Tag Archives: Holy Week

Jesus is Dangerous

This post (longer than most) is based on a sermon I gave last Sunday at Trinity Lutheran in Lindstrom, MN based on Luke and Mark’s Gospels.  I dressed in a “Biblical” costume and told the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of Levi, a priest in the temple of Jerusalem.  Inspired by C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, I seek to move the congregation beyond mere observation. 

Levi enters from side door, speaking to unseen persons behind him.

Just a minute.  I agree something must be done and I will help, but first I have to meet with the visitors.   Maybe I can get their support.

(Turning to the congregation to greet them) Good Morning.

My name is Levi and I am one of the priests who serves here in the Temple of Jerusalem.  On behalf of High Priest Caiaphas, I want to welcome you to the Passover festival here in Jerusalem.

I know that some of you have come a long way to be here in Jerusalem and this is your first time in this magnificent Temple.  I hope you are impressed with the huge stones and craftsmanship.

I must apologize for being a bit late. You see we have a problem.  A big problem and it is growing.  You might think it is just a problem for the priest and servants of the temple.  But it is a problem for each of you as well.

Model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem By Berthold Werner - Own work, Public Domain,

Model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain,

First just a bit of background.  This temple has been here for more than 50 years, built by the great King Herod.  It reminds us of the great temple built by King Solomon, a thousand years ago, but Solomon’s temple was destroyed centuries ago and the second was built over its foundation.

As you know temples are important.  They give us a sense of calm and peace in an age of great uncertainty.   I am guessing most of you came here today to find some peace and calm, some rest for your soul.  Here in the rituals and music of the temple we can feel safe; we are able to block out the terrible evils of the world.  Like the dread Roman army that occupies our land.  Or for you it might be the problems in your families or work or at school or with friends.  We can escape for a time.

We need places like this temple to find rest for our weary soul.  In a sense, to find oil to replenish our lamps.  The temple can be a safe haven, a safe harbor, in a dangerous world.

But that is our problem.  Danger has come here, into the temple itself.

The danger is a man named Jesus of Nazareth.   A troublemaker first class, that we need to take care of.

I heard of Jesus several months ago.  There were reports coming from Galilee, that province up north, about a man doing miracles and teaching.  A prophet like John the Baptist.  Stories and rumors of his deeds came to our attention, but we, the priests, ignored them.  We have sufficient problems keeping a great institution like the Temple running to worry about some crackpot prophet in distant Galilee.

Oh a few scribes were sent to observe him, to test him. And I am sure he is a crackpot.  For example, this Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins.   Just who does he think he is?  Only God can do that, and only when we have a sacrifice here in the temple.  Jesus seems to think he could speak for God.   How could he be a prophet, nothing good can come from Nazareth, that tiny insignificant town.

The stories kept growing.  5,000 people fed, a lake storm quieted.  But you know how people like to embellish the truth.   I am sure none of you would fall for such preposterous rumors.

I and the other priests tried to ignore these stories and Jesus.  To talk about him only seem to inflame the crowds.  But then last Sunday, our hands were forced.  We have to deal with him, because he came here to Jerusalem.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem

And in no quiet way either.   He came like a king, riding a donkey. I bet some of you saw it.  As you well know, there are always huge crowds coming to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  And the crowd, like foolish children, cut down palm branches and took off their robes and laid them in the street.   They shout Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna means “save us.”  How could Jesus possibly save us?

I certainly hope none of you were shouting his name or cutting down palm branches.  I hope none of you were drawn into his promises and claims.

Jesus is dangerous and to be avoided at all cost.

Then after the parade, Jesus came into our temple and cleaned out all the money changers and sellers of turtle-dove and lambs.  He threw over table and pushed people out of the courtyard.  He made some speech about how this is to be a house of prayer.  Well certainly we can pray here, but how are we to do our business without the money changers to take the filthy Roman coins and exchange them for proper Jewish coins?  Or how are people to make a sacrifice for Passover without sheep or turtle-dove.  I see that none you are carrying a turtle-dove with you.  There is a practical side to running a temple after all.

“Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple” by New Zealand artist Michael Smither, 1972 (Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, New Zealand)

Jesus is dangerous and he has stirred up the crowds.  Some think he is the Messiah, the anointed one of God.  Last night I was a supper with Simon, my cousin.  Jesus was there as well.  I told Simon not to invite him, but Simon went ahead in spite of my advice.  I looked Jesus over carefully. He was a simple ordinary man.  He ate with two hands, he drank wine, he even laughed at Simon’s bad jokes. Nothing unusual there.

anointing_jesusNothing unusual until a woman from the street came into the room.  She is not the proper woman I would allow into my home.  She carried an alabaster jar of perfume. I could tell this was not some cheap perfume, but the very expensive kind. She walked right up to Jesus, broke open the bottle and poured the whole bottle on his head, just like he were a king.  I immediately object to this waste of money.  I said, “This ointment is a waste.  It could have sold for several thousands of dollars and the money given to the poor.”   I thought for sure Jesus would join in my rebuttal.  He would see the waste.

But no, He rebukes me and gives praise to the woman. That she has done a very good deed.

Good deed, my eye.

Jesus should not be anointed.  He should be locked away in prison.

You know what he said about the temple.  One of his disciples told me that he said, “This temple will be destroyed.”  This beautiful, magnificent temple destroyed.  God forbid.

How can we worship God without a temple, without the institution?

Where are you to go to offer sacrifice for God’s forgiveness if the temple is destroyed?  How will you know you are forgiven unless blood is shed?

For Jesus to talk about the temple being destroyed, he should die!

That is what we were discussing back there before I greeted you.

How to stop Jesus!  Stop him from making more trouble.

And most of us agreed, he must die.

Oh we could execute him by stoning him to death for blaspheme against God, as Jewish law permits.  But the crowd may interfere.

So someone had the idea, “Let’s take him to Pontius Pilate. (Pilate is the Roman Governor), “We can use Jesus’ claim as King as the reason to execute him.”  After all the Roman form of execution, crucifixion, is such a horrible way to die.  But it will show all his followers that Jesus is a fake King.

The Crucifixion by Matthias GrunewaldDon’t you think it would be fitting for King Jesus to have the cross as his throne?

And after he is dead, we can go after all his disciples.

All his disciples, except for one.  One who was smart enough to come to us and help us.  I met him at Simon’s dinner last night. The disciple agreed to find an opportune time to turn on Jesus, when the crowd is not around.  A smart man, that Judas Iscariot.  You can learn from him.

Which leads me back to you.  What role will you play in this unfolding story?

I am sure most of you see the danger in Jesus.

Do you really want a King who tears down temples and says that God is free to go anywhere, be anywhere?

Don’t you feel safe with God here in this box, where you can come for comfort and support?

Do you really want God out there in your everyday world, in every nook and cranny of your life, who can surprise and disrupt your lives? Won’t you prefer to run your own life?

One thing I will guarantee.

garden tombBy the end of this week, Jesus will be dead and buried in a cold dark tomb.

And that will be the end of his story and his mission.

And within a few months his name will be forgotten.

I see some skeptical looks on your faces.

Do some of you actually believe Jesus’ talk about rising from the dead?

Don’t be so foolish?  How many resurrected people have you met?

The resurrection of Jesus is as likely as this magnificent temple being destroyed.  It will not happen.  Trust me.

I must go.  I need to meet that very smart man Judas and pay him for his help.

Remember, I have warned you.  Jesus is dangerous.  He could turn your life upside down and inside out.

Are you sure you want him as your king?

Stone Rejected

Stones from the Temple that were cast down by the Romans

Stones play a prominent role in the Holy Week story.

On Palm Sunday Jesus stated that if the crowd was quieted the stone would shout out (Luke 19:40).

Later when some of Jesus’ followers were admiring the Temple adorned with beautiful stones, Jesus responded, “As for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:5-6).   Less than forty years after Jesus’ death, the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

On Easter Sunday the stone covering Jesus’ tomb was rolled away to show how empty it was (Luke 24:2).

All this gives special meaning to Jesus’ comment to the scribes and chief priests during Holy Week.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Luke 20:17)

Jesus was rejected by humanity on the cross, but becomes our assurance of God’s love and grace.  While our trust shifts like sand, his love for us remains rock-steady.

In what ways have you rejected Jesus this week?
In what ways has Jesus become your cornerstone?

Lord Jesus, be my rock and fortress this day and always.

Redemption Draws Near

The Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem.

Adam Hamilton, a well-known Methodist pastor, took this picture and writes concerning it.

To the right you can see the temple mount and beyond it the old city of Jerusalem. To the left, out of frame, is the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the foreground is a Christian burial ground. On the Mount of Olives is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. To the right, just beneath the walls of the temple mount, is a Muslim cemetery. It was thought, based upon several scriptures, that when the Messiah came for the Last Judgment he would come here, hence the cemeteries. Jesus passed across this valley twice each day during Holy Week.

On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus taught in the Temple and told the crowds that his ministry was not some isolated historical event, but rather part of God’s great cosmic plan to redeem the world.

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

As you walk with Jesus this week, remember you are a participant in God’s great plan. God is redeeming the entire world, including you. Your redemption is drawing near.

What part is God calling you to play in this cosmic event?

Lord Jesus, grant me courage and strength to trust in your plan of redemption

Cleansing of the Temple

Monday of Holy Week is often remembered for Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers.

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there. Luke 19:45

Muslim Dome of the Rock

Since the seventh century, the Dome of the Rock shrine stands where the Temple once stood. Jesus came to the Temple to chastise the religious leaders for turning God’s house from a house of prayer into a den of robbers (Mark 11:17).

Since Paul reminds us that we are God’s Temple and that the Spirit of God  dwells in us (I Corinthians 3:16)  Jesus’ actions in the Temple challenges each of us to reflect on how we use our own bodies and lives for God’s kingdom.

On Friday of this past week, I sprained my ankle and must use crutches for it to heal.  In one way I see this as a reminder to slow down and patiently follow Jesus, leaning into his grace and mercy.

How are you remembering that you are God’s temple?  What cleansing is Jesus doing?

Lord Jesus, cleanse me of my sin and renew a right spirit within me.

The Journey

Next week is central to my identity. My life changes as I enter it. It is the annual pilgrimage of Christians worldwide.

Holy week is more than a seminar on how to improve my life skills.

A popular way to read scripture, preach sermons or write devotionals is to seek life application. The goal is to find specific practices or concepts on how to improve my life. For example, how I might be a better parent or a better spouse, how I can worry less or trust God more. There is a place for life application, but I don’t see the final days of Jesus’ life as serving that primary function.

I want to use a metaphor to explain this. Our lives can be compared to a home where we live. We have our spaces, our furniture, and our routines that shape daily lives. “Life applications” help us do minor rearrangements and some remodeling to our home, but we still manage how the day-to-day routine flows in our home.

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( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Holy Week actually forces me out of my home. I am on a pilgrimage to ancient Jerusalem in my imagination. I am part of the crowd that shouts “hosanna” as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. I join with the disciples in eating with Jesus the upper room. With the crowd outside of Pilate’s court, I shout,  “Crucify him.” Finally I hurry to the tomb with the women, full of wonder.

I gather with the people of Resurrection Lutheran to worship, pray, sing and sit in silence. I will seek no specific application or wisdom other than to be with Jesus.

Through this journey my daily story is rewritten, reworked. Like the hobbit Frodo Baggins, I am on a journey far from my comfortable Shire. And when I return to my home, I have been changed by the journey.

Are you ready to enter the story of Christ’s passion this year?

Lord Jesus, let me truly walk with you this week.

Enter the Holy Week Story

Stories shape our lives. The story of our family, our nation and our world gives meaning to our lives. My own story of being raised in western Washington, going east to college and then coming to Minnesota for seminary shaped my life. The simple story of how we met our spouse or how we chose our career has profound implications on our life. Do we simply drift along from one day to the next, or are we active participants?

Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem by artist He Qi

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are molded by the story of Jesus, especially his last days. As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we have an opportunity to walk with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter, to enter his story. We can be with the crowd that cheered his entrance into Jerusalem, shouting our praise to our king. We can ask ourselves, “How do I allow Jesus to be ruler in my life? Am I simply following the crowd? Or do I fully seek to follow Jesus this week?”

On Maundy Thursday, we can enter the upper room with Jesus and watch him humbly wash the feet of his disciples. Are we willing to be servants like him? We can share in his meal of Holy Communion, remembering his steadfast, nurturing love for us. We can walk with him to the Garden of Gethsemane and pray with him as he seeks the Father’s strength and courage for his coming suffering. Will we stay close to him, when all the other disciples run away?

On Good Friday, we can stay in the crowd as they shout to Pilate, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Do we hear our own voices mingled in the crowd? As the soldiers nail him to the tree, do we hear his words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and wonder if he is speaking to us? As he dies, do we feel the sorrow of Mary, his mother? Does something in us die as he is laid in the tomb?

Such a walk through the story of Holy Week prepares us for the ultimate story of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.

Lord Jesus, keep my life in your story this week.

Holy Week Story – Wednesday

Jesus Arrested by the Crowd

 Holy Week Reflections for Wednesday

Read Matthew 26:47-75

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?  Day after Day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.  But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.  Matthew 26:55f

The Garden of Gethsemane has always fascinated  me.  After the last supper, Jesus and his disciples retreated to the Garden where Jesus prayed for a way out from the suffering to come.  He prayed, “Father, not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus found clarity, strength and courage in prayer.  Meanwhile, the disciples slept.

Then the crowd arrived and Judas betrayed him with a kiss.  At first the disciples tried to resist with a sword, but Jesus stopped the violence and reminded them that he could ask for an army of angels to fight if he wished, but that was not the plot of Christ’s story.  He would go to the cross.  Calvary was the chosen battlefield with Satan and death.

So the disciples fled.

I have tried to remember a time when I was so abandoned but all seem trivial in relation to this story.  There have been times when I felt very much alone. Once late at night I walked the deserted streets of west Philadelphia back to my college, thirteen miles, but that was my own foolishness.  To experience abandonment means others choose to leave you.  People have experienced being abandoned by their spouse, or family, or friends. I can only imagine their depth of pain and grief.  Jesus experienced such rejection in the Garden.

Still Jesus stayed the course.  He endured the ridicule, mockery, and humiliation of a religious trial.  He stayed the course because he would not, does not, will not abandon us.

The disciples fled.

He stayed.

He stayed the course towards the cross for us.  

What strengthens you to keep the faith in God and others?  What tempts you to abandon them? Where have you felt abandon?   Where is God for you right now?

Prayer: Almighty God, protect and preserve us in this world that we might keep faith in your promises and our call to serve you and one another.

Holy Week Story – Monday

"A Woman Anoints Jesus" by Floridian artist Jan Richardson, 2006.

For the next five days I will be reflecting on parts of Holy Week Story.

Today’s reading is Matthew 16:1-16.

Jesus said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matt 16:2)

Plans and plots abound. The climax of God’s plan to rescue and restore humanity is near.  Jesus knows this and has tried his best to prepare his disciples.   The chief priest and religious officials are also planning their own intervention to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  They think that now they must take control of the situation, but they do not realize that only Jesus is truly writing the story.  Even Judas, Jesus’ friend and betrayer, is not working in total independence.  He is part of a bigger plot.   This does not excuse his betrayal, but rather demonstrates God’s power to weave a new thing from our human foibles and sin.

The only person, besides Jesus, who acts with compassion and understanding, is the woman who anoints Jesus with costly perfume (Matt 16:6-13).  Her name is never given, but she prepares Jesus for his tomb. The disciples object to her apparent extravagant waste of money, but Jesus defends her.  By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. (Matt 16:12).

 I think, at times, I am like every character in the story.  I can be the religious official that tries to control how and when God will act.   I can be the disciples, misunderstanding how a brother or sister in Christ is serving God’s kingdom.   I can even be Judas, betraying a friend in little acts of bitterness or disappoint, whether in thought, word or deed.   And then, by the grace of God, I can also experience the woman’s joy of generosity in giving God a special gift.    The Holy Spirit can use .

 Prayer starter: Lord Jesus, turn my heart away from control, betrayal or manipulation to being generous towards You and Your people.