Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-10; Luke 24: 1-12, John 20:1-9
It was a new day, new week, and a new normal for Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James. They were still processing what had just happened the previous week and still grieving over the loss of their friend. How could this have happened? Just one week ago, they watched as Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem with thunderous applause. The same city where King David had ruled the Kingdom of Israel welcomed the coming Messiah into its walls only to call for his execution just days later. Now they were going to grieve over this teacher once championed by the people as he lay dead behind a great stone.
All of the sudden, they felt the ground shake violently. Wondering how an earthquake of that magnitude would affect his tomb, they rushed to where Jesus laid only to find a man standing there. Not just any man, this man radiated with light and dressed in white. In addition to this strange man, the soldiers were asleep and that great stone was over to the side. You can’t help but wonder what was going through their heads. Who is this man? Who moved that stone? What exactly is going on?! They didn’t know whether to feel worry, anger, or rejoice but then, he spoke such great words of comfort that they weren’t expecting. He said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matt. 28:5-6b). What did he say? Did he really just say that Jesus had risen and he who was once dead and buried is now alive? Not only alive but well enough to get up and walk?! The angel showed them the tomb and sure enough, what he said was true. Jesus was gone. Filled with feelings of joy, relief, excitement, and hope, these women became the first evangelists in history by running to tell the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead and is alive just as he said! Everything they just witnessed: the suffering, the pain, and the death were all undone and Jesus had returned.
There’s obviously more to the story of Sunday. Jesus didn’t just leave his resurrection as a great disappearing act and did appear to the disciples later that day. He continued to reveal himself to his followers, perform miraculous signs, teach on God’s love and the coming Holy Spirit, and even restored his friend Peter above his previous failure. Then, after forty days, he ascended into Heaven to be with the Father but this is far from the end of the story. That story still continues to this day and through the Holy Spirit, He invites you to be part of it. He invites you to be part of a life that is real, purposeful, and eternal. He invites you to follow Him. That’s what Sunday is all about. It’s not about death, guilt, or shame. It’s about having life and having it in abundance (Jhn. 10:10). On this Easter Sunday, choose to follow life. Choose to follow Jesus.
- What did you think Peter was thinking when he saw the empty tomb?
- Why do you think some of the disciples doubted Jesus had risen when they first heard the report?
- Looking over the week leading up to Easter, what sticks with you the most? How does that change how you view this holiday?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 26: 69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27
Grief is a powerful thing. It can cause you to experience a whole range of emotions and feelings including sadness, anger, denial, and regret and it’s seldom the same experience for everyone. Some people weep uncontrollably for the first 24 hours and some don’t shed a tear for weeks until the initial shock has worn off. It’s a period of coming to terms with the fact that someone you cared about is no longer with you. It’s a new normal where traditions are changed, days start and end differently, and anything that was left unsaid will remain that way. One can only imagine what those first 24 hours were like for the people closest to Jesus.
The Gospels really don’t share much about what happened on Saturday. There are some details given about the religious leaders’ reaction to the previous day’s events but silent on how the disciples processed what just happened. One cannot help but wonder what was going through Peter’s head on this day. One of Jesus’ most enthusiastic (and impulsive) followers, Peter was having to deal with denying Jesus three times while his friend and mentor was taken away to be murdered. He likely relived that moment over and over in his head, wishing he could take it all back. He may have wondered how things may have been different had he stood up for Jesus in his time of need. He may have even thought that maybe this all could have ended differently. Maybe, had he been it bit more heroic, could have saved Jesus and made a run for it. Grief does that. It makes you dwell on regrets for what you wish you should have done and think irrationally on what the ending outcome could have been. This probably was the case for Peter. He likely replayed that moment over and over in his head driving himself crazy in the process. All while feeling that he’ll never be able to take back what he had done and he would never see his friend again to tell him, “I’m sorry.”
The good news is, we know how the story ends for Peter and it’s not on this sad Saturday in history. Peter would go on to preach the Good News of Jesus with Holy Spirt-empowered boldness, write two books of the New Testament, and lead thousands of people to the gift of Christ’s salvation. In fact, he lived a life so bold and so unashamedly for Jesus that he would later be executed by being crucified upside down because that was the only way to silence him. This is because, as powerful as grief is, its power does not compare to that of grace. While grief causes you to focus on the “What if’s” and the “What I wish I didn’t do’s,” grace brings you back to who God meant for you to be. By grace, you are no longer defined by your mistakes and short-comings but you’re defined by God’s love and restoration.
This brings us back to Saturday. While we know how the story would change for Peter, on this day, that realization of who he would become had not reached him. As the body of his best friend laid in that tomb, he was outside of it living in a world of regret and shame. Little did he know that Sunday was one day away…
- The Bible does not say much about what Saturday was like for the disciples. What do you imagine it was like for them?
- Put yourself in Peter’s position. What do you think you would be feeling on this Saturday? Do you think you could have processed these feelings?
- How does Peter’s failure and ultimate redemption encourage you?
Scripture Reading: John 18 – 19
Created by the Persians but perfected by the Romans, this method of execution was reserved only for the most despised criminals. It was a punishment so cruel that it sought to not only bring pain to the victim but humiliate him in his final moments. In fact, the word excruciating means “from the cross” and rightfully so. This punishment was widely feared throughout the Roman Empire and served as a powerful deterrent to anyone that may consider going against Roman law.
In crucifixion, the victim was either nailed or tied to a wooden cross by his hands and feet. The cross was then raised up to let him hang with only the strength in his arms to keep him up. As he would grow weak, the victim would start to slump down while he arms remained nailed to the horizontal bar. This would restrict his breathing ability and ultimately cause him to suffocate while he hanged and the only way to bring relief was to push up against the nail located in his feet to raise his already weak body to a standing position. This would go on for days and sometimes weeks while the victim suffered on display as people would stop by only to mock, jeer, and sometimes attack until eventually he died. The actual death could be from dehydration, malnutrition, infection, or asphyxiation either by becoming too weak to hold himself up or giving up and just wanting the suffering to end. This was the manner in which Jesus was chosen to die.
After a betrayal from his friend, a night filled with false accusations and lies, and a morning filled with some of the most unbearable torture, the Son of God was sentenced to die in the manner reserved only for the most hated of criminals. It’s odd that we have come to know this day as “Good Friday.” What exactly is so good about it? The same man who was given a parade earlier in the week, defied the corruption brought to the temple, who spoke with an authority that could only be given by God, and who showed such humility to wash the filth off of his friends was sentenced to share an execution with between two guilty criminals as onlookers shamed him. Why would we ever call this good?
Jesus told his disciples that “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded,” (John 10:18 NLT). Jesus wasn’t forced to go to the cross, he went willingly. He did so because he knew that this was what was necessary to bring hope and salvation to the world. Thousands of years earlier, our earliest ancestors turned their backs on God and ever since, humanity has felt the sting of death. Through this despicable cross, Jesus made life a reality. That is what makes this Friday so good. While the price was high and filled with pain and sorrow, it bought you the opportunity to be made right with God and to have the stain of your past no longer hurt you and as we know, the story does not end on Friday…
- What makes this Friday so “Good” to you?
- Read John 19:30. What did Jesus mean when he said “It is finished?”
- Does knowing how crucifixion worked change how you viewed this story? How?
Scripture Reading: John 13:1-17
Having dinner with friends has been a time-tested tradition that has brought people together for thousands of years. While social interaction in general is great, there’s something about being able socialize and eat at the same time that is so appealing. In keeping with the tradition of the Passover celebration, Jesus and his disciples gathered to break bread and recount of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people thousands of years earlier.
There is so much that takes place during the Passover feast. In fact, all four Gospels cover different aspects of what took place during this meal. From some of the most significant and powerful teaching that the world has ever known, to the first communion, and to the outing of Judas as the betrayer, this evening consisted of so much more than just eating food. One thing in particular comes from John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel is unique in that he wrote it many years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their accounts with the intent to cover what they didn’t. In John 13, we see Jesus do something completely unexpected and unusual for someone of his stature. He removed his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, and began to wash the feet of his friends.
Keep in mind that the feet being washed were not carefully pampered and manicured or were protected by a nice pair of comfortable shoes. These were feet that travelled long distances in exposed sandals and were likely caked in dirt, dust, and animal feces. The job of foot washer was typically a job reserved for the lowest of slaves and it was unlikely that even Jesus’ disciples would have been expected to wash his feet. However, on his own volition, he does the task nobody wants. This is to teach us two things. First, Jesus demonstrated what a true servant’s heart looks like. No task was too great, too disgusting, or too beneath him when it came to serving his friends. He showed that a true leader serves because he loves those he leads. A true leader does not dominate but looks out for the greater good of those under him or her. Second, Jesus foreshadowed what He was going to do. He showed the reason he came and that was to make people clean. No matter how dirty, disgusting, or hopeless they may seem, he came to wash and restore through his Holy Spirit.
The importance of this story is not just found in this incredible example of humility but in what it represents. No matter how dirty or disgusting you may think you are and no matter how hopeless you may see yourself, Jesus came to make you clean and make you whole. There is no manner of filth too bad that Jesus won’t humble himself to make clean. While you prepare for what’s to come for the upcoming events that follow this story, remember that it was all for you and what was about to transpire was for the purpose of the Son of God to make you clean.
- How would you react if you were in the same position of the disciples? How do you think you would feel about Jesus washing your feet?
- What are some ways that you can better serve others? How does the story of Jesus washing feet inspire you?
- Have you ever struggled with coming to Jesus with your dirt? What does this story tell you about that?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:1-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-6
Wednesday is a day that often holds a special place in our hearts. It’s a day that seems to be a turning point in the week. It’s the day where the end of the week is as equally close to you as the beginning. You’re finally beginning your descent down into the wonderful world of weekend rest and getting farther away from the Monday blues.
This Wednesday was no different. While this Wednesday was not the turning point for a two-day break from time in a cubicle, it was the turning point in a week that would begin with celebration but end with agony. Following the events of the previous days and realizing his growing influence, the priests and the elders knew that this Jesus could no longer go on living if they wanted to keep their positions of power. Meeting in the home of the high priest, Caiaphas, they decided this “prophet’s” time had come to an end and once the Passover celebration was over, they would make their move. Their patience was strategic in that they knew that the crowds and Passover pilgrims would be leaving Jerusalem and by waiting for their departure, they would be able to kill Jesus without inciting a full-blown riot that would positively ruin any ability for them to continue to lead. What’s amazing about all of this is that Jesus knew his death was imminent but did nothing to avoid it.
In Matthew’s account of this Wednesday, he documents something that Jesus said that is almost shocking. Jesus not only told his disciples that he would die but also told when and how: that Friday by crucifixion. What’s shocking about this is at no point did Jesus ever make a plan to leave. If you knew that you were about to enter into a situation where death was certain, your natural instinct would be to avoid that situation at all cost. However, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem. He stayed knowing that death was coming. Not only was death coming but it was coming by means of one of the cruelest forms of execution imaginable. Why? Why would anyone willingly stay around that kind of imminent danger knowing that he had two days notice to get out. Jesus stayed because he knew his mission was too great. Jesus stayed because he knew the fate of the world depended on him being in Jerusalem. He stayed knowing that it was his death that would bring live to so many people. He stayed because of you.
That Wednesday was a turning point. Not only was it a turning point in Jesus’ week but also it was a turning point that would forever change the world. With their mission decided and with the help of Jesus’ student and friend, Judas Iscariot, the religious leaders set into motion a great evil to kill an innocent man and beloved teacher. However, this great evil would not be the end of the story as this was no ordinary man.
- Considering the previous three days, what do you think was the “final straw” that led to the religious leaders’ decision to kill Jesus?
- How does it make you feel to know that Jesus didn’t run away? What does this say about Him?
- Read Luke 22:3-6. What motivated Judas to betray Jesus? Why do you think he was able to betray his friend that easily?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8
It was only a couple of days into the week and needless to say, Jesus caused quite a stir. From entering Jerusalem with a welcome party to rival any ticker-tape parade to causing a huge scene at the temple involving the open and aggressive criticism of how the people were treating God’s sacred temple, all eyes were focused on Jesus and the religious leaders had had enough. Who did this Jesus think he was? He just comes into their place of work and makes a scene about how they operate to the people God had ordained them to influence? This was their territory and what right did He have to just come in and make a scene?
It’s that very question that they brought to his attention. After leaving Jerusalem for a short stint, Jesus returned to the temple but was not welcomed with the same enthusiasm as he had two days earlier. The leaders of the temple confronted this instigator and asked him, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them” (Mk. 11:28). It was a legitimate question. Who gave him the authority to come into their place of business and completely overthrow how they do things? What right does he have to bring confusion to the people and teach against their teachings? Who supplied him with the authority to heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, make the lame walk, make the dead rise, and cast demons out of people that have long been given up on? All that stuff did was just drawing more and more people away from them. All they knew was they had enough and he better have a good answer for them.
He did. It wasn’t the answer they expected or even necessarily an answer at all. He asked them where the authority came for John to baptize. This created a bit of a problem for the religious leaders. John the Baptist was much loved and respected by the people. They knew they couldn’t just completely discredit John’s ministry and expect to have the respect of the people. They also couldn’t admit that John’s ministry was valid because then that would beg the question of why they didn’t believe him in the first place. Then they would lose all credibility. All they could say was “We don’t know” (v. 33). They knew any other answer would lead to their downfall so at the time, that seemed to be the best option but what they didn’t realize was that they showed their true colors with that statement because Jesus ultimately refused to tell them what authority he did these things.
Jesus’ refusal was not his way of telling them that their answer wasn’t good enough for his wisdom. His refusal was to show them that because they weren’t able to identify God’s authority in the messengers he sent, then how could he have expect them to recognize the authority of the One that sent him. They were so wrapped up in this “authority” they had given themselves as administrators of religion that they failed in their primary duties in identifying what was really of God and more importantly, identifying the foretold Messiah from the Scriptures. If they could not be trusted in recognizing the work of a prophet, then how could they be trusted in recognizing the Son of God?
We often read this story and gawk at how ignorant the religious leaders were. Already by this point, Jesus had done miraculous things that could not be explained by anything else other than operating under God’s authority and we cannot fathom why they were so stubborn. While we like to beat them up for their failures, it’s also important for us to recognize when we have that attitude. Jesus said the he came to give life and life in abundance (Jhn. 10:10) but yet, we often struggle with giving him full control of our lives. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our needs, our wants, and our worries that we forget He who has the authority and where it comes from. When thinking about this Tuesday in history, think about the areas of your life that you struggle with allowing God full control. What is causing that hesitation? What is the source of that doubt? More importantly, what is holding you back from He who only comes to give life?
- What do you think kept the religious leaders from knowing under whose authority Jesus operated?
- Why do you think Jesus responded with his question about John the Baptist instead of giving a simple answer?
- How do you feel in knowing where Jesus’ authority comes from?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48
The day Monday is often met with disdain. Rarely do you ever hear someone say they are excited for Monday, that first day of the traditional work week and the farthest point away from that relaxing weekend. While most of us have had our less than desirable Monday experiences, there’s one group in history that had a particularly bad one.
Following the excitement of the day before, Jesus created even more buzz by making his way to the holy temple to teach. You can only imagine what kind of stir this caused as people heard that the very Messiah, chosen by God was coming to teach in the sacred house of the LORD. When you have been waiting with great anticipation for the coming Savior as long as these people have, it’s not something you want to miss. You can’t help but wonder how people expected to how Jesus would react upon his arrival. Would he compliment the beauty and majesty of this sacred building? Would he marvel at the many deals offered at the Temple Gift Shop? Would he be impressed by the many great teachers and speakers that have made their way through its halls? As history shows us, this wasn’t exactly the case.
After entering the Temple, Jesus wasn’t impressed with the architecture. He wasn’t excited to be one of the many speakers to have graced the temple with his presence. In fact, Jesus was not happy at all but instead, was very angry. The temple was filled with money changers and merchants that were not there to help but instead prey upon devoted Passover pilgrims there to worship their God. These profiteers took advantage of people that needed to pay the temple tax and present unblemished animals all in an attempt to fill their pockets by profiting off of these people’s love for God. So how did Jesus handle it?
Consumed by holy zeal and God’s righteousness, Jesus threw out the merchants and customers alike and even barred anyone from entering that intended to treat the temple like their own personal strip mall. He then taught the real purpose of the temple. The temple is not a place to exploit the poor under the guise of worship but the temple is to be a house of prayer. It’s to be a place where God’s people can come together and praise Him for his goodness and dive into his Word together. The people had lost sight of this and their own greed overcame their need and reliance for God.
Many identify this moment as when the people’s love and excitement for Jesus turned into anger and wrath. They were no longer excited for the coming Messiah but enraged by this man who challenged their ways and so fervently and publicly came against the corruption they embraced. However, this is why Jesus came: to clean what’s been corrupted. He didn’t come to bring death and destruction but life and life abundant (John 10:10) and this starts with allowing him to investigate the deepest parts of who we are and cleanse us through his Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it’s not pretty and it’s not easy but the end result is always for us to experience life.
As you start this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the areas of your life that you may holding onto that keep you from living the fullness of what God has for you. Regardless of what you’re holding onto or the sin you just can’t seem to let go, Jesus wants to make you clean. It may not be pretty and it may not be comfortable but it is always for your good and because He loves you.
- Why do you feel Jesus was so angry in this story? What does this say about sin committed?
- Read 1 Corinthians 6:19. What does it mean that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? What does this say about how we should treat ourselves?
- What were the priorities of the merchants? How can you avoid having those same priorities?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
There really is nothing quite like a good parade. For thousands of years, civilizations all over the world have come together to celebrate and express joy through these wonderful displays. Whether it is to celebrate the victory of a long and hard-fought war, the newly crowned Super Bowl champs, or to simply celebrate the fact that it’s another holiday season and people need an excuse to see their favorite cartoon characters in giant inflatable form; people love parades. There was no exception to this in ancient Jerusalem. Approximately 2000 years ago, the Jewish people threw a parade of their own. However, there had been no military victory, no championship trophies, and no oversized inflatable cartoon mouse. Instead, these people were celebrating something much bigger: the coming of the long awaited and much anticipated savior of the world.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was something so significant and so important that it’s one of the few events that all four Gospels document. As Jesus made his way to the city while riding a donkey, the crowds went ahead of him to celebrate the coming king. They threw their cloaks on the ground and cut off palm tree branches to give almost a red carpet effect to welcome him to the sacred city. While this may seem like an odd and even messy way to welcome somebody, this actually reflects a respect for royalty (2 Kings 9:13) and a celebration of freedom as the ancient Jewish text of 1 Maccabees documented the use of palm branches to celebrate liberation from an oppressing enemy just a couple of centuries earlier. This was not just a parade to have for fun or to pass the time, this parade meant something. It meant freedom was coming, oppression was about to come to an end, and a people that had only known pain for centuries were about to experience victory that had been foretold thousands of years earlier.
With joy and excitement, they cried out “Hosanna,” an expression that translates to “Save!” They knew their savior had not only arrived but had come to save them. Save them from oppression, from an identity that had only known defeat and agony, and save them from a past that only separated them from a loving God. Needless to say, the people had more than enough reason to celebrate. The King they had been waiting for had finally arrived and was right in front of them. It would seem reasonable to expect that these people had no idea that the man riding in front of them would be dead in a matter of days and their cries of joy and celebration would turn to cries calling for his death.
This would be the start of the most important week in history.
- The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is full of powerful imagery. What moment in the story sticks out to you the most? Why?
- The people expected Jesus to come and liberate them from the Romans but he came for something much more. Can you think of a time where you expected God to work in your life in a certain way but he worked differently?
- How do you celebrate what God will do in your life? Is it with the same joy and excitement the Jews showed here?
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