Monday of Holy Week dawns. Holy Week: from Sunday when Jesus “triumphantly” entered Jerusalem through Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, climaxing Sunday when he rose from the dead.
The events of Holy Week happened in “the real world”. Our world. Here where we live. That’s such an elementary truth I often forget it. This isn’t a once-upon-a-time-story. It is historical events recorded in writing. Jesus entered a real city–Jerusalem–about 30 A.D. He was nailed to a cross of wood from a real tree at a real crossroads just outside the city. All the week’s events belong to authentic human history. They’re not part of a hidden, spiritual revelation mysteriously whispered to one man in a desert.
They happened here.
Jesus came for all to see. Breathed our air. Walked on our dirt. Touched our people. Was buried in our tomb. Rose again in the grayness of our pre-dawn.
Which brings me to the most-amazing thing I’m thinking about today: all human history–including the history of Holy Week –has meaning. It’s not just a pointless succession of events. Of course, given the state of the world, one could be excused for assuming that. Take politics, for example. Another presidential election cycle. “Unprecedented” say the pundits. No. We’ve had our share of “crazies” before. Or take the Middle East. Chaotically violent for as long as I can remember. One war. Then another war. Then another. Peace summits. Peace meetings. Nothing much changes. Follow the news, read history and you know why Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) brooded,
“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless'” (Ecclesiastes 1:1,2).
Was he right? Is there no reason for life? Does history have no purpose? Was Holy Week nothing more than a collection of random events that ended with another Jew crucified, then rumored to have risen?
In his book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary until his death in 1988, argued that history has meaning. He explained that the Christian (biblical) view of history has five main features . . .
First, history is a working out of God’s purposes. God works, not in some ethereal realm removed from this time-space world, but in history. And he works to work out his purposes. That means that the political and moral state of America at the moment is somehow the working out of God’s purposes. It means that all the events of Holy Week from the triumphal entry to the tomb, and all the hostile debates with Jewish leaders in between, were also the working out of God’s purposes.
Second, God is the Lord of history. This means God not only works in history to work out his purposes but in the same way he uses “bad” things for “good” to those who love him (Romans 8:28). It means that God reigns over and governs history. God’s kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19). Hoekema writes, “God overrules even the evil deeds of men so as to make them serve his purpose. No more breathtaking example of that exists than Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. The apostles prayed . . .
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles
and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power
and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27,28).
Third, Christ is the center of history. History books are thick. In fact, a complete history of the world would require, not a big book, but a library. Think of all the dates and people and events you had to learn in just one history class! Add to that all the other history classes. Imagine every significant event that’s occurred from the beginning until now. And the radical Christian claim is that Christ is the center of history. Oscar Cullmann, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, wrote that in this central event “not only is all that goes before fulfilled but also all that is future is decided.” Thus each event of Holy Week–even Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in an unknown upper room–was a main scene in the center of history.
Fourth, the new age has already been ushered in. The Bible sees two ages: the present age from creation until Christ’s return and the age to come from Christ’s return on into eternity. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes,
“He (Christ) has delivered us from the domain of darkness
(i.e., this present evil age–Galatians 1:4) and transferred us
to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.”
Already, we who have trusted our lives to Jesus Christ have started to enjoy a taste of the eternal kingdom in the age to come! This is because Jesus in his person inaugurated the new age. Jesus said . . .
” . . . the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).
When Jesus died, he opened the way to the age to come. And when he rose again, it rose on earth in him.
Fifth, all history is moving toward a goal: the new heavens and the new earth. God is taking this creation somewhere—to the new creation. As Karl Lowith, a 20th century German philosopher, wrote, “The ultimate meaning of a transcendent purpose is focused in an expected future. Such an expectation was most alive among the Hebrew prophets; it did not exist among the Greek philosophers.” Jesus’ resurrection was eventually followed by his ascension. And at his ascension two men in white robes stood by the apostles and said . . .
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
This prompted Paul to write . . .
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
. . . For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
A flaming consequence of this Christian view of history: HOPE! Political progressives preach it. Presidential candidates promise a better future. Yet even high school history students know that all human “progress” is marred with corruption, disappointment and death. Our phones connect the Internet and deliver tons of information about ancient Greece or the latest hit movie. But innocent civilians are still dying in Middle East wars. We Jesus followers, however, “look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10). Our hope is righteous and amazing beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20,21).
Holy Week isn’t a commemoration of random events. Holy Week has deep, transforming, eternal meaning. Because of that, God is doing his saving work in the world today leading toward the fulfillment of his beyond-imagination purpose. And when we see that purpose climaxed, we will bow and worship . . .
The Lord of history.
The One in whom all history reaches its climax.
The Holy One before whom we stand in awe!