PASSION WEEK: Saturday (A Day on Which to Reflect)

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:5–6, ESV)

As we have commemorated Jesus’ Passion this week, on Thursday we remembered a day on which Jesus faced betrayal, denial, abuse, humiliation, and trial. Friday we remembered His pain, suffering, and His death on a cross. And now we come to Saturday, a day in which Jesus lay in the tomb. To the disciples who followed Jesus, it was a day of confusion, disillusionment, mourning, and even fear. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, it was a day to grieve the loss of her son. For some Roman soldiers, it was a day to stand guard over the tomb. But for us, living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is a day on which we can reflect. We can and should reflect on what the events of the Passion of Jesus truly mean to us.

Because of sin, we were separated from God. The relationship that man once had with God was destroyed. But God, although He is righteous and just and cannot tolerate sin, still desired for us to have that close relationship with Him that existed before sin entered the world. There was nothing that we, in our own human power could do to restore that relationship. And so, God decided that He would do something about it.

Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant who was to come, a person who would come from God, a person who would take upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions. His suffering, His pain, would bring us peace, it would heal our wounds. And, despite the fact that we, just like a flock of sheep, have been led astray by sin, God would lay upon this suffering servant, the imiquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophecy. His suffering and His death was the price that was paid to set us free from the bondage of our sin.

Jesus came into the world for the purpose of dying for us. He is the proof of a God who loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His one and only Son so that the relationship broken in the Garden of Eden could be restored, so that the veil of sin that separated us from God could be torn apart (John 3:16). God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but rather to save us. All that we need to do is turn from our sin and believe in the One whom God sent, Jesus (John 3:17-18). Jesus died for all of us (Romans 6:10). Not just for a few, but for as many as are willing to believe. And the best part is that, if you were the only person in the world, He would still have died for you.

Reflect today not just on how much Jesus suffered, not just the horrific and painful death that He endured, but also on the fact that He did so willingly for you. As He hung on the cross, Jesus saw each and every one of us and He endured that death with joy (Hebrews 12:2).

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Friday (The Darkest Day)

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. (John 18:28, ESV)

After a night during which He was betrayed, denied, arrested, tried, beaten, and mocked, Jesus was led from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium, where He was presented to the Roman governor, Pilate, with the hope that Pilate would sentence Jesus to death. Although after questioning Jesus, Pilate was reluctant to sentence Him, the governor agreed to have Jesus flogged. Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers who beat Him to within an inch of His life, placed a crown of thorns on His head, and mocked Him.

When Jesus was brought back to Pilate, the governor once more sought to release Jesus. It was traditional at the Passover for the Romans to release a prisoner, and Pilate gave the people a choice between Jesus and a murderer named Barabbas. The crowd chose Barabbas. When Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, the chief priests and the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate washed His hands of the matter and delivered Jesus over to be crucified. After carrying the heavy cross to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Jesus was nailed by His hands and His feet to the cross.

Crucifixion was one of the most horrific methods of execution known to man. It was a long, painful, humiliating form of punishment. Jesus’ physical suffering on that cross must have been excruciating. But, perhaps even more painful was what Jesus experienced when, as He hung dying on that cross, the sins of all people were laid upon His shoulders. At that point, when Jesus looked to the Father, He could no longer see His face. Because He is a just and righteous God, the Father could no longer look upon His Son because of the sin that the Son now bore. At that moment, Jesus knew separation from God and He cried out, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46) And soon after that, saying, “It is finished,” Jesus died (John 19:30).

Why did Jesus suffer and die? He did so to pay the penalty for your sins and mine, the sins that separate us from God. He did it so that, by turning from our sins, believing that He is Lord and that He died for us, we could all have eternal life in the presence of God. He did it so that we would no longer have to experience that separation from the Father. He did it so that we will never have to say, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me?”

This day on which we commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice for us is called Good Friday. Now, that may seem like an incongruous name for the day on which Jesus died, but when we look at what His death provided for us, freedom from the bondage of sin and death, it makes perfect sense. It truly is “good.”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: Thursday (The Passion Begins)

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. (Luke 22:7, NLT)

Luke’s account of the Passion of Jesus begins by pointing out that the Festival of Unleavened Bread – the Passover – had arrived. It was the time when the Passover lamb would be sacrificed. And, it marked the beginning of the suffering of Jesus, our Passover lamb, who would soon be sacrificed for our sins.

As the day began, Jesus sent two of the disciples, Peter and John, to make the preparations for the Passover meal. Jesus knew what that evening and the days that followed would bring and His desire was to share the Passover meal with His disciples before His suffering began. When the time came for the meal, Jesus and the disciples gathered in an upper room, where they sat around the table to begin their meal (Luke 22:7-16). What happened next was to become one of the great ordinances of the Christian church – the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.

Jesus took the bread and wine, gave thanks for them, and gave them to His disciples. As He did, He told them that the bread was His body, the body that He was giving for them, the body that would bear the scars that rightfully belonged to us, the body that would bear the punishment for our sins. As He passed the cup of wine, He told them that it represented a new covenant between God and His people, a covenant that would be bought with Jesus’ own blood. As He shared this bread and wine, representing His body and His blood, He gave the disciples instructions that were not just for them, but for all believers who would be added to the body of Christ. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so, to this day we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us as we share in communion (Luke 22:17-20).

It was after Jesus shared this beautiful meal with His disciples that His suffering, His Passion, truly began. That night, Jesus would be betrayed by one of His own disciples (Luke 22:47-48). Another disciple would deny even knowing Him, not once but three times (Luke 22:54-62). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He would pray with such anguish over what was to come that He would sweat blood (Luke 22:41-44). He would be arrested, then tried by the religious leaders, the council, at the home of the high priest Caiaphas. Throughout that night, Jesus would be beaten and humiliated (Matthew 26:57-68).

Although Scripture does not mention it, following His trial before the council, it is likely that Jesus was thrown into the dungeon beneath the home of Caiaphas, a dark, cold pit, to wait until He was brought before the Roman governor, Pilate. On our February 2018 trip to Israel, we had the opportunity to visit the site of the house of Caiaphas and go down into this dungeon. Being in that place, one could imagine the suffering and pain that Jesus must have felt as he sat there, alone.

What would happen the next day would be much worse, a suffering and death that no one should ever have to endure, but one which Jesus endured so that we would be set free from the bondage of sin and death, so that one day we may have eternal life in the presence of God.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

PASSION WEEK: The Days in Between, Part Two

On the second day following the triumphal entry, when Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they were immediately approached by the chief priests and the scribes, who challenged Jesus’ authority to do the things He had been doing. Jesus answered their question with one of His own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or was it from man?” Perceiving that an answer either way would put them in a lose-lose situation, the chief priests and the scribes responded by saying they did not know, to which Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I act.” (Mark 11:26-33).

Jesus then told the parable of the tenants, which spoke of a vineyard owner who sent some of his servants to get fruit from the vineyard from the tenants who were leasing the vineyard. The tenants beat or killed one servant after another, and so the vineyard owner sent his own son, whom the tenants then proceeded to kill. Perceiving that Jesus had told this parable against them, the chief priests and the scribes now sought to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the reaction of the people. So, instead of having Jesus arrested, they left Him and went away (Mark 12:1-12).

The chief priests and scribes then sent the Pharisees and Sadducees to question Jesus, with the purpose of trying to trap Him in what He said. Jesus was questioned about taxes, about the resurrection, about which of the commandments is the greatest. Jesus answered each of these in such a way that the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeing that they could not succeed in entrapping Him, did not dare to ask Him any more questions (Mark 12:13-34).

Later that day, Jesus left the temple and went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives. It was there that some of the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. Jesus responded by telling them that there would be many who would be teaching false teachings, there would be wars, rumors of wars, famine, and earthquakes. He warned that believers must be on guard as they will suffer persecution, but they must continue to preach the gospel to all nations. Jesus spoke about tribulation that would come and about His return in glory and power. But, as to when all of these things would place, He taught that no one knows except for the Father (Mark 13:3-37).

On the next day, the day before His Passion would begin, Jesus went to the home of Simon, a leper whom He had healed. While Jesus sat at the table in Simon’s home, a woman came with an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it. That very same day, the chief priests and scribes began to plot to have Jesus arrested and put to death. And one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. In return, Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver. Everything was now in place for the Passion of Jesus to begin (Mark 14:1-11).

PASSION WEEK: The Days in Between, Part One

To my readers: Last year, I posted a series of blog posts on the theme of Passion Week, the events leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I wanted to share those with you again, beginning with this post, PASSION WEEK: THE DAYS IN BETWEEN, PART ONE.

Throughout the world this week, Christians will be focusing on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the emphasis is on the events that took place on the three days we know as Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. On those days, we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and prayer at Gethsemane, and Jesus’ arrest, suffering, and crucifixion. But what happened during the days between the triumphal entry and the Last Supper, between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday?

Following the triumphal entry, Jesus spent some time looking around the temple. Then, in what seems like an anti-climactic end to a day that began with crowds cheering and praising Him, calling out to Him, “Hosanna!” which means “save us,” Jesus returned to Bethany, where He had been staying along with His disciples. Over the next few days, Jesus and His disciples would travel back and forth between Bethany and Jerusalem, a trip of about two miles. The clock was ticking as the days and hours brought Jesus closer to what He had been sent here for, His suffering, His death and His resurrection.

The next day, Jesus and the disciples made their way back to Jerusalem. At the temple that day, an event occurred that was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to the chief priests’ and scribes’ opinion of Jesus. As He entered the temple, Jesus began driving out the buyers and sellers, overturning the tables of the money-changers, saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer! But you have made it a den of thieves!” The chief priests and the scribes saw and heard all this and began seeking a way to destroy Jesus. Their anger must have burned at Jesus, a person they perceived as nothing more than a rabble-rouser and a blasphemer. But since they feared the crowds who were amazed at Jesus’ words, they did nothing, and Jesus left Jerusalem for Bethany once again that evening (Mark 11:15-19). But He was now one day closer to that which He had come for, to suffer and die for the sins of man.

On the second day following the triumphal entry, as they made their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus taught His disciples (and us) an important in faith and forgiveness. Jesus said that, through faith, we can move a mountain and that any prayer that is offered with faith, without doubting, is a prayer that will receive an answer. He also spoke about the importance of forgiving the trespasses of others, pointing out that when we do, God will also forgive us (Mark 11:20-25). That began what would be one of the most event-filled days leading up to the Passion.

PASSION WEEK: So It Begins…

“So it begins.”

These were the words uttered by King Théoden, the king and Lord of the Mark of Rohan in The Two Towers, the second part of the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Théoden uttered this phrase as he prepared for a fictional battle between good and evil at Helm’s Deep. About two thousand years ago, a real battle between good and evil was about to begin. But this was not a battle that would be fought with the weapons of the world. This battle would take place in the spiritual realm.

So it begins…

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. (John 12:1-2, NLT)

On the day before the day we now know as Palm Sunday, a special dinner was taking place in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus to honor Jesus. When people heard of Jesus’ arrival in Bethany, they flocked to see Him, as well as to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. This angered the chief priests because they saw the large number of Jews who were following Jesus because of that miracle. The chief priests plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus, as well.

So it begins…

The very next day, Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. Jesus rode triumphantly into the city, not on a magnificent steed, but on the back of a lowly donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah, which said, “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9, NLT).”

As He entered the city, He was met by a great crowd of people who had heard that He was coming. Many of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of Jesus, and others cut down palm branches and spread them on the road. As they did this they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9-11, NIV)

The crowd was recognizing Jesus as the awaited Messiah, the Son of David. And so they shouted, “Hosanna!” The word hosanna comes from the Hebrew phrase hoshi’ ah na’, which means “save us.” They believed that the Messiah would one day come to save them from their oppressors, who at the time of Jesus were the Romans. And so, as the crowd spread their garments on the road before Jesus, they were welcoming Him and recognizing Him as their king, just as they had done long before when Jehu was their king (2 Kings 9:13). But, in just a matter of a few days, many of those who shouted “Hosanna!” would be yelling “Crucify Him!” as the battle between good and evil, the battle to save the souls of mankind, began.

So it begins…

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Be Holy Because I Am Holy

You just received a letter from Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth II is coming to America and she wants to visit you. After you pick your jaw up from the floor, you continue reading. The Queen will be arriving soon but, for reasons of security, she cannot give you an exact date or time that she will visit you. What do you do next? After reading the letter again to be sure you read it correctly, you look around your house. It seems reasonably clean and orderly but, hey, the Queen of England is coming to visit. So you get out the mop and broom and begin to give your house a thorough cleaning.

Over 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist traveled the Judean wilderness with a message for all within earshot, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 3:2). John was letting the people know that Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, was about to arrive. But John did not know the day or the time at which Jesus would arrive, and so he wanted those to whom he preached to be ready, to get their houses in order. But John was not talking about their physical houses, the places in which they ate and slept. John was talking about their hearts and their lives. They needed to repent of their sins and turn their hearts to God. They needed to do a thorough spiritual cleaning.

The word repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” It doesn’t mean just being sorry for what you’ve done. It doesn’t mean just expressing regret or remorse over your sins. Those things are good and necessary, but what is truly needed is a changed mind and a changed life. And that change needs to be evident. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” In other words, we can’t just look all neat and clean on the outside, we need to be clean on the inside, as well. And the evidence of that is in how we live our lives. We are called to be holy, to live in accordance with the Spirit and not in accordance with the flesh.

1 Peter 1:14-16 says, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.'” Peter is addressing those of us who have already received the gift of salvation, those of us who have already accepted Jesus as Savior and have given our hearts to Him, those who have already repented and turned our hearts to God. When we entered that life-changing relationship with Jesus, we did our spiritual spring cleaning. Before we knew Jesus, we did not know any better. But now that we know Him, we must keep our house clean. We must be ready to do our spiritual house cleaning because we must be holy for Jesus is holy.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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