ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
JESUS CHRIST – THE LAST WEEK
- The Gospel record.
Did you realise that the four Gospels devote over a quarter of their total length, some 24 chapters out of 89, to the events of the last week of the earthly life of Jesus? This emphasis seems to underline the importance of these events which run from the quietness of the Sabbath which Jesus spent at Bethany with His friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary (John 12:1) through the excitement of His entry into Jerusalem and through arrest, trial and crucifixion to the entombment before the next Sabbath.
What an amazing week that was!
- The triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of peace, rather than on a horse, which would have been a warlike symbol. In so doing He fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, “See, your king comes to you…..gentle and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). He was welcomed by the crowds, who spread their cloaks or branches cut from trees in His path, and who welcomed Him with the cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9), a cry which had within it the thought of the long-awaited Messiah coming to His city. [Hosanna is a Hebrew word originally meaning “Save” which had become an exclamation of praise.]
What an amazing start that was!
- Clearing the temple court.
The next day, and maybe for the second time (see John 2:13-16), “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overthrew the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matthew 21:12). This was no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but Jesus filled with righteous anger and the wrath of God at the actions of those who abused God’s ways, by selling “approved” sacrificial animals at inflated prices, and by cheating pilgrims with a poor rate of exchange. [They were obliged to pay the temple tax in coins acceptable to the authorities.] No wonder Jesus referred to a “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13)! And no wonder that the authorities “began looking for a way to kill Him” (Mark 11:18).
What an amazing show of courage that was!
- Jesus continues teaching.
The opposition of the authorities did not stop Jesus teaching because “the people hung on His words” (Luke 19:48). He told them parables like that of the “Tenants in the Vineyard” (Matthew 21:33-44) which summarised hundreds of years of Jewish history in a few sentences as well as predicting His own rejection and death, followed by His Father’s vindication of His mission.
He also dealt skilfully with trick questions like “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17), even though His words were twisted and used against Him, as a charge before Pilate (Luke 23:2).
In all this Jesus was seeking to strengthen the faith of the disciples and to prepare them for the tumultuous events that were still to come.
What an amazing teacher He was!
- The Last Supper.
It was the week of Passover, when Jews would celebrate and remember the last of the ten plagues of Egypt (Exodus 11 & 12), when all the firstborn Egyptians were killed whilst the Israelites were protected by the symbol of the blood of a lamb smeared onto the doorframes of their houses (Exodus 12:7). The celebration took the form of a special meal during which the story of the Passover was retold. Jesus celebrated this with His disciples, but transformed the meal by giving new meaning to the broken bread and the cup of wine which became the memorials of His broken body and His blood outpoured on the cross. Christians still focus on these events every time Holy Communion is celebrated.
What an amazing memorial that was (and is)!
Judas Iscariot was present for part of the Last Supper, although he had already agreed to betray Jesus to the authorities. For this dark deed he had been given thirty pieces of silver. But Jesus knew what Judas was planning (John 13:21) and although He disclosed that He knew (John 13:26,27) to the other disciples, they did not understand. But Judas did and “went out” (John 13:30) and John, when he later wrote down his account, added the telling comment, “And it was night.” It was certainly into the darkness that Judas went. Why did he do it? Hardly for the money because he already had his hand in the common purse (John 12:6). There are many suggestions but we really do not know.
What an amazing thought; a traitor among the twelve!
- The Garden of Gethsemane.
After supper Jesus led a band of sleepy disciples out of the city to an olive grove where they had often been before (John 18:2). There He prayed with the greatest possible earnestness (Luke 22:44), but the disciples fell asleep! It was to this garden that Judas brought a motley band of officials and guards to arrest Jesus while He was away from the crowds that might have prevented His capture.
What an amazing confrontation that was!
- The Trials of Jesus.
It is difficult to get a clear picture of these events because each Gospel writer picks out different parts. Basically there were two separate trials, the first before the Jewish authorities on a charge of blasphemy, and the second before the Roman authorities on a charge of being “The King of the Jews” and so in opposition to the Roman Emperor. Pilate, the Roman governor, wanted to set Jesus free (John 19:12), but when he saw that “an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood” …. Then he …. handed Him over to be crucified” (Matthew 27:24,26).
What an amazing lack of justice that was!
- The crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus was led out of Jerusalem carrying at least the cross-beam of the cross on which He was to be crucified. However all the torture He had already received made Him too physically weak to complete the journey and Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Him. When they reached Golgotha Jesus was nailed to the cross and left to die. Two others, convicted thieves, were also crucified, one on either side of Jesus.
What an amazing perversion that was, that men should crucify their God!
- Words from the Cross.
Jesus spoke seven times while He hung on the cross, if we put the various Gospel records together. He forgave the soldiers who crucified Him and one of the thieves and He made special provision for His mother, but two of His cries sum up the purpose of it all.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46), quoted by Jesus from Psalm 22:1, shows that for the first time in all eternity Jesus felt separated from His Father because your sins and mine and those of all the world were laid on him and became a fearsome barrier. The spiritual suffering of Jesus at this point was infinitely greater than any of the physical suffering He had or was experiencing.
Later came a cry of triumph, “It is finished” (John 19:30), in the sense of “It is completed.” The agony was over, the penalty of our sins had been paid and Jesus died knowing that He had accomplished what He came to this earth to do. This would soon be confirmed by His triumphant resurrection [the subject of the next paper, D.V.]
What an amazing victory that was!
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus received Pilate’s permission (John 19:38,39) to take away the body of Jesus. When they had wrapped it in linen, they laid it in a new tomb which belonged to Joseph. A large stone was rolled in front of the tomb (Matthew 27.60). So the momentous week ended in the quiet of the grave – but the quiet was not to last – no earthly tomb could contain the resurrection power of the Almighty God.
What an amazing end to an amazing week that was!
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.