Sabbath has 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)

Unlikely Heroes

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

A Good Question

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. We can read about the Apostles in Acts, but there was unheralded heroism among so many followers of Jesus in those early days that it will be fascinating to hear their stories.

A Very Tough Day for Some

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 completely broken over how he let Jesus down. (John tells us how Peter “wept bitterly”.) 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! (If you haven’t heard Tony Campolo’s great sermon “Sunday’s Coming!” do yourself a favor and listen to it sometime.)

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.

A Personal Sacrifice With a Cosmic Result

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 indeed died so that all could live, just not the way Caiaphas intended.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history. It offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal statement in all of human history, which came from the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. You remember him, the man who showed up to take Jesus’ body for burial? When he visited Jesus, Jesus told him: “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?


A Little Word About Easter

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.

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Wednesday Was Quiet, But Things Were Escalating

Friday Was Coming

Of the Ten Days that Changed the World, Wednesday was a quiet day at Bethany, not really mentioned much in the Gospels. Mark 14 and Matthew 26 record three snapshots of the day: the scheming Priests and elders decide to kill Jesus; Jesus is anointed by a woman at a dinner party in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper; and Judas agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (about four months’ wages). After all of the confrontations at the Temple on Tuesday, Jesus used Wednesday to spend time with his friends and disciples back in Bethany, but the other events taking place on Wednesday hasten the coming storm.


How Many Feet in an Anointing?

(Quick note: while John gives an account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet before Passion Week (6 days before Passover), Mark and Matthew include it in their accounts here in Bethany (2 days before Passover). These different accounts could have been the same event used at different places in the narrative, but I tend to believe it is two separate occurrences. It is not doctrinally or materially important to the sequence of events, but it’s important to remember that the synoptic Gospel writers crafted their presentations to reach specific audiences, while John’s is more of an eyewitness account.

That being said, John names Mary as the woman, while Matthew and Mark do not. In John’s account, Mary anoints the feet, but in the other two gospels the woman anoints Jesus’ head. Because of those things, I vote for two separate but similar events. I can’t imagine Mark and Matthew failing to identify someone as well-known to Jesus’ followers as Mary.)

Matthew 26:1 says, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” This would be the annual Passover celebration, held on Nisan 15 (Leviticus 23:5-6).

How Many Sabbaths?

Some scholars feel that there could have been an additional (Passover) Sabbath, beginning Wednesday at twilight and lasting until Thursday evening. The traditional view is that Passover and Sabbath began together on dusk at Friday. Since John 19:31 says that Friday was the day of preparation before Passover, and since Jesus Himself says Passover is two days away, it adds weight to the traditionally accepted view.

[Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem:] “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26:2-5, NIV). Jerusalem’s population swelled by thousands of Pilgrims during such events, and it made sense that the Sanhedrin would be cautious about how they navigated the political waters. I’ll use the quiet of Wednesday to touch on chronology: when did things happen, and how long exactly was Jesus in the grave?

How Many Days in the Grave?

The timing of events during this week has been questioned, and there are two different views about it. If Jesus was in the grave 3 days (as he said he would be in Matthew 12:40), then how do you reconcile a Friday death and a Sunday resurrection? The traditional view holds that it was part of Friday, all of Saturday, part of Sunday – “three days” – but since that’s only two nights, some folks feel that it doesn’t allow enough time to fulfill the Messianic prophecy.

Since this is the annual Passover celebration, held on Nisan 15 (Leviticus 23:5-6), some say there could have been an additional annual (Passover) Sabbath, beginning Wednesday at twilight and lasting until Thursday evening. While there is no absolute proof for this chronology, it is within the realm of possibility, so some scholars have suggested this offers an alternative to the traditional view of Easter.

This means that Christ would have been crucified on Wednesday, and allowed for 3 full days and nights in the grave. It also reconciles timing statements about when the women bought spices to anoint Christ’s body, since according to Mark they bought spices “when the Sabbath was over” (16:1), and Luke’s account says they prepared them before the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). A high holy annual Sabbath starting Wednesday night through Thursday, followed by the day of preparation on Friday, allows for both accounts to be true. These details make for some interesting scholarly debate, but I think it is always reasonable to follow the path that agrees with simple logic.

Wednesday chronology

Decide for Yourself

Since the exact days chronology is not a make or break issue, you can decide for yourself which makes the most sense. The traditional view coincides with what early Church Fathers believed, and allowed for the Middle-Eastern comprehensive logic that often defaulted to “both-and” rather than “either-or” positions.

When you compare the two views, the mid-week holy day causes significant compression of some events. It means that Jesus would have been tried Tuesday night, so it is not without its own problems. But, a mid-week Sabbath also has points in its favor. It does help explain some seeming discrepancies and it allows for three full days between the cross and the resurrection.

As for me, I’m staying traditional, mainly based on Jesus’ statement about Passover being two days away. It’s important to note that placement of these types of historical details do not make or break Scripture. The Bible is a Book of History, but it is not merely a history book.

The Gospel writers did indeed have specific points of view and audiences they were addressing, and while they vary in some details, they agree wholeheartedly on who Jesus was and why He came. In fact, I have often felt that God allowed for certain non-foundational nuances in the Bible to remain somewhat unexplained, in order to stimulate our curiosity and motivate us to dig into the Book. The deeper we are able to get into the Bible, the deeper it is able to get into us.

As we consider the events of Passion Week, that’s probably a good thing.

What Do YOU Believe?

And, as YOU consider the events of Passion Week, remember that events on Wednesday (today) serve to remind us of the question for the week (which I am reprising from Sunday):

What do YOU believe about the Cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
While the cross is history, it’s also a bit of a mystery; What caused the crucifixion?
Some say it was caused by politics in the area; others claim it was mob hysteria.
Was it Jesus’s heresy? The Pharisees’ jealousy? Herod’s legacy? Judas’s zealotry?
Was Jesus swept along by a current of events, or was he in control of everything?
As events unfolded, was he a Rabbi who overplayed his hand, or a King who had total command?
Was he a mistreated milquetoast, or a man on a mission?
The cross wasn’t circumstantial; it was strategic.

For Jesus the cross wasn’t by chance, it was by choice.
It wasn’t based on an accident; it was based on his authority.
The cross wasn’t a random disaster; it was a deliberate design.
He said, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up!” & “Father, I will drink from this cup”
Jesus predicted it; he projected it, he presented it, and he prepared for it: He explained it to his disciples; he expounded upon it to the Pharisees;
and he expected it to happen!

Not Protected, but Projected

Jesus knew about it; he talked about it; he prophesied about it; and he prayed about it.
He could have protested when he was arrested, but it wasn’t contested because
It was what he expected.

He told Peter to put his sword away; he told Pilate he had nothing more to say;
The cross wasn’t the result of a bad day, or a roadblock along the way; It WAS the way…
What do you believe about the cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
For Jesus, It wasn’t unexpected; it was premeditated.
The cross wasn’t coincidental; it was calculated.
It was not incidental, and it wasn’t accidental; it was intentional. It wasn’t capital punishment, it was cosmic punishment.

Jesus allowed the Pharisees to plot, so he could do for us what we could NOT.
He allowed the Romans to execute him, so he could execute God’s plan.
Jesus wasn’t laid low, he was lifted up.
He wasn’t horrified, he was glorified.
Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance; he was a voluntary sacrifice.
What do you believe about the cross?

All the sinister plans the Pharisees could ever concoct, all the Temple guards
they could have ever sent, could never have taken the King of Kings against His will.
Jesus wasn’t a pitiful loser who got caught by surprise;
He was a powerful leader committed to salvation!

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Friday Before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed the World

We are headed towards Passion week. We will start on the Friday before Good Friday, and follow each day preceding Christ’s death and resurrection. Bill O’Brien’s book Killing Jesus provides some great outside reading, if you are interested. It is time 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. I see it as the most fascinating week out of human history, and it is a story that began as far back as the Fall.

Take it From the Beginning

Genesis states that Adam and Eve sinned, and the story about their deadly error aligns with things we see every day in human nature and behavior. Man sinned and brought death into the world. As a Holy and Righteous giver of life, God rejected sin and was required by his very nature to execute judgment. Death entered the world of man, who was free to follow his own selfish choices at his own peril.

As we have studied through the Old Testament, it has been surprising to see God’s judgment juxtaposed with His precious love. We 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.

Turning a Page

The New Testament and the work of the Messiah introduces us to new possibility about sin. 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. This week, starting 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.

Escalating Events

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. As Jesus’ fame grew, the tolerance of the rulers in Jerusalem diminished.

John 11:54-57 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. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 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?” 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.”


An Ordinary Friday…

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.

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. Easter week started with a celebration and almost ended with a crucifixion…

It heralds the transformation of scattered and scared disciples into astonishing men; of a rejected Rabbi into the coming King. Ultimately, in 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 and inconsistent 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.

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: