27. Catastrophe – Friday

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 27. Catastrophe – Friday

Jn 19:6   Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

Approach: It’s early Friday morning. The historian Max Hastings wrote a book entitled ‘Catastrophe’, detailing the First World War and then a subsequent one detailing the Second World War, entitled, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. They are sobering reading and the folly of mankind is laid bare, but the description, ‘Catastrophe’ and the following one, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ are apt descriptions of what took place on this most shameful day in history. If we may, let’s just itemize the things that happen in the next eighteen hours. It’s very easy to forget all that happened so let’s remind ourselves what Good Friday is about:

The Events:

– night, Jesus is taken first to the house of Annas (Jn 18:13) where interrogated.

– he is then sent to Caiaphas’s palace being interrogated by scribes and elders (Mt 26:57, Jn 18:24))

“chief priests and elders and all the council” (i.e. the Sanhedrin) seek false witnesses (Mt 26:59-62)

– the chief priest demands him under oath to declare if he is the Son of God (v.63)

– Jesus affirms this is so (v.64) The high priest declares this is blasphemy (v.65)

– collectively they agree this is worthy of death (v.66)

– he is abused by some there (Mk 14:65, Lk 22:63)

– the ‘trial’ continues to the morning (probably daybreak) (Mt 27:1, Lk 22:66)

– they then take him to Pilate (Mt 27:2)

– Pilate interrogates him, finds no fault, offers to free him, the crowd calls for Barabbas (Mt 27:11-23)

– Pilate sends him to Herod who returns him (Lk 23:6-12)

– Pilate washes his hands of the situation and gives him over to be crucified (Mt 27:24-26)

– Jesus is beaten and mocked by the soldiers (Mt 27:27-31)

– Jesus is crucified (Mt 27:35, Lk 23:33) It is midday (Jn 19:14)

– At three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus dies (Mt 27:45-50)

– As evening approaches Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and entombs him (Mt 27:57-60)

– On Saturday, a guard is placed over the still closed tomb (Mt 27:62-66)

Detail? I am aware that a list like this skims over the events but the truth is that there is so much that it would be impossible to cover it all in all four Gospels, so I leave it to you to read the accounts. The end result is that by late afternoon on this Passover day, Jesus is dead, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for the sin of the world. Wonderful and terrible. The wonder will come with later understanding but for the moment, on this day, it is simply terrible, a catastrophe! All hell has broken lose. How else can we explain what has taken place?

Uncertainty? How does our overall theme fit here? Well, when we look at the appalling acts of the combined Jewish authorities – and they are all implicated – their only uncertainty, their only question mark, is whether they will be able to get Pilate to agree to their demands and have Jesus executed. When Jesus is before Pilate, the procurator’s initial uncertainty is Jesus’ guilt, and he is fairly sure he is guilty of nothing demanding death. His secondary uncertainty is how he can let Jesus off without displeasing the Jewish authorities and possibly causing a riot.  He tries suggesting releasing Jesus – or the rebel leader Barabbas – but when that offer is rejected he tries to offload his responsibility by sending him to Herod but Herod gets no further with Jesus and so sends him back.   When the crowd shout that he is no friend of Caesar (Jn 19:12,15) he capitulates and gives him up to be killed. He stands in history as a moral coward and thus Jew and Gentile share in the responsibility for the death of the Son of God.

But the peak of uncertainty must be seen in the disciples. Mostly they have simply fled and hidden. Their future is questionable. Peter has denied Jesus and is now in total despair. He, the one so often seen as the leader of the twelve, is now enveloped in guilt and shame. He has no future. The apostle John and a number of the women have witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross and they are in no doubt that the one they love is dead. There is a massive question mark over the future. What were these three years all about? The anguish of what they had just witnessed overshadows everything else. There appears to be no thought given to Jesus words, reiterated so many times about his coming death AND resurrection. It has all been swallowed up in the awfulness of what has just happened.

I think it is probably impossible, this side of heaven, to see and understand the absolute awfulness of this day. We can catch a glimpse of it, how wrong it was, but let’s try to stretch further, remembering all the time of the wonder of who it is we have been considering – the glorious Son of God who put his glory aside and left heaven to experience life in a human body, who waited patiently thirty years until he was able to bring about the most incredible three years the world has ever witnessed, with miracles, healings, deliverances, people being raised from the dead – the love of God being poured through him on a daily basis to bless humanity.

But see:

– the disciples – who betray Jesus, abandon Jesus, deny Jesus in his time of need,

– the Jewish authorities – who take this man full of utter goodness, and scheme to have him killed because he showed up the bankruptcy of their faith and their lives and put their nation under threat (at least as they saw it), and the Jewish people who allowed themselves to be used by the authorities to raise the threat level against Pilate, and thus enable the will of the authorities to proceed,

– the Roman Procurator, Pilate, who failed to stand up to the evil confronting him and abrogated his authority and that of Rome to let his men bring about the will of Judaism.

Questions for Us? As we read the accounts of Jesus on the Cross there is a measure of uncertainty that most of us never dare go near, questions arise over the Scriptures. It is the event plus what is said about it in the rest of the Bible. Let’s consider two examples:

First, how about the prophetic Psalm 22 that starts with those terrible words that Jesus uttered, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) revealing a psalm that saw behind the scenes if we may put it like that. “All who see me mock me.” (v.7 fulfilled in, for example Mk 15:31). “all my bones are out of joint.” (v.14) the experience of hanging, nailed, on a cross. But then what about, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey,” (v.12,13) and “Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.” (v.16) This is not merely people, this is the demonic hoard egged on by Satan, deriding him and seeking to provoke him to curse God so that he became less than the perfect sacrifice that the prophecies and Law required. I have referred to C.S.Lewis’s Narnia book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” before, and if you read it you will remember the mob around Aslan as he is being sacrificed. I think Lewis got it right. On the cross on this day, there is a battle going on for the fate of the world that depends on a perfect lamb remaining perfect (Ex 12:5 etc. 1 Pet 1:19, Heb 9:14) and he never gave way (Heb 4:15). Hallelujah!

 

Second, bearing our sins? He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness,” (1 Pet 2:24 quoting Isa 53) How many times have we perhaps heard that in Easter sermons and yet we’re still not sure what it means. Bore – carried, took on himself. In other words, in some way they defies our understanding he took every sin that has ever been committed and will be committed, wrapped them round himself on the cross as he died, taking the punishment for every one of them (That is not to mean every person is cleared – we still have to believe it, appropriate it for our own lives).

And So? We collectively as humanity were guilty of this awful result. It is too easy, in the light of retrospective study with the whole of the New Testament in our hands, to say we wouldn’t have been part of all of this. But whether we would have remained silent and let evil have its way, or allowed ourselves get swept along with popular opinion (stoked from behind, maybe), or whether we might have been like a later Saul of Tarsus and thought that although he was a great teacher and healer, this man needed to be stopped for the sake of our country and our belief system, whatever… we would almost certainly have been in that mix somewhere. It leaves us (well, it does me at least) praying with Jesus, “Father, forgive us, we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t understand the dynamics of what was happening. Please have mercy on us. Amen”  Silence.

Good Friday?

The Realities of Good Friday

Good Friday is both a terrible day and a most glorious day. Several things stand out as we meditate upon it.

Point 1: A day of the apparent failure of God   (Appearances are Deceptive!)

Good Friday: This is a day of questions,

  • God where were you, why didn’t you save him?
  • God where are you, why don’t you save us?
  • Did you abandon him, why did you leave him to this fate?
  • You’ve said you will never leave us, but where are you?

Theology speaks of the God of Transcendence – the God who is outside this material world, the God who holds Himself at a distance from us.

It also speaks of the God of Immanence – A God who is close, near, who manifests Himself and lets us know He is here, who feels with.

On Good Friday He appears at a distance, there is this horrible absence.

Point 2: A Day that reveals the Failure of Mankind

All we are left with is the awfulness of mankind; it is:

  • a day of betrayal – give me thirty pieces of silver and he’s yours
  • a day of denial – I tell you I don’t know him
  • a day of denunciation – he is a blasphemer
  • a day of rejection – crucify him
  • a day of neglect – I wash my hands of this
  • a day of abuse – thrash him
  • a day of indifference – it’s nothing to do with us!
  • a day of abandonment – hide!

This is the condemnation of the human race: we have the potential for greatness, but even more the potential for all these things. None of us is sinless, and so on this day we might expect the judgment of God on us.

Yet the judgement of God has just wiped our sin, our guilt and our shame away in what Jesus did on the Cross. But on that day, that was hidden. We need to see the ‘big picture’.

Point 2: It was NOT an accident but the Plan of God

  1. Planned: by the Godhead before the world began (7 references in the NT)

“the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”  (Rev 13:8)

  1. Prophesied: in Israel’s history

“He was pierced for our transgressions,  he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him.”    (Isa 53:5)

  1. Proclaimed by Jesus himself at least three times

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be … mocked and flogged and crucified.”  (Matt 20:18,19)

  1. Performed: Carried out by Roman executioners

“They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha … And they crucified him.” (Mk 15:22-24)

  1. Revealed: by Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)

  1. Reality explained

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way.” (1 Pet 2:24)

  1. The Result

Jesus Christ …. made personal atonement for our sins” (1 Jn 2:2 JBP) “Jesus is the way our sins are taken away.”  (1 Jn 2:2 Easy to read)

Point 3: Conclusions

  1. This appeared a day of NO hope

– it was impossible to envisage change – death has claimed our Lord – there is no future (From our position, hindsight says otherwise)

– for them that’s how it was. (For us we know about Sunday)

– for them God appeared unfeeling and at a distance; (For us we now know God HAS experienced what we experience – rejection, loneliness, pain, isolation – and so feels for us and is there to comfort us

  1. Hope is received by faith

– faith comes by believing what the Bible says

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering”, said Isaiah (Isa 53:4) “by his wounds we are healed” (v.5)

  1. Hopes comes by seeing the full picture of this day

Good Friday is a day

  • of confusion and questions
  • yet is the culmination of the plans of God
  • that reveal the awfulness of mankind and our need
  • but is in fact God dealing with our guilt
  • therefore it is a day of future hope, and
  • without it, there IS NO HOPE, NO FUTURE for us
  • without Good Friday you and I cannot be Christians
  • without Good Friday there is no Church

Receive Good Friday, believe it, give thanks for it and worship.

28. Confusion

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 28. Confusion

Mt 28:5  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

Today is Good Friday, the worst day in human history as mankind rejected the Son of God and put him to death on a wooden cross. When I was younger I found it a confusing day. It was a day of grief and mourning and yet I knew that in two days that would all be turned to praise and thanksgiving and worship. Forgive the analogy, but my wife used to say, “I don’t want to watch the film ‘Titanic’ because I know the ending – it sinks!” And that is a little bit what it is like, for me at least, with Good Friday. It is a horrible day, a day I would rather forget – and then I know the ending and would much rather focus on that!

So I have jumped forward on this day to the events on next Sunday morning, but what do I find? Still confusion! The two Mary’s have gone to the tomb. Face it, they were confused before they got there. They thought they could waltz into the tomb and embalm him properly, but the tomb had been sealed with a massive stone. They get there and an earthquake (angel) has rolled it away. The angel seeks to reassure them because Jesus isn’t there. They pass on a message – you’re to go to Galilee. They turn to go, and Jesus appears to them, and other records tell us they didn’t recognise him.

The truth of the matter is that all the events of this weekend are utterly confusing. Jesus had plainly told his disciples what was going to happen but when it did they fled in terror and hid behind locked doors. Saturday is a no-go day, nothing happens, they hide in misery. Sunday – he’s alive! But still they struggle to believe.

Now here is my main point and perhaps it hangs over this entire series: we as Christians with our Bibles and thousands of sermons have heard it again and again, but in so doing we lose a sense of the reality of it all; we romanticize it. No, the truth is that this weekend blows your mind away in every direction.

It is God bringing about the salvation of the world. It involves the glorious Son of God putting aside all of his glory, all of his power and all of his authority and submitting himself totally to the evil of mankind and dying on a cross as a common criminal. And then, when we have given up all hope because he is dead, the power of God is manifest in a way beyond our comprehension and Jesus is alive again. But then we start thinking back – water into wine, walking on water, raising the dead?

Why are we surprised, this is God? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isa 55:8).  This is the truth; I am not in the same league as Him. I just need to shut up, bow down, and worship Him. Make this a day of worship.

1. Significance

Introduction to Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross  

In the series we were following we came to an appropriate point where we could pause up and come back to it in a month’s time. We are in the period referred to as Lent, and Easter Sunday is in 30 days’ time.

To quote the Internet, “For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday. (This year [2018] it began on February 14. The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays), and is treated as a period of reflection and, for some, a time for fasting.”

I am aware, looking down the list of subjects and themes we have covered in the past, that I have written on ‘Aspects of Easter’, another series simply called, ‘Easter’ and another on the ‘Holy Week’. However, my attention was recently drawn to the number of references in the New Testament to either the ‘cross’ or to the word ‘crucifixion’ and so I would like to attempt a series of short meditations on single verses that contain either of those words. I do this in fear and trepidation because this is really holy ground and verses standing on their own do not form a theology and therefore this attempt denies creating a neatly structured or systematic approach. Each day will thus stand on its own and may or may not follow on from the previous one.  Their only link is that somehow, and it may be tenuous, every verse refers to that terrible event that we remember on Good Friday. I will say no more at this point and simply let them speak for themselves and trust that by the end we will have seen a fresh focus on this key episode in the life of the Son of God.

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 1. Significance

1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For many across the world, the words, ‘the Cross’ or references to the crucifixion of Christ, mean little. Others attribute a mystical sense to such words, others have a vague inkling of a mystery that just eludes them. For the apostle Paul, who we find writing here to the church in Corinth, the whole matter pertaining to the Cross, to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is of absolutely crucial importance.

I like the Message version’s take on verses 1 & 2: “You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

Paraphrase versions are so helpful aren’t they. The JBP version is even more enlightening: “You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross.”

Paul’s life was amazing; he was absolutely sold out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went and here he makes sure we understand that the heart of that message was Jesus’ death on the Cross, the event we remember on Good Friday. I nearly wrote, “that we are looking forward to on Good Friday” but unlike perhaps a birthday party, this terrible event is not something to be relished. It is absolutely horrible, and in this series, I do not intend to visit the events of the Cross in any great detail; I’ve done that already elsewhere.

The thrust that comes punching out of this present verse is that, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned at least, whatever else we might teach about Christ (and I recently wrote a long series which I found impacted me deeply called, ‘Focus on Christ’) the most crucial part of our teaching about Christ, if we are to follow in the great apostle’s footsteps, has to be the Cross, has to be the crucifixion of Christ. I think we are going to see that crucifixion focuses more on the event, the fact that Christ was put to death on our behalf, while ‘the Cross’ refers more what Christ was achieving through that event on our behalf. So, when Paul speaks here of Christ’s crucifixion (and later on we’ll see his earlier reference to ‘the message of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18), he is saying the gospel is anchored in the death of Christ and without it there would be no gospel. It is that important and for that reason we will consider it slowly in the days ahead as we look at both the event (crucifixion) and its significance (the Cross). Pray for help as we do this for we tread on holy ground.

6. Abandoned – Denied

Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 6.  Abandoned – Denied

Mt 26:34,35    I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

We have considered two aspects of the fact that Jesus was abandoned at the end of this Passion Week, betrayal and rejection, and now we come to the third expression of this abandonment, the denial of Peter. We did very briefly allude to it in an earlier meditation but now we have to look more closely at it. It is not comfortable reading. However, before we really get into it, we must note that this is different from the previous two aspects for they were both essential to the whole work of the Cross.

Unless Judas had betrayed Jesus and told the authorities where and when to arrest him without public upheaval, it would not have happened. Unless the religious establishment had not made such a strong case for his death, it would not have happened. Unless the crowds had not bayed for his death and unless Pilate and Herod had both just shrugged their shoulders of all responsibility, it would not have happened. Unless the Father had allowed the Sin and sins of the world to sit upon Jesus so that Jesus lost sight of the Father’s presence and humanly felt abandoned by Him, the death on the Cross would have meant nothing beyond the death of another poor soul at the hands of the Romans.

But it was not like that with Peter. If Peter had not denied Jesus nothing would have changed. His denial was not essential to the death on the Cross – and yet it is another thing that happened that has significance and meaning, so what happened?

Our verses above show us something significant about Peter’s involvement: Jesus knew it would happen! That is not to say Jesus made it happen, but very simply he knew what was going to take place and he knew that would involve Peter in this way. Now before we think more on Peter and this action, let’s just note something about Jesus in all of this. At the Last Supper two things occur of some significance. First, Jesus clearly revealed that he knew what Judas was going to do. Second, as we’ve just seen, he also clearly knew what Peter would do. One would betray him, the other deny him. Now here’s my question: suppose you had knowledge of the future, and you employed or simply had a band of followers, and as you gathered them together you realised that before the time was out, one of them was going to betray you and the other deny you, how do you think you would feel about these two, knowing this? Even more, if the betrayer was also an accountant, would you let him hold the purse strings of your business? If the denier was a natural leader, would you let him rise up to be a leader among your group, knowing what is coming?

There is, therefore, either an incredible lack of judgment by Jesus or there is an amazing level of grace and forgiveness being shown.  With Judas it is slightly different because, as we’ve said, his betrayal is essential to the end outcome. But what about Peter, his denial (which does follow – see Mt 26:57,58,69-75) is not essential, it is merely an expression of human weakness? His denial is an abandonment of loyalty and a failure of that other word the Bible uses so often – faithfulness.

Now it is possible that you have never denied a friend, or at least have forgotten it perhaps. It occurs when you simply do not stand up for someone who needs you to stand up for them – and you step away and you may or may not utter words that separate you from them. It is rooted in fear, fear of consequences which, in Peter’s case, might have had severe physical repercussions. It may be the fear of what other people will think of you. Have you ever been in a room when people speak against God or against Jesus or against Christianity, and you remain silent? We live in an age where, tragically, there are so many marriage break-ups, and so often they are accompanied by abandonment by betrayal (going to another who is not your spouse), abandonment by rejection (walking away from your partner) and abandonment by denial (they don’t love me, I don’t love them, there is no marriage here). But we mustn’t digress from denial. I wish this paragraph didn’t apply to me in the past, but it does. I stand with Peter and weep at past failures, not having been there for people who needed me.

Why Peter’s denial? I think it is simply a terrible reminder that even the best of us are flawed human beings, prone to failure, prone to getting it wrong. It is made worse by the fact that Peter was one of the inner three, one of the ones who accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration, one of the ones chosen by Jesus to go and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is also made worse by Peter’s unknowingness, his inability to know himself when Jesus, at the Last Supper, told him what would happen. It is made worse by the fact that mere minutes before, Peter was wielding a sword in defence of Jesus in the garden, an act of mistaken human desire to help God out.

How many of us struggle, even at this moment, with our human frailty: “I will never disown you!”  There are times to rejoice at the wonder of who we are and at the wonder of our salvation, and at the place held for us in heaven, but here on this Good Friday – yes, it is the day of Jesus’ death – it is a time for mouths to be silenced, mouths that would speak forth self-justification, mouths that would make excuses, mouths that would even deny the truth about themselves.

Yes, it is Good Friday, and you may be surprised that we have not focused even more on the details of what happened to bring Jesus to the Cross (we have been doing that surely?) or more importantly we might think, on what happened on the Cross. I have done that in other meditations in other series in past years; this series is all about why Jesus went to the Cross – for us, for our needs, for the needs of the whole, failing human race. We have faced confusion, we have seen anguish, we have seen plotting and scheming against Jesus, we have seen him abandoned to his fate on the Cross by betrayal, rejection and denial. These are the things that we, the human race do, these are the things that brought Jesus to the Cross. Yes, it was the will of the Father, stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted…. the punishment that brought us peace was upon him… and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:4-6) but as the apostle Peter preached, “with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) That’s what we have been considering in these recent studies. Be still, be silent, be thankful, and yes, by all means weep at the truth.

Good Friday

GOOD FRIDAY – Helpless?

1 Tim 2:5,6   For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.

The awfulness of Good Friday, the anguish of the dying Christ, and the guilt we feel from having been a part of the human race that did this to the glorious son of God, perhaps covers up the incredible nature of just what was happening on that day inside and outside Jerusalem.

An unknowing time-travelling reporter, observing these events on this day, with no other knowledge than what they see, might suppose that here was a man caught up by the circumstances of the day and rendered utterly helpless. He is arrested by an armed guard and from then on he is utterly helpless to change his circumstances. He might have pleaded ‘not guilty’ before that unjust court but they were determined that he would die. Indeed Pilate decreed him innocent but that didn’t stop his death. He is beaten and thrashed and then the mutilated body taken out and crucified and there left to die – and die he does!  He appears utterly helpless!

But the truth is somewhat different. At the arrest, as Peter goes to take his sword to defend his master, Jesus steps in and stops him: Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:52,53)

This is the same Son of God who, early in his ministry, when they tried to throw him off a cliff, simply slipped away out of their hands (Lk 4:28-30). This is the same Son of God who knew all men and who knew what they were thinking (e.g. Lk 5:22, 6:8) and knew exactly what was to come. No, the appearance is of absolute helplessness but the reality is that he was in total control. As Isaiah had prophesied, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isa 53:7) Voluntary helplessness in order to take our sin, guilt & shame! Hallelujah!

Palm Sunday

PALM SUNDAY – Heralded

Matt 21:8,9 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

David the psalmist wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psa 23:4) It seems an apt description of this week ahead – the valley of the shadow of death. For Christians this week ahead is a week of mixed emotions. On Good Friday there is the awfulness of the events of that day when we rejected the Saviour of the World. Then of Easter Sunday there is the celebrating that he is alive. But as we walk through this week ahead, there is the awful shadow of death hanging over it, the death we know is coming at the end of it.

It is that, perhaps, that makes the events of ‘Palm Sunday’ so incongruous. We know, because we’ve got it in writing and we’re looking back on it, that his death is coming, but death is the last thing on the mind of the crowd who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Indeed this travelling preacher seems to be the master over death because it was only a few weeks back that Lazarus was raised from the dead by him and the word has spread around the area like a tsunami rushing out from an earthquake epicentre, so now here he is on his way to Jerusalem with the crowd getting bigger and bigger by the moment.

It almost seems like he inflames them for he sends some of his followers to borrow a donkey and he mounts it to ride up to and through the gates of Jerusalem. The words of the prophet Zechariah, taught in the synagogues throughout the land, are being fulfilled before their very eyes: Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Mt 215 quoting Zech 9:9). Some who have come from the north remember the time when he had fed five thousand with virtually nothing and the word had started to spread that this was their new messiah-king, a worthy king for Israel surely!

Thus they herald him as their king, yet nevertheless for some there was this shadow of death hanging over it all. The disciples had heard their master say a number of times that they would go to Jerusalem and there he would be killed (see Mt 16:21, 17:23). They had heard it and they had grieved. Peter had even rebuked him for saying such things.

How unreal those words must have seemed now, with the crowd screaming and shouting and applauding him; yet those very shouts would have had the exact opposite effect upon the religious authorities within the city, who became more and more anxious and sought opportunities to arrest him.

God’s plan was clearly declared by the prophet Isaiah, that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5)  The Cross is the necessary end of this week because of our sins; that was God’s declared plan, but it needed the work of men. The Lord knew how the crowd would react with just a little prompting, so the raising of Lazarus just a few miles and weeks away, and the riding in on a donkey were just gentle fuel to fire the passions of men of power to move against Jesus. As Peter later said to the Jewish crowd on the day of Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23).

Yes, this Sunday is a terrible combination of the knowledge and plan of God, the shallow adoration of a self-seeking crowd and, eventually, the sinful scheming of powerful men. How terrible! How wonderful!