by Rusty Taylor
Almost half off what we know about the life of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John happened in a single week. It was the week leading up to His death and resurrection. Unlike Jesus’ birth, we know exactly what time of year it was when he died. All four Gospel accounts tell us that he was crucified during the Passover feast, which began on the 15th day of the Jewish month called Nisan (Leviticus 23:5). Although it falls on a different day every year according to our calendars, Passover was always in the Spring, and this year the 15th of Nisan happened to be yesterday. So, it’s an appropriate time for us to think about the week that the Gospel writers considered so important, they spent more time telling us about it than any other.
Triumph. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He was riding on a young donkey (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19). It would have been a strange sight for any of us, but to a first century Jew, it was a bold proclamation that Jesus was the King sent from God to save them from the Romans. The Old Testament had foretold a King riding on a young donkey (Zechariah 9:9), so as soon as the people saw it, they began shouting the words of Psalm 118:25-26, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!’ Little did they know that He was there, not to overcome the Romans, but to overcome death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
Curse. After spending the night in the nearby town of Bethany, Jesus returned to Jerusalem Monday morning to expose the corruption that had filled the city. On the way, he stopped and cursed a fig tree that had no fruit, a vivid illustration of coming punishment for those who are not what they seem and who refuse to repent (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-25). The same day, he entered the temple and found that the worship of God had been turned into an opportunity to make money. He overturned the tables and chairs of those who were buying and selling and drove them out of the temple. “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). Things were not what they seemed. We too need to be careful that we are producing real spiritual fruit, not just trying to carry out our own good ideas. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Controversy. Jesus spent the day Tuesday answering a series of challenges from the Jewish leaders in the temple. They questioned his authority directly and asked him the toughest questions they could come up with (Matthew 21:23-23:39; Mark 11:27-12:44; Luke 20:1-21:4). But Jesus silenced them with his responses and continued to tell parables condemning them for their hypocrisy. That evening, as he sat with his disciples on a hill overlooking the city, Jesus warned them, “See that no one leads you astray,” and began to describe how Jerusalem and its leaders would be completely destroyed by the Romans not many years later city, Jesus warned them, “See that no one leads you astray,” and began to describe how Jerusalem and its leaders would be completely destroyed by the Romans not many years later (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36).
Silence. The Bible says nothing about the events of the Wednesday before Jesus’ death. Perhaps it was the proverbial calm before the storm. However he spent that day, he knew exactly what the next day would bring.
Betrayal. We don’t know when Judas first decided to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6). But as Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples Thursday evening, he made it clear that he was aware of Judas’ plan. After supper, he began to pray fervently outside the city. It was there that Judas arrived with a mob of Jewish leaders to arrest him (Matthew 26:17-56; Mark 14:12-49; Luke 22:7-53; John 13:1-18:12). We eat the supper that Jesus instituted that night when we meet each Sunday. We do so, not only to remember his death, but as a sign of our unity with one another and with him. How ironic that one who ate the first Lord’s Supper had already made the decision to betray him. Perhaps that is why Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
Death. Jesus spent the early hours of Friday morning being sent back and forth to various Jewish and Roman officials who were scrambling to create a case against him. They knew they wanted him dead. His bold accusations over the past few days had made them desperate to get rid of him (Matthew 26:57-27:31; Mark 14:53-15:20; Luke 22:54-23:25; John 18:12-19:16). His disciples were afraid to be associated with him and as dawn approached, even Peter denied him. It quickly became clear that he was going to die at the hands of the Romans, a far cry from the revolt against them that the people expected. The same crowds that had shouted for joy a few days earlier, were not shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him!” He was stripped, beaten, and mocked. At around 12pm he was hung on the cross and by around 3pm he was dead. A few disciples hurried to buy him before the sun went down (Matthew 27:32-61; Mark 15:21-47; Luke 23:26-56; John 19:16-42). But things were not as they seemed.
Rest. The Sabbath day was a day of rest and worship. The same Jews who had just killed their Savior were no doubt reading from the Scriptures and praying together on this day, thinking that they were pleasing to God. They had become exactly what Jesus had condemned. They seemed righteous. But in reality, they were in rebellion before God.
Resurrection. It took a while for the disciples to comprehend exactly what had happened. But when he appeared to them alive that day and over the coming weeks, they could no longer deny it (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-24). He had overcome death. And his resurrection demonstrated God’s power to overcome death for us as well. Jesus did not come to save us in the ways we expect of him. He came to save us in the way we need the most. He came to genuinely save us from sin and death. That’s why we’re not here to put on a show or worship in ways that people often expect. Let’s always continue to worship him genuinely and to live genuinely for him.