george hancock stefanIn the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), a fourth of the text is about Holy Week (Mt. 21-28, Mk 11-16, Luke 19-24).  The gospel writers do not neglect what happened during the three years of Jesus Christ’s ministry, but the focus is on the last week. The writers almost seem to be telling us that everything that has happened had to happen to usher in the last week. This last week tests everyone, including Jesus, as they have never been tested before.

The expectations of the disciples are tested severely during those final days. Judas thought that Jesus would lead a revolution against the Roman Empire and the Iscariots would be in the forefront of the fight. They would overthrow their oppressive regime and restore the glory that Israel had under King David or Solomon, or at least the way things were during the time of the Maccabees. Two people on the way to Emmaus express the same thing when they tell Jesus that “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

That last week also tests the allegiance of long-term friendships. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus commands his closest friends and disciples to love one another as He loved them. But as they share a last meal, Judas leaves without having the last fellowship with Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples fall asleep even though Jesus asked them to stay awake and pray with Him. When they are roughed up by the guard of the chief priest, Mark tells us that “everyone deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:50).  A short time later Peter regains his courage and enters the chief priest’s courtyard. Was he remembering his promise to never abandon Christ, even if it led to death? (Matthew 26:33,35) The high priest’s courtyard becomes the crucible of Peter’s testing. In a short time, he is asked three times about Jesus and each time he denies that he knows him. The crowing of the rooster and the look on Jesus’ face remind him that he has failed and he leaves the courtyard weeping bitterly.

The week holds the greatest test for Jesus himself. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are (Hebrews 4:15).  The testing of Jesus comes in two waves. The first comes when he asks the Father to take the cup away from him, but he does not complete the sentence. Immediately, he tells his Father that he wants His will instead of his own. The Patristic fathers wrote that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man and within Christ’s human will, He was tempted to ask for the removal of the cup. But Christ submits his human will to the eternal will of His Father. The second time is when he cries out from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” Theologians call this the great exchange. Paul writes that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God has never forsaken His son, but the sinfulness of humanity was so great that the Son of God experiences a part of sinfulness – the feeling that God has forsaken us.

When the centurion declares Jesus dead, all the expectations of his mother Mary and of his disciples vanish. Thomas Paine wrote that “these are the times that try men’s souls,” which resonated with great leaders like Winston Churchill and certainly applies to devoted followers like the apostles. After all of that testing, the result was death. It is Good Friday, it is 3:00 PM, Jesus Christ is dead, and darkness cover the whole land of Judea.