2,000 years ago, Jesus was preparing to die. The Passion Week had started with His triumphal entry, and it would end with His brutal death and glorious resurrection. I cannot fathom what He experienced during the days leading up to His trial and crucifixion. He knew exactly what was coming in the next few days, and He was a willing vessel for His Father, despite the pain that the tortuous events would bring.
As I read the stories in the Gospels of the events of the Passion Week (aka the week of the triumphal entry/crucifixion/resurrection), I can’t help but notice how people responded to Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem. As you read the Scriptures below, I think you will see why their actions baffle me.
John 12:12-14 – “The next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.’”
Luke 23:18-23 – “But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas,’ a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify Him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why? What evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release Him,’ But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand would be granted.”
Wait, so on Monday they were worshipping Him like a king, and on Friday that were urgently demanding His murder? On Monday, His disciples were proud to be seen by His side, and on Friday, they were hidden and ashamed to be associated with Christ. That doesn’t make much sense! What hypocrites, right???... Baffling behavior, right???...
Not so much. (I think you can see where this is going…)
We can look at a multitude of examples throughout Scripture where God’s people follow Him one minute and disown Him the next. They worship Him wholeheartedly in one season, and then worship the idols and gods of their neighbors with their next breath. It’s easy to read over those stories, especially the stark contrast of behavior in the Passion Week, and become judgmental at those people. But my next thought quickly becomes a humbling confession that I am “those people”. I am the woman in the crowd who laid down her cloak for Jesus’ donkey, and I am the passerby surveying the crucifixion scene and mocking the “King of the Jews” on the cross. I am Mary, who willingly poured out expensive perfume to anoint Jesus and worship Him before His death, and I am the voice in the crowd urging Pilate to give the word that will end Jesus’ life.
I have no right to judge or condemn the actions of many Jews during the last week of Jesus’ life before He was crucified because I find myself many times following in their footsteps. My worship is genuine one day and then routine the next. My obedience is devoted one day and then hypocritical the next. My attitude is pure one day and then prideful the next. My words are kind one day and then stabbing the next. My commitment to Him is strong one day and feeble the next.
When Jesus went to the cross, He knew this about me and you and about every person in the crowd whose behavior had changed so drastically in four short days. He knew this about mankind, and yet He still went to the cross for us because of His great love – His love for His Father, which motivated His obedience, and His love for us. He endured because of love. He endured because He knew the depth and severity of our sins, and He knew we needed a way of redemption. He loved us so much that He didn’t want us to be stuck in our own filth and depravity. And so, He went to the cross knowing our past AND knowing that once we believed in Him, we would still falter and waver as we navigated our walk with Him. Our need for a perfect Savior outweighed the physical and emotional pain He experienced. His love was greater.
Jesus was fully God; thus He was aware of exactly what was going to happen to Him as the week progressed. Jesus was also fully human; thus He experienced the emotions that the upcoming events welled up, as well as every ounce of physical pain throughout the process. He experienced agony as He begged His Father for this cup to be removed from Him. He experienced sorrow for the sins of Jerusalem, God’s beloved people, and the sins of the world. He experienced grief at the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, and the back-stabbing behavior of the people who shouted “Hosanna” on Monday and “Crucify Him” on Friday. He experienced embarrassment at the mockery of the soldiers as they stripped him naked and beat Him to an inch of His life, dressing Him in a purple robe and forcing a crown of thorns through His skull. He experienced weakness as He was forced to carry His own cross to the crucifixion site, the rough woody splinters weighing upon His back that was filled with open wounds. He experienced immense and unimaginable physical pain as the nails pierced His already pulverized body. He experienced deep internal pain in His soul as He felt the consequences and bore the weight of the sins of the world. He experienced acute loneliness as He experienced His Father turning away. He experienced the feeling of physically suffocating, as He hung on the cross gasping for breath. He experienced the most brutal physical death… Why? Because of God’s great love.
Praise the Lord that His love is not measured by our faithfulness to Him, but rather by His beautiful character of perfect love, faithfulness, mercy, and grace!
So, when we fail in our walk with Him and change our allegiance from Jesus to worldly pleasures as quickly as the Jewish people during the week He was crucified, we need to remember these powerful truths in Romans 6:1-4, 6-7, 11-14.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life…We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin may be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died HAS BEEN SET FREE FROM SIN… So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourself to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
What wonderful news! Since we have been bought with a price, and as believers, our old selves have been crucified with Christ, we have been set free from sin! Sin doesn’t have dominion over us anymore! We do not have to live defeated lives; rather we can live lives that are completely devoted to Christ. We can present our entire lives to Him as an empty vessel ready to do His will, following in the humble and powerful footsteps of Christ Jesus our Savior and Redeemer. Yes, we each have a past that is scarred with sin and rejection of God’s truth. Our lives before Christ’s transforming work were completely offensive to the holiness of God, and even after our personal salvation, we still can turn away and temporarily be controlled by sin. BUT that is not the end of the story, and that doesn’t have to be the ongoing pattern of our lives! Just as Romans 6 clearly explains, we can live in freedom from sin, from the wishy washy devotion to Christ that we may find ourselves in at times. We can live our lives as FAITHFUL followers of Christ FREE from the bondage of sin!
- READ/STUDY: Read Luke 22-24, which describes the events of the week that Jesus was crucified.
- EVALUATE: Pay attention to the details of the passage above. As you read, ask the Holy Spirit to teach you new things about what may be a familiar story. Remember, the crucifixion story not just a story. These events actually happened, and they mean EVERYTHING for your life. These events are the reason that your life can have meaning. Don’t let this story become too familiar in the sense that you don’t notice the life-changing power in what Christ did for us. Don’t let this story be far from your mind. Remind yourself every morning of what Christ experienced during the entire Passion Week so that you can begin each day in humble and desperate worship of the Savior who died on your behalf.
- PRAY: Praise the Lord for His sovereign plan to save a sinful people. Praise Him for His mercy. Praise Jesus for His sacrificial obedience as He endured so much on your behalf. Ask the Lord to reveal to you areas in which you are like the fickle-minded Jews during the Passion Week – yelling “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” in the same week. Beg the Lord to empower you to live a life free from the slavery of sin as promised in Romans 6. Expect the Lord to work in your life each and every day, and devote your life to Him in prayer.
“O, Praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead! JESUS!”
As we anticipate and remember the details of Jesus’ painful sacrifice and immeasurable love during this Passion Week leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let us worship Him with a fresh and growing passion for His name. Don’t merely attend the weekend services and move on with life. Saturate your mind and heart in the events of the Passion Week (and not just this week, but every week!). Devote yourself to knowing your Savior as intimately as you possibly can while you still have breath. Thank Him for loving you despite the hypocrisy in which you sometimes live. And praise Him for enduring everything He endured because of His amazing love for you!