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The final week

Seven days that changed the world

By Scott Hagan

Easter began in Eden. Poised toward a distant sunrise, the Almighty cast the gauntlet before the belly of the serpent. He would hold Satan accountable for the worm he placed in the apple. God’s final victory would be as certain as the original sin which necessitated it. It would be assassination by resurrection.

Satan’s downfall would come through the seed of a woman. But it was more than a mere man through whom it came. The Creator’s choice as scepter and Savior was His own Son. Bludgeoned on a Friday; made whole by Sunday.

Anyone can visit the gaping cavity near Calvary that serves as Exhibit A, vacated by its first and only boarder after a mere 36 hours. It’s the tomb without a tenant.

Not many miles northeast of Israel lies a wasteland near Babylon where the Garden of Eden once prospered. Eradicated from existence by Noah’s flood, Eden was God’s perfect mix of mist, warmth and fragrance. Clothed in beauties only heaven could imagine, the Garden of Eden was projected as a work of completed art, where both man and mammal would live in unified habitation.

As the great rivers Euphrates and Tigris flowed to feed the floral splendors of Eden, everything was set for perfection on earth. The condition of flawless harmony might have remained forever had it not been for the presence of two things: the tree of God and the heart of man.

The "tree of knowledge of good and evil" was God’s fence that separated the property lines of heaven and earth. It was never to be crossed. Yet Adam and Eve, patrons of free will, plucked the forbidden and savored its pleasures. Their indulgence immediately left mankind forever smitten with the sinful aftertaste.

For more than four millenniums following the events of the Garden, the kingdoms of earth rose and fell. Battles … bloodshed … plagues … broken promises … these were the budding legacy of the human race.

But through it all, God never deserted the course He initiated in the Garden of Eden: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; and he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel" (Genesis 3:15, NASB).

The human story line prior to the Cross became an orchestrated delay by an omnipotent God. Though at times the serpent’s judgment appeared in jeopardy, God had everything in control.

Sunday before ‘The Sunday’

The well-traveled road between Jericho and Jerusalem was about to make an encore. God has a way of using things twice. Twice He used Egypt. Once as the slave-house from which His people were freed. Then He chose to use Egypt again as the refuge for the baby Jesus. Egypt became the hiding place from the bloodbath of Bethlehem.

Now the Jericho/Jerusalem road would again become the highway on which the grander plans of God would promenade. Centuries before Jesus traveled that road en route to Calvary, a zealous army under the command of Joshua marched upon the ancient inhabitants of Jericho. Once they arrived, God’s plan called for a seven-day march of circular faith around the walls of Jericho.

Now centuries later, at the opposite end of the highway, stood Jerusalem. The time had come for her seven days. Seven days that would forever change the world.

As in Jericho, the seven days of Jerusalem would involve circles. Not circles leading to a blessing, but circles of confusion and deception. Once again there would be earsplitting shouts. A sparse few would be victorious, while the loudest would be, "Crucify Him."

But when it was all said and done, the seven days of Jericho would have few similarities to the seven days of Jerusalem. Jericho lost a wall; Jerusalem was about to lose a veil.

As awe-inspiring as the destruction of Jericho appeared, the first conquest at the edge of the Promised Land ended up as a single serving of milk and honey. Jerusalem, however, was payment in full for both the wedding feast and estate that awaited the bride and bridegroom.

The final week of Jesus began as He rode His chariot, a virgin donkey, along the makeshift parade route.

Enthusiasm is contagious. Celebrations attract crowds. But the crowds Jesus drew had a unique quality. His crowds were usually two crowds in one. Both followers and Pharisees joined side by side during the Triumphal Entry. Some to sing; some just to see. The glad multitude lifted up their hosannas, "Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord." The hypocrites had their fill of hosannas. They were agitated by the passions of the people. Their intent was to make this highway to heaven a personal highway to hell for Jesus.

What the Pharisees overlooked, however, was that Jesus had already planned on doing just that. He was about to travel to the depths of hell in order to secure the glories of heaven.

Christ had often avoided such scenes during His ministry. He saw right through the shallow adoration. It would be short-lived at best. His holy city had become a sham. Between the branches and the accolades, He saw the people both raped and orphaned by the evil one. But hope had come.

Before the next Sunday would arrive, the waving palms would be replaced by the pierced palms of a risen Savior. The final week was finally under way.

Monday

Like stock traders returning to Wall Street the day after a ticker-tape parade, the religious profiteers returned to their trade. They seemed all but unaffected by the presence of Christ in their city. They had more important matters to tend to. You could tell by the added bounce in their step that they relished the thousands who had come to the big city for the weeklong celebration of Passover.

They were clientele before they were anything else. Loaded down with denarii, they hurriedly shopped the temple searching for deals.

Amid the bustle of errand boys and the dickering echo of traders and consumers, no one seemed to notice that another was browsing the aisles. Neither to buy nor sell, Jesus came only to see the firsthand deterioration of His Father’s favorite house. Since His Father still owned the building, Jesus felt compelled to represent. A righteous one-man riot ensued. Jesus flipped the tables, scattering both moneychangers and hypocrites from their places of revenue. The godless landscape inside the temple revealed a side of Jesus few on earth had ever seen. Their lukewarm care for the house of prayer enraged Him.

As Jesus departed the temple, He came to the fig tree He had previously cursed. All in all, the events of Monday brought Jerusalem back to reality. Life wasn’t a parade after all. If it were, then Jesus would have had no reason to die. The temple cleansing … the cursing of the fruitless fig … all spelled out why Jesus needed to die. Humankind was still humankind. Sinful and barren. They loved money more than God. And they, like the symbolic fig, were fruitless and without purpose.

Tuesday

Tuesday has more recorded movement and activity than any other day during the final week of Jesus. It was His day to teach. Many enjoyed the astounding things Jesus taught in parables. Most listened. Few received. They heard about "virgins" and "talents." They also watched as Jesus rewarded a widow for her mighty "mite" offering, while at the same time rebuking the religious rich for their uncanny stinginess.

But the defining moment of Tuesday came during lunch. This was not the first time Jesus accepted a lunch engagement from a man named Simon. The first Simon was a Pharisee. This second Simon was a leper. Or should I say former leper. Oddly similar, the meal at Simon the leper’s house was interrupted in much the same way as the meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house. In both cases, a strange woman burst into the house seeking to worship Jesus.

Tears covered the feet of Jesus at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Expensive perfume covered the feet of Jesus at the home of Simon the leper. Both offerings touched the heart of God.

At Simon the Pharisee’s house, the Pharisee himself became indignant. At Simon the leper’s house, the disciples became indignant. Both were deeply misguided. Once again Jesus found a place to receive genuine worship. Once again, Jesus was disturbed by the selfish attitudes of distracted people who placed personal interests before the priority to adore.

With just days until His death, Jesus marked the moment. A memorial was established on behalf of the worshiper with no name.

Wednesday

A difficult silence fell over Jerusalem on Wednesday of the Passion Week. Nothing of Jesus’ actions is recorded by Scripture. For the old-timers who were alive when Christ was born, it brought back painful memories. The white page between Old and New Testaments may look as simple as a blank break point between law and grace. But for those who lived it, it was an awful portrait of a silent God.

For 400 years, God withheld an update on the progress of His plan. Then from obscurity the angel Gabriel appeared to a weary and sonless priest named Zechariah. His and Elizabeth’s response, though not perfect, is remarkable after 400 years without a single syllable being uttered by God. People leave churches after four bad sermons. We give up on relationships after four tough weeks. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth and the rest of the Emmanuel Players are to be commended for their readiness to listen and respond.

With the birth of Christ, God broke the silence. But would He become silent again? Was silent Wednesday the beginning of a new dark age? No one but Jesus knew His whereabouts or activities on Wednesday. Was He in a lonely place praying? Maybe He was comforting loved ones. Or maybe He rested.

What we do know is this: Silent Wednesday was just that. One day. By Thursday the world, and hell itself, knew the Son of God was committed to carrying out the assignment of Eden. Wednesday, albeit quiet, was simply the fourth day and counting before the slaves of sin would be emancipated.

Thursday

WWJD is the embroidered acrostic worn as wristbands by millions of Christian teen-agers who have gone public with their faith. Outside the Upper Room where the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper, a few Pharisees had the same acrostic, WWJD, written across their hearts. For them it meant, "What would Judas do?"

Forever etched in history as the turncoat treasurer with a bankrupt soul, Judas Iscariot was the apostolic chameleon who kissed the Savior one moment and backstabbed Him the next. His graphic collapse taught loudly that money and materialism are no antidotes for guilt. That greed mingled with grace is a spiritually lethal mix.

His death makes any Christian wonder about the strength of his or her own commitment. Would a bag full of silver have been sufficient enough booty for me to leverage my own loyalties to Jesus? Enough to persuade me to dip the morsel and take the plunge? It was for Judas.

With a stomach full of bread straight from the Only Begotten’s table and feet freshly bathed by the Ancient of Days’ own hands, Judas darted into the midnight air. He was the willing new recruit ready to service those who would falsely accuse Jesus later that night. The ally of blood-thirsty jackals. Scum who would just as soon cut your throat as cut you a deal.

Watching him leave the Last Supper, fully engulfed in the spirit of treason, you wonder how Jesus maintained an appetite for lost souls.

The events of Friday, Saturday and Sunday have become a celebrated blur for the two millenniums of the Christian church. But one thing is clear: There would have been no Calvary had it not been for Gethsemane. The two flow like tributaries into a single stream. They are synonymous with obedience. Every word in the English language for torture, pain and suffering has been ascribed to these hours of agonizing prayer and crucifixion. But often forgotten during our Easter pageants are the events of Saturday.

Saturday

Saturday is the forgotten day between Good Friday and Easter. It is the day we shop for bonnets, polish our shoes and mow our lawns; usually all without a single consideration of what Jesus did on the day prior to His resurrection.

This is the day Jesus descended into hell to proclaim the victory of the Cross over the forces of darkness (Acts 2:27).

With all authority and dominion now His from the Father (Matthew 28:18), Sunday couldn’t come soon enough for Jesus.

 

After the Resurrection

As amazing as the final week of Jesus was, it becomes even more amazing when you consider the first deeds of Jesus once death became His slave. Straight from the morning tomb, Jesus sought to confirm the integrity of His pre-Calvary mission. A duty He repeatedly defined: "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). His first risen act was to embrace the worshiper. His second was to seek for the wanderer. Following the Resurrection, Jesus connected with Mary Magdalene. "Now after he had risen early on the first day of the week, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene" (Mark 16:9).

A fascinating choice. She had history of seven demons. Though she was plagued by insanity and harlotry, Jesus could still see the angel behind those demons (Luke 8:2).

After one touch, the rosy complexion of her cheeks was restored to their youthful form. Her deranged and nerve-racked mind became as tranquil as the troubled waters Jesus so often calmed. Then Jesus gave Mary Magdalene the greatest gift of all: a fresh innocence and purity far truer than any human virginity.

But after He blessed Mary, the morning took a compelling turn. Jesus suddenly turned away from Jerusalem and began traveling in what seemingly was the wrong direction. What was Jesus searching for beyond the city limits of Jerusalem?

The Bible tells of two wanderers returning to their hometown of Emmaus. Like thousands of others, the two men had traveled a week earlier to Jerusalem for the Mosaic Passover, but with the greater anticipation being an encounter with the Messiah Jesus. Early in the week things felt so promising. But now on the very day Christ arose, they were faithless and heading home. The two from Emmaus had given up.

After some sketchy hearsay, they decided it was in their best interest to get out of the city. So on Resurrection morning they quietly departed. Why would God chase after men like these?

The city limits of Emmaus were now in sight. With bewilderment and sadness all around them, the sound of six sandals, not four, could suddenly be heard on the ancient gravel road. The fourth man of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace was now the third man on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus had made a bold choice. He extended His grace to those who deserted Him. Emmaus began a new week in Jesus’ life. His first week after the Resurrection looked a lot like His final week before the Cross. He loved people before He died. Now He started off by loving a few more the moment He came alive. The only difference between then and now? A score was settled. The conflict of Eden was the conquest of Calvary.

Maybe this Easter week Jesus is walking your way. It may even be the wrong way, for a series of steps, like it was for the two men on the road to Emmaus. The bitterness and disillusionment that keep you away from Jesus may not feel broken, but maybe they are beginning to soften … like they did for the two on the road back to Emmaus. Men still walk. Jesus still speaks. Men still hesitate. That is where God still begins.

The final week of Jesus was nothing short of a human nightmare. But Jesus endured that final week for one simple reason: That you and I might have more than one final week to spend with Him in heaven.


Scott Hagan is pastor of Harvest Church (Assemblies of God) in Elk Grove, Calif.

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