What Is Passion Week?

(Note:  This is a portion of an article on Passion Week that is presented within The Biblical Story Course under ERA 6: Jesus, lesson 31).

The week of Jesus’ crucifixion is called “Passion Week,” after the Greek verb, “to suffer,” pascho. It began with His triumphal, popularly acclaimed entry into Jerusalem, and it culminated in His atoning death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection. Today, the Church around the world celebrates those crucial days, now called “Holy Week.” Its sequence of observances outlines the events of that occasion: Palm Sunday, when the enthusiastic multitudes placed palm branches on the way as He rode into Jerusalem; Holy Monday, when Jesus cleansed the Temple of moneychangers; Holy Tuesday, when Jesus disputed with the Pharisees and later, while on the Mount of Olives, taught His disciples about future events; Holy Wednesday (also called Great Wednesday and Spy Wednesday), when Judas Iscariot made his treacherous arrangement with the chief priests; Maundy (“Commandment”) or Holy Thursday, when, after the Last Supper (where He washed their feet), and just before His arrest, He gave His disciples a “new commandment,” to love one another; Good Friday, when, at the urging of Jewish leaders and the command of the Roman ruler Pilate, He was crucified (with His enemies’ falsely charging Him with blasphemy and sedition, but with God’s turning their gross injustice into the great saving act of history); Holy Saturday, when He lay in the grave. Then, after “Suffering Week” comes Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the grave.

Many of Christ’s Passion Week actions and experiences fulfilled Scripture: He rode on a young colt in humility (Matthew 21:1-5; Zechariah 9:9); He cleansed and judged the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Malachi 3:1-3); He faced accusations with silence (Matthew 26:63; Isaiah 53:7); He was scorned and mocked in His suffering (Matthew 27:39-44; Psalms 22:6-8); and He died among the wicked and was buried in the grave of a rich man (Matthew 27:57-60; Isaiah 53:9)

The enormous significance of Passion Week’s is seen in the space given to it by the Gospel writers. Most notably, eight of John’s 21 chapters (one third of the book) are devoted to that single week, though Jesus lived 33 years and gave three years to public ministry. In Luke, five of 24 chapters (one fifth of the book) focus on the week.

Passion Week is the central event of the Bible. In Genesis 3:15, God predicted that the seed of the woman (Jesus) would bruise the head of the serpent (Satan) – a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and resurrection. The prophets foretold the Passion in more vivid detail, describing the Lord as a sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 52:13, Isaiah 53:12). Jesus Himself explained that His death was His purpose in coming to earth (Matthew 20:28), and He called His followers to “take up their own crosses daily” in sacrificial service (Luke 9:23). The apostles echoed this call when they commended the “crucified life” to their hearers (Galatians 2:20).

Quick-Take Video on Passion Week
Dr. Garry Williams, director of London Theological Seminary’s John Owen Centre, provides a brief teaching video on the events of Passion Week.

What’s Wrong with Noah?

Numerous Christian reviewers have pointed out that Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah “takes liberties” with the biblical story of Noah. Indeed, the Bible doesn’t record any giant lava monsters, stowaways on the ark, or sacred serpent-skin relics. But the problem with Noah goes deeper than simply an imaginative portrayal of the details. Aronofsky fundamentally shifts the meaning and theology of the Noah story. As reviewer Brian Mattson points out, Aronofsky packed the movie with themes from the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, specifically a form of Jewish Gnosticism called Kabbalah (which the singer Madonna popularized in recent years). Essentially, Gnosticism teaches that all physical matter is evil, created as an accident by an inferior deity, and that the goal of life is to attain Russell Crowe as Noah“secret knowledge” that will free us from entrapment in the physical world. (The term “Gnosticism” derives from the Greek word for “knowledge.”) Gnosticism was a major threat to early Christianity and provoked extensive refutation from church fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons. It regained some prominence during the past decade thanks in part to mention in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

Consider some of Noah’s Gnostic references. It depicts Adam and Eve as luminescent and fleshless until they eat the forbidden fruit and are relegated to the evil material world. Lesser divine beings (the Lava Monsters) redeem themselves, shed their material nature, and return to the heavens. As in Gnosticism, the god in Noah seems at times to be a violent lower deity. The serpent, often referred to as “Sophia,” “Mother,” or “Wisdom,” represents to Gnostics the true divine in contrast to the vindictive Creator of matter. This dovetails with Noah’s depiction of the Creator and Aronofsky’s eerie portrayal of a serpent skin from the Garden of Eden as the key to receiving blessing. Before Noah turns from his homicidal ways and professes love for his newborn granddaughters, he kills Tubal-Cain and recovers the serpent skin—possibly the inspiration for his enlightened perspective. The rainbow in Noah, which is circular like an important sign in Kabbalah, appears not as a sign of any covenant God makes with Noah but after Noah wraps the serpent skin around his arm and blesses his family. Probably not coincidentally, Aronofsky’s first feature film, Pi, also had Kabbalah as part of its subject matter.

Now consider the Noah story from Genesis. In that account, God is supreme and all-powerful, both a just judge and a merciful Savior, punishing mankind for its wickedness but preserving the human race by showing grace to a faithful remnant. The biblical God is a far cry from the cold deity of Noah who wants to wipe out all humans. Upon Noah’s exit from the ark, God professes His unflinching love for human life, forbidding murder and prescribing the death penalty for any who would destroy the crown jewel of His creation, “for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).

What’s more, in the Bible’s Noah story, there is nothing inherently evil about matter and no hint that we need to be freed from the material universe. In fact, when Noah exits the ark, God reissues the charge He gave Adam at creation: steward the earth, be fruitful, and multiply (Genesis 8:16-17). The New Testament holds up Noah as a model of faith who obeyed God even when it didn’t seem to make sense (Hebrews 11:7) and preached about God’s righteousness to his unbelieving neighbors (2 Peter 2:5). Again, a contrast to Aronofsky’s portrayal.

All this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t see the movie. That’s a decision for each person to make according to his or her conscience. But whether you see it or not, don’t let a Gnostic-influenced Hollywood director cloud your understanding of the facts or theology of Scripture. For an accurate picture of Noah, turn to Genesis 5-10 and Bible-based resources like BibleMesh’s The Biblical Story. There you’ll discover the true Noah, who “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Firm Faith—Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

The spread of the gospel in nineteenth-century China owed much to one man—Hudson Taylor. As the founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865 and a great encourager of missionaries, Taylor blazed a trail for the gospel, leaving 125,000 Chinese Christians at his death. Men such as C. T. Studd heeded his call. Despite many temptations to trust in human schemes and solutions, Taylor remained a man of daily dependence, trusting God to breathe life into his missionary ventures. Unlike many of his day, he did not see faith as something mysterious; faith was merely relying on a reliable God.

What is faith? Is it not simply the recognition of the reliability or the trustworthiness of those with whom we have to do? Why do we accept with confidence a Government bond? Because we believe in the reliability of the Government. Men do not hesitate to put faith in the Government securities, because they believe in the Government that guarantees them. Why do we, without hesitation, put coins into circulation instead of as in China, getting a lump of silver weighed and its purity investigated, before we can negotiate any money transaction with it? Because the Government issues the coin we use, and we use it with confidence and without difficulty. Why do we take a railway guide and arrange for a particular journey? . . . Well, one has confidence in the reliability of these official publications. As a rule we are not put to shame!

Now, just as we use a railway guide we must use our Bible. We must depend on God’s word just as we depend on man’s word, only remembering that though man may not be able to carry out his promise, God will always fulfil what He has said. . .1

[The work] is either of Him, and for Him, and to His glory, or else it had better come to nought . . . it could not hold together for three months if the great mainstay—God’s own faithfulness, God’s own help, God’s own power—were taken away. We have nothing else to depend upon, just as we have no-one else to serve . . . Faith has often been tried, but God has ever made these trials of faith such a real blessing to me that they have been among the chief means of grace to my own soul, as well as the chief help to my work.2


1 Hudson Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Legacy: A Series of Meditations, ed. Marshall Broomhall (Philadelphia: The China Inland Mission, 1931), 123.
2 Ibid., 90.

Does God Care About the Final Four?

final fourIt’s the most exciting time of the year for college basketball fans in America: the Final Four. This weekend, they will don their team’s colors and expend no small amount of energy cheering as the last four teams alive battle for a national championship. Amid this excitement, I heard a radio host in Kentucky (where the University of Kentucky is hoping for its ninth national title) comment how silly it is that fans pray for their teams to win. His implication is a common one—God doesn’t really care about basketball games. After all, He’s busy with more important matters like sustaining the universe and righting injustice. But is that true? There is plenty of biblical evidence to suggest it’s not. Whether the sport is basketball, baseball, swimming, or soccer, both the outcome and how the game is played matter to God.

Of course, He’s not in suspense about the outcome like we are. The one who “declar[es] the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) doesn’t bite His nails at the end of a tight game. Nevertheless, here are some reasons why it’s biblical to say that God cares about the Final Four (or your sporting event of choice):

— His providence extends to who wins games. If He controls the outcome of lot casting (Proverbs 16:33), doesn’t He also control how a ball bounces off a rim, whether a referee sees a foul at a crucial moment, and even which team scores more points?

— God rewards the hard work. Proverbs 13:4 promises that “the soul of the diligent is richly supplied,” and Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit.” Although Proverbs are general truths that may have exceptions, it stands to reason that God would honor the efforts of a team that prepared for their Final Four appearance more diligently. If this law applies to school, business, and family, wouldn’t it also apply to sports?

— The Apostle Paul used sports analogies (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and said physical training “is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8). Though godliness is of greater value, we have divinely inspired testimony that God regards athletics as valuable.

— God cares about whatever licit activities are important to His people. For instance, Jesus took an interest in and blessed His disciples’ fishing business on more than one occasion (Luke 5:1-7; John 21:1-11). Some might claim that the Lord has more important matters to attend than something as temporal and insignificant as catching fish, but His love for the disciples moved Him to bless them in a realm of life about which they cared deeply. Might He likewise bless Christian basketball players occasionally as a gesture of love?

— God takes joy in His creatures’ using the abilities He has given them to display His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). As Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell famously said in the movie Chariots of Fire, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” It can also display God’s glory when a man that He’s made strong and agile dunks a basketball or hits a three-pointer.

God makes no promises that godly athletes or even skilled athletes will always win. To the contrary, often He uses defeat to build character—and, as Paul said, that’s far more important than winning a game or match (1 Timothy 4:8). Still, God cares about sports. You won’t find Him clad in your team’s colors (though North Carolina fans have been known to ask, “If God isn’t a Tar Heel, why is the sky Carolina blue?”). But be assured this weekend that God is not ignoring the Final Four.

The Word and the World: No Stopping the Change—J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

J. C. Ryle was a persistent advocate of Scripture reading and faithful preaching. As Bishop of Liverpool he did all in his power to advance knowledge of the Bible. At a time when the influence of the church was declining and the population growing rapidly, Ryle maintained the importance of the Bible both for individual salvation and cultural transformation. In this extract from his booklet How Readest Thou?, Ryle recalls the world-altering transformation accomplished by men of God armed only with Scripture, good theology, and Spirit-filled preaching.

Many centuries have now passed away since God sent forth a few Jews from a remote corner of the earth to do a work which according to man’s judgment, must have seemed impossible. He sent them out at a time when the whole world was full of superstition, cruelty, lust, and sin. He sent them out to proclaim that the established religions of the earth were false and useless, and must be forsaken. He sent them out to persuade men to give up old habits and customs, and to live different lives. He sent them out to do battle with the most perverted idolatry, with the vilest and most disgusting immorality, with a bigoted priesthood, with sneering philosophers, with an ignorant population, with bloody-minded emperors, with the whole influence of Rome. Never was there an enterprise for all appearances more unrealistic and less likely to succeed!

And how did He arm them for this battle? He gave them no worldly weapons. He gave them no worldly power to compel agreement, and no worldly riches to bribe belief. He simply put the Holy Spirit into their hearts, and the Scriptures into their hands. He simply commanded them to expound and explain, to require compliance and to publish the doctrines of the Bible. The preacher of Christianity in the first century was not a man with a sword and an army to frighten people, or a man with a license to be sensual, to allure people, like the priests of the shameful idols of the Hindus. No, he was nothing more than one holy man with one holy book.

And how did these men of one book prosper? In a few generations they entirely changed the face of society by the doctrines of the Bible. They emptied the temples of the heathen gods. They starved out idolatry and left it high and dry like a stranded ship. They brought into the world a higher condition of morality between man and man. They raised the character and position of woman. They altered the standard of purity and decency. They put an end to man’s cruel and bloody customs, such as the gladiatorial fights—there was no stopping the change. Persecution and opposition were useless. One victory after another was won. One bad thing after another melted away. Whether men liked it or not, they were slowly affected by the movement of the new religion and drawn within the whirlpool of its power.

The earth shook, and their rotten shelters fell to the ground. The flood rose, and they found themselves obliged to rise with it. The tree of Christianity swelled and grew, and the chains they had thrown around it to arrest its growth, snapped like string. And all this was done by the doctrines of the Bible! Talk about great victories! What are the victories of Alexander, and Caesar, and Napoleon, compared with those I have just mentioned? For magnitude, for completeness, for results, for permanence, there are no victories like the victories of the Bible . . .

This is the book upon which the well-being of nations has always hinged, and with which the best interests of everyone in Christendom at this moment are inseparably tied. By the same proportion that the Bible is honored or not, light or darkness, morality or immorality, true religion or superstition, liberty or tyranny, good laws or bad, will be found in a nation.

Culture Warrior in God’s Army: William Booth (1829-1912)

salvation_armyOne morning in 1885, a Salvation Army worker unlocked the doors of the ministry’s London headquarters to find an adolescent girl sleeping on the front step. Surprised at her presence, the worker asked how she arrived at such an unorthodox resting place. The answer was appalling: After coming to the city to find work, she was lured into a brothel and imprisoned in the kitchen until she would agree to become a prostitute. But she escaped through a window and asked a police officer for directions to the Salvation Army headquarters, for she remembered the organization’s widespread reputation for helping women trapped in prostitution. Eventually, she received the help she craved, and the Army counted her among its many trophies of God’s gracious work amid England’s lower class.1

WilliamboothFounded by Methodist minister William Booth, the Salvation Army began as the East London Christian Mission, an effort to win London’s poorest residents to faith in Christ. Yet quickly, Booth and his wife, Catherine, discovered that ministering among the underprivileged required battling cultural decay in addition to preaching eternal salvation. So they changed the ministry’s name to the Salvation Army in 1878 and established a well-rounded program designed to move economically depressed men and women into lives of Christ-honoring productivity.

Indeed, nineteenth-century England desperately needed such a ministry. Industrialization created an expanding urban population plagued by overcrowding, poor sanitation, and low wages. In Manchester, for instance, one could find houses scarcely six feet wide and five feet long containing two beds surrounded by refuse and filth. Often the inhabitants of such dwellings had only sewer water to drink.2 To cope with those conditions, many of the nation’s poor resorted to alcoholism, prostitution, and drug addiction.

Booth’s strategy was first to call the down and out to faith in Christ and subsequently teach them His standards of work and productivity. For example, a drunkard who refused to work once happened upon a Salvation Army meeting and heard a sermon on the Scripture, “[S]eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Interrupting the preacher, he called out, “Do you mean that if I ask God for work, He will give it to me?” When the preacher said yes, the drunkard was converted. Shortly, he found work and became a productive citizen. On another occasion, an alcoholic named Maggie was saved while spending the night at a Salvation Army shelter. She likewise went on to live a sober and productive life.

For many of the poor, Booth’s program involved voluntary settlement in an urban cooperative community where they were assigned jobs and paid for their labor. Eventually they were moved to a rural cooperative where increased responsibility, combined with Christian discipleship, prepared them to live sensibly upon returning to independent life in the city. In addition, the Salvation Army established an anti-suicide bureau, hospitals, leper colonies, homes for the elderly, and criminal rehabilitation centers. By his death in 1912, Booth had grown the Army into an international ministry giant mobilized to help the world’s poor. Poet Vachel Lindsay speculated about the eternal fruit of his efforts:

Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole!
Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl!
Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,
Rulers of empires, and of forests green!3

May God raise up more ministers like William Booth, who support gospel proclamation with practical ministry to those who need it most.


1 Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 304-305.

2 Harold G. Steele, I Was A Stranger: The Faith of William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army (New York: Exposition Press, 1954), 44-46.

3 Vachel Lindsay, General William Booth Enters Heaven and Other Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1916).