“THE LAST WEEK”
The last week of Jesus’ life on earth began with His being praised by the people of Jeru-salem. It ended with many of the same people screaming for His execution and mocking Him as He died. If you have ever wondered how it can be that cheering crowds can so quickly morph into a murderous mob, all you need to do is consider the human heart.
3b …the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can
The unbelieving human heart exposes itself in many ways. But one of the clearest ways it does so is in the unsaved or natural man’s conviction that people are basically good. The idea is often put forth that bad things (they don’t like to call them “evil” or “sin”) are the inevitable result of someone’s environment, or their financial poverty, or their lack of a formal education, or some other extraneous force or condition.
But how does that account for an Abraham Lincoln? He was born in a log cabin, his parents were poor, his mother died when he was nine, and he had no formal education. Based on much of modern man’s thinking, he should have grown up to be Al Capone.
The idea that if we can just give people a nice place to live, money in their pockets, and a good education (whatever that is supposed to mean), then the good in everyone will shine through and evil will just fade away. In this country such thinking began to take hold in the 1930’s, was ratcheted up in the 1960’s, and drives much secular thinking today.
How has all of that worked out so far? Has the heart of man improved? Are people bet-ter or more moral today than they were seventy or eighty years ago? Hardly! Jesus told us the truth about the heart of man in the gospels. As always, He pulled no punches.
20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.
21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.
23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Jesus is teaching that external conditions are not the cause of evil. Men’s hearts are the cause of evil. We aren’t born good and learn how to commit sin. Anyone who has child-ren knows this to be true. What parent has had to teach a child to lie? They come into this world knowing how to lie. Parents need to teach children to tell the truth, don’t they?
We are born in sin, and if we come to saving faith in Christ, we become spiritual and begin to learn to do good in His sight. If not, we remain “natural men,” and the heart of natural men is, “…more deceitful than all else and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).”
This morning, as we take an abbreviated look at the last week of Jesus’ life on this earth, we’ll see this fundamental truth played out in a variety of ways. We’ll see the hatred of the Pharisees, the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, the all-consuming evil of Judas, and the betrayal of the masses. All of it comes from the wickedness of the human heart.
II. Text (turn to John 12)
Join me in Jerusalem on the Sunday morning before Passover. Jesus’ has five days left to live. This is the day we have come to know as Palm Sunday and Jesus is about to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Lord will come into the city to the praises of the masses. By all outward appearances it is a time of celebration and joy.
Jesus has recently raised Lazarus from the dead, and more and more people are believing in Him. But instead of believing, the Pharisees and the other religious leaders’ hatred for Jesus has only increased and intensified. They have come to the point where they will stop at nothing to maintain their power and control over the masses. So yesterday, on the Sabbath, the Pharisees have sunk to a new low.
9 The great multitude…learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.
10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also;
11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.
12 On the next day (Sunday morning) the great multitude who had come to the feast (of the Passover), when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
13 took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and began to cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
14 And Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
In v. 13 the initial fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 118:26 comes to pass.
The prophecy will be complete at the Second Coming. Likewise, in v. 15, one of Zecha-riah’s prophecies has its initial fulfillment.
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jeru-salem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with sal-vation, humble and mounted on a donkey…
This prophecy will be complete at the Second Coming as well. Only then the Lord Jesus will appear as a conqueror on a white horse.
11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat up-on it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
On this day the people are at least initially joyous, but Jesus is not. He weeps over the city for at least two reasons. First, because He knows what is really in the hearts of this people. He knows many will be calling for His death in just a few days. Second, because He knows that in forty years Rome will completely destroy the city and its inhabitants.
44 “(They) will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Then as Sunday evening approaches Jesus and His disciples go to Bethany for the night.
Now it is Monday morning. Jesus has four days left to live. On their return to Jerusalem Jesus and the disciples are hungry. They come upon a fig tree but it has no fruit. Jesus curses the tree. Doing so illustrates a truth He has already taught in the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). The point is this: If our faith is real, we will produce spiri-tual fruit. But if our faith is not real, we will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Upon reaching Jerusalem Jesus goes directly to the temple and angrily purifies it for the second time. He has done this at the start of His ministry and now does so again, saying, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robbers’ den (Luke 19:46).” The anger of the Pharisees and chief priests increases yet again. They must destroy Him! Knowing this Jesus foretells His crucifixion and what it will mean.
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
28 “Father, glorify Your name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven:
“I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.
31 “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world (Satan) shall be cast out.
32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
33 …He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
As Monday evening approaches He and His disciples leave the city once again and return to Bethany to spend the night there.
Now it is Tuesday morning. Jesus has three days left to live. Today will be a day of great confrontation with the religious leaders. Jesus’ authority will be questioned again, and He will teach three parables.
But first, on the way into the city, the disciples receive an amazing lesson. As they pass the fig tree Jesus has cursed the previous morning, they see that it has died. The lesson is unmistakable. Faith in God produces eternal fruit. And the converse is true as well. No eternal fruit comes from those whose faith is in something other than God.
22 Jesus (said) to them, “Have faith in God.
23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.
24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you.”
Throwing a mountain into the sea is a metaphor for the great and marvelous things God does when His children exercise faith in Him and His Word. There is nothing that He cannot do when believers trust Him completely and without reservation.
Today when the Pharisees confront Jesus, He tells them the parable of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The point is what we do matters far more than what we say. After all, prosti-tutes and tax-collectors have repented, but they, the religious leaders, refuse to do so.
Then Jesus tells them the parable of the murderous vine-growers who tend to the owner’s vineyard. They kill the master’s servants just as the religious Jews have killed every one of God’s true prophets. Then when the master sends his only son, they kill him too. The Lord asks the Pharisees, “…when the owner of the vineyard comes, what (do you think) will he do to those vine-growers (Matthew 21:40)?”
19 And the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood (Jesus) spoke (these parables) against them.
But Jesus isn’t through with them. He tells them the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:2-14). In it a king’s son is to be married but the invited guests refuse to come. The king sends his messengers to tell them that everything is ready – come. But they kill the messengers. So the enraged king has them destroyed and burns their city. Then the king calls strangers – anyone his remaining servants can find – and they come. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14).”
In the Pharisees’ mounting fury they try to trap Jesus, to trip Him up, to get Him to make a mistake, for which either they or the Romans might be able to condemn Him. “Should we or should we not pay taxes to Caesar?” But that doesn’t work. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:17).”
The Sadducees get into the act. “If a woman is married seven times, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” This is more than a little cynical since the Sadducees, the religi-ous liberals, don’t believe in any resurrection at all, so even their question is illegitimate.
29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not under-standing the Scriptures, or the power of God.
30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.
31 “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying,
32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Then a scribe (a lawyer) questions Him. “Which is the greatest commandment?” Surely this will trap Jesus. But His answer stymies them again.
Mark 12:29-31, 34
29 “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.”
34b And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
But Jesus doesn’t let up. He goes on. In Matthew 23 He just blisters the Pharisees and the other religious leaders. He condemns their self-righteousness. They do all of their so-called good deeds to be seen by men (v. 5). He condemns their vanity and their pride. They love to be called “Father” and “Teacher” and “Leader,” but Jesus says that God alone is our Father and Teacher, and Christ alone is our Leader (vv. 7-10).
He condemns their false religion. They make long public prayers and work to make con-verts to their religion, but in one of the harshest statements Jesus ever makes He says:
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte (convert); and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves (v. 15).” Can you even imagine a stronger indictment of false religion than that?
He just continues to bore into them. In the rest of Matthew 23 He condemns their hypo- crisy, their legalism, their injustice, and their persecution of those who hold to the truth. Finally He calls them snakes. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell (Matthew 23:33)?”
After this confrontation Jesus and the disciples leave the city and ascend the Mount of Olives. Here He delivers what has become known as the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 24-25 He prophesies the Great Tribulation of the last days, the rise of the Antichrist, His own Second Coming, and the subsequent judgment of both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Now it is Wednesday. Jesus has just two days left to live. Luke tells us that He is back in the temple today just as He has been every day this week.
37 Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the Mount that is called Olivet.
38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.
Late in the afternoon the Pharisees, knowing the Passover is nearly upon them, are just delighted when Judas comes to them with an unexpected plan.
3 And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve.
4 And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.
5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. (thirty pieces of silver – the price of a slave)
6 And he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him.
Those who hate Jesus and are plotting against Him must be overjoyed. Everything is working out just fine. Tomorrow will be Thursday, the day the Passover lamb is to be sacrificed. It will be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Surely they will suc-ceed in having Jesus dead and buried before sundown on Friday evening when the Pass-over begins. After all, it would be unlawful to have a dead body around on the Sabbath. And these people were real sticklers about obeying God’s laws, weren’t they?
In the meantime many are coming to saving faith but are reluctant to say so because of their fear of the Pharisees, the scribes, and the elders. Who are we afraid of? What keeps us from confessing Christ? What a tragedy it is to believe and yet to tell no one.
It is now that Jesus makes His final appeal. His words are making a huge impact on all who are hearing Him.
42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;
43 for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
44 And Jesus (in His final appeal) cried out and said, “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me.
45 “And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.
46 “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness.
47 And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
48 “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.”
Now it is Thursday, the first day of Unleavened Bread. Jesus has one day left to live. He sends Peter and John to go and prepare the Passover meal. He directs them to a house that has an “upper room” where they will eat the Passover together. Jesus tells them that He is about to suffer and that He will not eat this meal again until the Second Coming and the beginning of the Millennium Kingdom (Matthew 26:29). After the Passover meal He institutes the Lord’s Supper as His memorial. We are to do this until He comes for us.
19b “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20b “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
In John 13 Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, predicts His betrayal, and identifies Judas, who gets up and leaves. Then Jesus tells them He is about to be glorified and how important it is that they love each other. He says He will be leaving them, and for now at least, they will not be able to follow. The disciples are deeply troubled by all of this.
1 “Let not your heart be troubled; (you) believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; (so) that where I am, there you may be also.
4 “And you know the way where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
The Lord follows this with comforting words about sending the Holy Spirit, predicting His return, and the fulfillment of all prophecy. It is late Thursday night when they leave the city again and ascend the Mount of Olives. In John 15-16 Jesus continues teaching the disciples. He reminds them to love each other. He warns them of the persecution to come. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you…(but) I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19b).” Then He tells them of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom He will send to them.
In John 17, while the disciples sleep, Jesus, by Himself, prays His great High Priestly prayer. He prays for Himself, for his disciples, and for us, His church. The Son of Man agonizes over what He knows is coming, so much so that He sweats great drops of blood. But in the end, He submits to the will of His Father, and He obeys God. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will (Matthew 26:39).”
Now it’s early Friday morning and Jesus Christ will die today. The cup does not pass from Him, and before dawn, the work of the betrayer done, they come for Him. What follows is a whirlwind of lies, denials, deceit, illegal mock trials, cowardice, torture, and in the end, nothing less than premeditated murder.
Jesus is bound and taken before the former High Priest Annas, where He is questioned, struck in the face, and sent on to the current High Priest, Annas’ son-in-law, Caiaphas. There He is questioned again, mocked and beaten. While this is taking place, Peter, who has vowed to fight for Jesus, has already denied that he even knows Him. At dawn the council gathers and demands that Jesus answer just one question.
67 “If You are the (Messiah), tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe;
68 and if I ask a question, you will not answer.
69 “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
70 And they all said, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.”
For the Pharisees and other religious leaders it’s the last straw. They need Jesus dead and they need Him dead now. But since they have no authority to impose capital punishment because they are functioning under the thumb of the Roman Empire, they are sure they can get Rome to execute Jesus for them. So they send Jesus to the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. And the die is cast. The Jews have schemed, planned, and plotted Jesus’ murder, and now the Gentiles (the Romans) will actually carry it out.
Thirty years later, when the Paul writes his letter to the Romans, he can say, “…all the world…guilty before God (Romans 3:19 NKJV).” Jesus is taken to Pilate. He sends “the problem” to Herod, who from Rome’s perspective is the head of the local government.
Under the authority of Rome, they all answer to Pilate, but he just wants this potential trouble to go away. But after Herod’s questioning, his soldiers also mock and beat Jesus, and send Him back to Pilate. Pilate basically says, “What has He done? I see no reason to execute Him. But if you insist, I will have him whipped and then let Him go. Isn’t that good enough?” But the Jews insist. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate’s response is, “Fine. I wash my hands of it.” And “…he delivered Jesus to their will (Luke 23:25c).”
Jesus is whipped and beaten yet again. This time it is done by professional Roman sol-diers who know how to torture someone nearly to the point of death while at the same time keeping the victim alive long enough to be nailed to a cross. A crown of thorns is pressed down on His head and He is taken to Golgotha, a hill just outside of the city to be crucified. The nails are driven through Jesus’ wrists and feet, and a sign meant to mock Him, speaks eternal truth: “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews” That’s exactly right! Isn’t that amazing? Even those who hate God will do His bidding when He demands it.
Well, it is about 9 a.m. and Jesus is lifted up and suspended between heaven and earth.
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”
• Even now, Jesus prays for forgiveness for His own murderers. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
• Even now, Jesus reaches out to a repentant thief who is being executed alongside of Him. “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise (Luke 23:43).”
• Even now, Jesus expresses concern for His mother. He speaks first to Mary and then to John. “Woman, behold, your son! “Behold, your mother (John 19:26-27)!”
The horrors that follow are beyond our comprehension but at noon it gets even worse. From then until 3 p.m. Jesus’ suffering enters a place of darkness unknown to any man. God is absolutely holy and He will not look upon sin. And so God turns His back on Jesus and pours out His righteous and holy wrath for our sin on His Son.
Not from eternity past to eternity future has the Son ever been separated from the Father. But for these three hours Jesus is left alone to pay the price for sins He never committed: Your sin and mine – each and every one of them. Each one is sufficient to kill us and condemn us for eternity. Jesus is literally being crushed under the weight of our sin.
It is now that Jesus cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The anguish Jesus is experiencing here is infinitely greater and more intense than the physical pain of torture and crucifixion.
This is followed by Jesus’ saying, “I am thirsty (John 19:28),” in fulfillment of the pro-phesy of Psalm 69:13, and His statement, “It is finished (John 19:30).”
This means far more than the end of Jesus’ life on this earth. It means that the work of redemption is complete. Jesus has accomplished all that the Father has required of Him.
28 “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
And so, with the ransom for your soul and for mine paid in full, …Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46).” He is dead.
It’s all over. The disciples scatter in fear for their lives. The Jews have accomplished their purpose. The Pharisees and religious leaders must be very satisfied with them-selves. The Romans have carried out another execution. For them it’s just a routine day in the far reaches of the empire. Satan has won…or so it seems.
It’s 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Romans would gladly let Jesus’ body hang on the cross. But the Jews have laws they must obey. They need to get His body buried before the sun goes down and the Sabbath begins.
And we all know how important it is that the religious leaders obey God’s laws. So…
40 …they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid.
42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Epilogue: Doesn’t it make you angry? What was wrong with those people who did that to Jesus? Well, you are already know, don’t you? Their hearts were evil. That’s pretty easy to accept, isn’t it? Look at what they did!
But what isn’t so easy to accept is that your heart and my heart, unless and until God steps in and saves our souls, and gives us a new heart, is exactly the same as the hearts of those who murdered Jesus. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?”
We say, “They killed Jesus.” But the fact is that you killed Jesus. The fact is that I killed Jesus. He didn’t go to the cross for His sins. He didn’t have any. He went to the cross for our sins, your and mine. If we do not grasp that truth we miss the whole point of salvation, redemption, and Resurrection Sunday. We’ll continue this story then.
~ Pray ~