It had been quite a week — with greater importance than anyone realized at the time.
Jesus Christ was the center of it all — both for those who believed He was the promised Messiah, the Savior, and for those who did not want His message to intrude upon the way they lived.
Jesus had been going throughout Israel and the surrounding countryside, teaching, preaching and healing.
He had aroused quite a following, and was to stir many more to follow Him — and to flee from Him — within a matter of days.
Jesus was staying at the home of friends, Mary and Martha, in a little “suburb” of Jerusalem named Bethany. It was east of the city, across a deep valley called Kidron, and on the shoulder of the Mount of Olives.
There was a pleasant supper among a few friends. Jesus was the center of attention as Mary, not realizing the significance of her act, anointed His feet with a costly ointment, and wiped them with her hair.
Who would protest but Judas?
He was the treasurer of the disciples. He said Mary’s use of expensive ointment was a waste, that the money could have been better spent on the poor. It was “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.”
Jesus spoke: “Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” And He spoke symbolically about His death in payment for the sins of all who accept Him through faith as Lord and Savior, and of His coming resurrection as proof of life eternal: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it: and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”
It was easy to serve Him the next day, because He was the toast of the crowd. He led a parade.
As Jesus and His friends approached Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples into the nearby village of Bethphage, explaining they were to bring a donkey and a colt tied and waiting. Jesus mounted the donkey to lead the march into the city.
The people knew the ancient prophecy about the coming of the Messiah: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold the King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”
When the multitude of people, both city residents and the crowds gathering for the Passover feast, saw Jesus coming in prophetic fulfillment, they added to the festive air by spreading their robes on the dirt road in His way and by cutting down branches from the palm trees and paving the road with them. And they shouted praise: “Hosanna in the highest.”
Jesus went to the Temple and found an abominable sight.
It was the custom of the people to sacrifice animals in propitiation for their sins. Catering to that market, there were those who brought animals in cages and sold them to the worshippers. There were also those who made a profit by charging a fee to change the money of travelers from foreign lands to the local coinage. As one of the rackets of the day, the rulers of the Temple sold concessions for certain merchants to have the privilege of that business.
Jesus was outraged by the sacrilege, by the perversion of the Temple’s purpose. He turned over the tables of the money changers and drove the sellers of doves out, proclaiming, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Then came the blind and lame to Him and He healed them.
He went out of Jerusalem, back to Bethany to spend the night, and later returned to the city. On the way, He was hungry. He saw a fig tree that might have provided fruit for breakfast. But it had only signs of life, leaves, but no fruit. “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever,” He said. And presently the fig tree withered away.
Jesus spoke to the disciples: “If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if any of ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
The chief priests, feeling a threat to their position and prestige, challenged Jesus: By what authority did He teach and act? Jesus confounded them by asking what was the authority of John the Baptist, who had come before, telling of the coming of the Christ. Did John’s authority come from heaven or from men?
They realized that if they said heaven, Jesus would ask why they then did not believe; and if they said only from men, the followers of John would rise up against them.
“We cannot tell,” they replied, trying to dodge the issue.
He told a parable of a marriage feast to which the invited guests did not come. So the host sent his servants out to invite all who would come, and many came in. But one came in an improper way, without a wedding garment, and he was seized and cast into outer darkness.
The Pharisees, a self-righteous set of religious leaders who prided themselves on their adherence to religious law, sought to trip Jesus up. So they sent Herodians, those who were politically involved, their name being drawn from that of Herod the king.
In an effort to place Jesus in conflict with the civil government, the Herodians asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, since the Roman empire then held sway over Palestine.
Jesus saw their hypocrisy and their purpose. He called for a piece of money, had them identify the inscription as Caesar’s, then said: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Then came the religious leaders called Sadducees, a generally wealthy, powerful, intellectual group that did not believe in the resurrection of the body after death.
They posed their trick question: They cited Mosaic law that if a man died with no children, his brother should marry and care for the widow. If seven successive husbands died, each having married the same woman, whose wife would she be in heaven?
Jesus answered: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching on the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 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 the legalistic Pharisees came directly, asking Jesus to select one of the commands of the law as the greatest.
He astounded them when he summed up all of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
And He challenged them about Who Christ was. They said the son of David. But He pointed out to them that even David had spoken of Him as Lord.
Jesus watched the people give their offerings. Some gave large amounts with great show. A poor widow gave two small coins. “And he called to him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”
And Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple and discoursed mysteriously and at length with His disciples, telling of things to come.
He told of 10 bridesmaids, some of whom prepared their lamps for the coming of the bridegroom and some who were not ready when he came. He told the parable of the talents, of the servants given five, two and one talent, respectively. The one with five and the one with two talents did business and doubled those amounts. But the man with one merely held it without increase, and was condemned for his sloth.
Jesus spent a quiet day in Bethany. And then as the Passover feast of unleavened bread approached, He gathered with His disciples in an upper room for the last supper. He gave them broken bread, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” And He gave them the cup: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” And He went out into the garden of Gethsemane to pray.
It was a week in which men could see triumph. It preceded events that men were to view with horror, for they seemed to mean defeat — but meant triumph the like of which man had never known, for He said: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. ...
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
The best — through the worst — was yet to come.