By Jennifer Miller
On Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday which was the beginning of Holy Week. Each year I like to take time to reflect on the events of the week that led to the death of our Lord Jesus. This special week is full of emotions and poignancy. However, it can also be a learning tool that the church can grow from. Jesus is the foundation upon which the church was built, and His death and Resurrection is the thread that defines Christianity. We would not exist as a Christian without His rising from the dead. I will get to that in a bit.
As I was putting together this blog, I had four gospels (four testimonies upon which to choose from) to tell this story. I chose the Gospel of Mark for a specific reason. He was an apprentice to Peter who had wisdom, and who walked with Christ on this journey; thus, the validity of his testimony cannot be debated or denied. Peter strikes me as the average person. He was someone who knew all too well, his shortcomings. One moment he was devoted to Christ and the next he was fallible with a lack of patience and a quick temper. He could be rash and appeared to easily jump to conclusions. However, he was deeply devoted to Jesus, as I will soon point out. As Peter walked with Christ, he was strengthened, refined, and became a great apostle. The journey started with excitement and hope, but it was the challenges and the trials that offered not only wisdom but gained experience so that Peter would eventually have a skill set to help the masses.
Take a walk with me back in time and picture the surroundings that Mark paints for us. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes and try to imagine how you would react if you encountered Jesus and followed Him. Would you despite the pain and scorn continue the walk not knowing where it would lead or how you would fair? Or would you scoff and then leave refusing to make the necessary sacrifices? Without faith and trust in Jesus the walk is impossible.
I want you to center on the Holy Week. This is the last week Jesus lived on this earth. It starts off very promising, and as the week progresses becomes more challenging with denials and betrayals scattered about, and then leads to a sense of bewilderment and loss at the end of the week. People are brokenhearted as they prepare to bury our Lord. Throughout the week take note of how Jesus responded to the challenges he faced and how his disciples reacted. One knew full well that Jesus was here to do the will of God and the others were overcome by fear and soon the group scattered. As you read this gospel, the character of Jesus is front and center and true to His nature. As the week progresses, man’s identity is revealed. All seems lost, but do not be discouraged because Sunday is coming.
Psalms 30:5 powerfully sums it up best when it states:
“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
When you are at the bottom rung of the ladder all you can see is the obstacles in the way. It becomes overwhelming and most tend to walk away. We need to shift our eyes and look upward and keep our focus on the Lamb. Let the obstacles fall where they may, but if your gaze is fixed on Jesus you can get through anything. Therefore, we have hope. Therefore, we persevere.
Chapter 11 of Mark begins with a smooth walk as they enter Jerusalem. Jesus is sitting upon a colt, as the people are crying out in verses 9-10:
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
You can sense the joy, the excitement. Yet within the same chapter the tone shifts in verses 15-17, when we read about the righteous indignation of Jesus as he overturns the tables in the temple and chastises the moneychangers.
“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.”
In Chapter 12 we shift to a teaching moment as Jesus instructs the people through parables, dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees questioning the law, and centers on the Greatest Commandment in verses 29-31 which turns out to be two laws well- placed above the rest of the laws. It is the grounding of these two laws that we need to center our attention on.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
In Chapter 13 Jesus proceeds to talk about the destruction of the temple. How it will be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days. The disciples are confused and do not understand that He is referring to His death and resurrection. Next, the tone shifts to fear of the unknown and uncertainty of how to recognize the end times. They question if there are signs to signal the end times. Jesus advises them to be alert and make sure they are not deceived for many false prophets will arise and claim to be Him. Again, to assuage our fears we are told not be afraid of the rumors of war, or earthquakes and famine. He tells us that these things must happen before He appears again. These are birthing pains. We are foretold that we will be persecuted and flogged for our beliefs, but we are to share the gospel with everyone so that it can be preached to all nations. Wickedness will surround them, and brother will turn against brother. People will run to seek a place of safety, but the days will be so severe, and for the sake of the elect, they will be shortened. We need to be prepared and alert because no one knows the time or hour.
Chapter 15 takes an ominous turn when we learn of the plot to kill Jesus and Judas is approached to betray Jesus so that he can be captured. Thirty pieces of silver is all it took to turn his back which leads him to a future/eternity of isolation from God.
A room is found for the disciples to get together and celebrate the Passover with Jesus. None of them have an inkling that this is the Last Supper. In one meal Jesus teaches us to take care of others and how it is better to be the servant than the receiver. Jesus tells them that one will betray Him, and we learn that another will deny Him three times before this night is over. Can you sense the heartbreak at His knowing this? He tells them about the sanctity of this last meal. The bread represents His body, and the cup represents the blood of the covenant which was shed for many. He foreshadows His death when He says that the Shepherd will be struck while the sheep will scatter. He is showing the price that He will suffer to pay our ransom – our debt. How can we not remember this sacrifice whenever we partake in communion?
As the week heats up, Jesus goes to Gethsemane to pray and confirm that He will do the will of the Father; whereas Peter, Paul and John who were told were to keep watch, fell asleep instead. Enter the betrayer Judas and the crowd who followed. Judas goes to Jesus and kisses him on the cheek signaling the arrest. The disciples scatter at this point.
Jesus is taken in front of the Sanhedrin comprised of the High Priest and Chief Priest and council. He is charged with blasphemy because he stated that He will destroy the temple and have it rebuilt in three days. They do not know that He alluding to His own death and resurrection. Chapter 14 ends with Peter denying Jesus three times, a rooster crowing, and then running off weeping at what he did.
In Chapter 15 Jesus stands before Pilate who after volleying back and forth the High Priest, sentences Jesus to be crucified. Followers are stunned as we should be. How can someone we have been following and believing in, someone who at the beginning of the week we were singing the praises of, now be sentenced to death? How could we turn so easily? Jesus was mocked and beaten. He was nailed to a cross. Yet through this He says for God to forgive us for we know not what we do. He put us ahead of Himself. Would you have done the same? Would you have paid a ransom for a stranger and take the sentence that stranger owed?
Good Friday I believe was meant to be dark and rainy. It makes me think of the tears shed over the death of our Savior. I believe the earthquake and the veil being torn symbolizes the ultimate sacrifice and the much-needed wake-up call for all of us. It was so bold of an ending that a thief nailed on a cross admitted his own wrongdoing and testified that Jesus did nothing wrong. A soldier watching others cast lots for the garments of Jesus, himself admits “Truly He was the Son of God.”
People were paralyzed with grief as they watched Jesus being taken to the tomb. Minds must have been racing on Saturday. Planning for the proper burial yet feeling so abandoned and alone now that Jesus was dead. What was the fruit of His promises if He was dead? They were in for another shock; however, this shock would produce joy and give assurance to all believers. Sunday was just around the corner and the temple would be rebuilt.
As the women traveled to the tomb to embalm Jesus’ body, they quickly saw the tomb was empty. The body was not there, but a young man dressed in a white robe was. He told the women not to be alarmed for Jesus had risen. Startled, they remembered what Jesus told them and they ran off to tell the others. The temple was rebuilt, and joy now resided. Jesus lives so that you and I can live if we choose to accept Him as our Lord, repent of our sins, and be transformed by the Word.
Yes, the week started off with shouts of praise, but it ended with joy. Our Lord is alive and that is the greatest news. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors. Tell everyone about our Lord. Jesus has the victory and His enemies lost. As the hymn states, I know that My Redeemer Lives. Oh, what comfort that sentence gives. A week to remember for a lifetime. A lesson to never forget. Happy Resurrection Sunday! God bless.