Passion Week (Plus Three): Ten Days That Changed the World

Starting today, we are headed towards Passion week. We are beginning on the Friday before Good Friday, and we will follow each day preceding Christ’s death and resurrection, discussing the details and (sometimes) debates that surround each day. Bill O’Reilly’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. It is a story that began chronologically as far back as the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

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. Because the Lord loved man unconditionally, mankind was given the will to choose God of his own volition. Man sinned and brought death into the world. As a Holy and Righteous giver of life, God rejected sin. His very nature required Him to execute judgment. Death entered the world of man, who was free to follow his own selfish choices at his own peril.

Throughout the Old Testament, it has been surprising to see God’s judgment juxtaposed with His precious love. God’s prophets warn his people about the deadly penalty of sin, and Israel pays a dreadful price 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 introduce 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 a long Passion Week (Really ten days here, 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. It announced the startling change 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…

And 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–yes, Jesus was his name!
Because of Passion Week, the world would never be the same.

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