There are plenty of important days to celebrate as followers of Jesus. But the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, known commonly as “Holy Week,” are arguably the most important in the life of a Christian.
Here is why:
The claims of Christianity are founded in history, not philosophy. I recently met a man who claimed that all religions are true so far as they preach kindness. Kindness, to him, is what matters most. So according to him, as far as Christianity, or any religion, preaches kindness, then all religions are equally true and valid.
There is nothing wrong with preaching kindness or tolerance, but there is a very simple reason not all religions can be true. The claims of Christianity are fundamentally historical, not philosophical. This means that these historical claims are either true or lies.
Jesus’ teachings didn’t take off because they were so compelling on their own. Jesus taught that following Him would involve suffering, and poverty, and deprivation. Jesus’ own disciples were cowards, who after His crucifixion went into hiding. They would have stayed there had it not been for one simple fact. Jesus, who was crucified, rose from the grave and met with them in person. They saw the wounds of His brutal death. Thomas, one of His disciples, even felt the wounds of the nails that had been driven through Jesus’ hands and feet and of the spear that had been thrust into His side.
The apostle Paul wrote his first letter to a church in Corinth about 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In that letter he appeals to the historical fact of the resurrection.
“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, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Notice that Paul makes very clear that many of those who saw Jesus after His death and resurrection were still alive. They were well known, and vocal in the region. They could testify themselves to what they had seen. Jesus’ resurrection didn’t take place in secret behind closed doors, much to the dismay of the Jewish authorities of the day.
Furthermore, there are historical points of the Gospel accounts that are being verified today. The four Gospels are full of the names of people who lived at the time they were written.
It wasn’t long ago when many scholars were questioning the actual existence of a Roman Governor with the name Pontius Pilate, the procurator who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) and uncovered this interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”
Line One: TIBERIEUM,
Line Two: (PON) TIUS
Line Three: (PRAEF) ECTUS IUDA (EAE)
This is the only known occurrence of the name Pontius Pilate in any ancient inscription. Visitors to Caesarea’s theater today see a replica; the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
You can tell a lot about what an author values and thinks is important by what they write. There are four Gospels which recount the life and ministry of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. When you look at each of them there is a startling fact they all share. Each writer devotes an enormous amount of ink to the very last week of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning with His entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through His resurrection.
Matthew devotes 25% of his Gospel to this last week.
Mark devotes 31% of his Gospel to this last week.
Luke devotes 16% of his Gospel to this last week.
John devotes 36% of his Gospel to this last week.
Even a quick read of the Gospels demonstrates that the focus is placed squarely on this last week. Because it was during this week that God accomplished all that He set out to accomplish in sending Jesus. All of Scripture either looks forward to this week, or backwards upon it.
3. Reliving the Past
As we celebrate this last week of Jesus’ life each year we walk along with Jesus and His disciples. More than simply re-telling the story, we are re-living it.
This week begins on the Sunday before Easter with the celebration known as Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates how on that last week of His life, Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna.”
Then, there is Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the night that Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. On that night He instituted the Lord’s Supper, which Christians have celebrated regularly for two thousand years as Jesus commanded. This was also the night that Jesus’ famously washed His disciples’ feet, setting them an example. As His followers they were called to be servants of all.
Then comes Good Friday, when we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. This was not just the tragic death of a beloved Rabbi or prophet. Jesus came for this day. He came to lay down His life. As Paul recounts in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” On this afternoon, Jesus, God in the flesh, laid His life down that we might be forgiven and live.
Finally, comes Easter morning. On this morning Christians gather together to celebrate this most amazing and incredible fact. Jesus, who was dead, is now alive! Jesus’ resurrection authenticates all that He had said before about forgiveness and salvation and eternal life.
May God bless you as you celebrate again with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven this most glorious week!