What’s So Special about Holy Week?

This is a story I wrote for The Falcon, an online newspaper for The University of Montevallo.  Unfortunately, due to space, it wasn’t able to be published.  The story examines the events of Holy Week and their importance in our faith.  Enjoy.

This past week, Christians all over the world celebrated Holy Week, a week culminating in the greatest celebration of the Christian faith: Easter.  In this story, I’ll lay out why this week is so important and how it changes the way we should live, specifically looking at Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Let’s first take a quick look at the events leading up to Friday.  First, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.  He did this to show them their need for His cleansing from sin, and to give them the example of service they were to echo.  We’ve come to call this day “Maundy Thursday.”  Make no mistake: The disciples’ feet were gross, and the job was usually reserved for the slave of the slave.

However, the God who had created all the universe took the form of a servant and washed the feet of sinful men, including the feet of the one who would betray Him (Judas Iscariot).  In this moment, Jesus showed love, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice He would make on the cross.

After the last supper, Jesus is arrested, beaten and sent to die by way of crucifixion.  Even though He had done nothing wrong or deserving of death, the crowd chose to crucify Him because He did not meet their expectations of the Messiah.

This was all to fulfill Scripture.  In Isaiah 53, the prophet Isaiah tells of the work of Christ.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

He died to accomplish salvation.  Later in the chapter, Isaiah says Jesus will “make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

Jesus, on the cross, paid for every sin, past, present and future, for those who will put their faith and trust in Him.  He took the wrath of God, and died the death that we deserved to die, so that we may be counted righteous in Him.  This leads Paul to write in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus cries out on the cross, “It is finished!”  When He uttered these words, He told us that the work of salvation, the payment of sin and the taking of God’s wrath by death, was done.  We cannot contribute to our salvation.  It is fully by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work.  And we can trust in His finished work for one reason:

He’s alive.

Saying “It is finished!” would amount to a lie if Jesus stayed in the grave.  It would have made Him a liar, and not worthy of our trust or obedience.  But He didn’t stay there.

The entire Christian faith rides on the resurrected Savior.  Let’s look at it:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”–John 20:1.  Mary goes to tell the disciples that the body of Christ is not there, and they come to investigate.  The disciples begin to understand that He is risen.  Mary stays at the grave.  Then Jesus shows up:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’”–John 20:15-16.

Jesus calls her by name, and she recognizes Him as her risen Lord.

The implications of the resurrection are huge.  Paul writes the following in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve.”–1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

It is of first importance.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the most important truth in the history of histories.  If it is true, it changes everything.  Paul says this later in the chapter:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain….and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”–13:13-19.

Without the resurrection, there is no sacrifice for sins.  In rising from the grave, Jesus showed that His sacrifice for all of our sin was accepted before God the Father, the Judge of the nations.  That means that when I sin, I run to the cross, not looking to make another sacrifice, but to trust in the one He made, and receive the forgiveness that I have in Christ.

With His resurrection, Jesus gives Christians hope that we too will be raised one day.  With His resurrection, Jesus showed that not only is He alive, but that He is coming back.

And if He is coming back, we must live in expectancy of it.  The truth of the gospel, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, changes how we view our lives, our sin, the world around us and eternal matters.

Jesus is Lord.  He’s not just my Lord.  He is the Lord, and one day, everyone will confess this, rather it be out of joy and gladness or fear and realization of the coming judgment.  In deciding to come back from the dead, He showed that He is God.

God the Father places God the Son in authority over all things, and to be Christian is to be submitted to Christ.  That means we embrace His truth and His ways.

David Platt, pastor of The Church of Brook Hills in Hoover, gives these “startling implications” of the resurrection:

1) Jesus is Lord over life and death.

2) Jesus is Lord over sin and Satan.

3) Jesus is Lord over you and me.

We have two responses: Turn and believe in Jesus, trust in His work and surrender to His Lordship, or turn away from Christ, reject Him and receive eternal hell.

In a postmodern world of relative truth, one truth remains absolute: Jesus is alive, and Jesus is Lord.  And He is coming back.  Will we surrender to His good and beautiful Lordship now, escaping sin and that which leads to death?  Or will we reject Him on our way to hell?

Because He is alive, we are free to come and trust in Him, and receive new life from the Lord.

The Significance of the Resurrection

He is risen!  I hope you all are having a marvelous Resurrection Day, as we remember our risen Savior.  This day, we remember the single greatest, most important event in the history of the world: the resurrection of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.  Death could not hold our Lord and Savior.

Today we wrap up the “Jesus Died” series with the resurrection.  You see, Jesus did die, and that’s what this series has been about.  But the good news is that He did not stay in the grave.  He rose again.  So today, I’ll be looking at three truths and conclusions from the resurrection.  This is by no means exhaustive, as the implications of the resurrection and the bearing it has on our lives are infinite, but hopefully you take truth from this and we can more clearly see what happened when that tomb was rolled away and our Savior rose.

1) The Gospel, and Jesus, is true!

If the resurrection had not happened, Jesus would have been a liar, and our faith would be in vain, and there would be absolutely no reason to live.  Thank goodness the resurrection is true, and that grave is empty.

Jesus prophesied in John 2:19, after cleansing the temple, that He would rise again: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘it has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’  But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

If this had not come true, if Jesus was not raised, then it would stand to call Jesus a liar.  If He was a liar, He was not perfect.  If He was not perfect, He cannot take away our sin, and death would have won, and we would have no hope.  However, we know that Jesus was raised.  In fact, we see that Jesus had a role in His resurrection.  He said “I will raise it up.”

John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?'”

Do you believe this?  That’s the question we must all ask ourselves.  If we have only head knowledge, we have nothing.  We must place all of our faith, hope, and our very lives on the risen Savior.  Jesus asked this to Martha, and her response was to call Jesus the “Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”  Are we willing to lay down our lives to the one who gave it all up for us?

Since the gospel is true, we also know our sins are forgiven.  Look back on the most famous verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”–John 3:16-17

Romans 8:1–“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 5:21–“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”

We are free, Christians.

2) Jesus lives as our High Priest

Reflecting on what God has done should not stop at salvation, for God’s love did not stop at the cross.  It did not end at conversion.  The truth of the gospel, and the blessings of grace, continue throughout our lives.  God has saved us and justified us in Christ, but there is still work to be done in this life, not for salvation, but as a result of it.  Those whom come to know Christ, God has ordained that they will become like Him.  That’s exciting to me.  We are being transformed.  This does not come easy though.  Christians, can we be honest and say we’re quick to mess up the new life we have in Christ?  Can we be honest with ourselves and say we still make mistakes?  And then, would you look with me in Scripture and see the Savior who was perfect for us, and whose love never leaves us?

Hebrews 7:23-28: “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.  For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”

Eat this up.  Savor it.  Jesus is our high priest.  We need no earthly priest to take away our sin, and we have no need for a mediator.  The Bible is clear that Jesus is our mediator.  All of our efforts to absolve ourselves of sin fall short.  Jesus alone can take our sins away and forgive us.  And He does so perfectly and permanently.

Look at 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Jesus said the same when He said He’s come to save “not the righteous, but the sick.”  Those who are self-righteous, and see themselves as having no sin, will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  The gospel must first be the bad news that we are all sinners and unworthy of God before it can be the good news of salvation for those sinners.  In order to be saved, to trust in Christ, we must recognize our sin, and repent.  But repentance brings a firm promise: Jesus will forgive if we confess and repent of our sin.  Look at verse 9, one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

All unrighteousness.  All of it.  Jesus paid it all.  And He is making all things new.  When we come to know Jesus, we have all of our sins washed away: past, present, and future.  Jesus’ grace is strong enough to cover all of our sin.  Do we seriously believe that Jesus is unable to cover sin we commit after coming to know Him?  Because if He’s not….not many people are Christians.  God’s love doesn’t just save us…it sustains us.  It convicts us.  It leads us back to repentance, so we may receive grace to walk in Christ again.

However, the Bible is also clear (1 John 3:4-6) that those who continue in unrepentant, persistent, habitual sin with no regard for Christ and holiness are not true believers.  We all will struggle and stray off the path.  God knows this, and is perfectly prepared to bring us back by His grace.  But for those who think that going to church, doing religious things, and being moral make them perfect and right before God, the bad news is is that those things do not take away sin.  They smell to God.  And the smell isn’t pretty.  Put your faith in Jesus, throw all of your hope, and your soul itself, on Jesus and His work, and be saved.

1 John 2:1-3: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

If we sin, does God stop loving us?  It’s a question on the back of Christian’s minds everywhere: If I sin, and struggle with sin, even severely, after coming to know Jesus…does God still love me?

If we love God, it is because He has first loved us (1 John 4:19).  Perfect love does not let go.  Romans 8:31-35 says “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

For those whom God has called, those whom He has loved through Jesus Christ, His love is permanent, unchanging, and faithful.  This does not mean we can’t displease Him, for we can.  But if we hold fast to Christ, and we have given our lives to Him in salvation, then throughout our lives what I’m convinced will happen is this: The same love which saved us and gave us new life will sanctify us in our failures by leading us to repent, and to receive grace and forgiveness, and to lead us back to Christ.  That same love will teach us, lead us, and guide us, and eventually, one day, that grace, that love, so marvelously shown at Calvary, will bring us home.

For the Christian, the desire to sin, in an enslaving, dominant way, has been killed.  Sin seemed to have a grip on me, for years, but because I knew Christ, it could not hold me down, and by God’s good and perfect grace, He has led me to repentance, and is teaching me what it means to follow Jesus as Lord.  God’s love never leaves us.  If you’re a Christian, and you’re struggling with sin…welcome to the club.  You’re not alone.  Paul’s letters to churches show that every Christian from every generation has struggled with sin in one way or another.  But our nature, our desires, have changed, and this leads to repentance, which leads us back to grace.  God’s discipline is love.  He disciplines us and convicts us, so that we will repent and find our joy in Jesus.

Jesus is the high priest that intercedes for His people constantly.  While we are still here on Earth, Jesus promises to guide us, to sanctify us, and to lead us back to Him.  His grace is good, and is always stronger than our sin.  Repent, be restored, and abide in Christ.  In doing this, you will die to yourself and begin to obey Christ more and more.  In this death, you shall truly live.  We die to sin every day, as we rise with Christ to walk by the Spirit which is ours.  Christian, do not desire sin.  Pray constantly.  Rest in what Jesus has done, repent, be filled, and obey the Lord by trusting in Him.

3) Jesus is coming back.

This is great news.  Not only did Jesus die to take away our sins, not only does He now live to be our great high priest who forgives His sheep, but our risen and reigning Savior is coming back to rule for all eternity.

1 Peter 1:3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

We have hope, a great inheritance, that is awaiting us when we obtain our eternal salvation, kept for us by Jesus through our faith.  That’s pretty cool…our faith is being guarded by the God of all creation who gave it to us to begin with.  I think that’s awesome.  You won’t find this security in anything or anyone else.  Man, Jesus is good!

How can one be saved?  I hope that pastors and ministers around the country hear this every day, especially today.  Put your faith in Jesus, acknowledge your sin and repent, turn away from it, and lay it on Jesus.  Trust in Him for salvation, and give your life to Him as Lord.  The Bible does not promise health and wealth.  The prosperity gospel is a lie from hell.  What the Bible does promise is that Jesus will never leave you and He will never forsake you, no matter what you do, no matter what happens.  He leads us to Himself, to be saved, to be renewed, to repent, to receive grace, and the great hope for believers…to lead us home.

The Christian life is hard.  It’s not easy, it’s messy.  We’re not perfect, we trust in the Lamb who was and is and is to come.  I don’t have it all together, and I’m a work in progress.  But my boss, my potter, and my Lord is the God of the universe, and He is alive, and working, not just in my life, but in the world around me.  That’s reason to rejoice.

Yet, as we rejoice today, remember that we have brothers and sisters around the world who risk their lives to celebrate the risen King.  Pray for the persecuted, that they would continue to shine the light of Christ in the darkest night.  And may we go and give our lives to spread the gospel.  Fulfill the Great Commission.  We are saved from God’s wrath to God’s purpose, to go and declare His glory to the ends of the earth.  Do it.

And one day, peoples from every tribe, tongue, and nation, will fill the heavens, and shout “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  With one voice, we will shout “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  For all eternity, we will worship the King: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

May you be encouraged by the truth of the resurrection this Easter Sunday.  May this be a time to reflect on the faithfulness of our God, who is quick to save those who call on Him, and quick to restore those in hurt, those in sin, those who long for Him.  May we rest and rejoice in the amazing fact that God loved us before we even thought of Him.  May you know Jesus, love Jesus, and obey Jesus.

He is risen indeed.

God bless,

Neal E.