The First Days of Holy Week
A Gospel Harmonizing Chronological Presentation for Palm Sunday
A banner hung year round in a church I once served, but it was placed above the doors where worshipers would see it each time as they left. It certainly made an impression, saying simply, "Lift Thine Eyes; Behold My Son." "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," cried John the Baptist as he pointed and ushered in the beginning of Christ's public ministry.
Three years later, thousands did behold and hail Him as King, bestowing honor and laying down palm branches and coats before Him as He made His way to Jerusalem. Religious leaders were upset at this mob action and jealously urged Jesus to bring it to a halt.
Jesus never denied exclamations of His pre-eminence. He never turned away those who exalted Him, but the Pharisees in the crowd didn't join those hailing Him. They had already determined, in fact, to find some way to kill Jesus. They also planned to kill Lazarus who had been raised from death just days earlier. They recognized that the crowds would be a problem for them! The murders would have to be arranged secretly.
Some sources tell us that by Christ's time, when the week of Passover came each year, the lamb to be sacrificed was already chosen at the beginning of that week, on Sunday. Here the priests' choice was made, and they would have hastened the sacrifice were it not for the crowds. The "Lamb" was chosen, nevertheless: "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Each year during Holy Week we are reminded in detail of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – the words and actions of God's "Lamb" and the actions that were taken against Him. What things took place during those first several days of the week of our atonement, though?
Sometimes we may ponder how our last days and hours would be spent if we
knew for certain the appointed time of our own individual deaths. Let's review now the words and actions of the "Lamb of God" in those days just preceding His arrest and death. Behold what He said! Behold what He did!
They were busy days, full of events for our learning. Concerning the hours of those days "right before," just behold the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." “Lift thine eyes; Behold My Son," God says.
EARLIER AND ON SATURDAY
A couple of important events took place just prior to the Sunday procession. As already mentioned, Lazarus, who lived with Mary and Martha, was raised from the dead. They lived in Bethany, just two short miles southeast of Jerusalem. After going out to Ephraim for a time and to Jericho to heal and teach people there following the raising of Lazarus, Jesus came back to Bethany and on Saturday accepted dinner at the house of one Simon, a man who had been healed of leprosy. That night is when Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive ointment, which Jesus explained was a preparation for His burial.
Crowds first gathered there at Bethany when it was discovered Jesus was there, and then more hastened out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus on Palm Sunday. To say that "crowds" met Him doesn't mean a mere few hundred. People from throughout the nation and many other countries had converged on Jerusalem for the Passover. Thousands upon thousands were potentially in or near the two mile procession as Jesus mounted and humbly rode the donkey. They thronged around Him for quite some distance, in other words! The shouts of "Hosanna" were possibly larger and louder than the cheers heard in a modern stadium!
It took a long while to arrive at Jerusalem, and, as He drew nearer, Jesus wept for the city's inhabitants. He finally entered the Temple, looked around at length and returned to Bethany to spend Sunday night.
Some might say that on Monday Jesus seemed to be in an agitated mood. Returning to Jerusalem that morning, He was hungry and looked for figs on a certain tree. Being fruitless, Jesus pronounced a curse on it and it withered up. He then proceeded on to the Temple and focused His displeasure on the money changers and sellers of birds for the offerings. He turned over tables and chairs, shouting: "It is written: 'My House shall be called a House of Prayer,' but you have made it a den of thieves!"
This greatly displeased the priests, in turn, but they dared do little but complain. They feared the throngs of people also in the Temple who again began crying out: "Hosanna to the Son of David."
Jesus spent the remainder of Monday in healing the peoples' sick and handicapped and teaching those around Him. He returned to Bethany again to spend time with those near and dear to Him for the night.
Tuesday came, a day in which the Divinely endowed intellect of God's Lamb would take center stage. First, however, the disciples noticed the withered fig tree and questioned Jesus about it. We might suppose that it symbolized that unrepentant, fruitless people risk judgment as the tree received, but Jesus turned it into an opportunity to teach His followers about the power of prayers offered in faith. They could even cause a mountain to be taken up and cast into the sea!
Many times during His ministry Jesus had repeated that: "My hour has not
yet come." Demons begged Him not to hasten the inevitable time of their destruction, yet they continually tried to shift the time and circumstances of Christ's own dark hour. They couldn't bring about their purpose, but now, on Tuesday, Jesus Himself is seen bent on hastening the arrival of His "hour" by spending the day in strong and direct debate and confrontation with the Temple leaders. Now He deliberately came publicly to them!
They played a kind of cat and mouse game with deadly intent, baiting Jesus and trying to entrap Him in His words. They demanded to know what authority Jesus claimed for doing things He did. Jesus turned it back on them with the question as to whether John's authority to baptize came from Heaven or from men. They wouldn't answer, so Jesus responded with several parables, each to the effect that tax collectors, harlots and other nations would receive the blessings of God's Kingdom before they would. They were highly infuriated, but still feared to take action because of the crowd. (One wonders how many of this crowd, seemingly so supportive of Jesus, later joined the ranks of malcontents demanding the blood of the Lamb!)
"What about the religious legality of paying taxes to Caesar(?),” the Pharisees wanted to know. Jesus tied them up in their own rope.
Next, the Sadducees, who didn't believe in any final resurrection, took a turn. They posed the question about whose wife a woman would be in the "supposed" resurrection who had had seven husbands. Jesus forthrightly told them they were wrong in their understanding of Scripture and God's power.
When pressed about the greatest Commandment, Jesus answered directly and correctly, that love of God is the highest Law and love of neighbor ranks up with it. Then Jesus again turned the tables on them and asked: "If the Christ, as you yourselves say, is the Son of David, then if David calls Him 'Lord,' how is it that He can be David's Son?"
That ended that game! They left Jesus alone, and He turned to publicly berate them before the people. In a long, long discourse He urged the people to beware of all kinds of hypocrisy. Again He bemoaned Jerusalem's impending destruction. He pointed to the widow who then came in with her two mites to exemplify sincerity of heart. He spoke briefly with some Gentiles from Galilee, then cried out: "Now is My soul troubled and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Thy Name."
That Tuesday, as the sun began to set, Jesus made one more passionate plea before His public ministry came to its end: "The Light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the Light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, that you may become sons of Light. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings has a judge; the Word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that this commandment is eternal life."
(Notice that Christ's public ministry ended by citing the authority demanded by the Pharisees!)
It's not clear exactly where the Lamb of God spent that night. Scripture states that, when all this had been said, Jesus (departed with His disciples and) hid Himself from the people. We might presume that He returned once more to Bethany, because Scriptures claim that it was His pattern.
On the way out of the Temple that night, however, the disciples commented on its impressiveness, and Jesus then predicted the day when one stone would not be left standing on another there. Talk of such destruction brought conversation to bear on the end times. The day was done.
Late that night and on into Wednesday appears to be the time in which Jesus spelled out specifically to His disciples all the details of the final judgment as never before. In teaching after teaching and parable after parable the Lamb of God, who is also the Good Shepherd, urged His sheep to be alert and ready. Great tribulations and destruction were described at length; not only the Last Day, but also the last days!
In these, Christ's own last days on earth, He was busily involved in preparing His followers for the Kingdom of which they were already a part, but concerning which there was still much to be understood. We have beheld the Lamb of God and those matters with which He involved Himself in those last days until His hour was at hand.
On Good Friday in all history's most crucial hour we behold Him, the Lamb of God, truly taking away the sins of the world by the blood of His Cross! — A new and glorious hour follows to behold, when the Lamb who was slain breaks-forth from the tomb and assures resurrection to life for believers everywhere! — A new and glorious hour follows where we behold Him ascending to His throne and the right hand of the Almighty Father! — And a new and glorious hour will follow in which we will be invited to "Lift Thine Eyes; Behold My Son," as He comes on the clouds in the twinkling of an eye and as we bow our knees and confess Him as King of kings and Lord of lords to the glory of the Father! May He hasten that final day and last hour! AMEN.