Even though I suffer as I do, I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you have heard from me, with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:12-13
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory. – 1 Peter 4:12-13
The verses above are just a few representing many in Scripture, walking us through the experience of suffering. The Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy from a Roman prison. Facing a death sentence yet his understanding of and love for God were not dampened. The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to the persecuted believers scattered across the Roman provinces in Asia Minor. He encouraged them to persevere and remain faithful to a God who also experienced suffering. Peter would also die for his faith and would know the great joy of seeing Christ in all his glory.
Suffering is something we struggle to understand. We want to have an answer, a reason…to explain it to our own hearts or to someone else hurting. Why is there suffering, especially if God is all-powerful and wholly good? This question is a common objection held by those who reject Christianity.
Going through Keller’s study, I was reminded that it is not for me to offer up explanations or reasons. This is not a cop-out but a real and straight-up “I just don’t know why”. Because my walk with God through suffering has only caused me to cling to Him all the more.
Now, I haven’t lost a child (twins in utero but not a child whose face I knew and heart I loved). Nor have I lost a husband, or home, or my health. However, through all the losses across this life, God was there. Sometimes quieter than I would prefer…but there. Present. Through a peace beyond understanding, through verses in the Bible illuminated for me, through the company of friends and families who keep showing up, and through the strength to keep going by His grace alone.
The Apostle Paul speaks about joy in suffering (Romans 5:3-6) and the hope we can know because of God’s love revealed to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
The Lord has his reasons…and I can wait to know them. What matters more is I know Him. The comfort He has given on so many occasions of loss is that of One who not only knows our wounds but bore wounds for us Himself.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now; Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars; We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow, We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. The heavens frighten us; they are too calm; In all the universe we have no place. Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm? Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace. If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near, Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine; We know today what wounds are, have no fear, Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign. The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone. – Edward Shillito
Postscript: I want to return again to Horatio Spafford, writer of the poem “It is Well with My Soul”. This poem, turned into a much beloved hymn, focuses on the cross of Christ. Written after Spafford lost all four of his daughters in an oceanliner accident. In the poem, he clings to the cross of Christ. For many reasons, I’m sure, but he must have drawn great comfort from a God who drew near to us through suffering, and a God who knew the pain of losing a child to death.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. – John 20:1
Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. – John 20:18
On this Sunday, this most glorious day in all of history, death gave way to life. The grave could not hold Jesus. In the early morning, a small group of women who had loved and followed this Jesus, came to the tomb, guarded and sealed, and found it empty. Then ones, twos, small groups, and a crowd of 500 saw him alive. Jesus himself, bearing the wounds of the cross, walking with them, eating with them, teaching them again…as he promised.
He is alive! This man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.
With the breath of creation, He speaks of peace, faith, and mission.
With lungs full of air, He breathes on His disciples and grants His Spirit. My Jesus – alive!
The eyes that saw the darkness of death now drink in the sunlight of Easter. My Jesus – alive!* – Trevin Wax
Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor. 15:20-22, 55-57
Sadly, there are those who think the resurrection of Jesus a myth, or a fairy tale. Even his life is treated casually. Yet, for sure, anyone who does a careful examination of the life and teachings of Jesus would be radically changed. This certainly was my experience. I know too well how wicked my heart can be…my thoughts and actions. God draws us to Himself, and in the drawing we recognize our desperate need for a savior, a strong arm to pull us out of the muck and mire of our own making. Jesus did that for me.
I know Jesus is alive from the historical accounts and the writing of eye witnesses, and because of his own word. I also know he is alive because of how he has transformed lives through the ages. He has changed my life, and he continues to do so.
For the past 20 years, during Lent, I have read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking. I would like to close with a portion out of his Easter reading.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – John 20:19
“On that dark Sunday morning, Mary could never have guessed the cosmic significance of the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead the ancient engines of order were fired once more and, in his body on earth, chaos was defeated. And what a wonderful moment for Jesus and his disciples. Neither locks nor fears could withstand the peace and security that the risen Saviour brought, and still brings to his people. It is the peace of knowing that, however rough the road may need to be (and it often is), we shall indeed, in the most real sense, live happily ever after.” – Adrian Plass**
Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed!
[Many of the links below are praise songs of various genres – as this year’s Holy Week closes, I hope you will take some time before the day ends to worship the Lord in the quiet of this great day. Hallelujah!]
This is the morning of exhausted grief. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Sent One; His Only Son lay dead in a tomb. Dead. How is this possible?
The disciples, his family, those followers whose lives were transformed must have been numb with the stark reality that he was not with them…not on that Saturday. What would they do without him? What would happen to them? What? What? What?
There is only one scriptural reference to this day and it related to the threat of Jesus’ power and influence, even in death:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66
Because for the Jews, days begin and end at sundown, most probably this visit with Pilate occurred Friday night. At his command, guards were placed. The tomb was sealed. Jesus would be no more trouble….
He is dead: this man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.
With His dying breaths, He spoke words of forgiveness, finality, and faith.
But now the breathing has ceased, and the lungs that exhaled forgiveness are deflated. My Jesus – dead.* – Trevin Wax
[Inserting here a talk done on Good Friday by a friend of ours – on the cross – fitting for today – then after her talk, I will close on Black Saturday.]
“What does the cross change?
“Everything” is perhaps our knee jerk reaction. The cross changes everything. But that can’t be right when we worship an unchanging God. God did not change at the cross. He was perfectly just before the cross and remains perfectly just today and will be perfectly just forever. He was perfectly loving before the cross, he remains perfectly loving, and he will be perfectly loving forever. He was sovereign, is sovereign, and will be sovereign forever. God did not change at the cross.
I think to see what changed we have to go back much earlier than Jesus’ lifetime. We have to go back to Eden. God created a perfect garden with a man and a woman and plants and animals. It was an oasis, idyllic, peaceful. And by peaceful I don’t mean free from worry or stress. I mean the hearts of Adam and Eve were at peace with God. It’s hard to imagine that. Hard to imagine no shame, fear, uncertainty. Hard to imagine walking and talking with God, completely vulnerable, knowing you were free from any sort of culpability. Adam and Eve were at peace with God, each other, and themselves.
Then they went to war with God. And each of us makes that same decision, to go to war with God, to sin against him and against our nature as image-bearers. We do not choose peace or freedom, we choose war and shame, darkness and loneliness. When I say war I mean we declare that there must be bloodshed. There must be death. Sin is a declaration that we will not live as God intended. God intended perfect peace. He intended that we all walk with Him, unashamed, in the light. We sin and we disrupt that plan. We may not desire the outcome of that sin, which is death, but the outcome is unavoidable.
So Adam and Eve sinned and that perfect peace was shattered and the cross became inevitable. As we read through the Old Testament, the cross feels like it’s in every story. We see God using men and women to foreshadow what is to come, the perfect prophet, priest, judge, shepherd, and king. We read the Old Testament and we see all the plans God set in motion to reach the cross. What we see also is imperfection. Imperfect prophets, judges, shepherds, and kings. Imperfect sacrifices leading to imperfect relationships. God is with His people but they cannot be at peace with him like they were in the Garden.
So, does the cross take us backward, to Eden? No. There’s no going back to Eden. That’s not the plan.
The cross is the culmination of the battle that started in Eden. We declared war in the garden and Jesus Christ declared victory at the cross. Oh death, where is your sting? We can ask that because the battle is over. Jesus Christ conquered death and we who believe have the promise of eternal life, starting today.
It’s strange though. It doesn’t feel over. I don’t feel at peace. Not with God, or others, or myself. It feels like the battle is very much ongoing and it often feels like I’m losing. So, what has the cross really changed?
I’m reminded of my favorite passage in the Bible, which is where Jesus is walking on water and Peter calls out to Him and Jesus says come. It’s an amazing story in so many ways but I’m always struck by the fact that Peter sinks and, it seems, is going to drown. Even with Jesus standing right there, standing on water exhibiting power over nature, declaring he is God, Peter is sinking under the waves. Jesus saves him, of course. But I imagine Peter, while grateful, was a bit unnerved by the sinking part. I’m reminded of this story because the reality of this Earth is that, while God is sovereign and He has won the battle over death, we do not live in Eden. We do not live in the new heaven and new Earth. We are waiting for Jesus Christ to return and while we wait, we will struggle. We’ll perhaps almost drown as we try to walk with God. But because of the cross, we will walk as freely as Adam and Eve walked with God. Death no longer has a hold on us.
So, we have victory over death because of the cross, which is our hope for the future. But what do we cling to in this daily battle? What else does the cross give us today?
I’d like to talk about just one thing.
When God looked at His Son, He was pleased. It’s such an amazing thought. That God looked from heaven at a man and was pleased. Picture it. Jesus is a man on Earth and God looks at him and addresses him and says He is pleased with him. That’s what the cross changes for us. When God looks at you who believe, He does not see your sin, He sees Christ’s holiness. He sees you, an individual He created in your mother’s womb whom He has loved from the beginning of time. But instead of your sin, He sees Christ’s holinesses. And He says, this is my daughter, in whom I am well pleased. This is my son, in whom I am well pleased. Imagine it. The sight of you pleases God. The cross means that we no longer have a broken and distorted relationship with God because we, unlike any person living before the cross, are holy in God’s eyes. No matter how putrid our sin is, no matter how many times we have declared war with God, for those who believe and repent, we can walk in the light, free from the burden of our sin. Like Adam and Eve, we walk with God in peace. Like Jesus, God looks at us and is pleased. I pray you can feel that today. Feel that God knows you, knows your name and your face and sees you and is as pleased to see you as He is to see His own Son. Not because you’re obedient or you are bursting with the fruit of the spirit. To believe that your good deeds can make up for putting Jesus Christ on the cross with your sin is folly. Our sin led to the death of God’s one and only begotten Son. We cannot make up for that with our good behavior. To try and do so is to deny Christ’s sacrifice.
The cross takes that burden away and replaces it with freedom. We are free to walk in peace with God and to know and feel that God is pleased with us because of the cross.
So what does the cross change? Us.” – Amanda, Good Friday reading, Sideris Church
We have the great knowledge of the risen Christ, but his followers, on that Saturday, only had dim recollection of his words of promise. Shrouded in grief, they found themselves quite “in between” – in between the death of their Savior and the life of his glorious promises.
Another dear friend of ours, Beth, shared this message by John Ortberg from a conference where he spoke on Black Saturday, well, “Saturdays” in general. He describes so well this day in between.
“Saturday – the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. What do you think the disciples were doing on Saturday? Here they have seen their friend and their Master killed the day before but also have this vague promise, which probably seemed ludicrous at the time that he would rise again. Most of life is Saturday…It`s waiting in faith and hanging onto the promise that God is going to come through for us in spite of how bad things look. Most of life is Saturday. — I don`t know where you are this Holy Week. Maybe you`re in a Palm Sunday kind of mood wanting God to get on board with an agenda and maybe he will, but if he doesn’t, know that his plans are always good…Maundy Thursday means that God loves us no matter how dirty our uniform gets from the game of life. Maybe you`re in a Saturday kind of place – between a hard time and a promise you only half believe. Know this for sure that God`s Easter irony is still at work, and he can use even the worst tragedies for good, and he always has at least one more move left. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday`s coming, and it`s coming sooner than you think. “ – John Ortberg
Saturday is the “in between day”. Did those who loved Jesus most remember this? Was their grief so consuming, so deafening to His promises, so numbing there was no room for hope? We have the great experience of knowing, for sure, that Sunday is coming!
Today is the waiting day.
We wait like schoolchildren for the final bell.
We wait with tapping foot, huffing breath, rolling eyes.
We wait like a mother for the gushing of birth water.
We wait like branches holding pink petaled secrets.
We wait with tears of frustration or eyes filled with anger.
We wait with tears of joy or eyes wide with wonder.
In the waiting rooms of life, our hope is mixed, our longings more so. But still, we wait. Forgive us for our impatience, Lord. We believe, help our unbelief.
We carry the sorrow of loss even as we hold on to hope of gain. We watch and we wait for your resurrection life. Even though we may not see the evidence, we wait with hope.
For years we lived in countries where Christianity was a minority religion. While the few of us passed this week in reflection and wonder, it was, of course, just another week for most of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Easter had its name – Eid Al-Qiyama (“Feast of Resurrection”) – but, for so many, Good Friday was shrouded in the ordinary. For Jesus, and all who have experienced life through his teaching and example, this day was and is wholly extraordinary.
Jesus had no opportunity to sleep in the hours of night before this dawn. From the garden where he prayed, he was forcibly taken into the custody of the high priests. Through the early morning hours, he was bounced brutally between the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and the Roman authorities (Pilate and Herod Antipas). While in their custody, Jesus endured hostile interrogation, false accusations, trumped-up charges, relentless attempts at public humiliation, and repeated beatings. Yet, he somehow retained his full faculties, responding to the authorities, when necessary, with great wisdom and understanding of both the proceedings and the people.
In the midst of all this trauma, he even made eye contact with one of his dearest friends and followers, Peter, hiding himself nearby…in his own painful moment.
The outcome of all the wrangling between the Jewish and Roman officials was an unwarranted, undeserved death sentence. Execution by crucifixion. Pilate even washed his hands of the matter, literally, declaring Jesus innocent but still consenting to the death sentence. He didn’t know then but the “blood” he tried to wash of his hands was truly innocent. Still, it wasn’t Pilate who put Jesus on that cross, nor was it Caiaiphas, head of the Sanhedrin. Not a Roman, nor a Jew.
Jesus’ death, that day, was an outworking of a divine plan. We cannot begin to understand the holiness of the Father, the sinless resolve of the Son, or the steadfastness of the Spirit. This three-in-one God orchestrated a path for us, His fallen and broken people, to be restored to Him.
That we, though wrecked by sin, can be whole again and one in Him, in that unity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (John 17:21) is a miracle of grace.
Jesus gave his life for us that day. It was not taken from him. He laid it down. For us. Though completely undeserving, we are ransomed and redeemed. At such a great cost. This Jesus. This life. This cross.
Jesus spoke seven times during the three hours he hung on that cross. Each time he spoke, as in all the other times his words are recorded, there was something for all of us. If you don’t know what he said, in those seven brief cries from the cross, read them and discover more about him…and about us.
Just before he died, he cried out, “It. Is. Finished.” What? What was finished? His life…oh no…not at all…that story comes later. His work? Not completely…for he continues interceding for us (Romans 8:34). What was finished? The perfect sacrifice – the lamb without spot or blemish – his life for ours. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Hallelujah!
There is so much more to say about this day and the people present.Pilate’s wife who warned Pilate about ruling against this innocent man. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who tried to return the money and killed himself in remorse that same day. Simon of Cyrene, a pilgrim, who was drawn into the dreadful drama of that day to carry Jesus’ cross when he could not. Barabbas, a notorious criminal, who gained his freedom, through a strange twist of the day. The nameless thief on the cross who cried out in repentance to Jesus. The Roman centurion who in his witness of Jesus all those hours professed faith in him. John, Jesus’ closest disciple, and Jesus’ mother Mary to whom Jesus gave each other. The women, lives changed by their faith in Jesus, who stayed at the foot of the cross through all the horror of his crucifixion. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Christ-follower, who tried to appeal for Jesus with the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea, another believing Pharisee, who went to Pilate to receive Jesus’ body for burial, to place in his own tomb.
So many stories of lives changed. Good Friday. This marked the day of Jesus’ trial, his death, and his burial, but it does not mark the end of the story. It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming.*
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
The Thursday before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was the awaited celebration of Passover. In this day, we have a picture of Jesus, in all his humanity, and in all his deity. All four of the Gospels written about Jesus’ life have an account of this day’s events (Matthew 26:17-75; Mark 14; Luke 22:7-65; John 13:1-18:27).
After sunset, the Jewish people would take the Passover meal together – as families usually. They would share the Seder and remember how God protected them during the days of their slavery in Egypt.
This particular Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday. Maundy means “commanded” and also can refer to the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus took upon himself to wash the dusty feet of his disciples, modeling for them his command to love one another (John 13:34-35).
After Jesus and his disciples finished their meal together, he would then enter the garden Gethsemane to pray. As He prayed, He wrestled with his heavenly Father over the need for him to die. “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup [of suffering and death] pass from me.” Then, settled in his obedience, “O my Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” [Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42]
Sometime during that dark night of the soul, he turned his attention toward his disciples and all the rest of us, across the ages, who would follow him. His prayer to the Father, recorded in John 17, is exquisitely beautiful, especially in the context of this difficult night. [Take time to read it in full, but I’ve included a part of it below.]
“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Then out of the darkness, disciple Judas Iscariot came to betray Jesus. He was leading a group of the religious leaders, along with a huge company of soldiers. Although Jesus’ loyal disciples wanted to resist his arrest, Jesus refused their intervening and surrendered himself…not to the mob but to the will of the Father.
The betrayal was complete. His disciples fled (although those closest to him would soon follow). He would spend the rest of the night in the tormenting custody of his enemies. The countdown to the cross had begun in earnest. A countdown that actually began at the Fall of humanity, and, under the careful watch of God, our Father…a countdown toward restoring us back to Himself.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels…fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. – Revelation 7:9-11
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” – Revelation 5:12
There appears to be nothing recorded in Scripture of events surrounding Jesus on the Wednesday before his crucifixion. Nothing. After two difficult days dealing with his enemies and accusers, it is quite possible that he took a rest. A Sabbath rest. Given the terrible nature of what was ahead of him, starting just the next day, he could surely use a day to rest and reflect. To remember how the Father had sustained him through all the strains of his public life. To refresh himself in prayer and in the company of those on earth who loved him most – his disciples, his friends, possibly his family. We know no details of that day.
Since we also know what is coming for Jesus…and all for our sakes…we pause today, as well, to worship. He is the perfect lamb, without blemish, perfectly fit to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins. God provided a ram for Abraham to take his son’s place in that strange and amazing sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:1-14). This was a foreshadowing of our own need for a Savior. We also can be saved by the blood of “the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Jesus’ life was not taken from him on that Friday, two days hence. His life was not taken. Not by the Jewish or Roman authorities. He gave his life…for us…there are no words adequate to respond…worship is all we have.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain Holy, Holy, is He Sing a new song to Him who sits on Heaven’s Mercy Seat [Repeat 2x]
(Chorus) Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord God Almighty Who was, and is, and is to come With all creation I sing: Praise to the King of Kings! You are my everything, And I will adore You…! Yeah!
Clothed in rainbows, of living color Flashes of lightning, rolls of thunder Blessing and honor, strength and Glory and power be To You the Only Wise King, Yeah
Filled with wonder, Awestruck wonder At the mention of Your Name Jesus, Your Name is Power Breath, and Living Water Such a marvelous mystery Yeah…
Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord God Almighty Who was, and is, and is to come, With all creation I sing: Praise to the King of Kings! You are my everything, And – I – will – adore YOU…
(Repeat a cappella)
Come up lift up His Name To the King of Kings… We will adore YOU Lord… King of heaven and earth King Jesus, King Jesus Aleluya, aleluya, aleluya! Majesty, awestruck Honor And Power and Strength and Dominion To You Lord, To the King, to King To the King of Glory
When He [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” – Matthew 21:23
On this long day, Jesus would demonstrate in one situation after another that he spoke and acted with the authority of God Himself. The barren fig tree cursed by Jesus the day before had indeed withered and died. The disciples saw it themselves that morning as they walked again from Bethany to Jerusalem. Jesus spoke to them of faith, which they would need all the more in the days ahead (Matthew 21:21-22).
It’s amazing that he even gained entry to the Temple after overturning the market just the day before. Again, another sign of his authority. He was untouchable, until he gave himself over to his own death on the cross…for us.
In an attempt to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, a legal advisor to the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law. The Pharisees emphasized strict adherence to the laws of the Torah, all 613 of them! They were not prepared for Jesus’ response:
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31
Two commands: 1) Love God with your whole being; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish leaders grew more angry at Jesus and were vexed as to how to destroy his popularity and influence with the masses of Jews loyal to him. All their trickery failed this time. Jesus was not intimidated by them, and in fact, spoke some of his strongest words against them while teaching that day.
Finally, leaving Jerusalem that day, Jesus stopped on the Mount of Olives (Olivet) to speak about the future. He talked at length, to his disciples and all those who followed, about the end times. He cautioned them about false teachers and the evil that would rise up in those last days. What it must have been to listen to Jesus, the Messiah, on that Tuesday – filled with a mixture of faith in him and fear of what could lie ahead for them, and the generations to come.
So went Tuesday…for Jesus and all of the world.
[Read this post in its entirety, including Jesus’ strong indictments of his religious enemies,here.]
P.S. All the days of Holy Week are described in my posts below.
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” – Mark 11:12-14
When Jesus woke on Monday morning, after that glorious Sunday entering Jerusalem…I wonder what he thought. Did he know that, in just four days, he would be crucified? Whew…
On that Monday morning, Jesus became hungry on the walk in to Jerusalem, from his friends’ home in Bethany. Seeing a leafy fig tree, he looked for fruit. With fig trees, where there are leaves, there should be figs. Green figs are edible/ Though it wasn’t yet harvest time, there should be some fruit on the tree.
When he found no figs, Jesus cursed the tree. This seems out of character for Jesus, until his action is put in the context of his culture and community. Throughout his public ministry, especially as he became more known and revered, the Jewish religious leaders held him in contempt. Jesus’ teaching of our dependence on God’s righteousness and not our own flew in the face of the Pharisaical teaching of the day – that of strict adherence to Jewish law as the only hope of finding favor with God. For Jesus, the leafy barren fig tree must have been a picture of religious Jews of that day, all flash and finery but no fruit of faith.
“Christ’s single miracle of Destruction, the withering of the fig-tree, has proved troublesome to some people, but I think its significance is plain enough. The miracle is an acted parable, a symbol of God’s sentence on all that is ‘fruitless’ and specially, no doubt, on the official Judaism of that age. That is its moral significance.” – C. S. Lewis
Finally, arriving back in Jerusalem, Jesus was deeply troubled by what he found inside the Temple. The crowds of Passover pilgrims did not disturb him, but what did was temple grounds turned into a marketplace. In this sanctified place, meant only for worship, there were money-changers and sellers of animals for sacrifice, right in the Court of the Gentiles – in the only place where non-Jewish God-believers could worship.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” – Matthew 21:12-13
Often in film depictions of Jesus cleansing the temple, he appears a crazed individual, flailing about, throwing tables and flinging pigeons into the air. I can’t even imagine him that way. We can’t know how it happened except that in Jesus’ anger, he did not sin. He would not sin. I know the Jesus Filmis just another director’s film rendering, but in this scene, Jesus showed considerable restraint. Disturbed at the buying and selling that actually kept believing Gentiles from worshiping, he moved to correct the situation. He was unafraid of the temple officials, burning with zeal for his Father to be truly worshiped in that place.
Zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. – Psalm 69:9
This Holy Monday, we are drawn again to this Messiah who teaches us that the way we live our lives matters but not more than the way we relate to God. He makes space for us…room for all of us to receive Him. He is holy, and in His righteousness, we stand…on solid ground.
Today is the first day of Holy Week (for most Christians in the world; Holy Week begins a week later for Orthodox/Coptic Christians. Each day is significant as Jesus began the week with a triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then endured crucifixion for sins not His own on the Friday of this week…followed by a glorious Resurrection. This year, I will point you to each day’s events through the links below…recapping the significance for us of Jesus’ journey through this most holy of weeks.
Today is Palm Sunday.
For you critical thinkers, this week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one worthy of analysis. No matter your religion or non-religion, this Jesus, in these days, warrants examination, related to anything you may think of God. You will better understand the core beliefs of a Christ-follower, not just a person known to you as Christian. For in the study of Jesus’ life and his followers, in just this one week, you will see a deep distinction between “the religious” and “the redeemed”.
Palm Sunday is celebrated as the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem, just days before he would endure a mock trial and then be crucified. He and his closest followers (disciples) came to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. Passover was an annual remembrance of God’s protection and deliverance of Israel during a time of slavery (Exodus 12:26-28). Jesus would celebrate Passover on Thursday of that coming week, but he did not come to Jerusalem for that reason alone.
He knew from his Father God why he came to Jerusalem, and he tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. – Matthew 16:21
Imagine the scene as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Some in the crowd did recognize him, and then the word spread of the arrival of this great teacher, this healer, this man whose teaching was like none before him. Palm branches were pulled to wave in tribute to him, as others flung their cloaks on the dust before him welcoming him.
Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna** to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” – Matthew 21:8-10
“Who is this?” For those who did not know him, the wild welcome for him must have been confusing and captivating. For the religious authorities in Jerusalem, who knew him and were unwilling to welcome this “king of the Jews”, his popularity was infuriating.
The clock began ticking as they plotted against this man Jesus.
Over that bright hopeful day of palms hung the shadow of the Cross – the Cross that would bring even greater hope to all people. The “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday would change to cries to “Crucify!” just five days later. Jesus had no ambition to please the crowds; he was resolutely on task to redeem those who could not redeem themselves – the whole world.
[Blog first posted on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent 2023 – as we look toward the Cross of Christ.]
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8
Hold with me while we work through the concept of scandal involving grace. We usually think of scandal as a negative, to-be-avoided word, but the first definition that popped up is this:
“A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society”
Just a few days ago, I heard the song Scandal of Grace for the first time. The lyrics are striking and so moving. As defined above, what Jesus did for us on the day of his crucifixion was scandalous. He suffered false testimony, public humiliation, torturous treatment, the unimaginable weight of our sin on himself, and the horrific aloneness as God the Father seemed to turn His face away…even for a moment.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, counting down to Easter, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Whether or not we commemorate Ash Wednesday, it is a good day to marvel at the Savior we have in Jesus, and the scandalous grace He showed to us on the cross.
John Piper describes (in 2 1/2 minutes) this history-shaking act of God – this death of a sinless Savior for us hopeless sinners. Take the time to watch this and wonder with me at the extravagant love of God.