We’ve all had long days. You know, the ones where the demands on your time and attention start from the moment you wake up and there’s no relief for even one second until the end of the day and sometimes long after the day has officially ended. I certainly have known those recently while caring for my daughter, Mia, in the days following her latest surgery. Even when the only energy I had came from the two and a half hours of interrupted sleep in the hospital, I somehow found no fatigue when it came to caring for her needs. Trying to manage her pain, nausea, uncomfortableness from swelling, IV medications, and even breathing constriction, should be exhausting, but I found that I had more than enough strength to get me through those first few days. God gave me exactly what I thought I needed and even more than I ever imagined in order to stay alert and on task for my daughter. And if given the choice, I would do it again, because the positive result far outweighs the grind. This day during Holy Week was far more demanding on Jesus, to put it mildly.
Tuesday starts early for Jesus and his apostles. After another night of comfort at their friends’, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, house and a good breakfast, they make their way into the city. The tension has been building over the last two days, tension between Jesus and the chief priests, rulers and Pharisees. Jesus knows today will be a long day of teaching those who want to learn more about him and this Kingdom he speaks of. He also knows it will be a day full of animosity and utter hatred from those who would like nothing more than to see him gone, for good. Yet his love is for his people, all people. And there they were, already waiting in eagerness for him that day, both groups: those who were falling in love with him and those who already hated him.
No sooner did Jesus start teaching than the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders called his validity into question. “By what authority are you doing these things?” “Who gave you the authority to do this?” Jesus answered them by saying, “If you answer one question, then I will tell you. ‘Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?’” Mark 11:27-34. The Bible doesn’t tell us what these powerful men truly thought the answer was. It only tells us (in multiple accounts) that they discussed what they should say in order to not turn the people against them. So they answered, “We don’t know.” Therefore, Jesus said, “then I’m not going to tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Basically, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you! Isn’t that something we say (or at least think) when someone asks us an obvious question? Like a husband asking his wife “What do you want for your birthday this year?” Are you kidding me? Did the 16 texts with attached links to the silver necklace and brown leather boots not give you any clues?! Well, if you don’t know the answer, I’m not gonna tell you! Ha!
Jesus became more and more bold throughout the day by teaching more parables for the people to hear and for the rulers to show offense. Mark 12:12, “Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.”
One group down, two to go.
Jesus kept teaching to the growing crowds.
Next came the Pharisees and Herodians to try to trip him up. If they can get him to insult a Roman ruler in front of all the people, that will be enough to get the Roman soldiers to stand by them when they arrest him. That could be the backup they need to ensure their safety while also removing Jesus from the people. So they ask him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to Caesar. Everyone present knows that the Jewish people are being highly overtaxed by Rome. If Jesus says out loud that this earthly government should not be respected or obeyed (something that the Jews would love to hear), then they’ve got him!
Looking at a coin with Caesar’s picture on it, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Mark says in verse 17b, “And they were amazed at him.”
Two down, one to go.
Then it was the Sadducees’ turn. These were the elite of the educated. If they can’t trip him up, the rulers’ options are slim to none. They asked him about marriage after death, that if a woman is married more than once on this earth, being widowed seven times, who will be her husband at the resurrection. That’s it? Good grief. After educating them on the resurrection and the true power of God, Jesus tells them, “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” Mark 12:27
One of the teachers of the law overheard this last exchange and noted Jesus’ “good answer”. He had one last question for Jesus. Now, keep in mind that in the Jewish laws, there were hundreds and hundreds of commands, all of which the Jewish people were expected to keep. This teacher of the law knows all of these laws. It’s his area of expertise. He is there to teach them to the people as well as condemn them for breaking them. He, however, has the luxury of not being held to the same standards that he holds over the more lowly in stature. He asks Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus stuns everyone there, including this teacher of the law, when he says, “The most important one is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second one is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Love – there is no law against love.
This was a brand new command, one that was not written in their books.
For the rest of the day, Jesus told parable after parable after parable. And for the rest of the day, the vitriol against Jesus grew stronger among the leaders where the tension could be visibly seen like a storm cloud hovering slightly over their shoulders. At one point, Jesus had enough. He is done outplaying them in their little games. He goes directly for them. In Matthew 23 he starts and doesn’t let up until he has said his piece! He looks directly at the people but points to the rulers and says, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” He goes from talking about them to talking directly to them. He says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” seven times! He then adds, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Whoa, Jesus! What happened to love? Sometimes, love has to be tough. This was his last day of teaching. If they haven’t gotten it by now, Jesus knows that arguing with them will no longer do any good. He ends the day by looking at all the people there in the courts and saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing…You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:37-39 When Jesus and his apostles wearily retreated from the temple courts that day, they chose to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. It was much closer than returning to Bethany, and Jesus was spent. However, that night, Jesus went on for several more hours teaching his disciples. Matthew’s account shows that Jesus took this time with his closest followers, his apostles, and spoke to them about his upcoming death and how his dying meant living forever for those who believe in him. He also told them about their own deaths because of their faith in Him. He warned them about people who will come after him and claim to be the Christ. He taught them about how serving those in prison, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick were the same as caring for him. He was teaching them about sacrifice, humility, boldness and courage—all of which they were going to need when he was gone. He also told them about this new being called the Comforter or the Holy Spirit, who would come to them in his physical absence.
This conversation went long into the night and into the early hours of Wednesday morning. Jesus finished by telling them in Matthew 26:2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
At the same time he was saying this to his disciples…
“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. ‘But not during the Feast’, they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.” Matthew 26:3-5
The plot actually thickens. But Jesus is the chef. Our God was in control then and now. Nothing was done about him or to him that was not in his plan for our inheritance. He was never taken off-guard. He was never outsmarted. He was, is and will always be God over everything.
There are so many good nuggets about this day in Jerusalem and on that mountain that are recorded in all four of the gospels. Each have differing accounts, some adding more teaching than others, and each also have identical accounts of some of the same teachings. I highly encourage you to read them.