Friday Before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed the World

As I pointed out over the last few days, we have been working our way through the entire Old Testament, taking devotional thoughts through every single book. I’m going to take a short break on that journey to celebrate the Easter season, and to acknowledge both the gritty reality of Christ’s last week on earth as well as the undeniable impact of his resurrection.

As we have gone through the Old Testament, it has been surprising to see God’s judgment juxtaposed with His precious love, and to find images of the Lord of Hosts as a lover, as an anxious groom, and as an affectionate Father singing gently over his child. These images lead us to the realization that while the Old Testament is full of the harsh reality of sin, death and a fallen world, the story of Grace is not finished. There is more to the story than a harsh, vengeful God who delights in sacrifice and judgment.

The New Testament and the work of the Messiah introduces us to new possibility: a world governed by a continuous cycle of sin and sacrifice gives way to a world of grace. Sin still corrupts, but the required sacrifice provides a plot twist that takes God’s revelation in an entirely different direction. Today, on Friday, we will look into the Gospels and see the rest of the story.

Here, nine Days before Easter, we will appreciate the Easter season for everything it holds. This Friday post introduces us to a slightly extended version of the passion week of Christ, with an attempt to recount daily activities and developments. One can easily make the argument that no other week affected all of human history as much as this one. The significance of these ten days is demonstrated by how much attention the Gospel writers paid to it: though Christ spent three years ministering, the four authors commit from at least one-fourth (Matthew and Luke) to almost one-half (John) of their books to this single week.

To set the stage for the rapid turn of events, John reminds us that the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees had been heightened by the resurrection of Lazarus. John 11:54 says, “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. 55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.”


Jesus was well aware that the Pharisees were plotting against Him, and any normal man might have avoided Jerusalem this week altogether. But Jesus was not a normal man. As people in Jerusalem spent Friday getting ceremoniously cleansed for the Sabbath, they wondered if He would show up at the Festival. Not only did He show up, but He had a very busy week making sure that He fulfilled every aspect of His mission.
Sabbath began on Friday at dusk and went to Saturday Sunset. Starting with today, this quiet Friday when Jesus and his disciples were on retreat together, we will walk each day through Passion week alongside Jesus and His disciples, and we will observe the various players who influence events. Here is a brief chronology:

Friday the week before: Crowds follow; Pharisees have ordered Jesus’ arrest
Saturday (Sabbath) in Bethany, an anointing at Dinner
Sunday (“Palm Sunday”) The triumphal entry into Jerusalem
Monday back and forth to Bethany, a cursed tree, cleansing the temple
Tuesday (a busy day) in the Temple, answering critics and teaching
Wednesday (a quiet day at Bethany) a brief look at chronology
Thursday (Passover Meal) Last Supper, night-time betrayal and arrest
Friday (Illegally Tried) Convicted, Scourged, Crucified
Saturday (The Darkest Day ever) In the Tomb
Sunday (Easter) The Resurrection!

As you read through the daily account of Passion Week (Really ten days, from Friday before through Easter weekend), remember that Easter is about gritty reality. It is about greed and politics, about hatred and hope. It heralds the transformation of scattered and scared disciples into astonishing men; of a rejected Rabbi into the coming King; and, ultimately, perhaps the most surprising turn of events, it begins the transition of the mighty Roman Empire into a mere asterisk in the annals of History. Last of all, it represents the transformation of an un-lovable, insecure sinner –me– into someone redeemed and adopted by the King Himself. I hope your Friday helps you begin a transformation that turns the worst day in history into the best. Day. Ever.

The Beginning of an Empire

Roman soldiers formed their lines with military might;
Everywhere they went, they conquered everything in sight.
States and nations large and small capitulated one and all,
And every Roman man would stand in answer to the emperor's call.
Into every battlefield centurions were hurled,
Conquering everything that mattered, all around the world.
The Roman soldiers spread their fears, making widows, causing tears
And built an empire Caesar said would last a thousand years... 
But then that world was changed--not by a battle or a sword--
But by a loving, humble king armed only with God's word.
Caesars rose and fell. This King, though gentle, mild, and meek
Is one whom wise men sought, and one whom wise men still should seek.
He told his followers that they should turn the other cheek;
He hastened Rome's demise by what he did in Passion week.
One week changed the Roman world, and altered all its ways:
Refresh your view of history and take the next few days
To see the actions of this King--and Jesus was his name--
As Passion Week unfolds, the world will never be the same.

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Resurrection: If you Claim Jesus is Risen, At Least Use Credible Witnesses

(The resurrection on Easter Sunday, the last of the Ten days of Passion Week)  All over the world, people today are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It’s an interesting phenomenon because most rational people know that it is impossible to raise anyone from the dead, and yet believers everywhere accept by faith that the resurrection occurred. Why?

How can anyone accept the resurrection as fact when it HAS to be false? Why celebrate Easter at all if it the resurrection couldn’t have happened? It’s a legitimate question that any skeptic would ask, and I’d offer a couple of things in response.  I don’t believe faith has to be blind, or that as Christians we have to discard reasonable logic because we have faith. First of all, there is EVIDENCE of the resurrection. There were lives indisputably changed ONLY AS IF Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples were somehow transformed from a group of hidden cowards and traitors to bold witnesses who proclaimed the resurrection in the face of persecution and opposition. Hundreds of other eyewitnesses shared the good news with thousands of believers who stubbornly maintained the truth of the resurrection even when threatened with arrest and violent death. Why? Why should anyone die for a hoax or a lie when there was no compelling reason for them to maintain a spiritual charade?

There were written accounts of it that were widely circulated as affidavits to the truth. Eyewitnesses accounts testified about seeing Jesus in a risen state well after his crucifixion and death. To me, all of those things speak to a central fact: something happened. Something happened that transformed cowardly disciples into powerful witnesses. Something caused ordinary people to become extraordinary believers; and something created a movement that shifted human history and eventually toppled the mighty Roman Empire. But those things are not the evidence that impress me most about the truth of the resurrection; what gets my attention is the way the Gospel writers told the story, because they did it all wrong.

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NKJV). This is Matthew’s account of the Gospel testimony to the resurrection of Jesus? Do you see what is really out-of-place here? There is something drastically wrong with Matthew’s story. You see, he and the other Gospel writers recorded that women were the first witnesses at the empty tomb.

resurrection witnesses

In Jewish law, women’s testimony was not admissible, so why would Hebrew authors include this unless it were TRUE? (In fact, Luke says that the disciples thought the women’s story was “idle tales”. Mark says when mourners heard this news, “they did not believe”.) But instead of reworking the story to make it more credible (which would have been the obvious play if they were perpetuating a hoax), the Gospel writers reported that the women were first on the scene, even though such an “un-doctored” version might hurt their credibility with Jewish readers. If the Gospel writers had wanted to convince everyone that the resurrection was true, they would have written a more believable story.

Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus in his resurrected body, and did not recognize him until he called her by name—so I think we can assume that our resurrected bodies will be different than our current ones. (Something else to look forward to for some of us!) And so in Easter we have fulfilled prophecy, conquered death, eternal hope, transformation, substitution, revolution, and affirmation… It’s hard to even describe just how important the resurrection is, so from this point I think it’s best to just let Scripture speak for itself:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, KJV).

“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Romans 6:5)

And finally: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (I Peter 1:3).

The resurrection is not a fantasy or an early Christian conspiracy. Chuck Colson made the observation that if twelve of the most powerful men in America could not keep Watergate secret, it is HIGHLY unlikely that twelve fishermen and disciples could have maintained a secret conspiracy to invent the resurrection while being tortured and killed over it. The reality of the resurrection toppled an Empire who tried to suppress it, and dozens of eyewitnesses died attesting to it as fact. That factual occurrence changed the world 2,100 years ago, and has been changing the world ever since. It still has the power to change yours today. He is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED!


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Sabbath Produces Unlikely Heroes After the Crucifixion and Burial

Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World, Day NINE (Matthew. 27:57-66; Luke 23:47-56; John 19:31-42): As Friday came to a close and the Sabbath began, the Gospels report that two somewhat surprising figures step forward to make arrangements for Jesus’ body. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night“. (John 19:38-39, NIV) The appearance of these men is very surprising, even though we know both of them had been involved with Jesus before. As Pharisees or members of the council, they took great risks to bury Jesus. They identified themselves with him on this Sabbath Eve when there was seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose. They faced ostracism and persecution for taking this action, but their love for Jesus was so strong they did it anyway.

sabbath heroes

I’d love to know what their stories were after this, what risks they took to go get Jesus’ body, and how it affected them the rest of their lives… (Won’t it be cool to ask them?) And their actions make me question something… How many of us follow Jesus just because we love him, rather than for what he can do for us? I know that’s hard to separate, but it’s a question worth asking yourself on Easter.
Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) was a quiet day, when Israelites did not work or move around much. This Sabbath began with Jesus dead and in the grave. Judas has committed suicide. The disciples are scattered and afraid. Peter in particular must have spent this day broken over how he let Jesus down. The boldest disciple failed to identify with Jesus when it counted most, and I imagine that he spent the day utterly distraught over what he had done and hadn’t done…You and I have had broken days or moments like that…Just remember that it’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming!

As you reflect on Good Friday and the cross, there are many things to consider. Sin is a deadly business. So was paying for it. You’ve seen images of the cross. The crucifixion day has been vividly portrayed in songs, films and books that provide context and emotional connection to how Christ suffered and died and what his death accomplished. Simply put, he paid for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, and offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice. I believe if there were an easier way, God the Father would surely have provided it. Since it was the ONLY way, God the Son carried out his mission.
As Paul said, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17, NIV). Caiaphas was obviously not in agreement with nor aware of the true outcome of Christ’s mission, but he was inadvertently spot on when he advocated getting rid of Jesus so that the Romans would not punish Israel for insurrection: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50, NIV) One man died so that all could live.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history, and it offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal sentence in human history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If that sentence is true, then ALL OTHER SENTENCES pale in comparison. Easter Sunday is the exclamation point on that sentence. What do YOU believe about the cross?

It’s not about fertility, or lilies in the Spring;
It’s not about the things that bloom or little birds that sing.
It isn’t Easter baskets, filled with Peeps and Easter treats,
Like chocolate bunny rabbits or a bunch of egg-shaped sweets.
Easter is much more than children scrambling on a search–
It’s even more than Easter Sunday worshipping at church.
Easter means that one man sinned, and through that sin we fell,
Unable to redeem ourselves or save ourselves from hell,
Until on Easter Jesus conquered death, and time, and space,
And took my punishment for sin: He died and took my place.
He bore the scourging and the cross, and Satan’s mocking laugh,
And saw his mission to the end. And died on our behalf.
Easter saw him conquer sin and death–the scourge of men,
And lift us to the heavens with Him when He rose again!
So while you hunt for Easter eggs, just please remember this:
Jesus died and rose again. That’s what Easter is.


To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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Judas Betrayed Jesus, and That Makes Him Despicable. But Don’t Miss THIS:

(Good Friday, on Day Eight from Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World) Matthew 26:47-27:56; Mark 14:43-15:46; John 18:2-19:30 There are so many things to cover on Good Friday: The treachery of Judas bore fruit: Jesus was illegally tried by the high priest, shuttled back and forth from Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod…Pilate kept trying to evade judging Jesus, saying “I find no fault in him.” Jesus was beaten by professionals, mocked and abused by jaded sadistic guards who tried to get a rise out of him… Yet he bore their accusations and insults stoically, refusing to indulge their curiosity or their cruelty.

He was unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion, certainly a most horrible way to die, and the agonies of the cross are well-documented. His statements on the cross reveal his character or point to prophetic predictions about who he was and how he would die. By quoting Psalm 22 (“My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”), he reminded us yet again that this wasn’t some random cry for help, He was quoting SCRIPTURE!  He knew what was coming, and His reference to Scripture shows us that He PLANNED all of this, and that He wanted us to remember. When He said “It is finished”, He wasn’t speaking about his life but his mission, and He died only when He announced that He was commending his spirit to his Father.

This day was pivotal in all of human history, and it contains so many themes and moments that it is hard to do it justice in a short devotional. Read the whole thing and you’ll see what I mean… There is scheming, conniving, betrayal, political maneuvering, cruelty, a kangaroo court, a mob mentality, and vigilante justice. There are the hard-hearted Pharisees, cowardly disciples, corrupt priests, and the impatient Romans. There are a number of story lines, and all of them provide something interesting.  What catches my eye, however, is the story of Judas. (You know, the guy no one names their kid after?)


He was Judas Iscariot, the zealot, the thief, the would-be revolutionary who perhaps tried to force Jesus into action; he was Judas the traitor, the one who sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver. His name is synonymous with betrayal. But don’t forget this: He was also Judas the remorseful. Here’s what Matthew said:

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:3-4, NIV)

Judas certainly obtained an infamous place in history, and he has been condemned for his actions ever since. He is forever linked to the death of Jesus as the greedy traitor who valued money more than his master’s life. Judas killed Jesus as surely as if he had personally nailed him to the cross. Despicable, right?

Surely all civilized people would be justified in condemning Judas for betraying his friend, Jesus. Well, here’s the deal: we are ALL Judas. We have all sold Jesus out at one time or another, and we’ve all turned our back on him, or ignored him. Every one of us can say along with Judas, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” This week, when you think about Judas, don’t feel too smug. My own sins sent Jesus to the cross. YOUR sins nailed him to it. I heard a speaker say once, “If you had been the only person who would ever have believed the Gospel, Jesus would still have died on the cross for you.”

That certainly personalizes the reward: wow, Jesus loved me so much that he would have died for only ME! And it is true. However, when you think about it, it also means that it personalizes the penalty. If I was the only person to ever live, Jesus would still have had to endure the agony of the cross to save me. I put him there. YOU put him there. Along with Judas, we all did. That probably means we should live in such a way to justify the cost of the cross. And not just at Easter.
And the question remains: What Do YOU Believe About the Cross?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here:
For the Kindle Edition, go here: