Christians around the world began their observance of Holy Week with Palm Sunday, the day marking Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.That day, more than 2,000 years ago, was a bittersweet one for Jesus, as Southern California pastor Greg Laurie put it. Though there were throngs of cheer and shouts of "Hosanna" among the people, Jesus wept as he rode on a donkey. Jesus knew the people welcoming him and saying "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" would soon be shouting "crucify him."
He also knew he was on the road to the resurrection, which would include his death on the cross, Laurie said in his Sunday sermon at Harvest Christian Fellowship.
"Before the glorious resurrection, there would be a devastating crucifixion. Before there would be an empty tomb, there first had to be a bloody cross," the well-known pastor and evangelist explained.
The death and resurrection of Christ is the most significant historical event in all of human history, second only or equal to at least his birth in Bethlehem, Laurie emphasized.
In fact, this is what separates Christianity from other religions, he said.
"You can go to the tombs of the prophets and gurus and pay respect but the tomb of Jesus Christ you find that it is empty because he has risen again," said Laurie.
But before celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday, which this year is April 24, Christians meditate on the finals days of Jesus' time on earth during Holy Week.
John Piper, a Reformed theologian who leads Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., noted that while all time is holy because it belongs to God, Christians should set apart the week between Palm Sunday and Easter "for sacred focus."
Orthodox Christians, who use the Julian calendar, are marking Holy Week together with Protestants and Catholics this year.
In Jerusalem, thousands participated in the traditional Palm Sunday procession, marching from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday. Meanwhile in the U.S., churches held their own marches, waving palm branches on the streets of their local communities.
While Harvest Christian Fellowship was among the many churches that didn't join in traditional processions with branches in hand, Laurie got his mega-congregation started in meditating on what Jesus did for them a few days after his entrance to Jerusalem.
"It's not that our Lord simply expired. Jesus Christ died a bloody, horrific death," he said.
"God treated Jesus as if he had lived my sinful life so that He could treat me as if I had lived the sinless life of Jesus," Laurie preached.
"It was at the cross that God and men were reconciled once again. ... Our salvation was purchased."
"Calvary shows ... how far God would go for man's salvation."
Holy Week will continue with Good Friday on April 22 and Easter Sunday.