Good Friday

Good Friday is the last day of Jesus’ life. This past week Jesus’ closest followers became liars, cowards, deserters. These hand-selected men deny and abandon their Messiah.  Each author tells the “Passion” story in their own way. Each one gives their perspective of the death and resurrection events. Each writer has their own unique theology, creating a style that suits their audience. If you read each gospel as an individual book, you’ll see those differences. We Christians tend to take parts of each gospel, as we do in the birth stories, and combine them to create a new gospel. Mark doesn’t agree with Luke in many ways. John seems to have his own message – nothing like the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here’s an example of how Mark and Luke’s story differ:

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In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied three times by Peter. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Him on the way to His crucifixion. On the way, Jesus says nothing. The soldiers dress Him in a purple robe (scarlet robe in Matthew) and a crown of thorns. The other apostles scamper off like scared rats in a sewer. Jesus follows Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying His cross. The soldiers are laughing and mocking Him. People on the way mock him, some are crying. Jesus still says nothing. The soldiers placed Jesus on the cross next to two robbers. Both robbers mock Jesus. People passing by look up and mock Him. The Jewish leaders mock Him. Finally, Jesus ends His silence and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he dies. Jesus had felt forsaken by God. He was in great despair. Why had His followers betrayed and rejected Him? This is how Mark portrays Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter just as in Mark’s gospel. Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death. However, it is not Pilate’s soldiers that mock and beat Jesus – it’s King Herod’s (a minor difference in stories). There’s no purple robe and no crown of thorns. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross. Jesus, however, is not silent on the way to His crucifixion. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me… (v.23:28),” he says to a group of women crying for Him. Jesus does not appear to be in despair and knows exactly what is going to happen to Him. He appears to be confident and knows what’s ahead. Jesus speaks again while being nailed to the cross. He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (v. 23:34). Jesus is more concerned about those around Him than Himself. Only one of the robbers on the cross next to Him mocks Him. The other robber rebukes him and asks Jesus to remember him when He gets into His kingdom. Jesus says to the robber, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 23:42-43). Then Jesus prays to God, “Father, into your hands I command my spirit” (v. 23:46). He does not feel forsaken, but is confident of what is happening to Him.

Mark’s Jesus is in despair, not knowing what is to come. He says nothing on His way to His crucifixion. He feels forsaken by His followers and by God. Luke’s Jesus is not in despair. He is confident and knows exactly what is ahead of Him. He is concerned for others more than Himself. He speaks to others on His way to the cross. He is prepared to enter His Father’s kingdom.

We can’t say which writer gave the most accurate account of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing for sure. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death. The stories were passed on as an oral tradition until these educated Greek men wrote them down. The authors were not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. We risk calling some of the authors liars if we believe in one account over another. And if you think that combining the events of each account to make your own story is alright to do, then feel free to continue the Christian tradition.

For this Holy Week, I challenge you to read each “Passion” account in each one of the gospels (Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19). Take detailed notes on each account. Compare your notes. Learn what each author has to say. Become a Bible Reader. I dare you.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday gets its name from the palm branches thrown on the road ahead of Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem. Oddly though, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke never mention palm branches but instead, “leafy” branches. The Gospel of John is the only one that mentions “palm” branches (John 12:13) but never says that they put the branches or even their cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus. John was one of the twelve chosen apostles so we should believe him. But were the other three wrong? The leafy branches were put on the road but what did they do with the palm branches? Something else to think about – some Bible scholars say there is no firm evidence that palm trees ever grew near Jerusalem but only in the south in the warm, fertile valleys. Just a thought.

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Let’s look at another difference that occurs in the four stories. Did Jesus ride one donkey or was he riding on two? I know that sounds like a crazy question but Matthew seems to believe that Jesus rode on two donkeys (Matthew 21:7), or a donkey and a colt. Christian apologists try to cover this up by saying that they brought a donkey with its colt and Jesus rode on the donkey and the colt walked along side them. But read the verse: “…they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.” That, to me, is pretty clear that “them” indicates the donkey and its colt. Matthew was one of the twelve recruited by Jesus himself. Why would we not believe his inspired words? But wouldn’t that make the others wrong?

Another difference I observed in this very short reading of Palm Sunday is that in three of the stories Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead of him to get the donkey. In John’s Gospel (John 12:14), Jesus finds a donkey and sits on it himself without the help of any of his disciples. In the other Gospels, two disciples bring a donkey, or two, throws their cloaks on it (them) and then Jesus sits on it (them).

I’m not saying these are contradictions or errors of the Bible. I’m just pointing out that there are differences in the four stories and I often wonder why we choose certain parts of one or more stories to make our own. I can see in some instances where it might sound better and make sense like Jesus riding on only one donkey. But, then again, sometimes the stories are more interesting with the oddities included.

So, what happens on Monday, the day after Palm Sunday? That just might be my next blog. Stay tuned and drink some coffee!

Saturday of Holy Week

Saturday is the day Jesus lay in the tomb after his crucifixion and the day prior to his resurrection. The Gospels say nothing about Saturday. Paul says nothing about Saturday. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the robber on the cross next to him that, “…today [Friday], you will be with me in paradise.” Some think that paradise meant heaven.

Then I remembered, as a Lutheran (Missouri Synod), we used to recite the Apostle’s Creed. Here’s how it goes, straight from the Lutheran Service Book:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

jesus in hell

Did you catch that? After he died and was buried, “he descended into hell.” Mystery solved. Which leads leads me to think that the Lutherans think that “paradise” is hell? Just kidding of course. I know that most Christian Creeds, like the Nicene Creed, don’t have this particular phrase in it. And there is a revised Apostle’s Creed that eliminates the hell part. But, there are still many denominations that still recite this same creed. I know I did.

Goes to show you how pluralistic the Christian religion is. But, so is Judaism and Islam. I say we have another cup of coffee and contemplate all these fascinating mysteries that God has presented us.

Thursday of Holy Week

A lot happens on Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday is based on John’s story and not found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Maundy is Latin for the “mandate” – the new commandment that Jesus gives his followers in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

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Here is a quick summary of what happened on this dramatic Thursday according to Mark’s Gospel: Jesus has his last supper, a Passover meal, with his twelve disciples; Jesus predicts Peter’s denial and tells all twelve that all of them will become deserters; Jesus prays at Gethsemane; Judas gives Jesus the “kiss of death” and betrays him; Jesus is interrogated and condemned to death by the high priest and his council; Peter denies Jesus three times.

The Last Supper, as Christians call it today, is a Passover meal in the Synoptic Gospels. In John’s Gospel the final meal is not mentioned but is replaced by the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:3-11). During this final meal Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him, not once, but three times. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus tells all of his twelve disciples that they “all will become deserters.” And sure enough, when Judas arrives with the chief priests, scribes and elders, all twelve disciples “deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:50). As the story goes in Mark, the chief priests and his council end up condemning Jesus to death for blasphemy (Mark 14:64).

Here’s a couple of interesting things about the crowd that shows up with Judas. First of all, Mark says the “crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” (Mark 14:43). Mark is talking about a crowd of temple authorities – probably 20-40 people at the most? John describes the crowd entirely different. He says that the crowd was a “speira” (Greek meaning about 600 soldiers) along with the priests, scribes and elders. So, now we’re talking 600-650 people or so. How many people does it take to arrest Jesus? But here’s the bizarre part. In John’s writing when Jesus answers, “I am he,” all six hundred soldiers fall to the ground (John 18:4-6). What was all that about? That would be a neat party trick!

The other interesting thing in Mark versus John in the incident where the high priest’s slave gets his ear cut off. Mark says, “One of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (14:47). Well, John’s Gospel tells you exactly who does the cutting – it was Peter! And he also tells you the name of the slave, Malchus (18:10). Which brings up the question, Were all of the disciples – the twelve – armed with a sword or other weapons? The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are also different but I’ll let you read the Bible for yourself to see what they say.

Hey, I hear that Tennessee is trying to make the Bible the State Book. Other Southern States have tried – and failed. All I can say is, READ your BIBLES! And have more coffee! What would you say to making Coffee our State Drink?  Yeah!

Wednesday of Holy Week

Now we’re at hump day of Holy Week and not much happened on this day according to Mark. This is the day that Judas Iscariot decides to betray Jesus to the chief priests. Yes, the infamous traitor of the twelve – the man who commits suicide after selling out Jesus. But was the money, the 30 pieces of silver, really the motivating factor for betraying Jesus? Or is there more to the story?

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The Gospel of Mark gives no clue as to what Judas’ motive might be. Look at Mark 14:10-11: “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” Mark did not say that Judas did it for the money. The chief priests just promised to give him money when he betrayed him. Would Judas have done it without the money?

Matthew, who used Mark’s Gospel as a source document, changed these verses to his liking. Matthew 26:14-16: “Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, What will you give me if I betray him to you? They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” Matthew’s motive for Judas was money – thirty pieces of silver – to be exact! How interesting!

Luke, who also used Mark’s Gospel as a source document, did not change the writing of Mark’s story (Luke 22:1-5). The Gospel of John only says that Judas betrayed him (John 18:2).

Looks like we have one out of the four Gospel writers who believes that money is the motivator for betraying Jesus. But, wouldn’t Jesus know that prior to selecting him as one of the twelve apostles? And if so, why was he selected? Side note… If you ever read the Gospel of Judas, you’ll see that Judas was actually Jesus’ favorite apostle. But, you’ll have to read the book to see what happens. Drink more coffee and read your Bibles!

Tuesday of Holy Week

A lot happened on Tuesday or Holy Week covering almost three chapters and 115 verses in the Gospel of Mark. We know what happens day-by-day only in Mark’s writings. Without Mark we would not know for sure what happened during each day of the week prior to Easter. If you’re curious enough, read Mark 11:20 through Mark 13:37). Matthew 21:18 through 24:51 and Luke 20:1 through 21:36 occurs on Tuesday, also. The Gospel of John has nothing about the events that occur on Tuesday.

great commandment

Most of Tuesday has Jesus debating and speaking with Temple authorities. Some famous quotes come out of Tuesdays adventures. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to god the things that are God’s.” The twofold “great commandment” to love God and your neighbors came out of this day. Mark 13: 5-37 is commonly know as the “little apocalypse” – the “big apocalypse” being the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic literature is about a time of great suffering followed by a divine deliverance. Jesus thought it was coming real soon.

My favorite part of Tuesday was when Jesus taught about the second coming (Mark 13:24-27). It starts out by Jesus saying, “… the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. …Then they will see the Son of Man coming out of the clouds…” I have always wondered how anyone would see the Son of Man if the “sun was darkened.” Oh well, that’s just me, I guess.

Holy Week is a good time to pick up your Bible and READ it. Read about Holy Week in all four Gospels. Discover what each author had to say and how different their thoughts were about what happened prior to Easter Sunday. More to come!

Monday of Holy Week

On Monday of Holy Week, two things happened. In two of the Gospels, Mark and Matthew, Jesus curses a fig tree. And in all four Gospels Jesus cleanses the temple. Let’s look at the cleansing of the temple since all four Gospels think it’s important enough to record.

It’s interesting to note that Jerusalem’s population during that time was around 80,000 people and swelled to over 2 million during the Passover (according to historians). Jews traveled from all around to be in the most sacred place, the Temple in Jerusalem, to worship God.

Part of the Jewish worship required animal sacrifice but these animals had to be “clean” as judged by the priests. Most Jews who had to travel from far away did not take a chance on bringing an animal that wasn’t fit for God. So the High Priest of the Temple allowed clean animals to be sold in the Temple courtyard. Doves were mentioned in Mark and were used by the poor, which was allowed according the laws of Leviticus. The more wealthy were required to sacrifice sheep, goats or bulls and the aroma was more “pleasing” to God. I always that that was weird, but, what the heck. He’s God and likes the smell of a good steak.

overturning tables

The moneychangers provided a needed service because the Jewish priests would only accept Jewish money. Jews came from all around and had different currencies so the moneychangers, for a small fee, would exchange their currency for Jewish money. It was apparent in the four Gospels that Jesus did not appreciate the priests allowing all of this going on in God’s house so he became violent and started overturning the tables of the moneychangers. And according to John, Jesus even drove them out with a “whip of cords.”

Also worth noting, the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) tells this story at the end of Jesus’ ministry – the day after Palm Sunday. But, the Gospel of John tells the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Christian apologists try to reconcile this by saying that he cleansed the temple twice. And remember, John says that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years and the other three Gospels agree to ministry of one year.

Oh well, it’s a weird story but not as weird as Jesus cursing the fig tree. You’ll have to read the accounts in Mark and Matthew. I guess Luke and John thought it must have been too weird to tell or didn’t hear about it.