The choices people make can be flat-out baffling. We wonder, “What were they thinking?” We encounter one of these perplexing moments on Friday of the Passion Week. It is now early Friday morning (John 18:28; Mark 15:1). Jesus had been subjected to what can only very loosely be called a trial by the Jewish leaders. He is now turned over to the Roman authorities to be tried for political reasons (the title “King of the Jews” was a two-edged sword in a Roman province). Jesus was before Pontius Pilate, prefect of the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD. After interrogating Him, Pilate concludes that Jesus is innocent. The Jews, particularly the chief priests (Mark 15:10-11), had one final recourse to see that Jesus was crucified. Pilate had a custom of releasing one prisoner during the Passover (Mark 15:6). Their options: Barabbas and Jesus. The former was a murderer and a notorious insurrectionist (Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19; John 18:40). In short, Barabbas was a convicted thug. The latter was a Man who had done nothing wrong and posed no threat to Rome. On the contrary, He taught that Jews should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17). No brainer right? A reasonable and just people would call for Jesus’ release. The chief priests would not have it and they chided the crowd to choose Barabbas, so they did and Barabbas was released (Mark 15:11). This takes us to noon on Friday of the Passion Week (John 19:14).
By any account, the Jews made an irrational and unreasonable choice on Friday of the Passion Week. How about you? Who would you have chosen that day, Barabbas or Jesus? Let’s move beyond the hypothetical and into the here and now. Have you chosen Jesus over any other religious figure? Have you chosen Jesus over any pleasure or ambition? Jesus is the only reasonable choice.
Martin Luther wrote well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” In it he declares,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He!
On this Good Friday we are reminded once again, “Christ Jesus, it is He!” who suffered and died for our sins. This is why Jesus of Nazareth was and remains the only reasonable choice for all people. In 1871, Antonio Ciseri painted a depiction of the scene of Jesus’ trial. He called it “Ecce Homo” which is a Latin phrase that means, “Behold the Man.” In the painting, Pilate is looking out that the crowd with his back to those looking at the painting with his hand pointing back at Jesus. Similarly, Good Friday calls our attention to look upon Jesus, the One who endured the ignominy of the cross for your sins and mine. On this Good Friday I urge you to “Behold the Man!” Choose Christ. For His suffering and death is the basis of our glorious justification. This is what makes Good Friday, well, good.
What we eat is often of little consequence, except when it’s our last meal. What we say is often rather ordinary, except when they are our last words. Thursday of the Passion Week was the day of Jesus’ last meal and His last words, at least His last extended discourse. Jesus and His disciples observed the Passover in an upper room; known as the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23; John 13:1-5). Following the supper, Jesus gave what is known as the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17:26). Jesus taught on His departure, i.e., return to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He concluded His instruction with a poignant High Priestly prayer in John 17. Then they sung a hymn (probably Psalm 118) and went out to the Mount of Olives.
Jesus never lost sight of His mission or ministry. John 13:1 tells us that “Jesus knew his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” Jesus was fully aware that unspeakable agony was just hours away. But the reality is that His anguish began in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). Jesus transparently shared, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). The intensity of Jesus’ prayer is palpable. Luke the physician recorded a unique but important detail, “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Blood-mingled sweat is a rare but real condition during extreme levels of stress known as hematidrosis. The cross before Jesus was a more than adequate reason for this physiological expression.
It is right to call this Passion Week. Jesus suffered immensely. He tasted anguish not only on Friday but throughout the week, including on Thursday, the day before His crucifixion. He was rightly called a man of sorrows by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:3). Not only did He bear His own sorrow but He also carried ours (Isaiah 53:4). The last meal and the last words of Jesus are momentous. He experienced all of this enormous distress for you and for me because of your sin and mine. What a Savior!
Man of Sorrows what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
(Philip Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”)
The Passion Week reminds us that Jesus’ suffering is not merely a blip on the historical radar. It is so much more significant. In fact, there is no greater event than Jesus’ death on the cross two millennia ago. The work of Christ is the sun in the universe of God’s purposes as the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:9, “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”
Once we realize that the work of Jesus is central to the mind and heart of God we are forced to grapple with the significance of all that transpired leading up to, during, and following the death of Jesus including His Triumphal Entry, His betrayal, His Jewish and Roman trials, His crucifixion, His burial, and His resurrection. We must ask ourselves the orientation question, “Who do I say that Jesus is in light of this sequence of events?” followed by the application question, “What place does Jesus have in my life?”
Palm Sunday answers the orientation question with, “Jesus is King!” Palm Sunday answers the application question with, “Jesus should be the Lord of my life.” His rightful place is Sovereign of my life. As the song writer expressed it, “King of my life, I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be” (Jennie Evelyn Hussey, “Lead Me to Calvary”). The Lordship of Christ in my life means that every thought, word, and action has as its aim to please my Savior (cf. Psalm 19:14; Romans 6:13). The risen Christ declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Consequently, “All authority in the universe is his, and all creation owes its allegiance to him” (John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, 26). Because Jesus is Lord, we are strangely off-kilter when we forbid Him to take His rightful seat on the throne of our hearts.
Is Jesus Lord of your life?
There are at least three paradoxes in the Palm Sunday narratives which serve as both admonitions and exhortations for us today:
Those who knew the Scriptures best, the Pharisees, failed to see their fulfillment in Jesus (Matthew 21:15-16 [cp. Psalm 8:2]; Luke 19:39; John 12:19). They would eventually coerce the crowds into changing their minds.
The King rides in on a donkey. He is meek, not the kind of King they expected.
The same crowd who proclaims Jesus King would betray Him in John 19:15: “They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’” (cf. Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21; John 19:6).