Each year, as we enter Holy Week, the question is raised, who was Jesus? Was he a real person, or just a made up, mythical character? Was he as reformer who became the victim of a corrupt social and political system? Was he a moralist who stepped on one too many toes? Or was he truly the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of Kings?
From a distance, the events of Holy Week look like a tragic story of betrayal and the misuse of power and authority. It looks like Jesus was swept along by the social/political current of his day, which ended in a tragic death. But if we look closer, we will discover that Holy Week was a carefully orchestrated series of events that accomplished a much higher purpose than anyone could have imagined. What looks like a tragic defeat, from a distance, is revealed as an amazing victory, when we look closer.
The prophet Isaiah foreshadowed the events of this week in Isaiah 53. The climax of Isaiah 53 is verse 10. Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. All that happened to Jesus during Holy Week was a part of God’s plan of salvation for us. Nothing happened by chance. Nothing was random or unanticipated.
From the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus was in control. Each event was carefully crafted to accomplish one goal, the salvation of humanity.
- On Palm Sunday, Jesus intentionally rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to the cheers of the crowds. He had kept a low profile throughout his three year ministry, but not on that day. He intentionally entered Jerusalem as the Messiah. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:39-40
- When Jesus taught in the Temple, the religious leaders wanted to arrest him, but they could not because the crowds adored him. He moved about Jerusalem freely. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. Matthew 21:46
- At the Last Supper, Jesus knew in advance that Judas was going to betray him. All he had to do was to inform the rest of the disciples and the plot against him would have been thwarted. Instead, he allowed Judas to leave. Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, John 13:26-27
- In the Garden, Jesus submitted himself to the Father’s plan, even though it meant suffering and death for him. He could have refused. He could have gotten away, but he didn’t. He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Matthew 26:42
- When the religious leaders came to arrest Jesus, it was Jesus who was in charge of the situation, not them. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." "I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." John 18:2-8
- When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was Pilate who was afraid, not Jesus. Jesus refused to be intimidated by this powerful man. The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God." When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." John 19:7-12
- Even on the cross, Jesus was in total control. He refused to respond to the taunts of the crowds. He extended grace to a dying thief. And in the end, he let go of this life. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46
- But none of this would make any difference at all, if it were not for the empty tomb on Easter morning. The resurrection is the final piece of God’s eternal plan. It is the climax, not just of an individual’s story, but of all of human history. The resurrection changed everything! In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " Then they remembered his words. Luke 24:5-8
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.