Thursday - One day. Another quiet day as we gather to celebrate Passover. This evening we remember our suffering and slavery in Egypt and the deliverance brought by God. This evening we remember the night that God’s Angles passed over our households and spared our firstborn children because we followed His instructions. This evening we remember the long journey that followed that ended in Jerusalem, where we still remain. As the day draws to a close, though, there is a strange feeling in the city; strange movement. Something is about to happen which will alter history forever.
The Passover refers back to the time of slavery in Egypt. As the tenth and final plague, God struck down every firstborn, except those who had done as the Lord commanded and placed blood on the sides and tops of their door (Exodus 12:1-30). Those who had the blood on the doors that were passed over. The Passover has been celebrated since Israel left Egypt, according to the instructions of the Lord.
Jesus links this old tradition to a new tradition: Communion, which is celebrated as a reminder of His sacrifice so that we could be saved. When we partake in Communion, we are to remember the sacrifice Jesus made. He took upon Himself all the sins of the world - past, present, and future. Before His sacrifice, animal sacrifices were repeatedly offered. Jesus established a new covenant with His blood, which only had to be shed once. Salvation now came through belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not through the following of Old Testament laws.
Also at the Last Supper, Jesus revealed that one of the Twelve, one of the men who had spent nearly the past three years with Him, listening to Him, witnessing His miracles, and serving with Him, was going to betray Him. The disciples were all surprised to hear this revelation. Eleven were shocked and saddened that one of them, Jesus' closest friends, would betray them. Judas was surprised to learn that Jesus knew of his plan. Each questioned if it was them, but Jesus did not reveal the name. Peter, ever the outspoken one, was emphatic that he would not betray His teacher. Jesus predicted that Peter would betray Him three times before the rooster crowed.
Peter is the most outspoken of all the disciples. He speaks up when he thinks Jesus is wrong and often sticks his foot in his mouth with his comments. We can all relate to Peter at some point in our lives. Yet we see that even Peter would fall. How many times have you fallen? Peter story also gives hope. Yes, he denied Christ in a moment of weakness, yet he went on to become a prominent leader in the early Christian church. No matter our past, God can take us and use us for His purpose.
The storm is beginning. Tomorrow He will die. Today, He celebrates with His disciples. They do not know or fully understand what is to come. He has prepared them and He knows that He will see them again.
Friday - It's time. Did you hear!? Did you see?! They arrested Jesus! They had Him executed! All in the same day! After all the trouble He caused the religious leaders over the past years, the past week! They tried Him and went to Rome to have Him executed!
Following their final meal, Jesus and His disciples, with the exception of Judas, went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus, taking Peter, James, and John, went further into the garden, where Jesus left His three closest friends and went even further into the garden, where He collapsed to pray. Jesus address His Father just as you would address your dad in a loving relationship. Jesus was human. He did not want to die. He knew the pain and torment He faced. Yet, He asked that His Father's will be done, not His. Jesus was hurt and upset that His disciples did not stay awake to pray with Him. He needed their comfort, their prayers, and, although they did not know it, so did they.
Judas approached, leading an army, and kissed Jesus, signaling the man they were to arrest – illegally. Jesus would allow no violence on His behalf; that was not His way. If He had wanted, He could have called on the angles, of which one could destroy all those who stood ready to arrest Him. In fear and confusion, the disciples fled. They did not know what to do! They did not know what to think!
Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin - the executive, legislative, and judicial branch of the Jewish government. Jesus' trial was conducted in secret, at night, at the high priest's house, instead of in the public hall – all illegal. Peter had followed Jesus discreetly, to the courtyard of the home of the high priest, where he denied knowing Christ three times, fulfilling what Jesus had said earlier. During Jesus' trial, He refused to speak in His defense. What could He say? They had witnessed the miracles He had performed. They had heard the truth He spoke. And they continued to deny Him and who He was. Nothing Jesus could have said would have convinced them of the truth.
The Sanhedrin brought forth false witnesses against Him – again illegal. However, the witnesses were unable to agree upon His crime, which is required by Jewish Law. Out of desperation, the high priest, Caiaphas, forced Jesus to answer if He was the Son of God, the Christ. Jesus acknowledged the truth. The Sanhedrin erupted at His remark. "Blasphemy!" they cried! They tore their clothes and immediately sentenced Him to death – again illegal. The Sanhedrin, however, did not want to be publicly responsible for Jesus’ death. They handed Him over to Pilate, the Roman governor, and made up charges which included high treason against Rome, in order to have Pilate sentence Jesus to death.
Pilate would have known of Jesus, if he had not seen some of His miracles, or the results of His miracles. He heard the charges against Jesus, which the Sanhedrin had expanded to include high treason against Rome, as Rome did not recognize blasphemy as a criminal charge, much less a capital crime. Jesus, to Pilate's amazement, said nothing in His defense. Pilate was unable to find a crime of which to convict Jesus. Upon learning Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate sent Him to Herod. This pleased Herod, who wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle, however Jesus refused. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate who informed the Jewish leaders that neither he, nor Herod, had found any basis for their charges. Instead of releasing Jesus, Pilate showed his weakness, and turned the decision over to the people. It was customary to release one prisoner during the Passover. Pilate attempted, three times, to have the people choose Jesus. Instead, the people demanded that Pilate release Barabbas, a murderer.
Pilate handed Jesus over to be flogged with whips that had hooks, lead, and pieces of bone attached to the end. The whipping would tear out chunks of flesh, sometimes to the bone. Not everyone survived a flogging, but He did. His time to die, though rapidly approaching, was not yet at hand. After His flogging, Pilate again presented Jesus to the people, hoping that their thirst for blood would be satisfied. Pilate knew Jesus was guilty of no crime and did not want to have Him killed. The people again demanded that Jesus be killed. Jesus was taken by Roman soldiers and mocked. A crown of thorns punctured His head. The wounds on His back were re-opened as the soldier first draped a robe over Him and then ripped it off. Pilate appealed to the people again. Surely they did not want to kill Him! "Crucify Him!" came the cry. Pilate had no choice if he was to remain in control of Jerusalem. Jesus was handed over to be crucified.
On the way to the hill in Calvary, while being nailed to the cross, while being hoisted into the air, while hanging, painfully, on the cross, Jesus was mocked. He was ridiculed. He was insulted. It would have been so easy. With a word, Jesus could have had a legion of angles, six thousand, at His service. He could have been lifted off the cross, cared for, healed. He remained silent.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour (approximately 1 pm to 4 pm), darkness covered the land. God the Father had left Jesus, His Son. Jesus took upon Himself all the sin in the world: past, present, future. He took upon Himself all of my sin. He took upon Himself all of your sin. He took upon Himself all the sins we have not yet committed. And He faced it alone. Sin cannot be in the presence of God, so God left His Son. At the end of the ninth hour, Jesus died. At the same time, in the temple, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of temple split in two, from top to bottom. The split came from God, not man. No more would man have restricted access God.
There was little time in the day left to bury Jesus. His followers and supporters needed to act quickly. At great risk, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent, wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, asked for Jesus' body. Joseph did not want Jesus' body to remain on the cross for the birds to eat. Joseph provided a tomb, into which Jesus was placed, after being ceremonial prepared. Two women, both named Mary, watched Jesus being placed in the tomb. They planned to visit after the Sabbath. A large, heavy stone covered the entrance to Jesus' tomb, which required three or four men to move. Roman guards were posted so that no one could steal the body. The stakes were high, for the guards would forfeit their own lives if Jesus' body was taken.
Jesus' followers returned home. Nothing more could be done until after the Sabbath.
The storm arrived and only ends with the death of Jesus Christ. But His death is not the end, only the beginning. His death will not, as they think, return Judaism to the way it once was. His death will change everything.
Resurrection Sunday. Just over a week ago, the first strange rumor began: Jesus Christ had come to Jerusalem. And what a week it was! Like nothing ever seen before! Now there is another strange rumor, again about this man called Jesus. It is said that He is alive! How is that possible?!
On the day following the Sabbath, once it was light out, three women went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday. They were there out of love for Him. They had come to anoint His body, to honor Him. They were grieving. They had lost their friend and teacher, a Man whom they had seen perform impossible miracles and preach of love, forgiveness, and compassion.
When they arrived, they were shocked to see that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. Who would have done such a thing?! Had His body been taken? Mutilated? Destroyed? Then they saw an angle. They were afraid. The angle told them not to fear and not to grieve. Jesus had risen and was alive! The women were shocked. They did not know what to say! The angle further instructed the women to go and tell the disciples, especially Peter, that Jesus had arisen, and that they were to meet Him at the designated location.
Jesus remembered Peter. He had spent nearly three years with him and knew how he reacted to situations. Jesus knew that Peter had denied Him. He knew how Peter felt and reacted upon realizing what he had done. He remembered Peter and wanted Peter to know that he had been forgiven and was wanted in Galilee.
Jesus met with His disciples who, upon realizing He was not a ghost, rejoiced. Those who had doubted He lived could verify the truth for themselves, by touching His wounds.
Jesus was not to stay on this earth, though. He was to return to Heaven to be with His Father and prepare a place for all who would follow Him. Jesus came back, not only to show that He had indeed risen from the dead, but also to give His disciples their final instructions. The disciples had completed their training. They were ready. Jesus' final instructions were to go out into all the world and share the good news: eternal salvation through heartfelt belief in Jesus Christ! That remains our charge today. We are now the disciples!
We are saved through our belief that Jesus Christ took our sins - all of them! - upon Himself. Jesus, the perfect man who never sinned in His life, was willing to die for you, for me, for your friends, your family, your neighbor, your enemy. He was willing to take the punishment we deserved upon Himself. We are saved not only because He died but because He rose!
He was not a mere mortal man. He could not be kept down by death. Death, to Him, was not the finality, but another part of His mission to achieve salvation for all mankind.