “You good boy!” Poppa repeated. “You good son! My little rabbi with your blessed questions! Now I think I do understand! Your question is helping me understand. The Passover lamb. ‘The Lamb must die so the people can live,’ Jesus said. Jesus is the Lamb! My wonderful friend Jesus is the Lamb of God who died for the sins of the world.”
Poppa seemed thrilled by something, but Ariel didn’t understand. As painful as it was to ask the first time, he asked again, “And Joshua?”
“Son, Joshua lamb shall not die today. The Death Angel who hovered over our heads has today been taken away forever by Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Today the curse of sin was nailed to that beam when Jesus’ hands and feet made blood stains there. Joshua lamb will live, for Jesus has taken his place forever.”
What had Poppa said? “Joshua lamb will live.” Ariel was not sure if he was more happy, confused, or scared. He was happy because somehow, someone had given him Joshua lamb back. It was like his lamb was dead but now alive. Ariel was also happy because Poppa had called Joshua by his name for the very first time since Ariel gave him his name. The rest of his thoughts were a jumble. He had just climbed the most difficult hill of his life, watched while Roman soldiers and a vengeful crowd conducted a parade of death through the city of the prophets, watched while his father’s friend died on a cross, and witnessed his father turn into another man right before his eyes. He was scared because his father had been so strong, so rigid, and so strict, that he had come to expect and trust that steadiness. Now his father seemed broken. He had never imagined his father could cry. But here was Poppa crying with a sort of happiness. It was confusing. It was scary. But Ariel was sure it was good. They turned and began to look for the rest of the family.
And that ends our story about Ariel and Joshua lamb. Joshua and Ariel would have many happy year stogether because the Lamb of God had taken Joshua’s place. But perhaps you will indulge me a last comment. People in Ariel’s day had to know with certainty the birthdays of their lambs and goats, so they could offer yearling animals, one year old animals, to Jehovah God as sacrifices. But no one seems to know for sure just when Jesus’ birthday was. Some say it was on December 25th, and maybe so. Truthfully, such a winter day for Jesus’ birthday seems a bit unlikely because there were shepherds in the field the night Jesus was born. Grandpa Levi was one of them. The problem is that shepherds don’t stay out in the fields on cold December nights. They stay at home for the winter. On the other hand, they do stay out in the fields on the warmer nights of spring, when the lambs are usually born. So do you know, Jesus and Ariel’s lamb Joshua might have shared the same birthday, some time near the Passover? And do you know, Jesus might have died for the sins of the world on his birthday? When God the Father raised him from the grave on the third day, maybe that was his birthday present.
And finally, if I may beg your pardon, I will add one last comment to my last comment. You might find it strange to tell a story about the Passover holiday during Christmas time. But it’s really not strange at all. Whatever was the day or season when Jesus was born, on the day of his birth, the Son of God, for the first time in his eternal existence, accepted death – he accepted that if he would live as a man he would also die as a man. In other words, whatever his birthday really was, it was, in a way, his death day. The Lamb had to die so the people could live.