Holy Week Explained Simply

This week we as Christians are celebrating a week that has come to be known as “Holy Week.” You may have heard terms like “Palm Sunday,” and that is a day in Holy Week (today actually). Surely you’ve heard of Good Friday-that is a day in the Holy Week- and then of course we have all heard of Easter, or it is also sometimes called, Resurrection Sunday, and that is the final day in Holy Week.

Holy Week is what we celebrate each year to remember the week in which Jesus came into Jerusalem, and then was put on trial, and then killed, and then raised from the dead. IT is an INCREDIBLY important week for the history of our world-it is the week in which the events of the Gospel had to take place in order that sinners like you and me can be forgiven. But, often times we just hear about these things and celebrate these things without actually understanding the significance of these days in Holy Week. Just what is it that Jesus did and lived through in order that we can be brought into a right relationship with God? And why did these things happen? So, the outline is very simple-we are going to walk through each day of the Holy Week from Sunday through Sunday.

I will start out by saying the Gospel writers thought the final week of Jesus’ life was very important. There are 4 Gospels in the Bible- The Gospel according to Mark, The Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Luke, and the Gospel according to John. Matthew is 28 chapters and he devotes 7 of those chapters to Jesus’ final days on earth. Mark is only 16 chapters and 5 of those are devoted to Jesus’ final days on earth. And we see similar things in both Luke and John-so obviously whatever went on in this week, which we have come to call Holy Week, is very important!

Day 1 of Holy Week is talked about in Mark chapter 11 verses 1-11. This day has come to be known as Palm Sunday. A little background to Palm Sunday. At the time, the Jewish people had Jerusalem as their capital city, so the people from Israel-the Jewish people-would come from throughout the land and gather for a feast called PASSOVER at this time of the year every single year… Many scholars think the date of Palm Sunday is Sunday, March 29th in the year 33-so almost 2,000 years ago! And the Jewish people lived at that time under a peaceful Roman rule. Rome ruled most of the established world-and they did so without any real wars at this time-historians call this time the “Time of Roman peace.”

But, during Passover Roman security was on high alert. It’s kind of like here in the United States with the Super bowl, or with July 4th– security is on high alert, because we don’t want something crazy to go down-that’s how the Romans were with the Jews in Jerusalem during Passover, because there were literally hundreds of thousands of people in the city celebrating, and the Romans did not want some sort of Jewish uprising.

So, when Jesus comes riding into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey-what happens is that the people who have heard about Jesus and all of the amazing things he did they spread Palm branches on the ground, as Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey-fulfilling an Old Testament Prophecy about the Messiah! The Messiah is the Chosen one of God to redeem His people out of sin and to bring them forgiveness of sins and eternal life- and the people in the city that week recognized that Jesus is that person! So, a large crowd gathers to basically praise and worship Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. Now, this caused concern for both the Romans and the Jews! It concerned the Romans because they didn’t want Jesus’ followers to cause an uprising and mess up their peace time! And it concerned the Jews because they didn’t want their relationship with the Romans to go sour. So-that is the first day of Holy Week-Palm Sunday…

The second day of Holy Week doesn’t really have a special name so we will just call it “Monday”… After Jesus had gotten into Jerusalem he went and he stayed the night at a friend’s house and then the next day on Monday 2 kind of seemingly crazy things happen.

  1. Jesus cleanses the temple.
  2. The second seemingly crazy thing that happens on Monday of Holy Week is that Jesus curses a fig tree… We don’t have time to get into this but I’ll basically just say this… In the morning of that day Jesus was walking into Jerusalem with the disciples and they overhear him curse a fig tree. On their way back to their friend’s house on Monday night they notice the tree Jesus had cursed had died. And this all has to do with the fact that the tree was not bearing fruit like it should, and therefore it was not being alive the way it was supposed to be! And really the tree is a symbol of the Jews who were not living out their faith as they should have been, and evidence of that is how they weren’t even recognizing Jesus for who Jesus is-the Son of God-the Messiah sent to seek and save sinners.

Now, we are onto the third day of Holy Week-Tuesday. On Tuesday Jesus taught a lot! And the reason Jesus taught a lot is this…. All along, Jesus was on an inevitable crash course with the Jewish religious leaders-called the Scribes, and the teachers of the law, the Rabbis, and the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. The religious leaders were unwilling to move-they were established-and they weren’t going to let anybody change the world in which they lived. Nobody was going to mess with them. Well, they didn’t anticipate that Jesus who they saw as a country boy-self trained Rabbi-would have such a HUGE following. AND his following grew even more after the events of Monday when he drove everyone out of the temple. And now, Jesus’ followers are all riled up. So, on Tuesday, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were basically ganging up on Jesus because they were all trying to trick Jesus into saying something to expose him as a phony… They did not believe for a second that Jesus was truly the Messiah. In fact, they didn’t believe he was anywhere even close to who he claimed he was. So the religious leaders wanted to prove that Jesus is not who he says he is…  

Just to give you a taste of some of those conversations:  they try to trick Jesus by asking him his view of politics-to see if they can get him in trouble with the Romans, but that doesn’t work… So, then they try to ask him some theological questions to make him look foolish, but that doesn’t work… So, they ask him questions about the law, and that doesn’t work. All sorts of stuff gets thrown at Jesus in an attempt to trick him- but Jesus came out of Tuesday unharmed and not distracted by all of the tension… But, we should know the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders by the end of Tuesday was ABSOLUTELY SCATHING!

As we come now to Wednesday of Holy Week-I want us to notice how the plot to kill Jesus was not some spur of the moment thing. This was a well thought out plan by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Mark 14:1-2 it says “It was now 2 days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him (Jesus) by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.’” So, what is going on here is that the Sanhedrin gets together-the Sanhedrin is the governing body of the Jewish people-it’s kind of like the Senate here in the United States, and they are made up of people from 2 different parties the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and there are 70 of them- and they ALL come together and hold a meeting on how they should go about killing Jesus. You see, they felt that if they did not arrest Jesus then there would be a riot, because Jesus had gained so many followers that it was pretty much uncontainable at this point. And they thought if there was a riot by Jesus’ followers, then the Romans would come into Jerusalem and basically destroy them and take rule over the Jewish people which they of course did NOT want. So, basically, Jesus was throwing off the status quo. You see, how they felt that “Everything was fine until this JESUS came along… And he’s ruining everything now!” So, they come together on Wednesday to try and find a way they can arrest and kill Jesus in secret so that his followers don’t find out.

Now it’s Thursday… And Thursday is basically all of chapter 14 in Mark. Now, remember it is a huge celebration called Passover in Jerusalem at this time. So Jesus gathers with his disciples on Thursday night for dinner which was really a feast to remember the Passover. So, this is the day when they looked forward to when God would save his people and release them from sin in an ultimate way-as they remembered what He did for His people during the Exodus. After Jesus eats dinner with them at what we call “the Last Supper,” Jesus gets arrested, and then Jesus gets a preliminary trial. So, Jesus is dragged into the street, and a crowd is incited against Jesus and the religious leaders give him a trial and they charge him of blasphemy. Basically they are saying that Jesus is not who He claims He is-and He claims to be the Messiah-God’s Chosen One!

In Jewish culture the punishment for blasphemy was death! However, the Jews were not allowed to give Jesus the death penalty, because they needed Roman authority so they took Jesus to the Roman authority in their area who is a guy named Pontius Pilate.

Now, we move onto what is known as Good Friday…

At the beginning of Mark 15 it is clear that it was now Friday morning. And the religious leaders hand Jesus over to the Roman ruler-Pontius Pilate to receive the death penalty by crucifixion. We have the death penalty in our culture-it is called lethal injection. It is supposed to be a quick and somewhat painless process where a person is injected with poison and they die shortly after…. THAT IS NOT AT ALL WHAT CRUCIFXION WAS LIKE! Crucifixion was incredibly cruel and inhumane.

Crucifixion was originally taught to the Romans by the Persians who would crucify the officers of opposing militaries after they beat them in victory. They did it to humiliate them, and to show people that this is what happens when you mess with Persia-you get tortured, humiliated, and you die a slow and painful death. When the Romans used crucifixion they only used it for extreme criminals-the worst of the worst… In fact, Roman citizens couldn’t even be crucified because it was so terrible! The Romans crucified terrible criminals because they believed others would see what happened to them, and then they would not want to commit the crimes those men had committed.

So, on Good Friday-Jesus receives the punishment of being scourged-which basically means he was beaten and wounded very badly-then he was given the punishment of crucifixion which was the absolute worst form of capital punishment and was meant for only the worst of criminals! On Good Friday, Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners- in events that were ultimately controlled by the Sovereign God… So, sinful humans like you and I actually killed Jesus, but God overruled their evil to accomplish something good. The people who crucified Jesus thought they were ending Jesus once and for all-but guess what here we are 2,000 years later still talking about him-why?

Because Jesus completed His mission at the cross and he became the perfect sacrifice. He became that Passover lamb-who was sacrificed for you and me so that God would not punish us for our sins, but will forgive us if we believe in Jesus. We deserved to go on the cross because of our sin and rebellion against God, but on Good Friday Jesus who never knew sin and never rebelled against God was crucified and killed IN OUR PLACE so that you and I might see how great He loves us and so that we might see Him as beautiful and then trust in Him and not our sin. Good Friday is the day Jesus died in the place of sinners. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Then, Jesus was buried in a tomb on Friday night during the evening time-and it appeared to everyone at that time that evil had won…

Now, we don’t really know a whole lot about Saturday actually. You will notice that in Mark’s gospel, chapter 15:42-47 is Friday night, and then it just skips Saturday, and the next action is in chapter 16 on Sunday morning. We do know Jesus was buried in the tomb that a rich man basically gave to him and his family. Jewish tombs were normally carved into rocks on the mountainsides-so picture a cave with a giant stone in front of it-that is the tomb that Jesus’ body would have been laying in on Saturday. Meanwhile, the disciples were laying low trying to escape punishment and not to get included with Jesus so that they might get killed or punished too!

So, at the end of Holy Week now is Sunday-EASTER-RESURRECTION SUNDAY…

What I want you to understand this week-Holy Week-is that Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the Gospel. I have heard people say at times that somehow the cross and the resurrection was God’s second plan because he had another one and it went wrong… No! All of Scripture and all of God’s dealings with His people point us to the day when Jesus is raised from the dead-which is Easter. It was God’s plan all along-that He would send His Son into the world to live a perfect life, to die as if he were a criminal in the place of people who actually are like you and I (we are sinners who don’t deserve Jesus to die for us), and then to raise Jesus up from the dead. Without the resurrection of Jesus we are nothing and we have nothing. But, with the resurrection of we are given everything we are and have in Christ!

We need to realize in our lives that it is like we are dead men or women walking if we don’t have Christ-it’s like we are dead in that tomb. We don’t have any true life, because we don’t have the Holy Spirit-and we don’t have a relationship with God-but once we place our faith in Jesus and what he did for us in this Gospel-then we are given new life, we receive the Holy Spirit, and we are no longer dead but we are raised to new life with Jesus!

  • So, 2 decisions you can make today…
  • Will you place your faith in Jesus?
  • Maybe you think you already do believe in Jesus but you are still living like you do not have victory over sin-you don’t think you can defeat sin in your life. I want you to understand that Jesus has won the victory. Jesus has already defeated your sin-and he has given you the Holy Spirit so that he can work in you and then live through you. So, die to yourself and your sin, and instead pray and ask God to work in you and to make you into who He wants you to be so you can then do what He wants you to do. You are called to live as one with new life through Christ because of Easter Sunday.

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