Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Week Begins

The Week Begins

It was the Saturday evening before Passover. Jesus is at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the town of Bethany; about a mile from Jerusalem. Lazarus has become a bit of a local hero, seeing as how he had been raised from the dead. People were gathering at his house, not only to hear Jesus teach, but to see this man who had been dead and was now alive. So there is quite the crowd at that house in Bethany. Jesus is just wanting to spend this evening with those he cares about, with his friends, because he knows what the week ahead holds for him but as so often in his ministry, he is surrounded by a great crowd of people who wanted to hear him and perhaps see a miracle or two. The next morning Jesus gets up and he and the disciples, and many of the people who had been visiting the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, all began to walk into Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sent a couple of his disciples to find him a donkey to ride, because the prophecy declared that the messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Custom also said that kings of peace rode into town on the back of the donkey, kings of war would ride in on stallions. Jesus was announcing that he was entering Jerusalem as a King of peace. This was the day of gathering for Passover and pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean basin were traveling into Jerusalem to get ready for the Passover. Hebrew law required that everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the Passover – this was the reason all these crowds were on the road. Everyone traveling is in a festive mood – they looked forward to all coming together during this celebration. You would come to see people you only saw once a year, you would gather for feasts and parties as the week would build up to the Seder meal and the Passover rituals near the end of the week. Think of a festival or gathering you go to every year that you look forward to and see people you only see there and everyone comes together and just has a fun relaxing time. That was Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus comes riding a donkey and the people are thinking the Messiah is going to come in and overthrow the Roman government in Jerusalem; they are singing Hosannas because they thought that Jesus was coming to give them back their land – to kick out the Romans and once again there would be a Hebrew king governing the people of Israel. So the celebration heightened as they did what you did for a King, - wave palm branches, lay your cloaks on the road, sang Hosanna. What a great time – the great celebration of Passover and just like the first Passover when they were released from slavery, they would now be released from the oppression of a foreign government! Into the city they go, rejoicing and having a great day! Jesus, the disciples and the crowds continue into Jerusalem under the watchful eye of the religious leaders who are leery of what is going on. All this allegiance to this wandering teacher was disturbing. The leaders were worried their power would be questioned. This teacher had the crowds all worked up looking for change. Change is never good when you are in power and the religious leaders were understandably worried. Even today we are cautious of new ways and new ideas and change;. Jesus was turning everything the Jews thought were absolutes and telling them there were new ways to look at what they thought was truth. New ways to understand their role as God’s people. The leaders thought everything was fine the way it was. They thought they were being obedient to God the way they were. By the afternoon, however, after everyone has entered the city, we see Jesus not joining in on the party, but sitting on top of the hill overlooking Jerusalem and weeping. He knows that this great celebration and this happy mood and these hopes of a new government will be crushed by the end of the week – things will not turn out as these people who are now so full of joy think it will. As the week goes along, the mood will quickly become dark. Jesus knows that everyone is going to turn against him and even his closest disciples would abandon him. On Monday, Jesus gathers his disciples in Jerusalem and begins to talk to them. Not just the 12, but many who had been following him. He begins to tell them parables to try and help them understand what is going to happen during this week. The disciples are still hopeful that Jesus is


going to do something miraculous and take over the city, throw out the Romans and Jesus and the disciples will ascend to the throne in the city. But Jesus’ parables aren’t heading that direction at all. He tells them the story of the owner of the vineyard. The story goes like this: A man owns a vineyard. He decides to go on a journey and turns the vineyard over to the workers. Sometime later he sends a servant to collect the receipts and the workers beat the servant and send him back empty handed. Again, the owner sends another servant and the same thing happens. The owner sends one more servant and this one they kill. But the owner is still hopeful and continues to send servants with the same results, some are beaten, some are killed. Finally the landowner sends his son saying, “Surely they will respect my son.” But the workers in the vineyard figure if they kill the son, the owner will abandon the vineyard and it will then belong to the workers. And that is what they did. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard. And Jesus says, and now the landowner will come and throw out all the workers who are there and give the vineyard to others. Jesus told this story not only to his disciples, but there was a crowd standing around listening to this story. The Pharisees heard it as well and became very angry because they knew that Jesus was talking about them. But the religious leaders looked around and saw the crowds and were afraid of what the people might do if they arrested Jesus, so they left to look for another time to get rid of him. The next day Jesus comes again to the temple. Now, remember the temple is huge. About the size of 3 football fields. Around the outside perimeter of the temple were areas where teachers would gather students and teach. On Tuesday of what we call Holy Week, Jesus is at the temple teaching. But his teaching is much more serious than the people have heard before, much more about sacrificing your life, your time, your money for God. His teaching was about how one needed to put God first over everything else. About how choices were going to be difficult and about how no longer was being a descendent of Abraham enough to be part of God’s people. The Religious leaders came and questioned Jesus and they didn’t like his answers about how they had missed the point of what a life as God’s people was all about. The people who had crowded around Jesus and hung on every word he said began to drift away as well. He wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear anymore. He actually told them to pay their taxes to Caesar. He told them, give all they had left to God……. As the week progressed, Jesus continued his difficult teaching, telling the people who were left that if they followed him people were going to hate them. He talked about death. As the crowds left, so did one of his disciples. Like the crowds, Judas is disillusioned because Jesus is not doing what Judas thought he should do. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something radical. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something political and that wasn’t the direction things were going. So Judas thinks he can force Jesus’ hand by turning him in. Surely when they come to arrest Jesus, he will be forced to act in a different way; Jesus would be forced to start the coup against the government. And by Thursday, all the crowds had left. There was no one left willing to listen to Jesus. it was only his disciples who were with him. And not only did one of them betray him, but one would deny him, and all but one of the remaining 10 would desert him. Only John would remain with him to the cross. What a difference a week makes. Holy Week begins today. We began the service with the waving of palm branches and we end with the somber music and a somber mood to remember this is the way this week will go. It begins with celebration and ends with death. It began with large crowds and ends with Jesus all by himself as he goes to his death. A death of an innocent man, who dies for us; who spends the week trying to help us understand what being the people of God is all about; a man who still goes to the cross even though everyone has deserted him…. A man who goes to the cross and looks out over those who have beat him and made fun of him and have put a nail through his hands and feet and in his agony cries out for God to forgive them – and to forgive us.