When Jesus lived, lambs were a central part of the spiritual life of Israel. If you were Jewish, there was no need to explain the significance of something so commonplace. For centuries, lambs had died for the sins of the nation. Inside the walls of the Temple two lambs died every day (see Exodus 29:38-41); one at 9a.m. and the other at 3p.m. When the lamb died, a priest would sound the shofar, a ram’s horn, and even people who had not witnessed the event would know that a lamb had just died for the sins of the people. It was a sacrifice marked by blood, for the literal meaning of “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “to slit the throat.”
In addition to the twice-a-day sacrifice of lambs, there would have been countless lambs dying on the major Jewish holidays. It happened year after year, century in, century out. How many hundreds of thousands of lambs had died for the sins of the people? Did they number in the millions? As shocking as a single sacrifice might be from our perspective, could there have been an opposite impact 2,000 years ago? Could the death of a lamb become so common that it had lost its punch? Could the fast work of preparation at the Temple have made the entire process too clean, too professional, and even too far removed from the people? Could so many lambs have become – in a sense – invisible to the people who were so used to religion?
Maybe that’s why Passover was such an important holy day for the people. This was the most personal connection between people, just like us, and the blood sacrifice God required for sin. For only a few days, every family in Israel would have a lamb, and every person in that family knew that the lamb in their home would have to die for sinful choices he or she had made.