Note: Don Hawks, a Methodist pastor, gave this talk to his congregation on Palm Sunday, in the year 2000. His discussion of the happenings during the first Holy Week give us much to reflect on today. We share his sermon with you with the prayer that your Holy Week activities will be truly blessed. -Editor
THE MEANING OF HOLY WEEK
About 2000 years ago an event occurred in the Middle East that changed the world permanently. We’ll never be the same again. In fact, we date our calendars by this event. Every time you write a date, you’re using the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the focal point. A.D. and B.C. History was split by this one event.
What’s so important about what we now call Holy Week? What’s the big deal about it? Why are the events of that first Holy Week and Easter often on the cover of major national news magazines? Why is Jesus still on the cover 2000 years later?
The events that happened on that Holy Week occurred in a dramatic succession of events. There was his triumphant entry on Palm Sunday, which we are celebrating today. Then there was the Last Super with his disciples on Thursday, the trial of Jesus late that night, then there was the death of Jesus on Friday, and finally the resurrection of Jesus on the next Sunday. I want to briefly consider three events of that week—Jesus’ trial, death and resurrection, and the implications for us here this morning.
Jesus actually went through six trials. They arrested Him at night and they arrested Him secretly because He was so popular they didn’t want an uprising in the city of Jerusalem. Then He went through three religious trials and then He went through three civil trials.
First He went to Annas, then a trial before Caiaphas the high priest. Then a trial before the Sanhedrin, the religious Supreme Court. Then He went before Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem. Then Herod, the governor of Galilee. Then He was back to Pilate again. He went through six different trials, all night.
When they finished those six trials, what did they have to accuse Him of? Nothing. He had done nothing wrong. They had no crime against Him, no accusation that would stick. They brought in people to make up phony charges but they didn’t stick. Finally they got Him convicted on one count. He claims to be the Son of God. That’s why they put Jesus on the cross. He claims to be the Son of God.
Matthew 26 “The priests were looking for false evidence against Jesus so they could put Him to death but they didn’t find anything. Then they said, `Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ `Yes, it is as you say,’ said Jesus. Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists and others slapped Him.” Notice: Jesus never claimed to be a good man. He never claimed to be a moral leader. He never claimed to be a great teacher. He said, “I’m God. I’m the only way to heaven. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
That kind of changes the agenda a little bit. For instance, if I were to say, “I’m a good teacher.” Some of you would say, “Yes, he is a good teacher.” If I were to say, “I’m a good man and I’m an ethical person and I teach good moral principles.” You might agree with that. But if all of a sudden I stood up here one Sunday morning and said, “By the way, I’m god! And the only way you’re ever going to get to heaven is to put your trust in me.” would you relate and feel a little bit differently about me? Yes, it’d force you to make a decision.
If you ever meet anybody who claims to be God, you only have three options. One, believe he’s an idiot. The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s mentally deficit. The lights are on but nobody’s home. He’s deluded. Like the guy on the funny farm who thinks he’s Napoleon. That’s one option when a guy tells you, “I’m god.” He just doesn’t know what he’s talking about and you feel pity for him.
Two, you could say, “I believe he’s a deceiver. A shyster, a swindler. He’s trying to con me into believing he’s something he’s not and he probably wants my money.” There are a lot of people like that out there. They’re all over. People who will tell you they are something they’re not in order to get something out of you.
Third opinion is to say, “I believe you’re telling the truth. In that case I need to fall down and worship you, obey you, and follow you.”
Everybody in this room has already made some kind of decision about Jesus Christ. You either believe He’s a liar or you believe He’s a lunatic or you believe He’s the Lord. It can’t just be: “I believe He was a good teacher.” He couldn’t be a good teacher because a good teacher would not say, “I’m god and I’m the only way to heaven.” A good person would not say that unless it was the truth. And if it’s not true we ought to close up shop and go home. You have to decide is Jesus deluded, is He an intentional deceiver or is He deity? Is He really who He said He was? God.
Jesus claimed to be the savior of the world in John 12:47 “I didn’t come to judge the world. I came to save it.” That’s why He allowed Himself to be put on trial so there would be no doubt about who he was. Obviously, being God, He could have stopped the trial at any moment. But He allowed it to happen and He even knew that He would be proven guilty because He was the Son of God and put on the cross. But it was all part of the plan. It cost Jesus Christ His life to pay for His sins. But He was willing to do it. Because after the trials were all over, He was condemned to be crucified.
Thus, THE TRIAL OF JESUS SHOWS HIS PURPOSE
Now, the crucifixion is probably the most brutal and torturous death penalty ever devised by men. But even before Jesus went to the cross, he experienced incredible pain and bruises. Because after six trials and staying up all night and lack of sleep it says that they gave Him to the Roman soldiers who just wanted to make fun of Him. They put a robe on Him and they crowned Him with a crown of thorns, which stuck into His head, into His brain. They put a blindfold on Him. Then it says they began to beat Him and slap Him. They hit Him in the face. The Bible says that they even began to pluck his beard.
Just out of sheer torture. They did this it said and said, “Who hit you, Jesus?” And somebody slapped Jesus on the face. “Who slapped You? If You’re God, tell us who we are?” Jesus could have given their names, their father’s names, and their grandfather’s names. He could have traced their family tree back to Adam. But He remained silent because He was taking the suffering of the world upon Himself.
The Bible says He was mocked and He was scorned. He was taken and scourged. Scourging was far worse than whipping. They would bend a man over a post so that he couldn’t kneel down but he could stand up either. And you know how that hurts your back when you’re in that half way position. They would tie your hands, strip you down to the waist, then two men called lectors would hold these whips that had a cat-of-nine-tails in it, nine long strands of leather. In each of these strands of leather they’d tie two things – sharp bone that would cut the skin and bits of led in order to bruise the skin. They would whip and when they did it would not only cut the back open but it would bruise it at the same time.
By law, you could only give 40 stripes because it would usually kill a man. So they always gave only 39. Because if you miscounted and gave more than 40, the lectors who would be giving the punishment would be given the same punishment they just doled out.
Jesus’ back was one bloody pulp even before He went to the cross. When you figure 39 times 9 that’s how many scars he had on His back even before He went to the cross. Then they gave Him the heavy cross that He was to carry up the hill to Calvary. As He carried the cross up the hill, He stumbled and falls due to the loss of blood and fatigue. The soldiers just grabbed somebody out of the crowd to help Him carry the cross. I’ve always been touched by the fact that they chose Simon of Cyrene, a black man was given the privilege of carrying Jesus’ cross.
When He got up to the top, they would stretch Him out on the cross and nail Him. You’ve seen many things where it looks like the nails were through the palms, but historically they would nail in the wrist, between the two bones. When it would go through it would hit that never that goes up your arm and be excruciatingly painful.
The death on the cross was a death of suffocation. If you hung this way for any period of time, what happens is the muscles around your chest cavity, the pectorals major, begin to paralyze. And when all the weight of your body is held this way, eventually you’re able to breathe in but you can’t breathe out. So the death on the cross would have been a simple death of suffocation except the Romans didn’t want to make it that easy.
What they would do is take a person’s knees and bend them a little bit and nail the feet to the cross. So a man would be hanging there in absolute agony until the pain in his chest was about to explode with pins and needles then he would lift himself up on his feet that were nailed to the cross, so he could breathe. He would hold that position until He could no longer stand the pain in his feet and He would let himself back down again. Until the pain in his lungs became unbearable.
The death on the cross was up and down, up and down. It was an incredibly torturous event. That’s why the Bible tells us (and history too) that the Romans would eventually break the legs of the person on the cross. They couldn’t stand up anymore and then they’d suffocate.
That’s the kind of punishment that Jesus went through on the cross. Why? Why did Jesus have to die? They took a spear and stuck it in His side just to make sure He had died and it says water and blood came out of the chest cavity. There are many books that have been written on this and doctors say that the only way you get water and blood mixing in the chest cavity is if the heart rips. You can call it what you want, but Jesus died of a broken heart. It exploded. He was saying, “I love you so much it hurts!”
Why did Jesus have to die? Because somebody had to pay for your sins. There’s a law of the universe that says, you reap what you sow. If you break man’s laws you pay man’s penalties. If I go out and speed and I get a ticket, I’ve got to pay. If you break man’s laws, you pay man’s penalties. If you break God’s laws, you pay God’s penalties.
The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” The Good News is it’s already been paid for. Jesus said, “You deserve punishment.” Because all of us do because none of us are perfect. All of us have blown it. He said, “I love you so much. I created you. I will come to earth and take your punishment for you.”
Thus, THE DEATH OF JESUS SHOWS HIS PASSION.
You probably don’t remember the name Timothy McCarthy. He was the guy who jumped in front of Hinkley and took a bullet for President Reagan and saved his life. We think, “What a hero!” He took a bullet for the President from a would be assassin.
Yet at Calvary, the President of the Universe took a bullet for you. He paid the price for you. He said, “I love you this much!” If you don’t think God loves you, take a long look at the cross. You’re blind if you don’t think God loves you. There will never be anyone in history who loves you more than God does.
“God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” You look at creation and see God’s hand but you look at the cross and you see God’s heart, His passion. This is why Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Ephesians “By the death of Christ we are set free, that is our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God which he gave to us in such large measure.” Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t deserve the penalty. What was He guilty of? He was guilty of love in the first degree.
After Jesus died and they took His body downs and put Him in the tomb. The tombs of the Middle East are different than the tombs we have here in America. They don’t bury people in caskets under the ground. They would dig caves in the side of mountains, into the limestone, kind of like a mausoleum. They’d dig the caves then dig a trench right in front of the cave and put a giant millstone in front (You can still see these all over the Middle East today.) of the cave. They’d wedge it shut. Then when someone else in the family would die they would take it apart – roll the stone back and put another person’s body into the tomb.
It’s interesting that religious leaders after Jesus died felt a little frightened by all of this. So they went back to Pilate and said, “Jesus claimed that He was going to raise Himself from the dead in three days. We know that’s not going to happen. But, we would like for you to put an official Roman seal over that stone so it can’t be moved and we want you to post guards around it.”
In the history of the world, Jesus is the only person who they planted guards at His grave to keep Him from coming out. But this is what the essence of Christianity is.
If there were no resurrection, we could just all go home.
A few years ago, the top historians around the world gathered together and made a list of what they considered to be the 100 most significant events in the history of the world. There were things like the discovery of America, the invention of the airplane, the invention of the printing press and other things. Number four on the list of most important events was the life of Jesus Christ. When I saw that, I was not offended by that, that they hadn’t put it number one. They had forgotten the most important part anyway. They had put the Life of Jesus Christ.
If only Jesus had come and lived and then died like everybody else, that’s probably about the best you could say about Him – number four. Because there have been other good teachers, there have been other moral philosophers, there have been other unselfish martyrs. But what makes Jesus different is He not only died a martyr’s death on the cross but He came back to life. And nobody else has ever done that and that’s what makes this the most significant event in history because it’s never been done.
Newsweek, which is not known as a necessarily Christian magazine, says, “The risen Christ is the center of the Christian faith. The mystery without which there would be no church, no hope of eternal life, no living Christ to encounter today. No other historical figure has ever made the claim that He was raised from the dead. It was this appearance of the resurrected Christ that lit the flame of the Christian faith. It wasn’t the morality of the Sermon on the Mount, which enabled Christianity to conquer Roman paganism, but it was the belief that Jesus was alive. He’d been raised from the dead.”
This Holy Week then is not some memorial to a nice, good religious teacher who lived 2000 years ago. It’s a celebration of the fact that He is alive today. I’m living proof and so are other people sitting around you and approximately one billion Christians who will celebrate Holy Week this week and Easter next week end.
Romans 1:4 “By being raised from the dead, He proved he was the mighty Son of God, with the nature of God Himself.” He showed Himself many times. Historical records say. He showed Himself one time to 500 people. How would you like to be the people, who put Jesus to death and three days later, He’s walking around Jerusalem talking to you again? It would be quite an event! When Jesus was hanging on the cross, the skeptics and the critics, mocked Him and said, “If You’re the Son of God, why don’t You just pull Yourself down from that cross. Why don’t You just come down and show that You’re really God.” Jesus was going to do something far more than just come down from the cross. He had something more spectacular planned. He said, “I’m going to let you bury me for three days then I’ll come back to life to prove that I am what I am.” Can you imagine the joy that the disciples felt, the excitement that they felt when they realized that the man that had been crucified three days earlier was who He said to be He was.
Thus, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS SHOWS HIS POWER.
What does this mean to me in the year 2000 in the Shenandoah Valley? In one sense Jesus Christ is still on trial. He’s on trial in every heart and mind of every person who’s not yet acknowledged Him for who He is and said, “You are the Son of God, the Savior of the world.” He’s on trial in your mind and heart if you’ve never done that.
Today, what I’m going to do is turn this sanctuary into a courthouse and I’m going to empanel every one of you as jurors. I want to call some witnesses about Jesus Christ, some eyewitnesses. Then we’re going to take a verdict. Because you cannot face Jesus and just say, “I’m not going to decide.” Let me call some witnesses. Fortunately we have historical records. Let me read a few of those that followed Him.
Peter. Peter, you watched Jesus Christ do all kinds of miracles for a few years. Who do you say Jesus is? “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16
Martha. Martha, you watched Jesus raise your own brother, Lazarus, who’d been dead for a couple of days. Who do you say Jesus is? “I believe You’re the Messiah, the Son of God.” John 11:27
Thomas. Thomas, you were one of the followers, but after Jesus died on the cross, you doubted that He would be raised again. In fact, you even said, “I’m not going to believe. I don’t believe He’s come back to life. I don’t believe in the resurrection until I can personally touch the nail prints in His hand and the feel the scar in His side.” And Thomas, Jesus gave you that opportunity in front of a large group one day He showed up and said this, “Put your finger here and see My hands. Read out your hand and put into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” Now, Thomas, what do you say? “Then Thomas said to Him, `My Lord, and my God.’”
You say I’m only reading friendly witnesses. What about the enemies of Jesus? What about those who hate Him and what about the unbelievers? Good point. I call as my witness some unbelievers.
Judas. Judas, you betrayed Jesus for a sack of coins. You planned His arrest. You watched Him for three years and then turned Him in. But after it was over, you regretted what you had done. You tried to give the money back then you committed suicide. What did you say before you committed suicide? “Then Judas said, `I have sinned for I have betrayed an innocent man.’ That’s your problem,‘ the priest reported. Then he threw the money on the floor and went out and hung himself.”
Pilate. Pilate, obviously you’re not a Christian. You’re a Roman pagan. You had nothing to do with Jesus and yet you tried Him twice. After trying Him twice, what do you have to say about Jesus Christ? Luke 20:3 “Then Pilate announced his verdict, `I’ve examined Him thoroughly and I find Him innocent. Herod came to the same conclusion and sent Him back to us. Nothing Jesus has done calls for the death penalty.’”
The thief on the cross. He certainly wasn’t any kind of religious person. He was dying for crimes he had committed. What did you say in front of all the people who were watching Jesus die on the cross, Mr. Thief? Luke 20:3 “1We deserve to die for our evil deeds. But this man hasn’t done one thing wrong.’ Then he said, `Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’”
Finally, I call the soldiers as witnesses. You were the executioner. You are not Christians. You are not followers of Jesus. You were the men who nailed His hands and His feet to the cross and after you saw all that happened what do you say about Jesus?Matthew 20:7 “When the soldiers guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and everything else that happened, they were very frightened and they said, `He really was the Son of God.’”
But those are people in the past. Are there any current witnesses?
Look around you. There are thousands around you right now. There are over a billion celebrating Easter this Easter. A recent Harris poll said 86% of all Americans say that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be. We could spend all day here.
You’ve heard the witnesses. Now it’s time to decide. What’s your verdict? You see, Easter really boils down to two issues and two only. One, Is Jesus who He says He is? Or is He a lunatic or a liar? And Two, if He is who He says He is, when are you going to start following what He says to do with your life?
Today, you sit in judgment of Jesus Christ. You’re deciding. Just like Pilate said, “What shall I do then with Jesus who is called the Christ?” That’s the most important question of life. What are you going to do with Jesus who is called the Christ? Today, you set in judgment of Jesus to decide whether He was who He says He was or not. But one day Jesus Christ is going to set in judgment of you. And God’s going to say, “What did you do with My Son, Jesus who I sent to earth to die for you and He said I love you this much.” Would you say, “I don’t care… It doesn’t matter…I’m going to live my own life… I’m going to ignore Him… I’m going to try to work my way to Heaven instead of trusting in Christ.”
Jesus will either be your savior or He will be your judge. Depending on what you do with Him will determine where you spend your eternity – heaven or hell. You say, “I don’t like to talk about that!” I don’t either, but Jesus did. He knows more about it than you or I.
Are you willing to gamble your life that He was wrong? Are you saying that everybody who’s put their trust in Him is a fool? It’s time to vote. It’s time for a verdict. What are you going to do?
A headline on the front page of the newspaper once read, “Signing Up For Eternity.” It was an article about people who were putting their signature on cards, sending them on a rocket to circle Saturn for the next 100 years.
How do you sign up for eternity?
What’s your verdict on Jesus Christ?
I’m going to pray a prayer and if today you would say, “Yes, I accept who Jesus is and what He has done for me,” then I invite you to pray this prayer in your heart. God will hear you. Say “Dear God, I believe that You sent Your son, Jesus, to die for my sins so I can be forgiven. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to live the rest of my life the way You want me to. Please put Your Spirit in my life to direct me. Amen.”
If you are already a believer perhaps you will want to pray something like this: “Dear God, I have believed these things about Jesus. But I have friends and relatives who do not. I want to commit today to share m y faith with them and invite them to church next Sunday on Easter day so that they can hear about this powerful man Jesus who live, died and rose from the dead in order that we might have life and have it abundantly. Amen.”