Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflections on the Last Week

I am so grateful that many Baptists have begun to place more emphasis on Holy Week. There is so much to learn from the last week. The last week in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ, traditionally begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is the celebration of Palm Sunday. When the people heard that Jesus was making his way from Bethany to Jerusalem they went out to meet him. They spread their garments and palm branches in the road. They shouted and cried out, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! (Mark 11:9-10)

Actually, it was not the last week of his life--he is alive today. But, it was the final week prior to his death on the cross and his resurrection. It was certainly the climactic week of his earthly life. So much happened during these brief days. So many important events. So many special moments. So many lessons still to be learned by his followers. Have you ever thought about how important that week was in the lives of the disciples? Some time after the death and resurrection of our Savior. Some time after the emotional highs and lows. Some time after they had had the opportunity to reflect upon everything that had happened. Some time later the gospel writers were led by the Spirit of God to begin to record the events of his life. There was so much to be written.

How do you capture his life on paper? What do you include? How do you decide what to leave out? Everything seemed so important now. Brief encounters that seemed unimportant at the time are so clear and vivid now. Late night meetings between the two of us when he answered my questions. John struggled with this difficulty. He says there were many other things that Jesus did--besides those he wrote about. He felt so over whelmed with the magnitude of the writing task. If everything were included the world would not be able to contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).

I believe that God led them in their writing and in their choosing. I also believe that God led them in a personal way. Each writer reflected from his own perspective as he recorded life changing words. Maybe God led them like he leads us. Maybe they wrote what they remembered most. Maybe they wrote about the things that impacted their lives most. Whatever the method of inspiration they wrote about the last week. Jesus lived approximately thirty-three years. That is more that 1700 weeks. The writers of the four gospels dedicated a great deal of their accounts to only one of those weeks. It was the last one.

By the present chapter and verse divisions the four gospels include 3779 verses comprising 89 chapters. The first thirty years of his life are recorded for us in only 208 verses. The background, announcements, and record of his birth are parts of only five chapters including John's unique approach to the beginning of his gospel. In addition to his birth these verses contain glimpses from his childhood and youth. Undoubtedly, Mary's memories furnished these sketchy outlines. The visits of the shepherds, the magi from the east, his circumcision, and the visit to Jerusalem at age twelve are briefly outlined.

The balance of the gospels is dedicated to the three years of his ministry. This is more than 3500 verses to record the significant events in the life and ministry of the Son of God. Only 3500 verses for more than 150 weeks. The amazing thing is that 1258 of these verses are dedicated to only one week. The last week.

More than one-third of the verses in all four gospels are committed to this week. Thirty-eight per cent of both Matthew's and John's gospels record the events of the last week. What an impact that week made upon their lives. What vivid and penetrating memories they must have had of the events of the last week.

The Christian church for centuries has celebrated the birth of our Savior. Advent celebrations have a significant and rightfully central place in the church calendar. However, there is no doubt that Easter is the crucial holiday in the Christian church. It is the event at the center of human history. It is the moment when sin and death were overwhelmed by redemption and life. When the gospel writers made their notes they wanted us to see Jesus as he approached the climactic events of his life. They wanted us to see him as he dealt with their unbelief, confusion and selfishness. (The gospels writers are so honest in dealing with their own sinful lives.) They wanted us to see how he struggled and found victory. They could not help but tell about this week--the last week--when their lives were transformed and redemption was born. They could not help but write about the events that formed the lessons of life. They learned so much about life and death during the last week. I hope we can, too.

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