It Was a Holy Week
I like to remember the details of the last week of Jesus’ life during Lent. Let’s walk through this week that changed the world. You might like to read from the Scriptures sited for each day and inwardly digest the wonder of this most Holy Week!
Jesus Arrives at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-16; Mark 14:3-11; John 12:1-11)
Jesus said that his sweet story about Mary of Bethany anointing His feet with costly perfume is to be told everywhere the gospel is preached. It teaches so much. Lazarus was there, alive, demonstrating the power of God. Martha was there, serving, no longer worried or upset; she had found the peace that cannot be taken away. Mary was the key figure on this day, anointing His feet with perfume. It was a gesture misunderstood by the disciples but praised by Jesus.
Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-19; Luke 19:28-48; John 12:12-19) Prophesied in Zech 9:9
At Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, crowds greet Him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna,” the battle cry of nationalistic Zealots. Jesus weeps for Jerusalem, knowing the Zealots’ extremism will eventually lead to the destruction of the city of the Temple.
The donkey used that day was a symbol of the authority Jesus held as King. The language Jesus used is a language of royal levy. It was an ancient law which required the citizen to render to the king any item or service he needed. He knew He is our King of Kings.
Monday (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-26)
It is fitting that the object lessons Jesus taught on this day were all about prayer. You will notice that this week begins with a focus on prayer, and Jesus' last words from the cross are a prayer quoted from the Psalms. The events of Holy Monday cause us to reflect on the urgency and priority that Jesus urges us to recognize about prayer.
On Monday, Jesus cleared the Temple. Here we have an image of Jesus so far from the forgiving, graceful, wise and witty teacher we have witnessed. What makes Jesus angry?—when men distort the way to prayer. The Temple was full of money changers, venders of all kinds and religious leaders profiting from the pockets of eager worshippers. He overturned the tables and drove out anyone trying to bring merchandise into the Temple. What was His rationale for this violent behavior?—Scripture. He quoted Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).
The other event slated on Monday was when Jesus explained why the fig tree withered. The fig tree was full of leaves but no fruit. It offered nothing to satisfy Jesus' hunger. Jesus is hungry to feast on the fruit of your life. He uses the fig tree to demonstrate what happens when there is no fruit, only leaves. In Mark 11:22-25 Jesus summarizes the essentials of our prayer lives.
“Have faith in God, Jesus answered. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go, throw yourself in to the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Tuesday (Matthew 21:23-24:2; Mark 11:27-13:37; Luke 20-21; John 12:20-50; Isaiah 53:1, 6:10)
I’m sure it didn’t feel very holy to those around Christ on this day. The spirit of anger and resentment toward Jesus was palpable. The Religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus before the events of yesterday—cleansing of the temple—are now fanatical in their obsession to bring an end to Him. Knowing their profound hatred and rejection did not stop Jesus from reaching out to them. He walked right into the place that they would be, the Temple, and taught lessons especially relevant to them.
He taught in the Temple on Tuesday and Wednesday. He exposed their calloused hearts prophesied in Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10. There is no doubt that these prophesies were written about them—six times Jesus calls them hypocrites, five times He calls them blind, five times He denounces them, and one time He prophesies their ruin. He taught the Parable of the Tenants in which the Land Owner rents a vineyard to tenants who beat the servants he sends to them and eventually kills the Land Owner’s son. The Religious leaders know full well that this parable is about them. And still they reject Him.
Foolishly the Religious leaders team together with questions hoping to prompt Jesus to commit a crime. Their plans fail as they are left speechless by His perceptive responses. Yet, because of their questions, we have beautiful teaching such as: The Greatest Commandment, Authority and Taxes, No Marriage at the Resurrection, and The Seven Woes of Hypocrisy. Jesus tells the parable about Two Sons Working in the Vineyard. While in the Temple, He pointed out the widow’s offering to the disciples and told them The Signs of the End of the Age and how the temple will not be there forever.
Wednesday (Matthew 21:1-22; Mark 11:1-26; Luke 19:28-48; John 12:12-19; Zechariah 9:9)
Each day of Holy Week Jesus would come into Jerusalem, teach in the temple, and then retire to the Mount of Olives where he continued to teach those eager to understand themselves, God, and how to live in this world.
Jesus’ message to His followers was very different than what He shared with the Pharisees. He mainly spoke to them about being prepared for His return. He didn’t go into the gory details about the imminent events of the next three days—His arrest, crucifixion and burial. He didn’t even spend most of His time preparing them for the third day—His Resurrection from the Dead! Those events, so familiar to us, perhaps needed to be experienced by them first before their significance could be fully grasped.
Rather, Jesus used these last moments of face-to-face ministry and interaction with His followers to prepare them to carry out their part of God’s plan for the redemption of the world. He was handing off the baton to them and now to us. He made it very clear that our job is to share the Gospel and to live our lives ready for His return.
He tells us to live like the wise servants in the Parable of the Talents, using whatever God has given us—whether great or small—to further multiply His Kingdom. He expects these to be discovered and used, not buried and forgotten. He taught the Parable of the 10 Virgins: 5 were ready with enough oil to burn their lamps until the Bridegroom came while 5 were not ready to meet the bridegroom because they did not have oil in their lamps. Oil represents the Holy Spirit in Scripture. He gave them the sign of the saved in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which is feeding, clothing and giving to those in need. Jesus’ true followers will be His hands and feet to meet the needs of others. When we serve others in this way, Jesus tells us that we are truly serving Christ Himself.
Jesus gave a few details about the Signs of the End of the Age and let us in on the knowledge that even He does not know the day of His return. He doesn’t need to know that specific day. The only One who knows the exact day it will take place is God. Jesus is content with the unknowing and we should be too.
Jesus’ second coming marks our final freedom from the effects of sin. It should play a predominant place in our thoughts each day. One twentieth of the New Testament speaks about His return. There are over three hundred references to His second coming in the Bible. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books speak about His return.
Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-46; Mark 14:12-42; Luke 22:7-46; John 13-17)
Remember how you felt as a child on Christmas Eve? Did your heart swell with anticipation of what you were about to experience? Was your mouth salivating for the traditional foods that would be shared around your Christmas table? Thursday was the most important Feast in the life of the Jewish people. Millions of people flooded into Jerusalem to experience Passover in the way it was meant to be celebrated by bringing their flawless lamb to the Temple sacrifice. Jesus’ family traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem every Passover when He was a child.
This Passover would be quite different. The sense of its importance could be recognized in the directions Jesus gave to His disciples for getting it prepared. A particular Upper Room had been chosen for this event, and God was already working on the hearts of the family who would offer it to Christ and His disciples. Jesus began this most traditional meal in a most uncustomary way. To show the disciples and us that we are to be servants first and foremost, He took on the role of the lowliest servant and washed the disciples’ feet. Judas was revealed as the betrayer that night (this troubled Jesus). Peter’s denial was prophesied, and Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit, who would now be able to come to us after He went away. He prayed the great High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17. On this special night, He gave us the Communion Feast and exhorted us to practice this sacrament of our New Covenant regularly. They sang the hymns of the great Psalter and walked together from that Holy Room. There were only twelve of them now, and Jesus led them to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus urged them to pray for themselves, but they slept. He prayed the prayer that caused Him to sweat drops of blood. While the disciples slept, Jesus was transformed by this time of prayer and the ministry of the angels sent to help Him. He rose up from that prayer not just willing but eager to go to the cross for us. Judas led the mob of Jewish authorities and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Jesus was arrested after He insured the release of His disciples and fixed Peter’s blunder by healing the servant’s ear.
Good Friday (Matthew 26:47-27; Mark 14:43-15; Luke 22:47-23; John 18-19)
Henry Gariepy says, “When we truly encounter the suffering of the Son of God on our behalf, we can never again be the same. Such amazing love overwhelms us with awe, wonder and adoration.” It’s easy to understand how someone can question God’s love when we look at the difficult experiences of our lives, but I cannot understand how anyone can doubt God’s love when we look at the events of the cross.
Jesus is arrested around 1:30 a.m. and by 3:00 p.m. that same day He is dead. In less than 14 hours, He is tried by illegal courts, flogged, walked the 650 yards to Golgotha—the place of the skull, crucified on a cross and dies. On the Via Dolorosa—The Road of Sorrows, He speaks to the women, and is aided by Simon of Cyrene.
Tradition tells that as the first nails were being pounded into His flesh, Jesus makes His first of seven statements from the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” At this moment that must have felt like the brink of hell, Jesus cries to His Father in prayer on our behalf. What greater love can exist? He speaks six more recorded statements from the cross. After six grueling hours, he dies at 3:00 p.m. The temple curtain veiling the Holy of Holies is torn from top to bottom. Amidst the mockery, darkness, earthquakes, and risen saints visiting Jerusalem, there are two who express faith in Christ—one of the thieves on the cross and a Roman Centurion.
Joseph and Nicodemus come forward to care for the body of Jesus, and the Religious leaders insist on guards and seal at the tomb, which ends up confirming the resurrection. The women watch and plan to anoint Jesus’ body properly, but they have to wait because the sun is setting, and it is time to obey the law and rest on the Sabbath.
Holy Saturday (Luke 23:56)
Nothing is written about the events of Holy Saturday except Luke 23:56, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” These few words speak volumes about our life with Christ. What was it like for these ladies to rest on the Sabbath? They had watched carefully; they knew how quickly Jesus’ body was laid in the grave. The men had brought spices and linens, but they had little time to properly anoint this most precious of all bodies. As the women watched carefully, they made mental note of the supplies that would be necessary to complete this sacred act of burial as it should be. They spent the last few hours before sunset to prepare the spices for this holy act of reverence. The Sabbath signaled the time for rest. I’m sure they didn’t feel like resting; but by complying out of obedience, they were probably served by its benefits. Their minds racing from the horror they had just witnessed, at best they could allow their bodies to rest, and perhaps they finally fell asleep. Though they could never have realized it at the time, this act of obedience was vital to their chance to rise before anyone else and become the first witnesses of His resurrection that blessed Easter morning. Like these women of Easter, may we faithfully follow what we do understand about obeying God so that the things we don’t understand will be revealed to us!
Sunday: The Lord is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed (Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21)
And now we begin the spiritual life with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Christianity is real and experienced and guaranteed on Sunday when the risen Christ reveals God holy plan from the beginning of time. This is the event God warned Satan about in the garden regarding the offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:5, “he [Jesus] will crush your heal and you [Satan] will strike his heel.” The empty tomb was first seen by the women and later that morning by John and Peter. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus alive and became His first witness to Peter and the other disciples. At noon He walked the road to Emmaus with Cleopus and another disciple. That evening He came to the disciples who were gathered (not Thomas) and spoke words of peace to their panicked souls.