Welcome to the first Sunday of March and the first week of our new series The Road to Redemption. As you could probably tell by the video, this is going to be a series about Jesus, culminating with Easter on the 27th. Specifically I’m going to be telling you the story of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, often called Holy Week or Passion Week.
The events of this final week of Christ’s life are detailed in each of the four gospels, and have been talked about and written about and debated over ad nauseam for over 2,000 years now, and yet they are still fascinating! And, as I hope to show you in the coming weeks, there is a great deal more than meets the eye in this seemingly simple story of our Savior’s final days.
If you’ve ever taken the time to read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or if you’ve been in church for any amount of time, it’s likely you know some of the basic elements of the story.
- It begins with the Triumphal Entry (which I’ll talk more about today),
- followed by Jesus clearing out the Temple of the money changers,
- then Jesus has his last supper with his disciples,
- they go out to the mount of olives where Jesus prays and sweats drops of blood
- Judas comes and betrays him with a kiss and the guards arrest him
- Jesus is tried by the Sanhedrin, Pilot, and Herod
- Meanwhile Peter Denies Him
- The crowd asks for Barabbas back and demands the crucifixion.
- Jesus is tortured, is crucified, and dies
- Three days later he’s alive.
Maybe that’s familiar to you, maybe not. Don’t worry, I’ll be coving all of that in detail in the coming weeks. But if you’ve ever taken the time to look closely at the different accounts of this week in the different gospels,one thing you will find that on the surface they don’t seem to exactly line up – something the critics often like to point out. But one thing I hope to show you today and in this series is that they do, in fact, line up – which becomes easy to see for anyone bothering to look past the surface.
The events of the last week really begin with Jesus coming to Bethany, which is just a little ways from Jerusalem. That is where his friend Lazarus lived…and died, and where Jesus brought him back to life – so Jesus came to hang out with him and his other friends, Mary, and Martha and others. Bethany was going to be Jesus’ home base during this last week as he would spend much of his days in Jerusalem the city, and return to Bethany or the Mount of Olives in the evening. The reason for his trip to Jerusalem (other than to die on the cross) was that it was time for the annual Passover.
Passover was a big thing for the Jews. It was a remembrance ceremony that God had instituted with Moses when He brought them out of their slavery to Egypt. The first Passover was the night that the Angel of Death killed all of the first born sons of Egypt but passed over the Israelite houses that obeyed God’s command to put lamb’s blood on their door posts. After that, God commanded Israel to remember that day every year by reenacting the first Passover to some degree.
I’ll cover the details later in this talk, but for now you need to know that…
Each year when they celebrated Passover, Jews from all over the nation came to Jerusalem because that was the only place you could officially have your Passover lamb properly sacrificed in the temple. So, Jesus and his disciples were coming to Jerusalem for Passover and were staying with their friends in Bethany.
What happens there is recorded in three of the Gospels:
6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Mark 14 Says almost exactly the same thing, and Luke doesn’t record this incident but a similar incident that occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry.
John adds a few more details.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
At this point I want to remind you that the four Gospels were written by four different people who each had a different reason for writing. Three of them, Matthew, Mark, and John were actually eye-witnesses of what they wrote – Matthew and John were official disciples, but it is believed Mark was one of the others that were always around and had also been a close associate with Peter – and Luke was someone who researched all this after the fact. Based on that, it is expected that they will not all be identical accounts, but because this is ultimately God’s Word, not man’s – it should also not contradict itself. Which means, that if you truly believe this IS God’s Word, and you come across something that YOU think is contradictory or wrong, then it is actually YOU that is in error, not the Bible, and YOU need to study to find where YOUR misunderstanding lies. Otherwise you and I sit on the judgment seat and demand that God yield to our ways of thinking rather than us yielding to Him. Which ultimately means your faith is not in God, but in yourself.
Anyway, in this passage about the party at Bethany we find a couple of things that at first glance do not line up.
As you can see, John’s account is slightly different from Matthew and Mark. They said she dumped the perfume on his head, John said she dumped it on his feet. An apparent contradiction? This one is easy to reconcile – she probably did both.
One thing you probably didn’t know was that in that culture when they ate reclining at a table, they were not like us sitting upright in a chair with their feet under the table – instead they effectively had their backs to the table with their feet pointing away from the table. So, reclining at a table would have been more like eating off a table next to your bed and you kind of sideways sit. So, dumping something on his head could have easily also made it to his feet, and she wouldn’t have to crawl under the table to wipe them with her hair.
Easily resolved when you don’t project modern culture into the biblical story.
Also, from John’s account you might assume he was at Lazarus’ house, while Matthew and Mark say he was at Simon the Leper’s house. Well, John doesn’t actually say they are at Lazarus’ HOUSE – just that he was in Bethany the town where Lazarus LIVED. They were clearly both invited to the same party in the same town at Simon’s house.
Again easily resolved when you don’t assume things that are not actually said.
Anyway, so you can see how easy it could be to assume there are contradictions if you don’t remember that what you are reading is not a novel written by an American to an American audience in the modern world. This is a different culture, different time, and just different way of thinking about a lot of things that we take for granted. And when we read it with our 21st century western mindset, some things can be quite confusing and even seem contradictory on the surface, when with a little effort they become quite clear and harmonized.
You will see more of this as this series unfolds, especially with regard to the timeline of these events.
So, we’ve established, though John, that six days before Passover, Jesus and his disciples made it to Bethany and had a party with friends where Mary anointed his body with the perfume.
Now we know, also from John’s account, that Passover & the Crucifixion were on Friday, so that would put this meal on the previous Saturday….SORT OF.
I’ll come back to that in a minute.
John’s Gospel continues…
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke give a similar account with the added detail about how they got the colt. Here is Mark’s account:
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
And they were shouting Hosanna and such as John said.
Luke adds that Jesus wept over the city…
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
This, of course, was a prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that would happen a few decades later in 70 AD.
Now, there are a few important points I need to make about this event that is usually called the Triumphal Entry.
First, many believe, myself included, that it was on Monday, not on Sunday as is commonly believed and celebrated with the practice of Palm Sunday.
Now, before I continue, let me be clear about something. What I’m about to share with you is a highly debated topic. If you do a quick Google search you will find many articles about this, and, of course, every commentator talks about it – and they all have a different opinion not just about whether it’s Palm Sunday or Palm Monday, but about almost every detail of the Passion week timeline. With that said, I am going to teach you what MY best understanding is based on my own research, and the research of the theologians I have come to trust. I encourage all of you to study these things on your own as well and not just take my word for it, whether you agree with me or not.
So, as I said, I believe that Palm Sunday was actually a Palm Monday.
The reason it is usually determined to be on Sunday is because in the John account he says that this happened the “next day” after the party in Bethany, and as we already said, that was on Saturday. So, why is the next day from Saturday a Monday instead of a Sunday in this case? And why does it matter?
Those are both great questions. Let me tackle the “next day” being Monday first.
If you remember from a few minutes ago, I said that the party, being six days before Passover, was on a Saturday…SORT OF. It was actually on Saturday OR Sunday, depending on how you define a day.
You and I reckon days as being 24 hour periods between midnight and midnight based on a clock synchronized with the world atomic clock. Well, that’s not how they measured days back then. There was no atomic clock, or even clocks in general. They really only had the sun to go by, which, though it seems strange to us, resulted in two different ways of determining what day it was.
Let me explain.
If you and I did not have clocks and based our concept of a day solely on the Sun, we would say that a day starts at sunrise, when the sun comes up and ends the following morning when the sun comes up again starting a new day. So, a day would be from sunrise to sunrise. Well, that’s how the Jews of the northern regions looked at days. However, the Jews of the southern regions said that a calendar day began when the sun went down (sunset) and lasted until the next sunset. This way of looking at days actually had a long tradition dating back to effectively Creation when God said “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Notice God put the evening before the morning, and this is what many of the Jews did at this time – in fact this was how most of the Jewish holidays worked regardless of which kind of day you subscribed to, and this was how the Sabbath day worked for everyone. Sabbath, being on Saturday, always began at sundown on Friday, which for some was actually the start of Saturday.
So, anyway, now that you are thoroughly confused, the answer to this riddle about Sunday or Monday comes in the fact that John was writing his Gospel in terms of the sunset to sunset day, and the others were writing in terms of the sunrise to sunrise days. Thus, when John says that the party was six days before Passover (assuming the dinner happened in the evening as was customary), for HIM that was the beginning of Sunday, while for the others that was the end of Saturday.
So, when John says the “next day” he’s referring to Monday, not Sunday.
The other Gospels do not indicate which day the party was on or what happened immediately before or after. So, John’s Gospel is the only one that gives a specific timeline in this respect.
One other quick note about this in case you did some math in your head. John said the Passover (which was on Friday) was six days away, so how was six days before Friday a Sunday instead of a Saturday? That’s because of the way they counted days in that culture. They did INCLUSIVE counting. When you and I say something is six days away, we generally mean there are six 24-hour days between now and then. When they said something was six days away, they meant it was six DATES away and today counts as one and so does the final date. So, starting with Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday we have six days.
So, why is this important? Well, this sunrise or sunset day thing and the inclusive day counting will become important again later in this series, but it’s also important because Jesus riding into Jerusalem like that on Monday has great symbolic significance, whereas Sunday does not.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem like he did on the day he did actually fulfilled prophecy and symbolized something amazing!
One of the prophecies he fulfilled was mentioned by the Gospel writers. His riding in on the colt of a donkey was prophesied 500 years earlier in
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Now a king riding in on a baby donkey was anything but normal. In fact, a king would normally ride into town with great pomp and circumstance. But Jesus rode in as literally the king of the universe on a beast of burden in humility instead of arrogance. As John MacArthur puts it:
He did not come in wealth but in poverty; He did not come in grandeur but in meekness; and He did not come to slay Israel’s enemies but to save all mankind. The incarnation was the time of His humiliation, not the time of His glorification.
Quite fascinating. But that wasn’t the only prophecy that this entry fulfilled. It also fulfilled the prophecy about the Anointed One from Daniel 9. This is part of the prophecy that the angel Gabriel gave to the prophet, Daniel. If you’ve never read or studied the book of Daniel, you really should. There’s a lot more than just a lion’s den in there.
25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’
The seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ equates to 69 ‘sevens’, which means 69 ‘weeks’ (7 being the number of days in a week), which in ancient prophecy speak means 69 weeks of years, or 483 years. 483 years after the decree goes out to rebuild Jerusalem the Anointed One, the ruler will come.
This same prophecy a few verses later also says that this Anointed one would be “put to death” and would “put an end to sacrifice and offering.”
- Daniel heard this prophecy from the Angel Gabriel while in captivity in Babylon around 500 BC.
- Some time later the Babylonian King Artexerxes issued a decree to Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem in the year 445 BC.
- Jewish years back then were 360 days long, so it equals 476 of our years (which is how history is measured in hindsight).
- 445 BC + 476 years puts this prophecy’s fulfillment in AD 30 (they counted years inclusively too), which is the year Jesus was crucified.
- And with his death he did away with the sacrificial offering system.
And while that may not be precise to the day of the week, there is clearly only one Anointed One/Ruler who fits that 483 year timeline and also matches the other parts of the prophecy. Which tells us what I talked about last week, that God had this planned down to the finest detail from before time began!
And this is not the ONLY detail that proves it…so does the Monday triumphal entry.
While the Daniel prophecy is pretty impressive, it does not require Jesus to have entered the city on Monday. What does require Jesus to enter on Monday was the fact that Jesus was, himself, the final Passover Lamb.
John the Baptist knew this the first time he saw Jesus:
John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
I touched on the details of Passover earlier, but let me point out a few things of significance that show how Jesus was indeed the final Passover lamb.
The Passover institution is written of in Exodus 12. I will read a bit of it to you:
1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. (That is Nisan and corresponds with our March) 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
And so, that’s how they did it for hundreds of years right up until the time of Christ – and the week that Jesus died was Passover week. In the year 30 AD, Passover was on Friday, the 14th of the month, which is when the lambs would be slain and also when Jesus would be killed. But before the lambs could be slain they had to be chosen on the 10th of the month, which in that week fell on Monday.
So, Jesus riding into Jerusalem was not only his declaring his kingship by riding in on a donkey according to Zachariah – which many picked up on, hence all the hoopla and the palm branches and such – and not only was he fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel by doing it in this particular year, but just as the rest of the Jews were choosing their own Passover lamb, Jesus was presenting HIMSELF as the chosen by God, ultimate, and final Passover Lamb, without spot or defect. The Lamb who would not only satisfy the law until next year, but the Lamb that would, as John the Baptist said, be worth enough to take away the sins of the whole world! And as Gabriel predicted to Daniel, would put an end to the the need for sacrifices and offerings because HE was the final sacrifice.!
Talk about the sovereign plan of God! All the way back in Genesis God was laying the groundwork for Jesus. The specific details of the Passover timing and other features point directly at Christ, and Christ alone fulfilled everything written about him in the 4,000 years before he was ever born. This triumphal entry is just scratching the surface!
Jesus was and is the one and only Son of God who saved the world, not by conquest, but by his own death.
But that is not how the people who were cheering for him saw him. They were expecting a conquering hero, a warrior who would lead them to victory over the Romans. That is why they were shouting Hosanna! (Which means Save!) That is also why they were laying down their cloaks for him to ride on, an ancient symbol of submission to a monarch or ruler. They cut off palm branches to place in front of him and wave at him which were other symbols of salvation and joy!
They were excited about this man who could do miracles, raise the dead, and speak with authority. They thought he was the Messiah, and they were right, but they didn’t realize that the Messiah would not conquer with force but with his own death.
Just a few short days later these same people would be shouting, “Crucify Him!”
And, in fact, just two days after this “Triumphal Entry”, one of his own would betray him.
How true it is what John wrote at the beginning of his Gospel…
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
He came to save them, to set them free, but because he was not what they wanted, they rejected him. And people still do that today. We want Jesus on our terms.
We want the triumphal entry to be on a Sunday because that makes our celebration timeline easier.
We want a Jesus who is cool with whatever we want to do, instead of one that comes into the temple and starts turning over our tables when we’re just trying to make a little extra dough.
We want a Jesus who will save us, and then leave us alone.
But Jesus doesn’t do that.
12 Yet to all who do receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.
And that’s the point of Easter, and the point of all that we do in the church. It’s why the church exists. It’s why we can have hope!
The life and death of Jesus was no accident. Every move he made was preordained from before the beginning of the world. From eternity past it was determined that the Son of God would come to this earth and die for us, the ungodly. And from the beginning of time the clues were given to all who would listen, and found their culmination in just one person: Jesus Christ.
So, the question is, will you receive him? Will you believe in his name?