April 22, 2016

The Last Supper and the Passover Feast

Each year, Christians throughout the world celebrate Holy Week, the most significant period in the Christian calendar. Holy Week commemorates the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and his resurrection from the tomb.

During this same time each year, Jews around the world celebrate Passover, the most significant festival in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish holiday of Passover commemorates the redemption of the ancient Israelites from bondage in Egypt after being slaves for 300 years.

The Bible records the Lord’s command to celebrate the first Passover: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb...without blemish, a male of the first year…and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it....For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." (see Exodus 12:1-13)

For 3,500 years Jews have celebrated Passover, and have used the symbolism of the meal to remember the captivity and redemption of their fathers, and to look forward to the Messianic age and their own final redemption.

The Betrayal by Marilyn Todd-Daniels
Jesus, himself a Jew, likewise used the symbolism of the Passover meal to teach His disciples about His mission, as He prepared them to understand the spiritual redemption that would come from his suffering and death. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the homes of faithful Israelites had saved them from the power of the destroying angel, so the blood of the lamb of God, shed for all on Calvary’s cross, would save all who would come unto Christ from the power of sin and death.

Though it is difficult to know exactly how the Last Supper took place, the gospel writers refer to several Passover symbols during the meal and discourse that followed. Understanding this sacred holiday in its Jewish context will help us appreciate the Last Supper and the Savior's redemption on this Passover night.

Tradition tells us that the day was Thursday, the first day of the Passover feast. As the evening approached, Jesus and His disciples gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. His disciples had made preparations beforehand and the table was set with all of the necessary elements for the Passover.

According to Jewish tradition, a roasted lamb would be served as the main dish, in remembrance of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the homes, which protected their ancestors from the destroying angel. Alongside it, bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery, and a mixture of chopped apples and nuts, called haroset, representing the mortar used by slaves to build the wonders of Egypt. Salt water was used to recall the salty tears shed by the Israelites in slavery. Into the salt water they dipped greens, such as parsley, representing springtime, the season of Passover, the season of hope.

Passover symbols: haroset, salt water, parsley, wine, and bitter herbs
Central to the Passover feast was the unleavened bread, or matza, which reminded the disciples of the haste with which Israel left Egypt--their ancestors not having even enough time to allow their bread to rise. This was the bread which Christ blessed and broke and gave to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

“After the same manner also he took the cup...saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do...in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). In instituting this sacramental emblem, Jesus used one of the four cups of wine which was consumed during each Passover meal, each cup representing a unique aspect of God’s promise to redeem Israel.

During the meal, the question was asked by the youngest member: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Whereupon, the story of the redemption of Israel from captivity was told. Passover is different from all other nights, but this Passover night was truly different, for on this night, Christ would redeem all His children from the slavery of sin, and the bondage of death.

After completing this symbolic meal “And when they had sung a hymn, [Jesus and his disciples] went out into the mount of Olives” into a garden called Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30). Jesus’ atoning journey had begun. The true Passover Lamb had come.

The text of this script comes from a  youtube video I produced back in 2011 with the help of Amy Grigg. With over 8,000 views I decided to update the video to HD and widescreen.

March 30, 2016

Triclinium Passover Feast 2016

This year we celebrated Passover (a month early) the Saturday before Palm Sunday to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. As part of our Passover Sedar we sit on the floor around triclinium tables (the most likely setting for the Last Supper), eat with our hands, eat lamb as part of the feast, and enjoy typical dishes from the time of Christ. This year we had a great turn out and it seemed like everyone had a great time! Here are a few pictures from the evening.

Our Haggadah with the unleavened bread and a basket of food
Holding up the bread during the blessing
Even the youngest member wanted to help with the blessing on the bread
A servant helps with the washing of the hands
Guests enjoying the Passover feast
We always have a "normal" table for those who don't want to sit on the floor
Guests enjoying the meal

March 26, 2016

Holy Week: Day of Agony

As the large stone was slowly rolled forward, Mary, the mother of Jesus, wept beyond control. She sat on the ground, with her shoulders down and tears in her eyes. Joseph of Arimathea held her hand as he tried to comfort her in this time of great remorse. Peter stood in quite disbelief. How could Jesus die? How could he die the way he did? He was to be the promised Messiah. Yet, not only had his life been ended, but he had suffered one of the most agonizing deaths imaginable. As the crowd began to disperse from the cold dark tomb, a somber feeling was left by each of the witnesses. This day would truly be a day of agony and remorse; a day of dashed hopes and of losses beyond compare.

The day was Saturday, the Sabbath of the Jews. Jesus’ body had been wrapped and placed in a tomb. The despair that the disciples of Jesus must have felt is beyond description. Less than a week before they had witnessed the great entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, hailed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He had cast out the money changers of the temple and had called the temple His own. He had spoken with power to the Pharisees and had usurped their power on every hand. He had spoken words of comfort and peace to the disciples in the upper room. He had spoken of kingdoms and greatness; He had spoken of overcoming all things. Yet now He lay in a tomb. His life of teachings and influence had ended literally overnight. From the time of His arrest to the time of His death would not have been more than about 12 hours. He had been tortured and executed. He had died and had been buried. How could He raise a man from the dead, yet He could not prevent His own death. How could He heal the blind and deaf, yet not be able to heal Himself.

How ironic the disciples must have thought, that on this Sabbath day, on which Jehovah had rested from his labors after creating the earth, their Lord and Master would rest and lie in a tomb. The Sabbath was to be a day of delight and joy (see Isaiah 58:13); it was to be a day of rest and rebirth. On the Sabbath Jesus had healed many, yet He could not bring this same power unto Himself (see Luke 13:10-16). This day that was to be a delight, was anything but a delight.

Discipleship by Liz Lemon Swindle
Each of us is faced with moments of despair and depression; moments when we feel lost, alone, and forsaken. At these times of agony we often ask how the Lord could permit such an event to occur. How could the Lord let the righteous suffer so? We may feel that because of our loss the Lord does not love us, or we have in some way displeased the Master. Yet, these moments of despair and loss are given to us that we may learn. It is only after sorrow that we can feel joy; it is only after loss that we can feel restoration; it is only after death that we can know life. Had the disciples witnessed Jesus die of old, they would still have reason to mourn. However, because He died in such an appalling and agonizing way the disciples were given the chance to experience complete loss and total despair. Because of this, when Jesus was raised from the dead the next day, the light, glory, joy, and happiness that must have filled their hearts is beyond description. By His death and suffering He literally helped them to learn what true joy was like. [1]

Though we often may find ourselves in despair, let us look to Christ and put our faith in Him completely and totally. Let us never question what He has told us. Let us never doubt the promises that He has given. He had told His disciples that He would be killed and rise again [2]; yet, the agony of the moment overshadowed their hope. In our times of trial, let us never allow our faith to be overshadowed by fear and sadness. Let our hope be a beacon to the world. Let us always place our faith in the Lord who is mighty to save. For after great trials comes great blessings; after great sadness comes great joy; after death comes life and resurrection.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

[1] See Sunday will Come, by Joseph B. Wirthlin
[2] See Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19

March 24, 2016

The Setting of the Last Supper: A Triclinium

In preparation for Holy Week, and for Passover, I created this video about the possible setting of the Last Supper at a Roman styled triclinium. Below is the text for the video:

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper has riveted the minds of the world for centuries. Yet this depiction of the Last Supper, like many others, is quite inaccurate when it comes to the actual setting of the Last Supper. Because of these depictions, we often picture Christ seated at the center of a long table, with his disciples on each side of him. However, according to ancient Roman and Jewish culture, and several verses found in the gospels, we find a much different setting. With this more accurate setting, we are able to learn of a powerful message of Jesus’ true love.

It was Thursday, just before the setting of the sun. Jesus and the apostles had gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion in the upper city of Jerusalem. The home would have been a wealthy home, as it had an upper chamber, and all of the preparations for the Passover feast would have already been made. The most prominent feature of the room would have been a low table in the shape of a “U” called a triclinium. A triclinium was a Roman styled table, of various sizes and styles, that had been adopted by the Jews of the first century. The table had large couches, or cushions, placed on each of the three sides, allowing the middle to be open for entertainment and servers.

From Food at the Time of the Bible by Miriam Vamosh
The guests would lay on their left side facing the inside, leaving their right hand free to eat the meal. This would mean that each guest could lean on the bosom of the person to their left. Their legs would be towards the outside, allowing a servant to wash their feet as they ate the feast, similar to when Jesus’ feet were washed by the penitent woman in Luke chapter seven.

The host of the feast would not sit in the middle, as is often depicted in artwork of the Last Supper, but instead second to the left, with the guest of honor on his left, and a trusted friend to his right. The seating then continued around the triclinium, the most important guests seated on the left, then going around the table, with the least important sitting on the far right. The servant, if seated at the table, would occupy the last position, closest to the door, so they could go and obtain more food as the evening progressed.

If this seating arrangement was followed by Jesus, and from the scriptures it seems to be the case, Jesus then was seated not in the center, but second from the left. John 13:23 indicates that John the beloved was seated to Jesus’ right, as John had to lean on the bosom of Christ to ask of the identity of the betrayer. Matthew 26:23 indicates that Judas was seated to the left of Christ, in the seat of honor, as both Jesus and Judas were able to eat from the same bowl. John 13:24 indicates that Peter was across from John, on the right side, as he had to signal to John to ask Jesus who would betray him.

The Betrayal by Marilyn Todd-Daniels
This would mean that Jesus had placed the youngest apostle John on the side of eminence, while placing Peter, the chief apostle, in the seat of the servant. This would make sense, for according to Luke 22, there was strife among the disciples as to whom was the greatest. Always the teacher, Jesus said unto them: “But he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” (Luke 22:26-27).

To further teach Peter, and the others, of the importance of servant-leadership, Jesus then washed the feet of the twelve disciples, including the feet of Judas. Peter, who Jesus had placed in the seat of the servant, was most likely responsible for washing the feet of the guests, yet Jesus, the host, and the greatest of them all, now acted as servant and washed their feet. This would explain the protest of Peter in John 13 when Peter says: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? ... Thou shalt never wash my feet.” (John 13:6, 8). Then Jesus teaches Simon Peter: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet... The servant is not greater than the lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” (John 13:14, 16).

This seating arrangement would also mean that Jesus placed Judas, who would betray him, in the seat of honor. It seems that to the very end Jesus loved Judas, and desired to teach him of his love by placing him in this most important seat. It was as if Jesus was trying to give Judas one less reason to betray him. Jesus, at some point, gives Judas a “sop,” a piece of bread dipped in broth, yet another sign of honor. However, Judas had already made up his mind. “And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” (John 13:27).

Unknown author
Once Judas left, the Gospel of John indicates that the entire mood of the evening changed. From this point on Jesus teaches some of the most important teachings contained in all scripture. From this moment light could fill the darkened chambers of the upper room. Yet, a valuable lesson had already been taught to the disciples because of the seating arrangement Jesus had chosen. A lesson of servant-leadership, and a lesson of true love and devotion towards even the greatest of sinners.

March 21, 2016

Leaven and the Cleansing of the Temple

Just prior to Passover every Jewish family begins the process of cleansing their home of all leaven products. This ritual dates back to the time of the Exodus when the Israelites fled Egypt, who in their haste to leave captivity, did not have time to allow their dough to rise. To commemorate their haste, just prior to Passover, families scour their home until they have removed all traces of leaven. The Bible states, "seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life." (Deuteronomy 16:3). The seven days without leaven began the day after Passover, and was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. [1]

Cleaning the home of all leaven products
This cleansing ritual also represented the importance of purifying our homes of all corruption and sin prior to celebrating this important feast in the presence of the Lord. Leaven, or what we would call today sourdough, was created by allowing a mixture of flour and water to ferment over several days. Over time the dough would begin to rise and bubble, helping to create a leaven start. This fermented dough was then added to more flour and water, left to rise, and then baked. Because only a small portion of leaven was needed to leaven an entire loaf of bread, it became a symbol of corruption because likewise, only a small portion of sin is needed to corrupt our entire soul. [2]

The timing of this cleaning is significant to the events of Holy Week, because at the same time that thousands of Jews were cleaning their homes of all leaven, Jesus entered his Father's house, the temple, and cleansed it from corruption. According to Mathew and Luke, the cleansing took place on Sunday, just following the triumphal entry (see Matthew 21:8-12). According to Mark, it took place the day after on Monday (see Mark 11:12, 15-19). How significant that Jesus would choose to cleanse his Father's house of the money changers and vendors, during the same period when all Jews would be cleansing their own homes.

"a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5:6)
Paul, seeing the connection between our own need to cleanse our souls, and the sanctifying power of Christ said, "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Let us this Holy Week determine to cleanse our lives of sin, and start anew, by accepting Christ the true Passover Lamb, and by seeking to follow his example in every way.

[1] The Feast of Unleavened Bread... Wait - Isn't it Passover?
[2] See Matthew 16:6 and 1 Corinthians 5:6

March 20, 2016

Events of Holy Week: Palm Sunday

For anyone who has studied in-depth the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry, you know there are some, well, inconsistencies. Did Jesus really cleanse the Temple on Sunday (as Matthew and Luke describe), or did it happen on Monday (as Mark's gospel records)? Were there two women who anointed the feet/head of Jesus (one on the Saturday before Palm Sunday as John records, and one on Wednesday), or was it just one woman? Was Jesus actually crucified at 9:00 AM or at noon of Good Friday? Or perhaps the most perplexing of all, was the Last Supper an actual Passover feast, or did Jesus celebrate the feast a day early?

The simple answer, no one really knows. Scholars disagree on how to resolve the inconsistencies, however, when you study Holy Week as four separate stories, a beautiful tapestry of depth and meaning arises. In searching for timelines of Holy Week, I never found one that really addressed all of these intricate issues. So, I decided to make my own. Hopefully, this timeline of the events of Holy Week will help you appreciate the beauty of this most significant week in history. Hopefully, it will help you understand that the Gospel writers most likely were more interested in preserving the profound symbolism of Holy Week, and not so much an hour-by-hour chronology of events.

Over the next week, in an attempt to show the hidden meaning of the events of Holy Week, I will share several of the most precious gems I have discovered over the years. To begin, I will start with Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday

Each of the four Gospels records the events of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the event took place on the 10th day of the month of Abib, the same day when all Jews were choosing their Passover lambs. According to the Law of Moses, the Israelites were to select their lambs on the 10th day of the month, five days before Passover (see Exodus 12:3). Once selected, the lamb was then taken into the homes of the families of Israel where it lived for the next five days (see Exodus 12:3-6). On the fourteenth day of the month, the family was then to take the lamb to the temple, kill it without breaking any bones, and then take the carcass back to the home for the Passover feast. During the first Passover, when Israel was still in Egypt, the blood of the lamb was then dabbed on the doorposts, protecting their home from the destroying angel. This made for a poignant lesson for the children, who after living with the lamb and becoming fond of it, would see it killed and eaten, so that they could be saved.

The significance of the timing is that on the very same day that all Jews were choosing their Passover lambs, Jesus (the true Lamb of God) rides into Jerusalem and is chosen by the people as their Messiah (Matthew 21:1-11). It is also significant that during the same time period that the Passover lambs were being taken into the Jewish homes for the next five days, Jesus is found teaching in his Father's house, the Temple of God (Luke 19:47). According to John, five days later, at the same time when thousands of Passover lambs were being sacrificed, the true Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, died on the cross. Truly, it was the blood of the Lamb of God, that was shed on the cross, that protects us from the destroying angel of death and sin. It is because of Him, that we can live.

March 1, 2016

Sacred Replicas Exhibit

For several years I have wanted to put my Biblical replicas on display at either BYU in Provo, or at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. Well, I am excited to say that one of those dreams have finally come true! For about a month (I don't know how long they will let me keep the items on display), you can see my replicas at the BYU Joseph Smith Building (JSB). The exhibit is located on the first floor of the main lobby area. If you happen to be in Provo, check it out!

Modern and ancient Jewish items: incense, mezuzahs, and tefillin (phylacteries)
Ancient writing methods: cuneiform, papyrus, wax tablets, and hypocephalus
Holy Week replicas: linen strips, an oil lamp, crown of thorns, and crucified heel bone and nail
Lego twisting machine that I used to spin the thread to make the clothing of the High Priest
Cross section of Solomon's Temple
The full display case at the BYU Joseph Smith Building in Provo, Utah

February 16, 2016

Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6-7)

Below is the text for the above video. I include it manly so that if anyone wants see what what verses I pulled out, or how I moved them around, they can. The text is from the KJV of 1 Kings 6-7.

1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, that he began to build the house of the Lord.
2 And the house which king Solomon built for the Lord, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.
3 And the porch before the temple of the house, twenty cubits was the length thereof, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was the breadth thereof before the house.
4 And for the house he made windows of narrow lights.

5 ¶And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.
6 The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house.
8 The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.
17 And the house, that is, the temple before it, was forty cubits long.
20 And the oracle in the forepart was twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the height thereof:

23 ¶And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.
27 And he set the cherubims within the inner house: and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubims, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.
29 And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.
22 And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until he had finished all the house:

31 ¶And for the entering of the oracle he made doors of olive tree: the lintel and side posts were a fifth part of the wall.
33 So also made he for the door of the temple posts of olive tree, a fourth part of the wall.
34 And the two doors were of fir tree: the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding.
35 And he carved thereon cherubims and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work.
48 And Solomon made all the vessels that pertained unto the house of the Lord: the altar of gold, and the table of gold, whereupon the shewbread was,
49 And the candlesticks of pure gold, five on the right side, and five on the left, before the oracle, with the flowers, and the lamps, and the tongs of gold,
21 And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz.
22 And upon the top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished.

23 ¶And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
25 It stood upon twelve oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward.
26 And it was an hand breadth thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths.

27 ¶And he made ten bases of brass; four cubits was the length of one base, and four cubits the breadth thereof, and three cubits the height of it.
29 And on the borders that were between the ledges were lions, oxen, and cherubims:
30 And every base had four brasen wheels, 33 And the work of the wheels was like the work of a chariot wheel:
38 ¶Then made he ten lavers of brass: one laver contained forty baths: and upon every one of the ten bases one laver.
39 And he put five bases on the right side of the house, and five on the left side of the house: and he set the sea on the right side of the house eastward over against the south.
51 So was ended all the work that king Solomon made for the house of the Lord.

February 14, 2016

Holy Week Study Resources

One of the things that has helped me better prepare for Easter each year is to take up a study of Holy Week about a month before the actual holiday. Christian Lent (the forty-six days before Easter Sunday) is a great time to begin, and gives you plenty of time to read at least one book and to review each of the four Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus' life. Adding this to my study during the month before Easter, makes this special day become all the more holy. Below are a few of the books I have enjoyed reading to prepare for Holy Week:

God So Loved the World by Eric D. Huntsman
One of my favorite books on the Holy Week. Written by BYU professor Eric Huntsman, this book examines each of the days of Holy Week. The book is designed to read one chapter, each day of the week; Palm Sunday on Sunday, Maundy Thursday on Thursday, etc. Also, includes recommended music to listen to during the week.

A Lively Hope by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel
Excellent book about the last days of the life of Jesus Christ. The book is broken into chapters for each of the four Gospels, and discusses the unique aspects of each Gospel. Great resource if you are wanting a deeper study into the suffering, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ.

The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg & John D. Crossan
In-depth study of the Gospel of Mark in relationship to the Last Week of Christ's life. Very detailed and scholarly look at the shortest version of the four Gospel narratives.

A Crucified Christ in Holy Week and 
A Risen Christ in Eastertime by Raymond E. Brown
Written by one of the most recognized Catholic Professors in the world, Raymond Brown goes into great detail discussing each of the four gospel narratives as it relates to the Passion of Christ. Though written for Catholic priests, it is a wonderful, short resource for Holy Week.

His Final Hours by W. Jeffery Marsh
Easy to read and understand, this resource by BYU Professor Jeffery Marsh covers the last hours of Christ's life. This book covers the events by chronological event, Last Supper, Gethsemane, etc. instead of by discussing the Passion in the context of each of the four Gospel narratives. Great resource for those who are not very familiar with Holy Week, and want a more basic overview.

Gethsemane, Golgotha, and 
The Garden Tomb by Andrew C. Skinner
Three short volumes written by BYU professor Andrew Skinner. Each volume discusses historical background, and insights into the importance of Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb.

February 9, 2016

Ash Wednesday - A Time of Preparation

Tomorrow is what most Christians celebrate as Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent, which is a time of reflection, repentance, self-denial, fasting, and preparation for the coming Easter. Many Christians will mark the season of Lent by giving up something in their life that draws them away from the Savior. To commemorate the start of Lent, on Ash Wednesday each member of the congregation will come before the priest to have a small cross marked upon their forehead. The ashes are from the burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, and are mixed with a small amount of oil or water. The ashes symbolize the ancient custom of repenting in sackcloth and ashes (see Daniel 9:3), and the sign of the cross foreshadows the crucifixion. These 40 days before Easter (46 days minus the six Sundays) are to call our minds to the 40 days when Jesus fasted in preparation for his own ministry, and our own preparation for the most sacred time of the year.

As I have been preparing for Holy Week this year, I thought of how the Savior prepared his own disciples for his final week of life. In the weeks and months leading up to the crucifixion Jesus prophesied of his impending death on three separate occasions. Each of these prophecies were used to help the disciples prepare for the tragic, yet glorious coming events.

The first prophesy took place six days before the Transfiguration (generally dated from about six months to only a few weeks before Jesus' final week). Just before Jesus uttered the prophecy, he asked his disciples "Whom do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). The disciples each told the Savior of whom others said that he was, and Jesus then asked them "But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ” (8:29). Immediately following this confession of faith, Jesus then gave the first of three prophecies: "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (8:31). One of the powerful lessons of these prophecies is the responses given by the apostles to the Savior. On this first occasion, Peter takes Jesus and rebukes him, after which Jesus censures Peter by calling him Satan and says unto him that he "savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men" (8:33). One can only image the sting that Peter must have felt. Only moments before he had expressed his devotion and belief, only to be given the most harsh rebuke that he had most likely ever received.

A short time after this first prophecy (perhaps only a few weeks later), as they began the trek towards Jerusalem, while still in the Galilee, Jesus spoke the next prophecy. “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31). The response of the disciples is in stark contrast to the first, in that they “understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). After the stinging rebuke of Peter, it is understandable that none of the disciples would want to respond in any way.

As they continued their travels to Jerusalem, and just before they had reached Jericho (only a short distance from Jerusalem), Jesus uttered the third prophecy saying, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Mark 10:33-34). The response to this last prophecy by the disciples is marked by utter silence. Not even their inner-most feelings are recorded in the Gospels. Only days later, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem with shouts of acclimation on what now is called Palm Sunday.

Why then would Jesus make these three prophecies to his disciples in the weeks before his crucifixion? It seems to me that he wanted to prepare them not only for the tragic events of Holy Week, but to teach them of who he truly was. To teach them that he would not be the Messiah that they thought he was, a political leader who would free them from the chains of Roman control, but instead a suffering Messiah who would free them from the greater chains of sin and death. Each of these three responses of the disciples teaches us of how the disciples truly saw Jesus. Likewise, we too should ask ourselves the same question: “But whom say ye that I am?”

During this Lenten season, perhaps the most important thing we can give up is the misconceptions we hold of who we think Jesus is. Let us see him as he is, and fully accept his sacrifice on our behalf. When faced with the awful cross, let us accept his death, and not work to impede the power of the atonement in our lives. Instead let us meekly, and humbly accept the Savior for who he is, the true Messiah who came to suffer, die and rise again for our sakes!