Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcoming the One Who Can Change Everything

[This was shared during the morning's two Palm Sunday worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Just before today’s gospel lesson containing Luke’s account of Palm Sunday, we read about Jesus meeting a man named Zacchaeus. Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho, heading for Jerusalem. Zacchaeus climbed into a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus as Jesus walked by.

Zacchaeus, you know, had gained his riches by extorting more taxes from people than they actually owed. He wasn’t popular in Jericho. But Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

It helps us to understand Luke's account of Palm Sunday if we first understand what happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Let’s take a look at Luke 19, starting at verse 5. It says that Jesus saw Zacchaeus and, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

You might think that Zacchaeus’ first impulse would be to tell Jesus to find somewhere else to stay. He had only climbed the tree to see what all the fuss was about. Besides, he could see by Jesus’ attire that Jesus was just a poor Galilean, while Zacchaeus was filthy rich.

Yet Zacchaeus doesn't react as you'd expect!

All of us have the same choice in this life that Zacchaeus had to make at that moment. We can choose to receive Jesus trustingly or not.

“Here I am!” the risen and ascended Jesus is recorded as saying in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” He does so because He wants to come into our lives, be our Savior, our best friend, and our King.

The question before everyone who hears of Jesus is the same, “Will we let Him into our lives to reign over us as God and Lord?” Zacchaeus' answer was, “Yes!”

Luke 19:6 says that Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus “gladly.”

In Luke 19:9, Jesus, considering how Zacchaeus had received Jesus by faith, declares: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Whenever you and I get lost, wandering far from God by engaging in unrepentant sin, God can find us again! Through Jesus, God can find any willing to be found by grace!

Not everyone was happy about the change that had come to Zacchaeus’ life. Not surprising. The moment you feel that you’ve been made clean by the forgiveness and grace God gives through Jesus, that's when the devil, the world, and your sinful self will start grumbling. Bet on it! "Who are you to receive God’s forgiveness?" the grumblers inside and outside of us demand.

The grumbling that day in Jericho came from some of the crowd. Look at Luke 19:7. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’”

They evidently didn’t know that sinners are the only kinds of people to whom the God we know in Jesus Christ goes. And it’s only when you’re a sinner and you know it that you’re ready to welcome Jesus and His grace for you!

It’s interesting that, as we come to our gospel lesson, Jesus was walking from Jericho to the Mount of Olives, moving toward Jerusalem. About 1200 years before the birth of Jesus, God’s people entered the Promised Land from the east, crossing the Jordan to face the walled city of Jericho. Jericho had to be conquered so that God’s people could take the land. The leader of the Hebrews was Moses’ successor, Joshua. His name in the Hebrew language was Yeshua, meaning God saves. It is the same name as that of Jesus. In the Hebrew language, Jesus’ name was also Yeshua.

When the Joshua of the Old Testament prepared to enter the promised land, you’ll remember that he sent two spies into Jericho. Twelve-hundred years later, Jesus needed no spies. He knew everything that was going to happen. He knew where His enemies were.

But Jesus did send two disciples ahead of him. He instructs the two disciples to find a colt in a nearby village, presumably Bethany. It would, Jesus tells them, be tied, and would be an animal on which nobody had previously ridden.

That last bit of information is important: Jesus, God in the flesh would be the colt's first rider. This is part of a pattern in Jesus’ life on earth.

When Jesus was born, He came from a womb that had never known sexual intimacy.

When Jesus died, His body was “in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.”

The things of God must always be first, holy, and set apart.

Jesus is, as the New Testament book of Hebrews calls Him, our pioneer. Jesus writes new histories for those who repent and believe in Him, making of each us a new creation.

The two disciples find everything as Jesus has told them. They bring the animal back, throw their clothes on it, and set Jesus on it. This is how royalty and revered priests rode into Jerusalem.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He no doubt thought of all that lay ahead of Him on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Verse 37: “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives,the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

It’s important to point out a couple of things that are unique about Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday. First, there’s no mention of palms. Second, he doesn’t mention the crowds shouting, “Hosanna.” And third, in Luke’s telling, only the disciples welcome Jesus, not the crowds.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t palms, hosannas, or welcoming crowds. It does mean that Luke wants to focus on other things about Palm Sunday, things that he foreshadowed in the events in Jericho surrounding Zacchaeus.

Using the words of Psalm 118, the disciples welcomed Jesus to the holy city.

As subsequent events would prove, they didn’t totally understand what was going on. Some thought that Jesus was going to start a revolution and throw out the Romans. None would have predicted Good Friday or Easter.

At that moment, they knew very little. But they knew enough to praise Jesus.

We don’t know what lies in our immediate futures either. We don't know what God has in mind for us. We don't know what valleys or Good Fridays this fallen, sinful world may mete out to us. For all we don’t know though, we should know enough to praise Jesus! We should know enough to welcome Him into every part of our lives.

But don’t expect the devil, the world, or even our inner sinful rebels to take the suggestion of welcoming Jesus as Lord and King over our lives very readily! We want to be kings of our own lives, which is why around this time every four years, most presidential candidates fall all over ourselves stroking our egos instead of telling us the whole truth.

Verse 39: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’” There will always be people who grumble about the joy Christians know in Christ. Fact is, we all can be grumblers, at least some of the time.

The reason for that is simple: If you dare as a Christian to live in daily repentance and renewal, you can count on God to confront you for your sins, even as He embraces you in His grace and love.

God loves sinners, but God still hates sin and always will. By His grace, through Jesus Christ, God is committed to removing sin from our lives.

But none of us likes being separated from our sins. We get comfortable with them, you know. They become part of us, if we’re not careful: the compromise in business ethics; the stolen lustful glance; the indifference to the state of our own souls; the failure to pray for or help those in need.

We resist parting with our sins. Of course, we’ll never be completely free of sin this side of heaven. But the Christian tells Jesus, “Let the old self be crucified, so that the new self can rise with You today and every day. Help me to be more like my Lord! Fit me for eternity in the midst of my time on earth.

Jesus, of course, wouldn’t make His disciples stop welcoming and praising Him. In verse 40, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “I tell you...if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul says that the whole creation--even, I suppose, the rocks--groans under the weight of human sin and waits eagerly for the children of God to be revealed clearly on the day of Jesus’ return to this world. So rocks that cry out aren’t so far-fetched after all!

Please, though: Don’t let inanimate stones take your job!

It’s our job and our joy to welcome Jesus into our lives and, like Zacchaeus to tell others of our thankfulness that Jesus--God in human flesh--went to Jerusalem, to suffering and a cross, to hell itself, and then rose from death to set us free from sin and death.

This week, I invite you to focus especially on welcoming Jesus into your life. I ask you to do that in a few simple ways.
  • First, I hope that you will be at both the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. The two days mark different events and have different themes. Both can deepen your walk with Christ.
  • Second, ask Jesus to show Himself to you in people in need. Jesus says that whatever we do to the least, we do to Him.
  • Third, ask Jesus to show you those places in your character where You need to welcome Him as Lord. Maybe there’s a sin of which you need to let go, a lack of compassion for those who differ from you, an indifference to the people you meet in life’s everyday places, or simply not spending time with God in His Word and prayer. Welcome Jesus’ correction.
  • Finally, if there's a hurt that won't go away, a broken heart that it seems will never heal, welcome Jesus into that hurt. Let Him love you. Let Him heal your broken heart.
Welcome Jesus to reign over you this coming week and see what He does.

Welcoming Jesus into the center of our lives: That’s what Palm Sunday is all about. Amen!

No comments: