A sinner saved by the grace of God given to those with faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Period.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Jesus' Seven Last Words
"God wept and waited for Easter"
All of these things [Christ] endured, for us.
He was crucified for my sins. He bled for my iniquity. The guilt and shame of my disobedience to God was laid heavily on his head. He was an innocent man burdened, crushed beneath a heap of wrongs that belonged to me, you, all of us.
Before Easter can come, the awful price of our disobedience against God must be paid in full.
And Jesus paid it, willingly. As his blood ran down that wooden cross, he gasped for his last breath and said, "It is finished. Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands."
His lifeless body was lovingly carried to a rock tomb where he was hastily bound in linen and burial spices and closed in behind a huge stone. Guards were posted to keep the body from being disturbed.
And God wept and waited for Easter.
Read the whole thing.
Lift High the Cross!
Read Pastor Jeff's thoughts here.
Q-and-A: Why Do We Call It 'Good' Friday?
The question makes sense. The day we commemorate as Good Friday brought multiple tragedies.
Good Friday, which this year falls on March 21, is when Christians all over the world remember the day when Jesus of Nazareth, the One we believe was the Messiah (the Christ, God's Anointed King of kings) was crucified.
The Bible says that Jesus' death on a cross resulted from the rejection of the entire world, at least the entire world as known by Jesus' first-century followers: the people of God (the Judeans) and everybody else (the Gentiles), represented by the preeminent power of the day, the Roman Empire.
The prologue to the Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus was more than a human being. He was God enfleshed. Yet the whole world rejected Jesus. "He was in the world," John writes, "and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own [the world He made], and his own people did not accept him." (John 1:10-11)
The day we call Good Friday then, wasn't only tragic because the sinless God and Savior of the world died a horrible death, thoiugh. It was also tragic because a human race in need of salvation, rejected God's outstretched hand, spurned the love of God, turned away from God Himself.
But there is an even deeper layer of tragedy to the day. God the Father, the first Person of the Trinity, perfect and sinless was separated from Jesus in those horrible hours when Jesus hung on the cross. Why? Paul writes in the New Testament, "For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin..." (Second Corinthians 5:21). Jesus, in spite of His sinlessness, bore the weight of our sin. He embodied the sins of us all, taking our rightful punishment for sin. (Romans 6:23 tells us that "the wages of sin is death.")
There is a reason that Jesus did all this, which I'll address momentarily. But that reality can't in any way erase the awful agony Jesus endured of feeling utterly abandoned by the Father as He died on the cross. No more poignant words have ever been uttered on this planet than those Jesus cried out near the end of His earthly life, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)
So, if Good Friday remembers that Jesus was rejected by the whole world and abandoned by God the Father, what could possibly be good about it?
That goes back to the reason that Jesus had for going to the cross. You see, the world thought in killing off Jesus, it was done with Him. Some of the more perceptive people who wanted Jesus dead understood that He was God and so thought that in killing Him, they were getting rid of God and God's rightful authority over their lives (our lives, too).
In short, they thought that Good Friday was all about what they did to Jesus. The subject of their sentences about Jesus' crucifixion would have been themselves. "We crucified Jesus," they would claim. Herod, the puppet king of Judea, known to have been a particularly violent, sadistic, and loathsome character, might have said, "I ordered Jesus' abuse. He was under my control." Pilate, the Roman governor, would have told anyone who would listen, "I exercised my power and had Jesus crucified."
But, in fact, the events of Good Friday were precisely what God wanted to happen. Jesus came into the world to die for us.
This is something that the wise men from the East seemed to know even when Jesus was a baby. Among the gifts they brought was myrrh, an aromatic resin used to anoint the dead, hardly a fitting present for a baby when you think about it, a bit like giving a gift certificate from a casket factory at a baby shower.
After He began His ministry, Jesus made it clear that He was intent on going to a cross to His disciples. You may remember what happened the first time Jesus talked about this:
...Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:21-23)In the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was brought to Pilate for questioning. But Jesus refused to answer. That resulted in this exchange between the two of them:
Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above... (John 19:10-11)Jesus says of His life:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (John 10:18)We call it Good Friday because on the first one some two-thousand years ago, Jesus fulfilled God's plan. He took our punishment for sin and later, rose from death so that all who repent of sin and entrust their lives to Him will live forever.
So, the wages of sin is death, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
Good Friday is good because, just as it was the route through which Jesus moved to Easter, it's also the route through which all who believe in Him share in His Easter victory!
It IS Better to Give Than to Receive
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Maundy Thursday: An Example, a Savior, a Command, and a Power
John 13:1-17, 31-35
On this Maundy Thursday, I want to talk with you about four gifts from God: an example, a Savior, a command, and a power.
But first, a story to explain why we need these gifts. On a Tuesday last spring, I was in a hurry to get back to my office and get some work done. Yet I was stuck in checkout line 4 at our local Kroger. I wondered if there really was a worldwide conspiracy designed to keep me from doing what I wanted to get done. Just then a clerk popped his head out from between two unused check out lines. “You can check out on three now,” he announced. A woman who’d just happened by when the clerk appeared, quickly slid into line 3 and I pushed my cart in behind her.
I was internally celebrating my good fortune when I looked back and saw the woman who had been standing in front of me in the congested line. It wasn’t until I left the store that I wondered--or maybe it was only then that I allowed myself to wonder--had I stormed ahead of her? I felt a pang of guilt. After all, she’d gotten into the longer line before I had. Hers was the right of first refusal on entry into the newer, quicker checkout line.
Bags stowed in my van, cart put into its corral, engine on, I briefly considered trying to find the woman to say, “I’m so sorry that I pushed ahead of you like that. I didn’t intend to.” But I realized that would have been a lie. Whether I actually had pushed ahead of her or not, the fact is that I had intended to push ahead of whoever was in my way. I had been in a hurry and I thought the world owed me.
That’s your pastor, folks. Not a pretty sight, I'll admit. I had been guilty of me-first thinking. But the Bible has a more direct term for it: sin.
You and I are born with the condition of sin, a condition of alienation from God that predisposes us in big ways and small to push ourselves ahead of others, at the expense of others. To worship ourselves. To put our desires ahead of God’s will for human beings. To leave God and neighbor in the dust. It’s sin that makes our world such a mess. It's sin that messes up our individual lives.
So what’s to be done about it all? God has done something about it and that’s why we’re here tonight! And that leads me to discuss those four gifts.
On a Thursday night of a Passover week some two-thousand years ago, the sinless God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, defied propriety to wash the feet of His disciples. Our Bible lesson tells us: “...during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
In first century Judea, you know, washing the feet of another person was generally only done either by servants or by a loved one anointing the body of a deceased family member. (And sometimes, as a liturgical action in Jewish worship.) It wasn’t done by a king. Or an important person. But God-in-the-flesh, Jesus, doesn’t care about usual human conventions. He breaks our rules in order to break us free from the grip that sin and death have over us. He breaks our rules in order to break the kingdom of heaven open to us.
After washing each disciples’ feet, Jesus explains, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Jesus deals with sin first of all, by giving us example. In Him, we see what a life free from the sinful impulse to push ahead of others was banished. That's the first of the four gifts I want to discuss tonight.
But, thank God, following Jesus Christ is about more than having an example. The condition of sin prevents us from living and acting like Jesus. No matter how much I may want to be like Jesus, I can’t use my will power to follow His example. At least not for long.
That’s where the next gift comes in. It was given, of course, less than twenty-four hours after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. He went to the cross, becoming what John the Baptizer had said of Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” There, Jesus entered into our alienation from God and accepted our sentence for sin, so that rising from the dead, He could offer new and everlasting life to all who believe in Him. Jesus saves sinners like me. Jesus isn’t just an example. He’s also a Savior. Thank God!
But the events of this night remind us that there’s more to being a Christian than having an example or being saved. Every Christian should wonder, “Saved for what? What new life can God help us to live because Jesus is our Savior?”
This day is called Maundy Thursday, the word maundy coming to us from the Latin word mandatum, meaning mandate or command. That’s because after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus gave a new command to all who make up His Church. That's the third gift Jesus gave on Maundy Thursday.
You and I are called not simply to love God and love neighbor. We’re also called to love each member of the Church, to respect one another, to build each other up, to help one another experience the grace and goodness of God, given as free gifts to all who believe in Christ. You can't be a Christian without being part of the Church, this family instituted by Christ. The Church is the living embodiment of Jesus in our world. The Church is the place where recovering sinners are made to feel safe and where in our fellowship with one another, we experience Jesus using us to love others. That’s our command!
Fortunately for us, our Savior Jesus doesn’t just give us an example, save us, or give us a command without also giving us the means to fulfill His call on our lives. That’s where a fourth gift of Maundy Thursday comes in. That gift is power. Jesus gives us the power to live as saved people, the power to follow His example even when we’ve failed, the power to recommit ourselves to doing as He commands despite our sinful natures.
Sometimes, in explaining to Catechism students what happens in Holy Communion, I mention that old saying, “You are what you eat.” Eat lots of fatty or sugar-filled foods and you end up looking like I do around the middle. You are what you eat.
On the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus instituted Holy Communion. Through it, even tonight, Jesus hands us bread and says, “This is My body”; He gives us wine and tells us, “This is My blood.”
In a mysterious way we can’t understand or explain, Jesus literally enters into the bodies and the lives of those who renounce sin and entrust their lives to Him. We each come together in humble need of Christ and His forgiveness and He gives to each of us His very self. Christ uses this sacrament to help us, from the inside out, to follow His example and to fulfill His commandments. In the body and blood of Communion, He sets to work to transform the lives of those willing to follow Him. Through the Sacrament, Christ makes us more like Himself. Jesus gives us power to become Christlike. We are what we eat.
Among the many gifts God gives to us through Jesus Christ, four are good to remember tonight:
- His example;
- His salvation;
- His command to live in a fellowship of love within the Church; and
- the power to become more like our Savior by regularly receiving His body and blood in the Sacrament we’re about to receive again.
"If you want a title, what's wrong with Mr.?''
In spite of being in a very public profession, Scofield felt no need to be a public personality, a celebrity.
Scofield's decision for ordinariness, in spite of his extraordinary talent, is a bit damning, however unintentionally, of those marginally talented celebrities with which the tabloids become so obsessed these days. It also damns those more talented persons who, once their sizzling fame has abated, can't be content with simply continuing to do work, instead spending millions to tell us that they're still around and still talented.
Scofield's stance reminds us that there is a difference between success, on the one hand, and prominence, on the other. Scofield was a successful actor who received an Academy Award for his incredible performance as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. Yet he never became a celebrity.
His example might well be heeded beyond the field of entertainment. Politics, for example. Gore Vidal, a curmdudgeon whose inventive, if destructive, violations of historical fact have sometimes angered me, is often cited as having said, "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."
Vidal's point, of course, is that if anyone has that peculiar combination of megalomania and gnawing insecurity necessary to say, "I want to be President," they probably aren't well-suited for the office.
I'm inclined to agree. And these months of watching the 2008 nominating races, in processes that combine elements of a new car show and WWF bouts, complete with the inauthenticity of both, have heightened my inclination to agree even more.
Of course, the Christian world view to which I subscribe is nothing if not realistic. Christian anthropology derived from the Bible is unflinchingly honest about human beings. Nobody is perfect and it would be silly to expect perfection in our political leaders.
But what's bothersome is that, in their desire--their need?--for prominence, pols will often portray themselves as something like perfect and their opponents as something considerably less.
I only hope that the desire for titles, vindication, and power isn't so great as to cloud the judgment of the chief remaining candidates. I hope that they don't believe the nearly-messianic ways in which they portray themselves and their candidacies.
On the day before he announced his candidacy for president in the 1988 race, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis visited a prominent presidential historian over lunch. The historian had known every US president from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. What, Dukakis asked him just before leaving, did all those presidents have in common? The historian thought for a moment, then said, "They were all very strange."
It may be a bit more than we have a right to hope for that our next president won't be strange, driven by the desire for titles, accolades, and Air Force One, nor inflated by a weirdly outsized sense of self-importance. But if those characteristics can be mitigated by a smidgen of both humility and an appreciation of their inherent worthiness as human beings apart from accomplishments or honors, that may be okay.
I might also suggest that they spend some time studying Paul Scofield's approach to his work and to the alluring demon of prominence.
[Scofield's statement, by the way, is the perfect quote for this Maundy Thursday, commemorating the day when Jesus, God-in-the-flesh who came not to be served, but to serve, washed the feet of His disciples.]
[You might be interested in these ruminations on the effects of fame on the famous here and, in its original incarnation, here. And here and here I look at David Bowie and Pope John Paul II, I consider prominence and its uses]its uses]
[I promise that this will be last Paul Scofield-related post of the day.]
Paul Scofield Has Died
The character Scofield played in Robert Redford's 1999 film, Quiz Show, could, in the hands of lesser actors, have devolved into that of a shallow moralist. But Scofield managed to portray both rectitude and sympathy, a loving, if demanding, father who was repelled by the dishonesty he saw in his son even while trying to save him from himself.
His screen appearances were few. Scofield preferred the stage. But each movie performance was memorable without being overbearing. If anything, Scofield underacted.
Also see here and here.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
One and Only Pass at This Sunday's Gospel Lesson (March 23, 2008)
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 28:1-10
The lectionary gives us a choice between Matthew's or John's account of the first Easter, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. I'm choosing Matthew's account.
Verse-by-Verse Comments: 1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
(1) The Jewish Sabbath ran and runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Just as Sunday was dawning, we're told that two of Jesus' followers go to Jesus' tomb.
(2) Of course, even lackadaisical readers notice that the details given by Matthew differ from what we find in the other three Gospels. Some might be disturbed by the differences and deem them reason for dismissing Jesus' resurrection. One woman or a group of women or just two? Did they go to anoint Jesus' body or, as Matthew says, simply "to see the tomb."
Frankly, I take the differences in the accounts to be an indication that the assertion that Jesus rose from the dead is absolutely true. It means that there was no "conspiracy" hatched to ensure that everybody told the story in exactly the same way. Instead, as some commentators suggest, we may have the echoes of the kinds of claims all witnesses of events, great and small, engage in: "I saw Him first...," "She saw Him first...," "It was like this..."
The bottom line is that Jesus' first followers staked their lives and good standing on a proclamation that nobody--including them--was inclined to believe: that Jesus, once dead, rose from death.
2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
(1) Matthew is the Gospel writer always anxious to show that the events surrounding God's intervention in human history has cosmic manifestations. It's Matthew who tells us, for example, that when Jesus was born, a star announced the event and led wise men from the East to the house in which the infant Savior was by then living in Bethlehem.
In last Sunday's Gospel lesson, Matthew's account of Palm Sunday, we're told that Jesus' entry into Jerusalem brought "turmoil" (Matthew 21:10). The word rendered as turmoil in that text is the word for earthquake, appearing at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:51) and here (Matthew 28:2). (My mentor and professor, Pastor Bruce Schein, spoke of "cosmic convulsions" relative to Matthew's account of what happened at the moment of Jesus' death on the cross.) Jesus is more than a milquetoast in a bath robe and His life, death, and resurrection are defining moments in the history of the universe, marked by tremors.
3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
(1) The word angel, of course, means messenger. This visage of this messenger from heaven, like Jesus at the mount of Transfiguration, reflects the glory of God.
4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
(1) The guards were plenty afraid. But the angel assures the women that they needn't be. Angels often greet people in this way, a sure indication that something about them would make even the most stouthearted a bit fearful.
6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
(1) "Come...then go..." Every week, we Christians invite others to experience the risen Jesus by worshiping with us. Then, Christ commissions us all to go into the world to tell others how Jesus changes those who believe in Him from God's enemies into God's friends.
(2) Jesus, the angel says, "is going ahead of you to Galilee." Dead men don't run. But Jesus, the risen Lord, is running ahead of the disciples. He's doing that still. Our call is to follow.
8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
(1) Their emotions weren't easy to define. They felt both "fear and great joy." But they weren't paralyzed by their emotions. They obeyed the message brought by the angel from heaven.
9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
(1) The angel's message seemed to indicate that Jesus wouldn't be seen by His followers until they'd gone to Galilee. Maybe the point here is that the old saying "seeing is believing" is all rot. The real truth is that "believing is seeing." The women trusted that this impossible news was true and so, they met the risen Jesus.
(2) The phrase "took hold of his feet" is fraught with meaning. The risen Jesus wasn't some milky, ethereal "soul." He was risen flesh and bone, just as we who die trusting in the Savior, will one day rise again bodily.
(3) They "worshiped him," an acknowledgement that Jesus was not just a man. He was (and is) God. Jesus would be guilty of the blasphemy with which He had been charged by the religious leaders if He accepted worship and wasn't really God.
10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
(1) What might have caused the women to be afraid at this point? I'm not sure. Maybe Jesus' words were meant to be part of His message to the "brothers," that "bold" crew who had abandoned Him as He underwent His trial and crucifixion. Only the women had stayed near Him for long. (In defense of the men, it may be that it was riskier for them to stay close to Jesus. In that deeply sexist culture, women weren't regarded as a threat in the same way in which men were.)
(2) There's forgiveness in Jesus' message. He calls those who had abandoned and denied Him His "brothers." Jesus builds His Church on people like these...people like me and you, imperfect, sinful, flawed, unstable.
(3) One general point: Had the early Church made up the story of Jesus' resurrection and wanted it to be accepted in that culture, they certainly would not have admitted that women were the first ones to be told about it, or be the first ones to carry it to others. Jewish law specifically excluded the testimony of women, regarding females as completely unreliable witnesses. Not so, Jesus!
The very fact that the Church proudly trumpeted the testimony of those their culture would have summarily dismissed is an indication that Jesus' resurrection is no myth, but a fact.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Quote of the Day
Saint Patrick's Day (A Re-Run)
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
Here's an account of Patrick's life from Catholic Online.
Patrick is one of my heroes in the faith. For a good understanding as to why, read about him in the fantastic, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I tease my Roman Catholic friends that Patrick was so on-target in his theology that were he alive today, he'd be a Lutheran. (I'm kidding! But within the Church, he can be universally applauded, I believe.)
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Seeing Our King on Palm Sunday
I once preached at a church in Germany. I delivered my sermon in English and it was translated for me. But the hardest part of the service came when, at the insistence of the host pastor, I helped lead the congregation in reading the Psalm responsively. I somehow got through the service and afterward, several of the German congregants asked me, since I spoke German so fluently, why I hadn’t given the sermon in German too. I had to explain that I’d spoken the Psalm phonetically and hadn’t really understood many of the words.
It’s possible to know the words we say without knowing what we’re saying. The crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday said words that came from Psalm 118. “Hosanna [a word that means Save, please] Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the One Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” They were the right words to use in welcoming the King of kings. But a few days later, this crowd would turn on Jesus, along with the rest of the world, and cry for Him to be executed on a cross.
In the end, Jesus wasn’t what the crowd was looking for. I wonder sometimes if Jesus is what we’re looking for.
The crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday saw Jesus as a means to their ends. They wanted Jesus to lead a rebellion against their Roman conquerors. They wanted some of the money that the extortionist tax collectors were constantly taking from them. They wanted Jesus to be their king, so long as that meant He took orders from them.
But it’s doubtful, at that moment, that many of them wanted Jesus to go to a cross. After all, they would have reasoned, what good would Jesus’ dying do them?
Yet, Jesus’ reason for coming into the world had always been plain. It had been clear to the wise men who came to visit the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. One of their gifts had been myrrh, a resin used to anoint the dead. And Jesus sought to make His reason for entering the world clear to His disciples. The first time He told them that He was going to Jerusalem to be rejected by the world, killed on a cross, and then raised from the dead, Peter rebuked Jesus, saying that this would never happen to Jesus. Jesus hadn’t been very charitable to Peter at that moment. “Get behind Me, Satan,” Jesus had yelled at Peter. “Your ideas aren’t from God.”
Jesus, although He was sinless, had come into our world to take the punishment for sin we all deserve. He came to die. He came to be the Lord of all because He loves all people and wants to bring forgiveness to all people. And He will become the King of any who dare to repent for their sin and believe in Him as their Lord.
That’s good news.
But it also can be hard to accept because it entails things we don't like: surrender, obedience, submission.
It also means accepting that, just like everybody else, we're sinners in need of a Savior.
A few days after Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the crowds noticed that He hadn’t led an armed rebellion.
He hadn’t taken over the government.
He hadn’t done their bidding.
Instead, He spent His time throwing moneychangers out of the temple, talking about prayer, arguing with the religious authorities, telling stories, talking about love of God and neighbor as the greatest commandment, teaching of the need to be ready for Him to return after He’d died and risen, and, most strangely of all maybe, He prayed, sometimes for hours at a time.
This wasn’t the king they'd been looking for. No wonder then, that by the Thursday after the first Palm Sunday, the crowd was crying for Jesus’ execution.
If we’re honest, Jesus may not be the king we’re looking for. But Palm Sunday convinces me that Jesus is the Savior we need.
I’m convinced of that, first of all, because of the road Jesus took on Palm Sunday. It demonstrates that Jesus is committed to walking through the hardest places with us.
As our Gospel lesson from Matthew begins, Jesus is walking on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. This is the same road, different direction, on which Jesus set His fictional parable of the Good Samaritan. It was a road on which people were often subjected to violence and robbery. Thugs hid in the rocks and crags of the road. Jesus walked that road.
But, as you know, that wasn’t the hardest road Jesus traveled with us and for us. In fact, as we've said, Jesus’ entire reason for coming to earth was to travel with us the road that each of us must take—the road from birth to death.
That really is the point of some of Paul’s words in our second lesson today. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes, saying that though Jesus was “in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”
“I don’t understand all of this,” a woman whose husband had left her once told me, “but I sure wouldn’t want to go through it without God.”
A king like the one the crowd wanted--and that we may sometimes want: a king who skated above us, untouched by our failings and our difficulties, a king who gave us all we wanted without reshaping our characters into being more loving and more human, couldn’t help us when we’re confused or lost or lonely or grieving. But Jesus can! Like that woman, we learn that, in Jesus, the God of all creation can reach down into our everyday lives, even when we go through tough times.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus also proved that He was the Savior we need by Who He chose to rely on.
When I was in high school, I played hooky to see a President deliver a speech down at the State House. (It was Richard Nixon.) He was surrounded by a phalanx of Secret Service security, necessary to be sure. He also had Air Force One and his presidential limo and cars filled with assistants and the latest communication technology. Back on Air Force One, he had access to every comfort he could want. Wherever presidents go, they look like rulers of the world.
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, He didn’t look like a ruler. According to Matthew, Jesus rode a donkey, trailed by the colt of the donkey. In ancient times, the donkey was a symbol of humble domestic pursuits. Jesus had come into Jerusalem not with a sword, or a fourteen point Contract with Judea, or a retinue of public relations people, or a bevy of yes men. Jesus’ power didn’t and doesn’t depend on the dying stuff of this world. Jesus relied simply and completely on God the Father.
Every king, president, great athlete, and pop star, no matter how exalted dies. Even Elvis has left the building, folks!
Only one king has ever defeated death. It was Jesus and there's only one reason for His victory over death. Even when He hung on the cross, the taunts of the fickle crowds ringing in His ear, the agonies of His wounds besetting Him, the horror of feeling abandoned by all haunting Him, Jesus depended only on God the Father. His resurrection is confirmation that surrender to God is the only path to new life.
Having committed Himself to walking through life’s hardest parts with us and having refused to depend on anything or anyone but the Father, Jesus rose from the dead. But more than that, Paul tells us in the second portion of our New Testament lesson from Philippians, “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Pastor Joanna Adams says that sometime before World War One, “Germany's last kaiser, Wilhelm II” visited Jerusalem. “His entourage,” she writes, “was so grand that he had to have the Jaffe Gate in the old city widened so that his over-sized carriage could pass through. After the parade had ended, someone climbed up and attached a large sign to the gate. The sign read, ‘A better man than Wilhelm came through this city's gate. He rode on a donkey.’"
On the first Palm Sunday, the most that the crowds would say about Jesus was that He was a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. But those who paid heed to how He voluntarily walked our hardest roads with us and how He relied completely on God the Father, ignoring the acclaim of the crowd, could see that Jesus was much more than a prophet.
In one week, His resurrection would prove that His is the Name above every name.
When Jesus calls us to repent for sin, to put God higher than anything, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, He may not be the King we want. But when we remember His cross and empty tomb, we realize that, no matter what happens, Jesus is always the King we need.
He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the One Who reconciles us to God, the One Who erases the power of sin and death over our lives, the One Who makes us whole.
May our faith be more than words we say. By our dependence on Jesus, may it be seen in the lives we lead. Amen