Holy Week Devotional: Living with Jesus as He faces the cross

 

40905158432_4c78657ae5_oMonday 

Read John 12:12-19 

Traditionally, we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on what is known as Psalm Sunday. The reality, though, is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Monday. Regardless, John paints a picture of royalty as Jesus rides His chosen steed into the royal city. As would be expected at the arrival of a king, Jesus was met with the celebratory shots of praise and adoration; “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes…the King of Israel.”  

Without question, to the disciples this would have seemed to be victorious and triumphant. The approving roar and shouts of the crowd would have no doubt silenced any thoughts and memory of Jesus’ statements of the mistreatment and death that awaited Him. He must be wrong! Death couldn’t await Him, only glory! He was the King and was being received by His people as their King. 

Sadly, John reveals what kind of King they were welcoming. They were welcoming Jesus, not because He was their Messiah, but because of His miracles. They saw what He could do and welcomed Him in that regard. Raising the dead (vss. 17 and 18) and miraculously feeding the masses (John 6:26-36), among other signs and miracles, told them all they needed to know about Jesus. He was the one to restore their former glory. He would redeem them from their subjection to the Romans. He would fulfill all of their desires. Soon, in their minds, the promised blessings of the Old Testament would once again be theirs. Sadly, they couldn’t have been more wrong about Jesus. 

With his emphasis on palm branches and “Hosanna’s!”, John most assuredly wants his readers to understand Jesus WAS entering as Israel’s King. The question the crowd failed to understand and accurately answer was,what kind of King was this who was entering Jerusalem? 

Jesus made clear what manner of King He was as He rode into town without even saying a word. In fulfillment of the words of Zechariah the prophet, Israel’s promised Savior King arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). His steed demonstrated that Jesus’ was a distinctive type of king. Rarely, did kings ride donkeys. Most often they would have proudly rode in on a magnificent stallion. Jesus arrived in the manner of a peace-maker or priest. 

The crowd was cheering for a king who did not exist. Their king was a king who would tell them what they wanted to hear and give them whatever they desired. They had no interest in the kingdom this king was bringing. 

As we prepare for Easter, what kind of Savior and King do you worship and serve? Is your faithfulness to Him dependent upon how he does or doesn’t answer your prayers and keep in step with your personal priorities? 

Do you have any agenda or personal desires you hold over Jesus’ head? Are you holding Him at arm’s length until He comes through for you? Confess those issues to Jesus and worship Him as Lord. 

Tuesday 

Read Mark 11:12-19 

What an interesting insertion into the narrative of the passion of Christ and equally so the actions of the Messiah! On a purely human level we would probably relegate this to the equivalent of a temper tantrum; Jesus was hungry, didn’t get what He wanted and in His “hangriness” took it out on a helpless tree and a hapless group of temple-goers. Making this scenario of even greater concern was the stated fact that figs were not even in season! 

As with anything in the Bible, examining the context generally holds the key to understanding what initially seems contradictory or at the very least, confusing. 

On the day preceding this series of events Jesus came riding into Jerusalem where He was hailed as king. As was noted previously though, the crowds didn’t welcome or embrace the kingship Jesus was bringing to Jerusalem. He was coming as the suffering-servant King who first needed to deal with their slavery to sin by becoming the Passover Lamb offering on their behalf. The king they were mistakenly welcoming was a victorious conquering king. They cared not about their sin or separation from God; they were only interested in freedom, material blessing, and comfort. 

The scene with the fig tree was visual of the spiritually dead condition of the nation. They were craving something that was not in season (the glory of the Kingdom) and would therefore call for the one they wanted to provide it to be cursed (an allusion to the crucifixion they would call for). 

The cursing of the fig tree also served as a warning to all those who were faithfully religious but whose hearts were hard and far from God. Jesus and disciples proceeded once again back into Jerusalem to find the temple courts bustling with life and activity. What they found was the equivalent of the fig tree with no fruit. The tree was green with leaves but had no fruit. Again, a perfect picture for the spiritual life of Israel as they prepared for the Passover which would end with them condemning Jesus to die on the cross. They looked alive as they went through the motions of religion but their hearts were completely barren and fruitless.   

Which Jesus do you worship? Do you worship the Jesus who lives to give you what you want, to make you happy and comfortable or do you worship the suffering servant who gave His life as a ransom to deal with your sin and reconcile you to the Father? Are you merely religious and filling your life with religious activity or do you worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Wednesday 

Read Luke 20:1-22:6 

As recorded, Wednesday was a day filled with confrontations with religious authorities and teaching; often flowing from one to the other. The religious began questioning Jesus at every turn but they weren’t questions seeking wisdom or understanding. Their questions were intended to trip Him up so they might publicly shame and discredit Him. Luke notes in chapter 20 they questioned His authority (vs. 2), they tried to capture Him (vs. 19), and sent spies posing as followers (vs. 20), their only interest being for the sake of finding fault in Him (vs. 26). Their inability to find genuine fault, compromise, or sin in Jesus left them with one of two choices, accept Him or destroy Him. His presence and influence were too big to simply ignore and co-exist with. They refused to bow to Him, therefore they chose to destroy Him. Wednesday was the day a deal was struck with Judas to have Jesus betrayed and killed. 

It would be remiss not to ask the question, why do you seek to know about Jesus? Do you seek knowledge so that you may know Him, follow Him, and trust Him or is your seeking one of information only for the sake of discrediting Him and excusing yourself from submitting to Him as Lord? 

Seamlessly intertwined within the evil reckonings of the Jewish authorities are some of the most significant teachings we have of Jesus which ultimately come back to the question of His authority as Jesus teaches that He is the Son who was sent to the vineyard and the promised Cornerstone (20:9-18). Jesus was pointed and direct with those who opposed Him. His teaching was a clear warning of judgment and ultimate destruction for those who would reject and stand against Him. 

Toward the end of the day He also began to teach of the end of the age (22:5-36) which contained both encouragement and warning. Jesus clearly warned there will come a day of reckoning when all opposition will be done away. In that day the faithful will be tested and will need steadfast reliance upon the promise of the Messiah. The end will come and it will be unable to be avoided or missed. The death of Jesus would not be the end but would ultimately spell the end for those who reject Him. His “end” will be either the end or the hope for all.   

Have you placed your faith, trust, and hope in Jesus? Do you hold fast to His promises though what you see, feel, and experience tempt you otherwise? 

Thursday 

Read John 13:1-18:27 

This admittedly long section of narrative is one of the most significant and poignant in the life and ministry of Jesus. This would be the last full day of Jesus’ life and full it was; full of humbling ministry, full of powerful teaching, and a full onslaught of attack by the enemy (which spilled over into the next day, ending in His crucifixion). Not only was it full, it would’ve been seemingly unending. 

John begins his account of this day with the scene in the upper room. To us, this account comprising the washing of the disciples’ feet and the Last Supper can come across as nothing more than awkward or, at the very least, a bit peculiar or weird. For most of us, foot washing is a rather private affair we do ourselves in the bath or shower. We would never dream of someone doing that for us. In that culture it was the norm; just not the norm for someone of prominence to do the washing, especially not the Messiah. In washing the disciples’ feet, He was giving a visual lesson to something He had taught earlier. He demonstrated, unmistakably, that He came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He was preparing them for His humiliation on the cross which would bring the cleansing they needed for their sin. It was a powerful moment which went over the heads of the disciples. Yet Jesus remained unfazed; unfazed by the humiliation of being the foot-washing servant as well as being unfazed by their lack of discernment. 

Seamlessly He transitioned from the foot-washing servant back to their teacher as He began to once again tell them of His impending death. With unwavering focus, He took their shock and dismay in stride and encouraged their struggling hearts with truths which have encouraged countless others over the centuries: “…I go to prepare a place for you…I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper…I will not leave you as orphans…peace I leave with you…” (John 14:2, 16, 18, and 27). Jesus instills in them the assurance and confidence they will need to persevere, to remain resolute in their struggling faith. With dynamic clarity Jesus gives the assurance of the full investment and care for them by all members of the Trinity. The Father has a place for them and will send the Spirit to them. Jesus would provide for them their place with the Father and would return to them, not leaving them as orphans (most immediately looking to the resurrection) and giving the picture of the security of a fruitful relationship with Him as He illustrated their relationship with picture of the vine and branches (John 15). 

As Jesus taught His disciples He lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would ultimately be betrayed and arrested. Preceding that though the One who was about to be unjustly condemned and tortured as a criminal by human judges and suffer the wrath of God in the place of sinners, bowed his knees to the Father and interceded on behalf of all would follow Him throughout all future generations (John 17). The One in greatest need continued to look out for His sheep. 

When Jesus had finished praying, the soldiers (led by the traitor, Judas) approached Jesus to arrest Him. The King had laid aside His glory to be the servant who washed the disciples’ feet, now had to lay aside His authority and power and willingly allow the powerless (by comparison to Jesus) Roman soldiers to overpower and take Him prisoner. 

Behind the scenes Satan was once again attacking the Son of God, seeking to tempt Him and lure Him away from the cross. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus had withstood the temptation by Satan to turn His back on the Father’s path to glory. Here, at the end of His life, Satan once again throws his best effort at Jesus in an attempt to get Him to pridefully and selfishly halt His path to the cross. It was required of the King to set aside His earthly glory and His earthly power. It was a humiliation of eternally epic proportions, yet steadfastly Jesus ignored it all and continued on towards the cross, never stumbling or wavering in His calling and obedience to the Father. 

Then, the concluding act of the day, the One who was loyal to His Father and to His followers to the point of self-sacrificial death, was betrayed by one of His closest associates. Peter turned from valiant (if misguided) defender, to cowardice in a matter of hours. In the midst of His greatest conflict, Jesus was abandoned and left to deal with His tormentors alone. 

What do you fear in this life? Is there anything which brings you despair? Rest in the Savior who thought of you, prayed for you, and made promises to you as His own life was being given away for you. The Savior’s selfless and humble path to the cross calls for us to worship and bow before Him, confidently trusting His promise of security for those who follow Him. 

 

Friday 

Read John 18:28-19:42 

Early Friday morning the greatest ignominy in the history of the world came to a climax as Jesus, the sinless Son of God, stood before sinful mankind and was condemned to death. Though He was pronounced innocent, He was beaten, tortured, and condemned as a criminal. Though He was humble and righteous, a revolutionary and insurgent was released in His stead at the demands of an angry mob. Though He came to bring life, He was sentenced to die. 

It was Jesus Himself, though, who gave up His life. Angry, hateful sinners may have been allowed to nail Him to a cross but John was very specific when he wrote of the death of Jesus, “…He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Contrary to what His accusers believed, Jesus was in control of His death. He was the author of life and thus His life could not be taken from Him. His death was of His own volition. He gave it up. He consented to it all. 

In all the glory and sadness across the ages, there is no other event which can match the glorious sadness of this day. Jesus died for sinners at the hands of sinners for the glory God and His redemptive purposes. He welcomed sinners and touched lepers. He embraced the outcast and dined with the despised. Yet, in spite of His immeasurable goodness, gentleness, and kindness, He was rejected as unworthy, undesirable, and of no value. 

Have you welcomed and received the gift of God’s grace in Christ? Ambivalence is not possible in regards to Jesus; He is either embraced in faith or rejected as unworthy. There is no middle ground when it comes to the Lord of Glory. 

 

Saturday 

Read Matthew 27:61-66 

The religious authorities inherently knew the significance of an empty tomb and went to great lengths to ensure that Jesus would stay buried. There is wonderfully prophetic irony in the feeble attempts of those who sentenced Jesus to death in desperation to keep Him buried. Matthew tells us in 27:66 “they made the grave secure, and…set a seal on the stone.” No matter the size of the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, no matter the strength and number of the soldiers assigned to guard its entrance, and no matter the authority and power represented in the seal set on the stone, the resurrection of Jesus could not be restrained. 

What a striking contrast the resurrection is! The resurrection is the ultimate assurance of the believers’ security in Christ. In the resurrection believers’ new birth and living hope are made and held secure (1st Peter 1:3). Likewise, we have been placed in Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit placed upon us; the pledge of the inheritance and full redemption which awaits those who belong to Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14). 

Ultimately, they were unable to make the tomb secure and the Roman seal proved unworthy of keeping Jesus locked away. The same is not true for those who place their faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. We are indeed secure. None of the authority or over-powering might to break the seal God has placed upon us. 

Have you placed your faith in the world which proved woefully inadequate to contain the crucified Jesus or is your faith in the security of the One the grave could not contain? 

Sunday 

Read Matthew 28:1-15 

Sunday, glorious Sunday! This day, above all others, is celebrated by Christians the world over. This day represents victory and triumph over the enemy. We find vindication and validation of our faith in the face of those who reject the gospel. The resurrection is the crown jewel of our hope and assurance as believers; it is the unassailable affirmation that God accepted Christ’s High Priestly sacrifice for sin and Jesus, as the unblemished lamb, was able to bear the sin of the world.  

This passage though, brings an entirely different aspect to the resurrection, that of fear. The guards feared, Mary and Mary feared, the Angel and Jesus both said to not be afraid. In each of these instances the Greek word Matthew chose for fear (or being afraid) is the word from which we get our word, “phobia”. The fear instigated by the resurrection of Christ was a powerful, gripping fear, not merely one of being startled. But what does fear have to do with the resurrection? 

Encounters with spiritual, other-worldly beings strikes fear in all mankind in every instance in Scripture. Be they battle-hardened Roman soldiers as here, weathered nomadic shepherds (Luke 2:8-9), or an innocent teenage girl (Luke 1:29-30), fear is normal and to be expected. There is no level of human “toughness” or innocence that is able to stand before a being that is wholly different. Angels are those beings. 

Then there is the matter of the resurrection itself. The dead coming back to life is what nightmares are made of. Throughout the history of the world, death has been surrounded by dark legend and fear. To come face to face with the dead being raised would be terrifying. But the fear found here has another component that can’t be missed; the moral component. 

When Jesus was raised from the dead, those who participated in His crucifixion were immediately declared as being guilty before God. As one soldier declared as he witnessed the death of Jesus, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). There was no way to escape the dreadful reality of their murderous actions toward the Holy One of God. It is here we see another side of fear; the fear described as being a partner of joy as the two faithful women left the tomb to go share the news with the others. Their terror of the “Holy Other, their fear from the dead coming to life, was mitigated by the reality of all that had transpired. Jesus truly was the Son of God. His words were true. He hadn’t left His followers as orphans. He had returned to them just as He had promised. Here we see what many Christians struggle to understand: Joy and fear, faith and fear, love and fear are not mutually exclusive in our relationship with the Lord. While many try to soften fear to mean respect, the words used for fear mean just that, fear. Fear draws us close to God through Christ because we trust the love, grace, mercy, and truth of the One we fear. Perfect love does not do away with fear, it simply allows us to not be fearful in the presence of the One who is fearsome to overcome all opposition and do away with death, sin, and injustice. 

Do you fear God? You should. The death and burial of Jesus unmistakably demonstrates that God deals decisively with sin. The resurrection reveals that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice and paid the full price for sin. To reject Him, is to reject the only means of absolution. To embrace Christ in faith is the only means of not needing to be fearful of standing before the Lord. 

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