Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Following Jesus to Jerusalem: Thoughts on Holy Week, Part 2
A new Barna survey came out recently. George Barna tracks cultural and spiritual trends in the United States. The focus for the latest survey was our understanding of Easter.
The results were insightful in that although a majority of Americans indicated a spiritual connection with Easter, only 42% could point to the meaning of Easter being about the resurrection of Jesus and only 2% said that they would describe Easter as being the most important holiday of their faith.
That comes down to just 1 in 50 adults understanding that the central point of our faith is that Jesus came to earth with an intentional mission to give his life as the final and eternal sacrifice for sins, so that we are given life instead of the death we deserve.
Let’s unpack this some more. We are currently in Holy Week: this is the last week of Jesus’ life where he entered Jerusalem with a cheering crowd and ended up just five days later hanging on a cross because of a jeering crowd. In between the Palm Parade and his crucifixion, he was anointed with oil for his burial by a woman who crashed a party, he went into the temple and angrily cleared it out of all the commerce and materialism, he was sold out by one of his 12 disciples, he shared the Passover feast with his disciples a day early, and he was arrested in a garden with great fanfare, being kissed by the one who betrayed him.
Did you realize that the four books in the Bible about Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, include at least 25% of their content about this week? Jesus lived for 33 years, ministered for 3 and yet, the majority of the writings in the Gospels are about the last week in his life? It must be pretty important.
Once again, we have to go back to the Garden of Eden where life with God began. When Adam and Eve broke God’s boundary, the punishment was eviction from the Garden but the grace included an animal killed so that its sacrificial blood would pave the way from Adam and Eve to God to stay in relationship.
Animal sacrifices continued to the time of Jesus as the Israelites pathway to relationship with God. They had to travel to the holy city of Jerusalem to make the animal sacrifices, as well as having strict criteria about the type and condition of the animal.
God always knew that eventually the sacrifice would become his son. He was willing to make his own sacrifice because his desire for relationship with us is that great. Imagine that. So, Father and Son planned to do the unimaginable.
Jesus became human so that he would join us on earth to demonstrate that his father isn’t one who stands apart from his creation but is actively involved in it. He came as a helpless baby so that he would know the struggles that we all encounter. Jesus lived a sinless life, however, so that he could become the “perfect lamb of God for sacrifice.”
We need to be clear. Jesus did not get killed. Jesus gave his life in sacrifice. It wasn’t easy, in the hours before his arrest the Scriptures tell us that he dripped blood in agony of the anticipation. He asked for a way out. His Father did not give him one: this had been their plan for all eternity.
So, Jesus walked the road to the crucifixion. He endured whippings, humiliation, mocking, nakedness, betrayal of the people he came to save, taunting from one of the thieves hanging next to him, and finally, the silence of his Father as the totality of the worlds’ sins came upon him and he gave up his life in death.
Creation knew that something big had happened. Matthew tells us that the earth shook, rocks splits apart and tombs opened bringing the bodies of godly men and women back to life. The temple curtain tore in two from top to bottom on its own. And, secular guards knew at that moment that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 27:50-54).
A hidden disciple came out into the open and took Jesus’ body and laid it in a new cave for burial. Guards were posted day and night in case Jesus’ friends would want to steal his body and lie about it. The tomb was sealed.
A faithful group of women came to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath was over; early Sunday morning. They came to an open, empty tomb. The disciples Peter and John saw the empty tomb. The women encountered an angel who gave them this life changing message, “Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead, just as he said would happen. Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has been raised from the dead!” (Matthew 28:5-7).
What does this mean for people today?
We deserve punishment for our sins of unbelief in who Jesus is and our disregard for God’s laws for life. We deserve to lose our access to the One True God in relationship. The Bible tells us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
But, because Jesus made the journey to Jerusalem towards the cross, we are invited to live life with him and to have a life of meaning on earth and for eternity in heaven. We are given the awesome invitation to partner with God in restoring and redeeming the earth and the people in it. We have the third person of the Trinity living in us: the Holy Spirit who gives us power to live out our faith so that we can do the things that Jesus did.
The pathway is simple: Romans 10:9 tells us that “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.”
Making a decision to follow Jesus is about surrender. It is about acknowledging that we are not in control of our lives and that Jesus is and making the invitation to live life connected to him.
Take a moment now to consider if you have ever made the invitation to make a life with Jesus. If you have, thank him for the opportunity to share life with the One who created life, who created you!
If you haven’t, don’t miss out on the invitation. Respond with a yes in your spirit and then with your mouth, tell someone about your decision!
Easter is about new birth; let’s celebrate what our Heavenly Father purposed since the beginning of time by sending his beloved Son to die in our place.