We are moving toward the week in Christendom we refer to as Holy Week and/or the Passion Week. By passion we mean ‘suffer,’ and thus focus on the suffering Jesus experienced leading up to and including his crucifixion. Assuming I was somewhat alert at 5-6 years old, I have read or heard the passion story every year for 65 years. In my last posting (Reliving the Passion), I intimated that the passion story might be all-too familiar to us. I think if we have ears and eyes that are open, we can see and hear this world-changing story anew every time we wander into it. This year has been no exception for me.
At Young Life College, we would always joke about our conversations coming full circle each week. As we read the Gospels, moving into the passion week, it becomes apparent that there is a full-circleness to Jesus’ life, culminating at the cross. His experiences that last week were opportunities for him to live out what he had been teaching his followers for three years. Some thoughts on that…
Jesus’ ministry started with the temptation to take a shortcut to usher in God’s kingdom, seen in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). The devil taunted Jesus with “if you are the Son of God…” While on the cross, the people (including the chief priests and the elders) taunted him with “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Again, the temptation to shortcut the process. The writers of the gospels often inserted the phrase, “Let the reader understand.” It seems like Matthew and Luke may have wanted the reader to understand the connection of these two taunts/temptations.
Jesus’ followers witnessed the admonitions of the Sermon on the Mount played out those last days leading up to and including his crucifixion. Some examples…
In the Sermon Jesus outlined what prayer of kingdom people might look like (what we call The Lord’s Prayer). In that prayer he suggested we pray for God’s will to be done and for protection from the evil one and from temptation. In the garden he asked that the cup might pass, ultimately praying ‘thy will be done.’ And I’m sure throughout the twelve hours of mock trial and beating, there was many a prayer to not succumb to the temptation to do some ‘holy smiting!’
The beatitudes from the Sermon speak of what kingdom living looks like. Jesus lived that out in front of his followers daily, but it especially showed up during this time. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus told Peter to put his sword away and reminded him that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
In the Sermon, Jesus told his followers not to resist evil or retaliate when slapped about. He had the opportunity to ‘practice what he preached’ when mocked and slapped about by both the religious leaders and the representatives of the Roman Empire (Mark 14:65, Matt. 27: 27-31).
You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matt 5:14-15) The Romans made absolutely sure that crucifixions took place for ALL to see, as a reminder that the same thing could happen to those watching. On the hill called ‘The Skull,’ Jesus, the light of the world, was hoisted up for all to see! In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matt 5:16)
I’m sure there are many other examples of Jesus, God’s true Israel (to borrow a phrase from NT Wright), showing and teaching his followers how to live during the first three years of his ministry THEN ‘walking the talk’ those final few days. I am grateful that every year God has been faithful in helping me look at Holy Week, the week that changed history, in a new light. This year has been no different. Thanks be to God!