This week—Holy Week, or sometimes called Passion Week—we’ll look at the events of each day between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday as recorded in Mark’s gospel. You’ll do more scripture reading this week than usual. Most of the passages are longer than the meditations.
The accounts of Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are long, but since they are narratives, they read quickly (and on the audio versions, I’ve shortened the readings). Tuesday has a lot of content and teaching, so you may want to mark that passage—Mark 11:20-13:37—and linger there later when you have plenty of time. This week it will be good to get an overview of all that transpired in those final days and to see the impact on our world and in our lives.
Monday, April 15
Read: Mark 11:12-19
Consider: It was the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He came into the city on a colt—mocking the displays of power the Roman officials used when they came into town. Instead of raised swords, palm branches were lifted high. Instead of homage paid to Caesar, the crowd shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (11:9). Jesus was proclaiming a new kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom.
This new kingdom would redefine everything, including strength. Strength would no longer be found in coercion, but in love—self-giving love.
Along with a new view of power, came a new view of God and how we interact with him. Religious observances would be turned upside down. And that’s exactly what happened when Jesus entered the Temple. He overturned the tables of the money changers who were robbing the people as they exchanged common currency for Temple currency. He scattered the assets of those who were selling animals to sacrifice. The religious leaders thought he was desecrating the Temple, but he was showing that their use of it revealed a total perversion of the faith. Religion—just like government—was being used to oppress people rather than to liberate them.
They had built a religious system wherein you paid for your righteousness. But that’s not what Jesus desired for his people. He entered the place of worship as though it was his Father’s house. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he said…
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” (11:17).
All nations! Christ would move worship of Yahweh beyond the confines of Judaism so that the original promise to Abraham would come true, that “all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 18:18).
Christ himself is that blessing that was promised. Because of what Jesus was about to do, the very life of God is available to all. If we miss that point, we’ll miss the good news. And Jesus was emphatic that the good news was for everyone — “all nations” and all people. Including you and me.
For Christians, this week will include a lot of extra activities. Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday observances, vigils, and, of course, Easter celebrations will mark this amazing week. But in these “temple” events, it is important that we do not reduce them to mere religious exercises. Our faith is not a duty. It is the liberation of the world.
Pray: Thank the Lord that “whoever places faith in him, shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Tuesday, April 16
Read: Mark 11:20-13:37
Consider: Within this passage lies the essence of the gospel. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to follow in his footsteps? The answer came in response to a question that was asked of Jesus — “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (12:28).
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this…‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (12:29-31)
Once in Matthew’s gospel Jesus shared this truth and followed it by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). That phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” was another way of saying “the entire word of God.” It was a phrase they used to describe their Bible (what we call the Old Testament). In other words, Jesus was saying that you can sum up all the commandments of the Bible in these two mandates—love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. If we keep those two commandments, we are fulfilling God’s intent for our lives and our world.
It’s strange that, for many Christians, this takes a back seat. They put so much emphasis on correct doctrines and right beliefs, that they miss the point. If our beliefs allow us to despise others, we’re not walking with Jesus. We may be talking about him, but we’re not allowing his life to flow through us.
One of the men who heard Jesus answer that question—who heard Jesus explain what is most important—would later write these words…
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
Pray: “Lord, I can’t love like you love without the presence of your Spirit in my life. I open myself to you. I want your Spirit to live in me and to teach me—day by day and step by step—how to love.”
Wednesday, April 17
Read: Mark 14:1-11
Consider: This simple act, by a woman we know little about, is recorded in Mark’s gospel as something of great importance. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (14:9).
Along the journey to Jerusalem Jesus had been telling his followers about his impending death and resurrection. They had not been ready to accept it. In fact, they rejected it. At one point “Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things” (Mark 8:32). But here we have a woman who had somehow grasped what Jesus was about to do. Jesus said, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (14:8).
Some have called this woman the first Christian. She was the first one to accept Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross.
What does it mean for you and me today to accept the cross? How do we live out Jesus’ death and resurrection?
We must learn from this woman’s gesture and from Peter’s misunderstanding, that the ways of Jesus are not like our ways. Will we be like the disciples who tried to get Jesus to act according to their values? Or will we hear what Jesus has been trying to tell us along the journey to Jerusalem? The Kingdom of Heaven comes by way of self-giving love—by way of the cross.
Pray: Thank the Lord for the cross. Ask him to help you understand it at a deeper level throughout this special week. Pray that you might grasp it in your spirit, rather than trying to know it by your intellect alone. Ask him to help you have the spirit of this woman about whom Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing” (14:6).
Thursday, April 18 — Maundy Thursday*
Read: Mark 14:12-72
Consider: In Jesus’ time of greatest spiritual and emotional agony, he fell to the ground and cried out, “Abba Father” (14:36). The New Testament was written in Greek, but here Mark makes a special note of an Aramaic word that Jesus used—Abba. This is a very special term. It is a word for “Father,” but it goes far beyond that word. It is a term of endearment and intimacy. Young Hebrew children use it in the same way that English speaking children use the term, “daddy.” It is about loving and trusting the one who is closest to you.
How would it impact our lives if, at our times of greatest pain, we had complete trust in Abba? It would empower us to say to him what Jesus said — “I want your will to be done, not mine” (14:36).
Pray: Thank your Heavenly Father that you can trust his love, even when you can’t understand his ways. Ask him to help you trust him more. Today you may want to start a practice of addressing him from time to time as “Abba.”
*A note about Maundy Thursday — Maundy is a form of the Latin word, mandatum, which means “mandate” or “command.” We call this day Maundy Thursday, because on that evening, before his arrest, Jesus gave us his mandate…
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Friday, April 19 — Good Friday
Read: Mark 15:1-47
Consider: All four of our gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—describe Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate, and Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In John’s account, we hear Jesus reply, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
It’s important for us to understand what Jesus was saying to Pilate. Many have thought that “not of this world” meant that Jesus’ kingdom is only spiritual in nature and is not concerned with the physical world in which we live. Many have taken this as an admonition to live only for a world to come and to ignore the great needs all around us. But in the original language of the New Testament, the word that is often translated “of” (ek), can also mean “from,” as it should be interpreted here. Jesus was saying that his kingdom did not originate here, but that it was brought here for a purpose. He then went on to say, “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
Remember, Jesus taught us to pray that we—and the world—might recognize its coming…
“Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)
What a strange story. God became a man. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). And through that act, followed by his resurrection, he chose to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. We now live in that kingdom and walk in the values of the King who brought it.
Take some time today—Good Friday—to meditate on the price that Jesus paid for you and me to live with him this very day.
Pray: Thank God that heaven and earth met in Jesus. Thank him that Jesus came to us, bringing heaven—the presence of God—with him. Today we stand in his presence because of what Jesus did on that Friday. Today we live by the values and the hope of the new kingdom.
Saturday, April 20
Consider: In Mark’s gospel, Saturday is silent. We go from the sealing of the tomb on Friday (15:46-47) to the events of Sunday morning (beginning at 16:1). So, let’s reflect on an important statement that we encountered in yesterday’s scripture reading.
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37-38)
The curtain of the temple separated us from “the Most Holy Place”—God’s presence. Mark tells us that now, through his death, Jesus has torn the curtain—that thing which represented our inability to approach God. And now, we not only have access to God, but “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
If you see a barrier between you and God, it is an illusion—an illusion of your own making. If there is a wall, it has been built by you, because, through the cross and the empty tomb, the curtain has been ripped and the walls demolished.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Pray: “Lord, today I enter your presence. I do it with gratitude as I try to comprehend the great price you paid. I do it with confidence, but also with humility, knowing that I don’t deserve what you have done for me. Lord, may I never take for granted the fact that I can live in your presence, that you hear my prayers, and that you are always with me. May I always avail myself of this great gift. Help me to be continually aware of your presence. Thank you for the gift of eternal life that I can experience right now.”
Sunday, April 21 — Easter Sunday
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24:1-8)