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The Easter Story


The Easter Story


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This is the story of the last week in the life of Jesus Christ – his entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the agony of Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, trial, beatings and humiliation, his crucifixion and finally his resurrection on Easter morning.

The Easter story is about suffering and death, but it has a happy ending and is ultimately one of triumph and renewal.

When Jesus was about thirty, he left his home village and travelled about the countryside for three years. He became well known as a teacher and as a healer, and was loved by many people.  
At the end of the three years, Jesus joined the crowds of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for the great Passover festival. As he and his disciples drew near to a village called Bethany just south of Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples on ahead, saying "As you enter the village, you’ll find a colt which has never been ridden tied there. Bring it here. If anyone asks why you’re untying it, tell them that the Lord needs it."

So they went to the village, and sure enough, at the street corner a young donkey was tethered. The disciples untied the donkey, telling the owner that "The Lord needs it." They brought it to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back. The donkey was completely untrained, but when Jesus sat on its back, it stood quietly. It let Jesus ride it into the city of Jerusalem.

The Jews were waiting for a great Messiah or leader to rescue them from the Romans. They’d have heard about Jesus the great teacher who performed miracles, and many would have seen him as a likely person to lead them to freedom. So the news that he was coming to Jerusalem spread quickly, and crowds of people came to welcome him, lining the road and cheering as he rode by. They were so excited. Some of them spread their cloaks on the road to carpet his way.

When he came to where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, people began to shout for joy and praise God saying "Blessed he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna! Hosanna!" (God Saves!) And they broke off branches from palm trees and waved them. The palm leaf was a symbol of Israel; waving it was like waving the national flag. The Romans wouldn’t have liked this. These words of praise were reserved for important occasions. It was usual for the people to welcome VIPs to Jerusalem by chanting the first line, and for the visitor to respond with the second. But on this occasion the whole crowd joined in all the lines! It was very unusual and significant. Some of the Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) in the crowd didn't like this. Jesus was getting far too much praise for their liking. Some of them said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" But Jesus replied that if the people were stopped, the stones on the road would sing out in welcome. This made the Pharisees even more upset because an ancient prophesy says that says that Jerusalem itself would know when the Messiah was coming into it.

As he looked down at the city, Jesus wept for it because he knew that the people didn’t really understand what was happening and that in less than a week he’d be put to death. He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, by the Romans, that happened about 50 years later .

That ride into Jerusalem is remembered today as Palm Sunday. It was the beginning of the last week in Jesus’ life - Holy Week .

That afternoon, Jesus went to the temple. Because of the Passover feast, everyone going to the Temple had to pay a 'Temple Tax'- even non-Jews, women and children who were only allowed in the courtyard! But not the Pharisees, Priests and Rabbis! And only special ‘Temple Money’ could be used to pay the tax, so people first had to visit the money changers (often from the families of Priests and Pharisees) who were charging extortionate amounts for the ‘service’! And if someone didn't pay, the Priest could confiscate their household property! Other traders were selling sacrificial animals at very high prices. So a lot of money was being made from people wanting to worship God

Jesus became very angry and started to overturn their tables and throw the traders out of the Temple. He said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' ? But you have made it a den of thieves." This was the last straw. The Jewish leaders began looking for a way to kill Jesus because they were jealous and afraid. He was too popular with the people and undermining their authority. But how were they to do it without starting a riot? They needed a spy, one of his friends who was prepared to betray him.

On the Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy week, Judas Iscariot, one of the  disciples, went to see the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, and offered to help them arrest Jesus when there was no-one around. The priests were delighted - they even paid Judas with thirty pieces of silver. Judas went back to the others and watched for an opportunity to betray Jesus. A few days later, the Passover celebrations began. The festival took place each year, to commemorate the time long before when God had sent Moses to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. The evening before Passover, every family had a special celebration meal. Jesus sent Peter and John to an upstairs room that he knew they’d be allowed to use, and they got everything ready. When they all sat down, Jesus told them that he was glad to be sharing this supper with them for it would be his last in this world.

Then Jesus told them that one of them would betray him. You can imagine their dismay! Who among them could do such a thing?  When Jesus told them that he was about to die, Peter burst out that he would die before he’d let this happen to Jesus. But Jesus said. "Peter, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me thrice."

Then he blessed and broke a loaf of bread and gave it to his disciples saying "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.". Next he blessed the wine, and passed it amongst them saying "This is my blood, which is shed for you.” Typically, it would have been red wine (watered down), and a special unleavened bread, with bitter herbs dipped in a mixture salt vinegar and water and sometimes in another mixture of chopped apples, nuts, raisins and almonds.) Then Jesus then took a basin of water and began to wash his disciples' feet. This job usually went to the lowest servant. Peter protested, but Jesus said that it must be done, so Peter offered to let him wash his hands as well! Then Jesus told them that even important people must be willing to serve, and as he had done for them, so must they do for each other. Then they ate the rest of their meal, and Judas went out into the dark night. Jesus made no attempt to stop him.

After the meal they went to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked Peter, James and John, to keep watch while he prayed. A little way off he fell face down on the ground and prayed. "Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, thy will, not mine be done.” When he returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping. "Couldn’t you keep watch even for an hour?" he said. And he went away a second and third time and prayed, and each time they fell asleep.  

Meanwhile, Caiaphas had been to ask the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate to for help. Jews did not have the authority to pass the death sentence, so they needed the arrest to be a Roman one. Also under Jewish law, the arrest, trial and death of Jesus needed to have taken place before the Jewish Sabbath started at sunset the next day (Friday). Pilate probably didn’t want anything to do with the arrest of Jesus, but he may have been told that Jesus was about to lead a revolt, and as it would keep the Jews happy, he gave them some soldiers to help with the  arrest.

Suddenly soldiers armed with clubs and swords came crashing through the garden. And with them was Judas who had arranged a signal: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." And he stepped forward and kissed Jesus in greeting. When the men grabbed Jesus Peter drew his sword and struck Malchus, the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus healed Malchus  and, said "Put your sword away, for those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. I could call on my Father, and he would send me more than twelve legions of angels. But things must happen this way so that the Scriptures can be fulfilled. You’ve come with swords and clubs to capture me. Every day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has happened that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Jesus was bound and taken first to the house of the high priest, then to the Jewish Court. Peter and John followed at a distance and James went off to tell Jesus' family what had happened. In the courtyard, Peter waited anxiously in a crowd of people. As he warmed himself by the fire, a servant girl asked him if he was one of Jesus' disciples. Afraid of what might happen if he said yes, Peter said "I am not." Later he was asked again, and again Peter said no. Finally someone said he was sure he’d seen Peter in the garden with Jesus, but again Peter said that this wasn’t true. At that moment day broke and the cock crowed. Peter remembered what Jesus had said, and wept bitterly.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus (actually illegal by Jewish law), and because they couldn’t get him to incriminate himself, one of the officials struck him in the face. The Jewish Supreme Court tried Jesus (without a judge!) They twisted the evidence against him and accused him of blasphemy so that he could be sentenced to death. Some began to spit at him; they blind-folded him, struck him with their fists, and the guards took him mocked him and beat him.

When Judas, saw that Jesus was condemned, he returned the thirty silver coins to the temple. Then he went away and hanged himself. The priests used the money to buy a field as a burial place for foreigners. That’s why it was called the Field of Blood.

On Friday morning the Jews took Jesus to the Roman governor for him to agree the death sentence. But Pilate did not find Jesus guilty by Roman law. As Jesus was a Galilean he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem. Herod also found no crime to answer for and sent him back to Pilate who offered to punish then release Jesus. But the Jewish leaders had put people in the crowd to stir them up and they cried out for Barabbas, a robber to be released. They wanted Jesus to be crucified. Pilate tried to reason with them, but they cried out even more loudly and afraid of having a riot on his hands, he gave in, and released Barabbas. Pilate then did something very unusual; he washed his hands. This was a something that only Jewish judges did after they had found nothing wrong with a prisoner who had been condemned to death. It meant "Whatever you do to him, it's nothing to do with me!" This is the only recorded time that a Roman judge did this and it would have signified that Pilate believed Jesus to be completely innocent.

The soldiers took Jesus into the public courtyard stripped him, bound him to a stake and scourged him. They put a scarlet robe on him, and rammed a 'crown' made from twisted thorns onto his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him saying "Hail, king of the Jews!" They spat on him, and struck him repeatedly on the head. After they’d mocked him, they put his own clothes back on him. Pilate had hoped that this would satisfy the crowd, but it didn’t and he saw that he no choice. Because of the Passover feast, the execution had to take place quickly and Jesus was led away to be crucified at Golgotha (the place of the skull). Prisoners usually had to carry their own crosses but Jesus hadn’t eaten, drank, or slept since being arrested the previous evening and had been beaten many times. He was so weak that he collapsed under the weight. The Romans got a man called Simon of Cyrene from the crowd to carry the cross. Jesus himself was probably carried the rest of the way by Roman soldiers.

When they reached Golgotha, Jesus was crucified. Two thieves were also crucified that day one on either side of Jesus. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The soldiers and the people watching sneered at him calling upon him to save himself. They set a notice above him which read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS. And they shook a dice to see who would get his clothes. One of the thieves called upon him to save himself and them as well, but the other one said “We’re getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you get to heaven." Jesus said "Today you will be with me in paradise."

Crucifixion victims could sometimes take days to die. They may die of exhaustion or more often they drowned when their lungs filled up with body fluids and blood. At noon, a great darkness came over the land; the sun stopped shining for three hours. Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The curtain of the temple was torn in two, and Jesus called out “It is finished” and then with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last and an earthquake shook the land. The Roman centurion, seeing what had happened, said, "Surely this was the Son of God."

By Jewish law, a dead body could not be displayed after sunset, so to speed up the death, the prisoners’ arms and legs were broken and then they were stabbed through the heart, but the soldiers found that Jesus was already dead. So they just pierced his side to release the body fluids and make the body easier to handle. For a crucifixion, Jesus had died very quickly.

Then Joseph of Arimathea a member of the Jewish council and a friend of Jesus came to ask the Romans for his body. He was a rich land owner and had a tomb ready nearby. He and another council member, Nichodemas took the body of Jesus wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in an unused tomb cut into the rock. Some of the women followers went to the tomb. They planned to come back on the Sunday morning, to embalm the body properly. A huge stone was rolled in front of the entrance, and at the request of the Jewish leaders, Roman guards were put at the tomb to make sure no one stole the body

Very early on Sunday morning the women (included Mary Magdeline, Mary the Mother of Jesus and Joanna, the wife of a Roman official) went to the tomb. Imagine their amazement to find the stone rolled away and the body gone! Suddenly two dazzling white angels appeared and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Confused and bewildered, the women ran off to  tell the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw the empty strips of linen. No-one understood what was happening. Mary Magdeline, started crying. "Woman, why are you crying?" said an angel from inside the tomb. "They’ve taken my Lord, "she said, "and I don't know where they’ve put him." Then a voice behind her said “Who are you looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you’ve taken him, tell me where you put him" Jesus said, "Mary." She turned and recognized Jesus. "Rabboni!" (Teacher) she cried in delight. Jesus said, "Don’t touch me yet, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go and tell the others”.

Jesus appeared before them all, first to Mary Magdalene in the garden, then that same day to two of his followers on the road to the village of Emmaus, who were so excited that they ran all the way back to Jerusalem - about 15 miles. There, they found the disciples in a double locked room as the story was going around that they had stolen the Jesus’ body and they were frightened. Then Jesus appeared within the locked room, nearly scaring them out of their wits! But Jesus told them to not to be afraid, and to touch the scars and the holes where he was crucified. He even ate some fish with them. Then the disciples believed that he really was alive.
Over the next 40 days, about 500 people saw him and spoke to him, before he finally left them and returned to his Father in heaven.  On the 40th day he was taken up before their eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Before Jesus left, he promised that he would send another helper to be with them until he returned at the end of time to reign forever. Christians believe that this helper, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples ten days later at Pentecost, and that everyone who truly follows Jesus, has the Holy Spirit with them helping them to be more like him. For Christians, the 'resurrection', proves without a shadow of doubt that Jesus really was the Son of God. His followers could hardly contain their joy, and everywhere they went they told people the wonderful news.

So the Easter story has a happy ending. Jesus was dead, but he rose again. He didn't leave his followers feeling lost and lonely. He sent his Spirit to be a loving comfort and strength to them. They believed in him and he gave them new life, love and strength.

That is why the Easter story never grows old.

By Sylvia Richards 29th March 2011


© 2011 Sylvia Richards www.yourspiritualhaven.com All rights reserved.