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We have come again, at last, to my favorite week of the year – Holy Week. Lent has been moderately less sacrificial for me than usual this year, what with the baby I’m working on (Giving up coffee? Check. Alcohol? Check.), but it’s been no less meaningful.

This morning I read in John about the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus. After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the people start to get pretty high on Jesus. The Pharisees, feeling threatened, say, “This man keeps on doing things, creating God-signs. If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will be believing in him and the Romans will come and remove what little power and privilege we still have.” (John 11:47-48)

Now we’ve come to a little segment I like to call, “Really?!?” with Beth Nelson.

Really, Pharisees? Really? You’re the religious leaders of the day and you’re scared of a guy doing religious things? You are supposed to know God better than everyone else, but you’re not happy about a guy who is “creating Godsigns“? Really? And also, here’s a tip. You would probably make a better priest if you were more fearful of God than you were of Rome taking away your power. Really. Yeah, really.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own
;
It shall be Thy royal throne.
– Frances R. Havergal, 1873

I have a thing for hymns. The words (which were at one time somebody’s “contemporary worship”) transcend cultures. I sang these this past weekend at church and have been pondering them ever since.

My will is voluntarily submitted – I decide that it shall be no longer mine.

My heart, on the other hand, was already His to begin with. It is Thine own. It’s His home. It’s where He lives and works and does things. It’s where He moves.

“Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.
Luke 24:5-8

He has risen, just as He said He would.

He has defeated death, just as He said He would.

He has saved us, just as He said He would.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

They rested quietly on the Sabbath, as commanded.
Luke 23:56

The day after Jesus died was the Sabbath. In fact, John mentions in 19:31 that this particular Sabbath was a High Holy Day. On the Sabbath, Jews worship at the Temple. Just as Christians typically go to church on Sunday, the Jews spent time praying and worshiping. But for His follwers, Jesus, God’s chosen One, the Messiah, was gone. What was there to worship? Who was there to pray to? Sabbath is a day of feasting and celebration, but there was nothing to celebrate that day. There was only silence.

“Just watch my servant blossom!
Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd!
But he didn’t begin that way.
At first everyone was appalled.
He didn’t even look human—
a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.
Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback,
kings shocked into silence when they see him.
For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes,
what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.”

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through
his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

last_supper2“You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ … I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me.”
John 14:28-29

We give the disciples a hard time for not understanding what Jesus was telling them, but sometimes it feels pretty justified. On Thursday night alone, He told them …

  • They would meet a man in town who would show them to a room where they could hold the Passover feast (Luke 22:10-13)
  • He would be betrayed by Judas (John 13:21-30)
  • Peter would deny Him (Matthew 26:34)
  • The rest of the disciples would cut and run (Matthew 26:31)
  • He was leaving, but He would come back (John 14:28)

The disciples saw these things come to pass, yet when it came down to it, they were despondent on Friday. A complete failure of short-term memory. Yet how many times have I failed to believe something Jesus has said because it doesn’t seem true in the moment?

caiphaschambersThe high priests and religion scholars were looking for a way they could seize Jesus by stealth and kill him. They agreed that it should not be done during Passover Week. “We don’t want the crowds up in arms,” they said.
Mark 14:1-2

It often gets lost in the larger story of the Passion Week, but the high priests plotted to kill a guy. Priests. Murder. It’s like a Dan Brown novel or something. I doubt that as they were going through religion school early in their lives, they ever thought they’d be coming together to plot a man’s death. In light of their circumstances, though, it seemed like the best idea at the time. It always does.

caesarTry as they might, they couldn’t trap him into saying anything incriminating. His answer caught them off guard and left them speechless.
Luke 20:26

Even in the final week of His life on earth, when He knew that every day brought him closer to a torturous execution, He knew every word He spoke must be intentional and exactly what needed to be said. Jesus amazes the people (and us) with His wisdom.

From Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper:

Up to a point Jesus was willing to dialogue with the wise men of His day. But when the hour came, and He was ready, He spoke the decisive sentence that ended the conversation. … His knowledge and wisdom made Him master of every situation.

mountain-with-lakeIf you embrace this kingdom life and don’t doubt God, you’ll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you’ll tell, “Go jump in the lake,” and it will jump.
Matthew 21:21

On Monday of the first Holy Week, a hungry Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree – literally – to death. The disciples, awestruck, couldn’t believe what they had seen (ironic, considering the variety of miracles they had seen Jesus perform up to this point). Yet Jesus doesn’t condemn their doubt.  He just explained the amazing things they would witness if they didn’t doubt.

The next week, Jesus would say something similar to Thomas, the disciple of the bad rap. “You believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” (John 20:29) This implies that you’ll be blessed even if you doubt, but even better blessings will come your way when you don’t.

palmfrond

Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
Matthew 21:8-9

Holy Week – my favorite week of the year.