“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV). I know that this verse is found much earlier in the life of Jesus when the shepherds came to see Him as a newborn and shared with Mary and Joseph all that the angels had told them about this baby. From this verse, though, we see that Mary was one who ‘pondered.’ To ponder means to meditate upon, to consider something deeply and thoroughly, to weigh carefully in the mind. How many times in the next 33 years would Mary ‘ponder’ something about Jesus? Perhaps she pondered as she watched Him in the still of the night as she held Him to her breast. Maybe she pondered as she watched Him take His first step or say His first words (likely mama or dada in Aramaic). Surely, she pondered when she and Joseph found Him in the temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve after He had gone missing for three days! There He sat among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who saw Him there was amazed at the depth of His understanding (Luke 2:47). His parents, too, were said to be amazed (Luke 2:48).
Did Mary, at this time, recall those things spoken to her by the angel Gabriel? Did she remember the words spoken by Simeon as He blessed Him as an infant? Did she ponder those words relayed by the shepherds as spoken by the heavenly host? There was probably some heavy pondering going on within her at this point.
On the day that we know as Good Friday, Mary stood in eyesight and earshot of the cross. Had she just seen Him flogged and scourged? Her heart must be heavier than can be imagined. This is her Son, her Child, her Baby. And yet, in her heart, she also knows Him as Messiah. As she stands there now, she sees Him bleeding and naked as He hangs between thieves as if a common criminal. How can this be? As she looks upon Him with a mother’s heart, there are no recorded words spoken by her. Speechless anguish undoubtedly flooded her. Uncontrollable sobbing perhaps?
Jesus sees her nearby and offers comfort to her, even at this moment: “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27 ESV) A tender moment in the midst of the grief…yet something else to ponder.
We know on that day at the sixth hour (noon) the sky goes dark until the ninth hour (3 p.m.). He is still alive, struggling for breath. What must have gone through Mary’s mind during these three long hours? Maybe she prayed silently as some shouted, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35 ESV). Maybe she relived portions of His life. Maybe she looked on with a mother’s desire to wipe His brow and to provide any level of comfort she could.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last’” (Luke 23:46 ESV). It was done. At this moment it must have felt, in some ways, like she also had breathed her last. Was she relieved that His agony was over? Did John wrap his arms around her and lead her away to his home (and now hers)? Would she lay her head down this night and ponder? We know for Mary this most excruciating day would find her just days later joyful again as she would see Him risen. All the pondering would begin to make sense from the original proclamation of the angel Gabriel to the stone being rolled over the tomb. As we reflect, as we ponder this Good Friday, may we find assurance in its significance – in what makes it good. Whether we find ourselves on this day feeling blessed or facing excruciating circumstances, may we not forget that our joy remains because of His death on that cross as we have risen to newness of life on the very day we believed, and will most certainly rejoice when we stand before Him ‘on that day.’ How to respond?
How might you have responded to the events of Friday if you were one of His disciples at the time? Ponder what you know of His life, from His birth, through His years of ‘ordinary’ life in Nazareth, to His three years of public ministry, including His teaching and His miracles. What might have happened to all the hopes and dreams you had placed on Jesus as you watched Him flogged and crucified?
The Last Supper, the meal that Jesus had with His disciples the night before He was crucified, was the Passover meal eaten by the Israelites for centuries (verse 15). This festival was the highlight of the Jewish calendar year. It both remembered and celebrated the deliverance of the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt. It was a time of national rejoicing, especially for those who were able to be in Jerusalem at that time. To say that the city was crowded with Jews from all over the Roman Empire would be a huge understatement. The city would be packed with those who made the pilgrimage for the festival. For Jesus’ disciples, there was an intensity to this particular night that was caused by what had taken place when they had come into the city but tempered by the words Jesus had spoken to them about His impending death. The Passover meal looked back to the past but also spoke of what the Lord would do with the coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus told His disciples that night that He would never eat the Passover meal again until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (verse 18). The fulfillment that Jesus spoke about would be found in the resurrection of all of God’s people, including us. This includes the hope of being completely delivered from sin and its effects. How to respond? Spend time looking back, reflecting on the fact that you, too, were delivered from slavery to sin and given new life in Christ because of His great sacrifice. Thank Jesus for His willingness to die for your sin. Thank Him for the life you now have in Him. Also, spend some time thinking about what is to come…the time when we will eat with Jesus in the fullness of His kingdom, enjoying life in His presence, with sin, pain and death defeated. By
If you ever travel to Israel, you will encounter a strange dynamic with your tour guide. They will take you to places and tell you things like, “Well, this event in the Bible took place on one of these two mountains, but we don’t know for sure which one,” or, “We’re like 70% sure this took place here.” You end up never feeling completely certain about different things, including if you are standing where Jesus did. Even when you’re in Jerusalem, where you can actually be somewhere with a little more certainty, you aren’t in the same place as Jesus because you’re standing on top of the rebuilt city, where the walkways of Jesus are fifty feet below you.
You get pretty close to walking where Jesus walked, but not quite there everywhere you go, except for one place: the temple. In the temple, you can actually share the ground where Jesus was with 100% certainty. In fact, you can take the same steps He took up to the top of the temple to worship.
We’ll come back to those steps in a second, but let’s remember what the temple was supposed to be. The temple was the focal point of the Jewish religious system. All the central worship of Yahweh took place there. When it was built, Solomon promised the people that no matter what was going on in Israel they could seek God at the temple and find answers and restoration. God honored this promise by showing His presence in the temple. Unfortunately, Israel was not faithful to God and the presence of the Lord left the temple and it was eventually destroyed.
The rebuilt temple of Ezra and Nehemiah was a shadow of Solomon’s temple and there is no indication that God’s presence came to dwell in it. That is until Jesus walked into it. As a culmination of His ministry, Jesus enters the temple. The building built to honor Yahweh and worship Him finally had Him there.
In Solomon’s time, God manifested in the temple in a cloud, full of majesty and glory. It was a spectacle to remind people of the transcendence and power of God. When Jesus entered the temple, all of that was lacking. Instead, Jesus took the stairs. Not just any stairs either. The temple has special entrances for the priests and the city elites. Jesus took the stairs that were for the common folk to the building built to worship Him; steps that you too can take and walk with 100% certainty that you are walking where Jesus walked.
All of this is to say two things about Jesus. One is that He set aside His rights and what He deserved to receive humiliation instead. Second, He walked where we would walk so as to identify with us. All of this ultimately foreshadows the cross, where He would hang where should have hung, being humiliated on our behalf.
How to respond:
What does Christ’s humility in the temple mean for your heart? Think about the fact that Jesus, God in the flesh, walked up the stairs to the temple. What does that say to you about Jesus? What does it say about your pride? What does it say about Jesus’ love for you?
Waiting. Ugh. Waiting is not on my list of favorite things. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens I’ll take, but you can keep the waiting. Waiting is difficult. Waiting is lonely. Waiting feels like we should be doing something, but we’re often powerless to do anything. But waiting can produce in us a desire for the guidance and comfort of God.
When he saw the destruction of Jerusalem, knowing that God had promised salvation for his people, Jeremiah meditated on the faithfulness of God and wrote: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:26). While Jerusalem burned, Jeremiah realized it is better to wait for God to save. A building can be spared, people can live a little longer, but actually being saved for all eternity is a work that only God can do. So Jeremiah, even though he didn’t want to wait for it, knew that waiting for God’s salvation was his only lasting hope.
On Saturday after her dead Master and Teacher was taken off the cross and buried in a tomb, Mary had to wait for the day to pass. She had to wait for Sabbath until she could get to the tomb and anoint the body of the Lord. While the Bible doesn’t describe any events from this day, we can wonder. Did she understand why Jesus had been crucified? Was she imagining ways she could have helped Him escape the city? Did she wonder why Jesus’ disciples ran away? She most likely had a lot of questions to accompany her unimaginable grief. But I also imagine the Holy Spirit comforted her like never before as she waited to visit the body of her Lord on Sunday morning. Like Jeremiah, perhaps she began to realize how good it is to wait on the salvation of the Lord.
And, of course, she didn’t have to wait long.
“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Sunday morning revealed what Saturday obscured. Her Lord was alive!
Instead of anointing Him, He would later anoint her with the Holy Spirit and use her story to minister to many throughout the millennia. She wasn’t forgotten. She wasn’t alone. Though she was powerless, she entrusted herself to the One who has all power. Mary’s attempt was to bless Jesus, even in His death, yet He had the power to bless her beyond her wildest imagination. She waited on the Lord through the longest day of waiting in her life. And her joy was unmatched when she saw the resurrected Christ. She got to see Christ, hold Him, and tell others about Him after waiting for Him. The waiting was difficult. The waiting was lonely. But the waiting wasn’t wasted. How to respond? What do you find yourself waiting for at the moment? To what do you cling in periods of waiting? In the midst of times of waiting, it’s important to both look back and look forward. Look back by remembering how God has provided in the past. Look forward to the promises of what is to come.
More ink in the gospels is spilled on the last week of Jesus’ earthly life than any other time period. Generally speaking, this week takes up about a third of the gospel accounts. That alone points to how significant that week was…and still is. It’s a week of paradoxes: sorrow and rejoicing; seeming defeat, then victory; death and life.
It’s the focal point of the gospel narratives. From the time sin entered into the world through Adam and Eve, the events of Passion week were planned by God. Even though it’s not recognized as such by most of humanity throughout history, the events of Easter week are the key events for all human history.
With Passion week upon us, we want to spend some time lingering on these events. As such, our ministry leaders have written short devotionals that follow the events of the week as told by Luke. The devotionals will start on Palm Sunday and conclude with Easter. Our hope is that these readings will lead us to an appreciation and worship of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Our prayer is that these devotionals help us to follow these amazing days of Jesus’ life…days that led to death, then life. Come and journey with us.