Dr. RB McFee
Somewhere between my morning devotional and ordering a six foot inflatable Easter bunny for my lawn, thinking about this upcoming Palm Sunday, I wondered what did Jesus do the week before Holy Week.
Most Christian churches focus on and make a big deal about Holy Week, and rightly so. It is the holiest time for us as followers of Christ, and the week when we come to terms with our level of commitment to our Savior.
Holy Week is the time when we, too, walk Jesus’ path, devoting time with Him, meditating on the last actions He took before His Passion – the Cross, the Tomb, until we reach the Resurrection.
It is a time when we truly have a meet Jesus conversation and decide can we, will we take the Via Dolorosa journey in our lives, make the sacrifices when called upon, enjoy the miracles when presented, and be the one who shares agape love to those in need of God’s mercy?
But how do we prepare for Holy Week – the liturgical one, and the days God calls us into?
Does it just happen to us, an annual event we experience because it is there, and our coreligionists do it, too? Or do we remind ourselves that Jesus was human, like us, given a Divine assignment, something that could and would cost Him a great deal during His three year ministry.
Put differently, what would you do, knowing you had a week left to live in physical form, as God’s Divine mortal?
As a Christian, committed to following the Lord we profess to love, would we go out with a bang – load the credit cards, party likes there was no tomorrow, or do what we’ve been trying to do for our entire lives – bring people to God, reveal the Gospel, the Good News through our actions, help as many folks as we can, or get our affairs in order, or would we do something else?
It is sometimes difficult to think of Jesus in purely human terms. But that is precisely the point. What Jesus did was an example of what we can do. He promised us that in Scripture, when He told us the Holy Spirit would follow Him and help us.
That said, He knew time was running short, and what He faced was scary, because He would face it as a mortal – pain and all. No invoking His Divine Power. He would have to surrender that on the evening of His betrayal, likely in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Scripture tells us in John 12 that the Sabbath before Palm Sunday Jesus returns to Bethany, to the place of His friends, the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where they enjoyed a Shabbat feast. Recall Lazarus was the man Jesus raised from the dead several days earlier.
Holy Week started the next day.
What day exactly Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead we can try to surmise through various scriptures. Let it suffice it was either early in the week prior to Holy Week or just before that.
Regardless when it occurred, in many ways that miracle was the last straw for the Jewish leaders, and the final impetus for them to order Jesus’ arrest on sight.
But what did Jesus do after resurrecting Lazarus? I’m sure He spent some time with His friends, perhaps in Jesus’ own way preparing them for what was to come. We don’t know the conversations. But we know what happened afterwards.
The Gospel of John tells us at the end of Chapter 11 the events before Palm Sunday….
Referring to Caiaphas as the “he”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation. 52 and not only for that nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take His life. 54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead He withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.”
John 11: 51 - 54
Ephraim is around a dozen miles northeast of Jerusalem; if you look on the map you see the territory of Bet El, which is nearby.
Did Jesus need time to mentally prepare for what was to follow? Did He need a little more teaching time with His Disciples? We know the Shabbat before Palm Sunday was in Bethany. How much time Jesus spent in Ephraim is a point of scholarly debate, as is the exact timeline of Lazarus.
We’ll use some Kentucky windage for the essentials, if you will allow some literary latitude for the greater points....
Such as, do we need time in our own Ephraim wilderness to prepare for Holy Week and what is to come?
To be sure, we aren’t being asked by God to get crucified for Him. But we are asked, every day, and especially during Holy Week, what are we willing to give up to serve the Lord, to advance His Kingdom?
Is it one less television show? Is it to give Him the first fruits of our day? Is it the sacrifice of time – to get out of our comfort zone and reach out to help someone, or join a volunteer project, even if it might be uncomfortable, scary, new territory?
Are we called upon to forgive someone, even though the wound is great, the betrayal large, and the mercy we would show completely unmerited?
And yet isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Are any of us truly worth being crucified for?
Are we even worth getting a splinter for, let alone metal spikes pounded through our arms and feet? Think knee and elbow replacement surgery without anesthesia.
Sometimes we are called upon to do important works of action – public things, that may even pose a risk – perhaps going into the inner city to help the homeless, or rescue abused animals, or bring to safety kids who’ve been trafficked.
But if we wear the Team Jesus T shirt, aren’t we compelled to do more than just cheer, or show up to the game every Sunday?
The week before Holy Week reminds us that we can make a choice as Christians. We can play it safe, enjoy cozy Christianity – hang with those we like who share our opinions, who make our religion easy, or we can be like Jesus, and do what He calls us to do, that down deep in our spirit we hear the voice, yet try to divert it to voicemail, but know it is Him, and we are about to get our assignment.
To go all Mission Impossible on you….the Holy Spirit daily says “good morning…your assignment should you choose to accept it….”
Consider Jesus final public miracle before Holy Week….His “assignment, should He choose to accept it”….
Lazarus was sick, even dying, ultimately succumbing to the illness. Jesus was out of town, in a safer place when word arrived. Prior to that, some folks wanted to harm Jesus big time. The Disciples counseled Jesus, reminding Him of the dangers.
Jesus had lots of options – most of which could have protected Him.
First, Jesus could have let Lazarus remain dead, knowing in a short while they would be reunited; not unlike the man crucified next to Jesus who was promised to be in paradise with the Lord on Good Friday.
Second, Jesus could have used His Divine Power to raise Lazarus from the dead long distance, without ever leaving the comfort of wherever He was staying. After all, Jesus didn’t have to be in the same space or room with the ones He healed, although He often chose to do so.
Consider the story of the Centurion and his sick servant. Jesus was in Capernaum, and as He arrived, an important Roman officer greeted Jesus, asking if the Lord would heal his favored servant who was lying gravely ill. Jesus said He would come and heal the man. The Centurion responded these familiar words
“Lord I am not worthy to receive you in my home, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus was blown away by the faith of this Roman – presumably a Gentile. After commenting on and praising the centurion for his faith….
“13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.”
In the same fashion, clearly Jesus could have spoken life back into Lazarus.
Jesus knew heading back into the region near Jerusalem was filled with risk. The last time He was there, as His Disciples point out earlier in John 11, the Lord was almost stoned.
One of the Disciples even commented as they followed Jesus to Bethany, something to the effect they could die together.
Days before Palm Sunday Jesus chose to be present in Bethany to glorify God, and reveal the Divine Power gifted in Him by raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew the risks, knew the price He would pay.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to die for Him, just like He didn’t ask His followers to die with Him on Golgotha. He bore that alone for all of us.
Jesus does however ask us to sit quietly in the wilderness with Him, so that we can prepare for whatever Holy Week He calls us to participate in.
And there will be a price – it might be time, money, having to blow off insults or criticism, even mockery, perhaps even some safety concerns to prepare for. But the reward will be great. First in knowing you have accepted the mission, and tried to do it for Christ. Second because in the process you made the world a little better.
So today are you in Bethany – being a miracle of love, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, even just your presence, bringing His Presence to someone who needs it? Or are you in Ephraim preparing, praying, being encouraged by others in faith, readying yourself for whatever Holy Week God brings you into?
Together we can fulfill Christ’s mission – from Bethany and Ephraim, to Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa, and ultimately Easter where all our joy is restored, leading us to the promise of Pentecost, and the Divine Power of God that awaits us through the Holy Spirit.
I am looking forward to these Holy times together
God bless you this pre-Holy, yet oh so very holy week.