“Am I living a life that is attractive, and if need be, convicting, so that unbelievers may know that Jesus loves them and came to save them? This is the perennial challenge this Easter, and the rest of the year.”
PALM SUNDAY: JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM (March 29, AD 33)
Matt 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19
After three and a half years of public ministry, Jesus’ messianic activity is now reaching a major climax. As Jesus’ brothers had told Him earlier, anyone who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah must reveal Himself to be such in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem (John 7:3-4). Jesus’ ministry had been conducted primarily, though not exclusively, in the Galilean north, punctuated by occasional visits to Jerusalem during major festivals.
Most likely, this is now the fourth—and as it turns out, final—time the Jews are celebrating the feast of Passover. Over the past several years, Jesus has gradually grown in popularity with the people, in particular because He has healed many, performed numerous miracles, such as turning water into wine, and even raised several individuals from the dead, most recently Lazarus who had been dead in his tomb for as many as four days (John 11:39).
Thus, the expectation is building that Jesus may be the long-awaited Messiah the Jews had been anticipating for centuries. Jesus further fuels this expectation by fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 that Israel’s king would come riding on the foal of a donkey, according to the pattern of King Solomon’s entrance into the city when declared king.
What were Jesus’ intentions when He rode into the city? Why were people waving palm branches to greet Him? And how could it be that the people who hailed Jesus as Messiah on Palm Sunday would call for His
crucifixion a few short days later?
MONDAY: JESUS CURSES A FIG TREE, CLEARS THE TEMPLE (March 30, AD 33)
Matt 21:12-19; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48
As Jesus returns to Jerusalem the next morning, He spots a fig tree. Promptly, He curses it due to its failure to bear fruit. In the Old Testament, Israel is often depicted as a fig tree (Jer 8:13; Hos 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7). By cursing the fig tree, Jesus seems to be suggesting that Israel had failed to produce the spiritual fruit God expected of the nation and as a result would incur God’s judgment.
Coming into the Temple, Jesus is overcome by righteous zeal. What God had intended to be a quiet place of worship had become a bustling market! Indignantly, Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers, chases away sacrificial animals, and casts out both merchants and customers. In keeping with the prophets’ vision, the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all the nations (Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11).
Are our churches places of worship? Or have many of today’s churches become unduly commercialized? Are we running our churches like corporations rather than the body of Christ? If Jesus were to show up on our doorstep one Sunday morning, would He gladly join in worship or stand in judgment over us? Are we bearing fruit for God? If not, what needs to change?
TUESDAY: THE LESSON OF THE FIG TREE, TEMPLE CONTROVERSIES (March 31, AD 33)
Matt 21:20-25:46; Mark 11:20-13:37; Luke 20:1-21:36
On the following day, Jesus and His disciples pass by the fig tree Jesus had cursed the previous day. When Jesus’ followers notice that the tree had withered, Jesus challenges them to have faith in God; they must trust Him and forgive others who have sinned against them.
When arriving at the Temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders challenge His authority, the Temple cleansing still fresh on their minds: “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28). The chief priests, scribes, and elders asserted authority over the Temple and rightly recognize that Jesus had challenged their authority.
In reply, Jesus turns the tables (figuratively this time!) and asks them a counter-question regarding the origin of John the Baptist’s ministry. He also tells them several parables, such as one of two sons—one initially reluctant to obey, another appearing to obey while turning out to be disobedient—and another of the wicked tenants (symbolizing the Jewish authorities), as well as the parable of the wedding feast. In various ways, Jesus holds Israel to account for failing to truly trust God and obey Him in their hearts. The time of judgment is at hand.
People keep trying to trip Him up. They ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” If He says “yes,” how can He be the Messiah whom people expected to shake off oppressive foreign rule? If He says “no,” is He the political threat His enemies made Him out to be who should be arrested by the Romans because of attempted insurrection? Again, Jesus’ clever answer eludes their grasp. Later that evening, Jesus instructs His disciples about the future, both imminent and more distant, in the Olivet Discourse.
Are we coming to Jesus prepared to obey? Or are we approaching to argue or challenge Him? Do we view Him as a threat to our lifestyle and rationalization of sin? Would we rather have Him leave us alone? Let us reflect on ways in which we can be more open and receptive to Jesus and allow Him to correct us and instruct us about God’s
expectations for our lives.
WEDNESDAY: THE PLOT AGAINST JESUS (April 1, AD 33)
Matt 26:1-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 21:37-22:2
Sunday had seen the Triumphal Entry, Monday the Temple cleansing, and Tuesday a series of controversies with the Jewish authorities and teachers of the law. By contrast, Wednesday is a rather quiet day—as it turns out, the quiet before the storm. There are no recorded controversies, though Matthew, Mark, and Luke each narrate the escalating plot of the Jewish ruling council—the Sanhedrin—against Jesus. We get the impression that their mind is made up and their verdict has been rendered even before they officially meet to discuss what to do with Jesus.
In our culture, we are hard pressed to compromise our faith and to conform to the world around us. Are we giving in? Or are we bearing bold witness to our faith? In which ways do you and I need to be willing to stand out and be counted for Jesus?
MAUNDY THURSDAY: PASSOVER PREPARATIONS (April 2, AD 33)
Matt 26:17-46; Mark 14:12-42; Luke 22:14-46; John 13-17
Thursday builds to a crescendo as Jesus and His followers make preparations to celebrate the Passover, one of the main reasons why they came to Jerusalem in the first place. John, in particular, gives a moving account of Jesus’ footwashing and final instructions to His disciples. Judas ominously leaves the Upper Room to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities while Jesus talks to His followers about His imminent demise and subsequent return.
After celebrating the Passover and instituting the new covenant with His disciples—the new messianic community—Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where He wrestles with the temptation to shrink back from going to the cross in prayer to the Father. He resolutely rejects any such temptation: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The stage is set for Jesus’ Jewish and Roman trials which pave the way for His cruel crucifixion.
By precept and example, Jesus taught His followers the duty to love one another as He loved them. How will this be accomplished? We should humbly serve one another and consider others as more important than ourselves. Is my life characterized by this kind of genuine humility and Christlike love? Actions speak louder than words. It’s a lot easier to profess orthodox doctrine than to act out Jesus’ command to love others, including our enemies. How can I be more Christlike?
GOOD FRIDAY: BETRAYAL, ARREST, TRIALS, CRUCIFIXION (April 3, AD 33)
Matt 26:47-27:61; Mark 14:43-15:47; Luke 22:47-23:56; John 18-19
The familiar events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion ensue. He is betrayed by Judas, arrested by the authorities, tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin and brought to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who alone can ratify a death sentence. He does so reluctantly, after considerable pressure from the Jewish authorities. Several floggings ensue, and then Jesus is on His way to the cross—our cross. Several hours later, He is dead, and hastily laid in a borrowed tomb.
“When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die,” the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote. Jesus didn’t call us merely to live a life of entertainment, tourism, sports-watching, and family fun. He called us to follow Him—the Crucified One, the Man of Sorrows who was despised and rejected. What have you and I suffered for Jesus? Are we willing to be rejected by the culture the way Jesus was? As Jesus’ followers, we must take up our cross and follow Him.
SATURDAY: THE SABBATH (April 4, AD 33)
Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest where people refrained from work. As Luke writes, “On the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). Nevertheless, the Jewish authorities prevail upon Pontius Pilate to post guards at Jesus’ tomb, afraid that His followers might commit a feat of deception and move His body, later claiming that He rose from the dead as Jesus had predicted. Pilate
accedes to their wishes and has the tomb secured.
The Jews were very concerned about keeping God’s commandments—the Sabbath commandment, in particular—but they had no qualms crucifying the Messiah. What incredible irony! Let us make sure we pursue a loving, living relationship with our Lord rather than thinking our faith is primarily a matter of conforming to external trappings of religion, whether Bible-reading, church-going, or other activities. While these are good and important, they are no substitute for a heart relationship with Christ and an obedient life of service lived for His glory.
RESURRECTION SUNDAY: THE EMPTY TOMB, RESURRECTION APPEARANCES (April 5, AD 33)
Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21
He is risen! He is risen indeed! The tomb is empty! Jesus has come back to life! The resurrection is at the heart of the gospel. By dying for our sins on the cross, Jesus has overcome death and given us new, eternal life.
Nothing in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection suggests that Jesus’ followers—whether male or female—expected Jesus to rise from the dead. On Sunday morning, the women go to the tomb primarily to finish His burial since it was performed in haste on Friday afternoon. When Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, she thinks He is the gardener and asks Him where He put Jesus’ body! Later, when Jesus appears to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, they, too, don’t recognize Him at first. The same is true for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The resurrection is not a clever myth concocted by Jesus’ followers. Rather, reading the Gospels one gets the impression that for Jesus to rise from the dead was the last thing they expected (Jesus’ predictions to that effect notwithstanding!). And yet, after the resurrection, Jesus’ followers couldn’t stop talking about the resurrected Jesus and turned the world upside down with their gospel preaching. In one generation, the gospel had reached the ends of the Roman Empire, and two thousand years later there are millions who follow Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
And yet, the story is not yet complete. As Jesus said, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10).
Am I preaching the gospel in my sphere of influence? Am I living a life that is attractive, and if need be, convicting, so that unbelievers may know that Jesus loves them and came to save them? This is the perennial challenge this Easter, and the rest of the year.
May we be faithful to this solemn charge until He returns or comes to take us home to spend eternity in His presence.
Andreas J. Köstenberger is the founder of Biblical Foundations™ (www.biblicalfoundations.org) and senior research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and co-author (with Justin Taylor) of “The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived” (Crossway). Be sure to tune in to our radio broadcast each day for Holy Week to hear Adam’s interview with Andreas.