The Fifth Cup

Like everyone else in Jerusalem that night, Jesus and his disciples had four cups of wine during “The Last Supper.” Unlike anyone else in history, Jesus also took … the fifth cup.

Though there is some debate about the symbolism of each cup, it might be best said that the four cups are (in order), the Cup of Sanctification, the Cup of Deliverance, the Cup of Redemption, and the Cup of Praise.

For those who worry about washing all those dishes, we’re actually talking about one cup per person … filled four times.

It’s most likely, by the details we can pick up from the Gospels, that Jesus used the third cup, the “Cup of Redemption,” for the symbolic cup that would represent his blood. This is the drink Christians take when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There’s even a hint that Jesus skipped the fourth cup, the Cup of Praise, reserving it for a time in the future when his task was completed.

Here’s the way it is written in Mark 14:24-25.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Jesus said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Only a short time later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying in great agony, Jesus wrestled with the idea of drinking the “cup” that was before him. Jesus acted as if taking that “fifth cup” would be the most difficult, painful thing he would ever do.

This clip (7:16) is the story of the Fifth Cup.

You want to really celebrate on Resurrection Sunday? Watch this clip now.

Previously: You were looking for a sign? Here it is.

You were looking for a sign? Here it is.

sign on cross

The Latin letters stand for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” (Michael Barber photo, First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio)

logo 12 daysPilate must have known it wasn’t going to be a good day. How could it be, when pompous religious leaders are demanding an audience so early in the morning?

Maintaining order during Passover week was always a hassle and Pilate knew the visitors brought trouble. What had gone wrong now?

Pilate only had the job as governor of Judea because one of Herod’s son’s had been so violent, the Romans had fired him. The man simply couldn’t keep the peace. From Rome’s point of view, keeping the peace was paramount. The leader of Jerusalem could, of course, use force. But whatever he did, he’d have to answer to Rome for his actions.

Pilate was the man in charge on that particular Friday morning. If he wanted to keep his job, he would take the concerns of these religious men seriously.

Although seriously, who in his right mind actually thought of them as holy men?

The perfect backdrop for the most stressful night of Jesus’ life

Olive Tree against sky Garden of Gethsemane

Olive trees still provide shade in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would have been very familiar with a view like this one during the Passover holiday. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 daysGethsemane is just exactly where you’d expect to find it. It’s at the bottom of the Mount of Olives.

If you’ve ever harvested a crop, this makes perfect sense. Whether you’re picking apples, pecans, cotton, tomatoes or olives, if you gather a basket or so, you’re dealing with a heavy load.

Now. Do you want to carry that load up a hill … or down?

Or do you even know what “Gethsemane” means?

“Gat” is “oil.” “Shemane” is “press.” So our “Gethsemane” is the location of the oil press on the Mount of Olives.

And olives can be quite heavy during the harvest. So no kidding, it’s at the bottom of the hill.

The process for turning ripe olives into cash is two-fold. Part One is cracking the olives open with a mill stone. That first bit of “virgin oil” is collected and sold at a premium price. Part Two involves putting the cracked olives into porous bags, stacking the bags, and then pressing those bags until every last drop of oil is drained from the olives.

Ten things every Christian should know about Passover


Jesus passover bread

The “Last Supper?” It was the Passover meal. Understanding the world’s most symbolic meal adds incredible insight to understanding what happened the day Jesus died. This image from “The Passion of the Christ” shows Jesus preparing to share the unleavened bread with his disciples.

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It’s no accident that the Christian celebration of Easter and the Jewish celebration of Passover fall close to one another each year. This year, the two events are occurring on the same week, nearly in perfect timing with the Passover week that coincided with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Tonight, all around the world, Jewish families will take their place around the Passover meal. Many Christian families will do the same. In the Fourth Century, early Christian leaders led a movement that essentially divorced Christianity from its Jewish heritage. At that point, Christians stopped celebrating the most symbolic meal in history.

Now it’s finally time to reconnect followers of Jesus with the meal he used to describe the purpose of his life. Here are 10 Things Christians should know about the Passover.

1. The “Lord’s Supper” is Passover. What Christians know as “The Lord’s Supper,” “Communion,” or the “Eucharist” came out of the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples. More than 20 times in the Gospels, that “last supper” is referred to as the Passover. Jesus even said that night, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you …” (Luke 22:15)

2. There’s a story. The Passover meal tells a story through the order (“Seder”) of the meal itself. As participants eat greenery dipped in salt water, matzo dipped in horse radish, or count off 10 drops of wine, those around the table remember how God rescued the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery.

3. It’s a happy meal. As did all observant Jews, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal every year. Mary and Joseph were extremely committed to this practice, taking their family all the way to Jerusalem each spring for the holiday (Luke 2:41). Though Christians naturally think of the “Lord’s Supper” as an extremely solemn, quiet and serious meal, the Passover is actually a joyful meal that involves children, laughter and song.

God loved Mary so much … He let her see the crucifixion?

Mary holding Jesus

Actress Alissa Jung plays the role of Mary in “Mary of Nazareth,” a 2014 film. If God loved Mary – or you – so much, why would He allow such suffering?

logo 12 daysMary, the mother of Jesus, was at the cross.

It’s an unimaginable picture. Why would any mother, anywhere, intentionally attend the execution of her adult child? Why would her family even allow her attendance?

Fact is, Mary didn’t come to Jerusalem for the crucifixion.

She came for Passover.

Mary and Joseph had kept a long-standing practice of attending the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover,” is the way Luke 2:41 records it.

At some point, Joseph died. But Mary kept going to Jerusalem for Passover.

It was a long, brutal trip. Almost certainly, Mary walked the entire 75 miles, taking the better part of a week to complete the trip. The last leg of the journey included the 18-mile climb from Jericho to Jerusalem, one of the most difficult hikes you’d ever want to tackle.

The year Jesus died, Mary didn’t make the long journey so she could witness history’s most important moment.

The year her son was stripped naked, scourged until he could barely stand, beaten until he was nearly unrecognizable, she didn’t go to Jerusalem so she could be there when his lifeless body was finally removed from the stakes of torture.

Mary went to Jerusalem because she loved God.

Would they have really executed Jesus on a religious holiday?

Gordons Calvary color edited

Jesus was crucified in front of a hill that looked like a skull. Gordon’s Calvary provides an incredible example of what the landscape could have looked like when Jesus was executed. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 days It’s a question that haunts anyone who’s ever lived through bad news on a holiday.

It’s bad enough, of course, when tragic deaths occur on Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Easter Sunday or any of the multitude of important holidays. But an intentional execution on such a day?


Political leaders are sensitive to the needs of their people to enjoy a few holidays throughout the year. Many of those holidays have sacred foundations. Think “Holy-days.” Add to the fact that prison guards and authorities want to enjoy a little time off themselves, and it’s no surprise that we rarely hear of an execution on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Day or Thanksgiving.

And yet Jesus was crucified on Passover.

Could it have really happened? Could Jewish and Roman authorities have been so insensitive to the needs of the people that they would have ordered the execution of a rabbi on what might be called the most important Jewish holiday of the year?

The Gospels paint a picture of Jesus and the disciples – and presumably the rest of the country – having their Passover meal on Thursday night. By Jewish timing, once the sun set, it was actually Friday. By 9 a.m. the next morning – which was also Friday, of course – Jesus is hanging on a cross. He was left there for six hours to die a horrible death.

This simply should not have been allowed on such a sacred day.

When did Jesus die? It’s complicated.

Jesus falls woman helps

No death of any person in history has ever captured the attention of so many. This scene from “The Passion of the Christ” depicts the moment Jesus fell on his way to Golgotha.

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When did Jesus die? That’s a question that’s been hotly debated for centuries in the Christian church. As we like to say, “it’s complicated.”

That’s too bad. If we’d asked our Jewish friends about this a long time ago, we could have not only gotten a good grasp of the timeline … we could have understood much more about the crucifixion itself.

Though Christian tradition holds to a “Good Friday” remembrance of the crucifixion, the Bible does not specifically say that Jesus died on Friday. Or does it? Consider what we do know:

Jesus died during the week of Passover preparation and celebration. The Passover celebration is mentioned more than 20 times in the Gospels’ account of the Week of Passion.

Jesus was raised from the dead on “the first day of the week,” or Sunday (John 20:1).

Jesus spoke of his coming death and resurrection on at least 12 occasions. Of these that are recorded for us, he spoke of his resurrection coming “on the third day” 11 times. He used an analogy of Jonah once, referring to the reluctant prophet being in the belly of a fish “three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:40)

Part of a day is considered a full day in matters of birth and death, both in ancient and modern cultures. Even if a person dies one minute before midnight in our culture, living only one minute of a day, the day of death will be recorded as if it is a full day. That being the case, the opportunity exists for a time line of a Friday death and “third-day” Sunday resurrection.

Despite the surprise, the resurrection was no secret


Rolling stone tomb B&W

Ancient tombs dot the landscape of Israel. This one is located right beside the highway that leads to Mt. Carmel. What’s different about this tomb is the rolling stone that has survived all these centuries. What’s common about this tomb is that every person laid to rest here … stayed dead. (Julia Chin photo)

logo 12 daysIf you trust the record of the Gospels, it’s certainly no secret that Jesus was going to be resurrected from the dead. After all, he spoke of that miracle several times before it happened.

But what if you don’t believe the Gospels? What if you’ve heard the argument that much of what followers of Jesus put in the written record was myth? For the skeptics in the crowd, the resurrection itself is the biggest myth of all. Having the hero of the story predict the resurrection is even more unbelievable.

First, the record in the Gospels themselves.

Jesus first told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die when they were more than 100 miles away, at Caesarea Philippi. They didn’t like what Jesus said there. Simon Peter even took Jesus aside to “rebuke” him for predicting his own crucifixion.

Did they actually hear what Jesus said that day?

She knew the awful truth: Jesus died in her place

Gordons calvary two

This photo was taken around 1900, give or take a few years on either side of the century mark. Not far from the Damascus Gate, this is the skull-shaped hill that drew Charles Gordon’s attention while he was serving the British Army in Jerusalem, in 1882-83. The hill has been known as “Gordon’s Calvary” ever since.


logo 12 daysOne of the most famous stories in the Gospels is of the day when Jesus rescued a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Those who had arrested her were determined to kill her by stoning. Had they had their way, the woman would have been taken to Jerusalem’s only place of execution, pushed off a high hill and then stoned by those who stood above her. Jesus rescued the woman, challenging her accusers to throw the first stone only if they themselves were without sin. The accusers slipped away, and the woman escaped with her life.

Because of steep valleys, Jerusalem didn’t have an option for an execution hill on its southern or eastern borders. On the northwestern side of the city, however, stone masons had left rocky hills that provided gruesome backdrops for either stoning or crucifixion. One of those places would have become known as the place of execution. No city would cherish more than one such place. This photo – which dates before 1900 – shows what is known as “Gordon’s Calvary.” The resemblance of the rocky cliff to a skull reminded British Major General Charles Gordon of the Bible’s description of “Golgotha,” or “the place of the skull.” The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built over another skull-shaped hill only a short walk from this location.

Back to the woman Jesus rescued. “Go,” Jesus had told her, “and sin no more.” Only a short time later, Jesus was taken to Jerusalem’s place of the skull and executed. The Bible’s message was simple. He was dying there in the place of all sinners. No one would have appreciated that more than a woman once condemned to die in the same location.

Previously: How many people saw the crucifixion? More than you ever imagined.

How many people saw the crucifixion? More than you ever imagined.

Jerusalem Day

Tens of thousands gathered at the Western Wall for the 2016 Jerusalem Day celebration. When Jesus was alive, every Jewish family desired to be in Jerusalem for Passover … and hundreds of thousands made the trip each year.

logo 12 daysHow many people were in Jerusalem, and therefore theoretically able to see the crucifixion?

Here’s what we know for sure: We’ve never envisioned a large enough crowd. No movie has successfully recreated the massive crowd that was on hand for Passover. No church drama, certainly, has come close to the wall-to-wall collection of humanity.

When Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem on Passover, tens of thousands of people were in the city. Hundreds of thousands more were all around the city, camped out in every possible location.

In the same way we’ve grossly underestimated the number of people in Jerusalem for the holiday, we’ve rarely understood the dangerous, politically charged atmosphere that would have been surging through Jerusalem the spring Jesus was executed.

Josephus, the Roman historian, has often been charged with exaggerating numbers in his writings. However, in recent years, a lot of the rather surprising information Josephus has provided has been confirmed by archeological findings. With that in mind, consider that Josephus said well over 1 million people – even twice that many – could show up in Jerusalem for a Passover holiday.

More than a million? Seriously?