A retelling and consolidation of Matthew 26:1-27:54; Mark 14:1-15:39; Luke 22:1-23:47; and John 18:1-19:30
Have you ever heard a story so many times that you don’t really HEAR it anymore? You listen to familiar words, but you don’t FEEL them like you used to? What if you could go back and HEAR the story for the first time all over again? This is the story of a man named Jesus…and his last week on earth.
Jerusalem in the 1st century: These were tense and desperate times for the people of Israel. A once proud and independent nation, conquered, subjugated, brought low and held fast by the iron fist of Rome.
A few still believed the old prophecies that a messiah would arise, a King like David of old, who would deliver the Jews from their oppressors, and restore the lost glory of Israel. But one after another, all who rose up claiming to be Messiah were cut down by the sword, or left to die hanging on a Roman cross.
The latest of these “would be messiahs” had just arrived in Jerusalem a few days ago. Jesus of Nazareth, they called him. He was a peculiar sort of messiah, to be sure. He didn’t arrive on a war horse at the head of a mighty band of renegades. He rode into town on a donkey…a borrowed donkey at that. His followers were unarmed, and walked alongside him on foot. They looked more like beggars than warriors. And yet the people of Jerusalem were desperate for a messiah. They lined the streets with palm branches, and hailed the man as a king:
“Jesus!” they cried. Hosanna! Save us, messiah!
In the days that followed, Jesus taught the people in the city squares and in the streets. He told them stories about a new kind of kingdom, and he answered their questions about God. They expected him to challenge Rome, but instead he challenged the religious leaders, the money–makers in the temple, and the hardened hearts of those who placed law above justice, and themselves above others.
He said that if someone asks you for your shirt, give that person your coat as well. If someone asks you to go with him one mile, offer to go with him two miles. He taught the people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And in order to do this, you must love your neighbor as yourself.”
And when he had finished teaching the people, he retired to a house in Jerusalem to share one last meal with his closest friends and followers. He said to them, “I will not be with you for much longer, and I want you to remember me when I am gone.” He took some bread, broke it, and gave it to them, saying “this is my body, broken for you.” And he poured a cup of wine and passed it to them, saying, “this is my blood, poured out for you. Whenever you eat and drink… remember me. Remember what I taught you. Remember how I loved you.”
And after the supper, Jesus went out to the garden to pray. While his followers were sleeping, he spoke to God. “My Father,” he said, “I know what I was sent here to do. Is there no other way?? But let your will, not mine, be done.
As he was speaking, several armed men entered into the garden. Jesus quickly returned to his followers, and said “Wake up. The time is at hand, and my betrayer has come for me.”
Now Judas Iscariot had been with Jesus from the beginning. But fear and jealousy had long ago entered into his heart, and so he sought out the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus. And he made a deal with them to betray his teacher in exchange for money.
When the time was right, they agreed, Judas would take the religious leaders and their armed mercenaries to the garden where Jesus and his followers often prayed. But how would they know this Jesus from his followers? How could they ensure they had the right man? It was agreed that Judas would identify his mark with this twisted and treacherous sign: The betrayer would greet his teacher with a kiss.
And so the enemies of Jesus entered into the garden, with Judas at the forefront. Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, said to Judas, “Friend, do quickly what you came to do. When the kiss was given, the armed mercenaries seized Jesus and they arrested him.
Suddenly, one of the followers of Jesus put his hand on his sword, and he drew it, and he attacked the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. In the darkness and confusion that followed, other swords were drawn, and violence rose up in the hearts of both sides. Seeing this, Jesus cried out,
“Stop! Have you learned nothing that I have taught you? Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Do you not see that if I wished, I could call down hundreds of angels from heaven to protect me?” Then healing the ear of the wounded man, Jesus allowed himself to be led away. At this, his followers began to fear for their own lives, and they quickly scattered under the cover of the night.
Jesus was taken, then, to the council of the High Priest, where all of the religious leaders assembled. They were looking for evidence against Jesus, in order to put him to death.
First they brought forth witnesses, but each one contradicted the next. So the high priest questioned Jesus directly about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard me; they know what I said.”
At this, one of the council guards struck Jesus on the face, saying “How dare you speak that way to the high priest?” But still, they could find no evidence against him.
Early the next morning, they had Jesus bound and taken to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Now Pilate had little love for the high priest and the religious leaders, but he also had little tolerance for threats to the Roman rule. There was, after all, only one King in the Roman Empire; only one Messiah, and that was Caesar.
So Pilate questioned Jesus, saying “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” “So you are a king, then?” Pilate asked again. “My kingdom,” Jesus replied, “is truth. Those who recognize truth, recognize me.” Pilate shrugged. “What does truth matter?”
And Pilate took Jesus before the crowds and said to them, “I find no guilt in this man. But it is my custom to pardon one prisoner this time of year. Do you want me to pardon Jesus…or Barrabas, the terrorist?
The crowds, stirred up by the religious leaders, and angry that Jesus had not come to deliver them from Rome, cried out “Give us Barabbas!” Pilate was amazed, and asked “Then what shall I do with Jesus of Nazareth?” And the reply, cold and unified, came back from the crowd:
Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
So Pilate, in order to prevent the crowd from riot, washed his hands of the whole situation, and quietly handed Jesus over to be crucified. But first Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus into a courtyard, where they blindfolded him, and tortured him, whipping and scourging him until his flesh was ruined. They dressed him in a purple robe, and twisted some thorns into a crown and forced it onto his head. They knelt and mocked him, saying “Hail to the King!” They beat him with a stick; they spat in his face, and they ripped the robe off of his bloodied flesh.
When these things were done, the soldiers led Jesus outside, and faced him toward the long, steep, road up to the hill known as Calvary.
Step by painful step Jesus climbed upward, with a heavy beam of wood across his back. When he could carry it no more, the soldiers seized a foreigner—Simon of Cyrene—and they forced him to carry the beam the rest of the way.
At the top of the hill, they forced Jesus to the ground and stretched out his arms across the beam of wood. They nailed him to his cross. They hoisted the cross high into the air, and an innocent man hung among the criminals and thieves that day. When it was noon, a darkness came over all the land, and Jesus cried:
“Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they have done.”
Then Jesus of Nazareth gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The earth shook and the rocks were split in two. And seeing all these things, one of the soldiers lifted up his face to heaven and said, “Truly this man was God’s son.”