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Showing posts with label Palm Sunday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Palm Sunday. Show all posts

Monday, April 11, 2022

Who Is Your King? (A Palm Sunday Message)

Introduction
All four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell the story of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey while crowds of people hailed Him as king.  There must be an essential lesson for us if the Bible repeats this story four times.  What could it be?  I would suggest on important purpose is to lead us into honest reflection about who is really our king?

John 12:12-19
12 
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God![a]
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”[b]

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.[c]
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”[d]

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others[e] about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone[f] has gone after him!”

Praise God – Hosanna!
The people cheered Jesus and praised God.  But there is more to this expression than first meets the eye.  The NLT says “Praise God!”  A more traditional translations is “Hosanna” an exclamation of praise adapted from a Hebrew expression that means “save now.”

The people of Jerusalem were cheering Jesus on as the man they believed would save them from their foreign Roman occupiers.  People 2,000 years ago are a lot like people today.  They tend to oversimplify issues.  The Jews believed the Romans were the source of all their problems.  If a savior could just kick the foreign oppressors out of the land, then everything would just be peachy, right? Well, no.  You may know that before Rome occupied Jerusalem in 63 BC, the city enjoyed nearly 100 years of self-rule.  It was terrible.  Jerusalem was filled with coruption, infighting, and miserable suffering.  Even when Israel existed as an independent kingdom in Old Testament times, they never fully lived up to God's plans for them as a faithful kingdom of royal priests who represented God to the world.  So, it's not like the Israelites could make life any better than their Roman occupiers. 

However, the Israelites wanted to be free of their Roman occupiers, so they start chanting the Old Testament prophetic phrase from Psalm 118 and Zephaniah 3 that promise a Messiah from the royal line of David, the Lord Himself, will disperse the armies of their enemies and at last their troubles will be over.  “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hail to the King of Israel!”  “Hosanna!  Save us now!” they demand.

Well, Jesus did come to save.  But the armies of enemies from whom we need saving are not the Romans.  It’s not a weak president or hyperinflation from which we need to be saved.  It’s not even Mr. Putin that is the real enemy.  These are the symptoms.  If we get rid of these but don’t address the core issues in the perverted human heart, there will always be more corruption and tyranny and death and suffering.  Broken humanity always invents new ways to oppress ourselves.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.


Why A Donkey?
14 
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.  Look, your King is coming,
 riding on a donkey’s colt.”

The conquering hero—the one the crowds in Jerusalem thought came to conquer their enemies—came riding on a donkey.  Why a donkey?

Well, if a king believed a city was in rebellion, they might come on a horse and attack and set things back under their control. But if the king came on a donkey, it meant peace.  And Jesus certainly would have been justified to attack Jerusalem as a rebellious city.  Jerusalem wasn't exactly being very loyal to God.  They were loyal on the surface, but the religious leaders were only using their devotion to God as a cover to maintain their own power.  All you have to do is read many of Jesus' parables and outright criticisms of the religious leaders to know he thought they were rebelling against God (see the Parable of the Evil Farmers Matthew 21:33-46).   

Fortunately, Jesus came riding on a donkey.  This was a symbol that Jesus came to make peace, not war.  It was another fulfillment of prophecy, this time from Zechariah, a prophecy from over 500 years before Jesus was born.

Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.”

Jesus came to make peace, not war.  He came to offer forgiveness and salvation to the Jews, but also to the Romans.  The Messiah’s came to save all people from ourselves.  It is not the rebellion of one nation or another that is the cause of human misery.  It is the rebellion of all humanity that is the culprit.  It is the seditious determination in each and every one of us that says, “This is my life and I will live it however I please.” 

So, the Lord came to offer mercy and a to plead for us to give up our rebellion and come back to God.  He didn’t ride in on a war horse.  He plodded in on the back of a humble donkey.  Apparently, the people of Jerusalem missed this symbolism.  John 12:16 tells us even Jesus closest disciples missed it at the time.  It says in John 12:16, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.”

Isn't It Ironic?
Palm Sunday is a day of deep irony.  It’s a day of celebration, but it’s a celebration by crowd of people who don’t really know what’s going on.  It’s a day when people hail Jesus as king, but only with the expectation that the “King” will do what they want him to do.  And sadly, when their “king” doesn’t live up to their expectations, they abandon him and shout “Crucify Him!”

In less than one week, Jesus goes from adored Savior King to their despised and executed criminal.  On Palm Sunday, they hail Jesus as King.  On Good Friday, they beat him and mock him and they proclaim in John 19:15, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Man, people are fickle.  We all figuratively say "We have no king but Caesar" whenever we choose our own way instead obeying God's way.

Who is Your King?
And so, in the midst of our Palm Sunday celebrations, as our kids wave our palm branches and we sing “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, I have to ask you, honestly:  “Who is Your King?”

You might assume that Jesus is your king.  Surely, Jesus is our king?  Right?

But is Jesus only your king if He gives you what you want?  I mean, are you like the crowds of people shouting hosannas on the streets of Jerusalem, only because you expect Jesus to solve the problems you want Him to solve (and to leave everything else alone, thank you very much)?  Because, if Jesus is truly a king, The King, He doesn’t work that way.  He is the Sovereign and we are the subjects.

Jesus’ message was consistent.  He said “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)  And he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  And he said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  And he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Invitation
So we have to decide.  Who will we welcome as the King of our life?
Will we continue to try and be lord of our own life or will we let Jesus truly be Lord?
Will we put our hopes in the things and people of this world, or will we see Jesus is our only hope?
Will we welcome Jesus as king, just so long as he fixes things the way we think they should be fixed, or will we surrender unconditionally to the One who is Lord of all?

I pray you will truly receive Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords and give yourself to Him with no reservations.  He is worthy and this is the way. 
If you settle for anything less than full surrender, you will just crucify Jesus again and again whenever He challenges your sin and rebellion.

So, this Palm Sunday, I invite you to surrender, repent, and pledge your complete allegiance to the King who came to save you and the whole world.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Introduction
Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”

 

How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.


Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.

 

Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.

 

In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.

 

Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.

 

On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.

 

The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]

 

The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  


Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.

 

Conclusion
Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 

 

Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.

 

How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?

 

Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

 

You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 

 

Will you? 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Palm Sunday 2020

Introduction
Palm Sunday is the day Christians have celebrated for nearly 2,000 years.  It is the Sunday before Easter and celebrates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem while the crowds cheered and waved palm branches.  We traditionally remember the occasion by inviting young children to wave palm branches as they process into the sanctuary.  During our social distancing isolation, we showed a video of the children holding homemade palm branches instead.  It was great to see their faces on our video screens, even though we would prefer to see them in person.

The people waving palm branches for Jesus that day didn't know it was "Palm Sunday".  They knew it as another traditional day.  you could call it "Lamb Selection Day."  Exodus 12:3  [On this day] “…each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household.”  They were choosing the lamb they would roast for the Passover celebration.  

Passover is the most important holiday/religious festival for Jews.  It recalls the day God used Moses to deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  To deliver them, God sent several horrible plagues to torment the Egyptians.  The last and most terrible was the Angel of Death.  God warned the Israelites the Angel of Death would take the life of the firstborn child of every household unless they marked the doorpost with the blood of a lamb.  The Angel of Death would "pass over" every house marked by the blood of the lamb. In this way, God saved the lives of the Hebrews firstborn and convinced the Egyptians to let His chosen people go free.

Every year, the Jews commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt with the Passover celebration.  And the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, was they annual day everyone selected their lamb to be slaughtered for the Passover.  (A modern equivalent might be something like the day your family goes out to choose a Christmas tree for your home.)  

It is no coincidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem to great fanfare on “Lamp Selection Day”.  Though the people did not know what they were doing at the time, Christians soon realized after Jesus rose from the grave that Jesus was the Lamb of God that was chosen as a sacrifice to cover all our sins.  I 1 Corinthians 5:7b, Paul wrote,  “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”  But let's review the Palm Sunday story.

John 12:12-19
12 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”
16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

Palms and Hands
Today is Palm Sunday. Obviously, palms refers to the palm branches the people waved as they praised God and hailed Jesus as the King of Israel. However, the story has me thinking about a different kind of palm that is so important—the palms on our hands. During the COVID 19 epidemic, we know how important hands are. We've been told to ash your hands. Don’t touch our faces or other people. The other day, I delivered something to a church members house wnd their young daughter, Jazmin, came running up wanting a hug. It broke my heart to turn her away saying, "It's not safe to hug right now."

While we've been told not to touch each other with our hands, others must do just that because their hands are deemed essential. Think about doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers. They must use their hands to care for and bring healing to others. First responders are the first ones on the scene when there is an accident or emergency and they must use their hands, regardless of the danger.  And what about the person behind the counter at the grocery store using her hands to ring up your essential groceries or the truck driver using skillful hands to drive the truck delivering supplies to the store.  My daughter works for Taco Bell and uses her hands to pass food through the drive through window to people who need food.  And some jobs that require good hands are not very glamorous, but just as essential--like people collected and disposing of garbage (absolutely essential if we want to stay clean and safe and sanitary).

The hands of all these people are important; they (and others) have been deemed essential workers. While the rest of us are supposed to stay art home, these people are supposed to keep using their hands to serve. 

 It all depends on the set of hands. A basketball in my hands is worth about $19.  A basketball in Michael Jordan's hands is worth about $33 million. Two fish and five loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches.  Two fish and five loaves of bread in Jesus'hands will feed thousands.  It depends whose hands are holding it.  Put some nails in my hands and I might build a birdhouse.  Put some nails in Jesus Christ's hands and it saves the entire world.  You see, it depends on whose hands you have.   Who holds the world in His hands?  Whose hands are holding you?

Jesus' Hands
I want to tell you a little about Jesus' hands. Jesus' hands were carpenter’s hands. Just an ordinary man. I bet they sometimes were dry and rough (like mine are right now because I've been washing them so much). Jesus was flesh and blood like you and me. He built ordinary things with his hands--houses, furniture. Did he ever mash his thumb with a hammer and bleed?

And yet, this ordinary man's ordinary hands also laid the foundations of the world.  As John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning the Word [who is Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  Jesus was a man, but He was also God. He created the world and everything we see. His hands were the hands of God.

Jesus hands were also a healer’s hands.  With his caring hands, he scooped up dirt from the ground and mixed it with his own spit and smeared the mud on a man's eyes to heal him.  The the man had been blind from birth, Jesus' hands made him see!  And Jesus used his healing hands to take another man by the hand, a man who was lame and could not walk, and Jesus lifted him to his feet and he could walk!  And Jesus also used his hand to touch people who were considered untouchable because they had leprosy, which was a contagious disease.  And Jesus touched them with the palms of his hands and they were made clean and healthy and whole!  Jesus hands were healing hands.

And Jesus hands are a Savior’s hands.  Reaching down from heaven into our broken world, Jesus takes hold of us and lifts us out of the miry clay of sin and puts our feet safely on the solid rock again.  Jesus rescues us from all those situations that threaten to destroy us or keep us from being all we were meant to be.

Jesus' hands are nail scared hands, for they were pierced to pay the price for our sins.  On the cross, they were pierced and bled for us that we could be forgive and made clean and restored to a right relationship with God.  Speaking of this hundreds of years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16)  When we look at the palms of Jesus hands, we see nail scars.  When Jesus looks at his palms, he sees you name.

Invitation
Today is Palm Sunday/Lamb Selection Sunday.  As we prepare for Easter, who will you select as your Lamb.  I pray you will select Jesus Christ.  For He is the only Lamb that is worthy.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Won't you select Jesus as your Lamb today?

If Jesus is your choice, I would invite you to symbolize this by tying a red ribbon on your door, your mailbox, you porch railing.  The red ribbon symbolizes the power of the blood of Jesus.  Just as the Israelites originally put blood of a lamb on their door post so the Angel of Death would "pass over" their house and leave them unharmed, we put the blood of Christ over our life so the Angel of Death passes over us and we receive eternal life through Christ, the Lamb of God.

Put up a red ribbon to show that Jesus is your lamb.  Take a picture of your red ribbon.  Post it on your Facebook page (share it with me too).  This is a witness to everyone that you trust in the power of Jesus' blood.  You have faith in Jesus & trust that He’s still in control and has the master plan during this worldly chaos.

For more information, join one or both of these Facebook groups:




Monday, April 15, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 2 - Jesus


Introduction
When life is hard, we long for a Savior to come and rescue us.  We hold out hope amidst the darkness that somehow, someday our Savior will come.  But when He comes, will we recognize Him?  Will we receive Him?  Will we truly trust Him?  Will we know that He is not only our Savior, but our Lord?  Will we see He doesn’t come to be on our side, but rather, to invite us to be on His side?

Last week, we met a man from the Old Testament named Joshua who encountered the commander of the Lord’s army as Joshua and the Israelites prepared to attack the fortress, Jericho.  Joshua asked, “Are you on our side or on their side?”  The angel answered simply, “No.”  As if to say, “You aren’t even asking the right question.”  It is not that God is on our side or on someone else’s.  God is Yahweh, the great I AM.  He is who He is and we were made to worship and adore Him.  We are called to be on His side, for His side is always right and His side always wins in the end.

The name Joshua means, “God Saves”.  Today, we hear the story of another man poised to enter a different city.  This story is from the New Testament.  It is Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem on the day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday.  Jesus is another way Jews said the name Joshua (kind of like we call some people John and other people Juan and others Jan).  But like Joshua, Jesus also means “God Saves”.  Listen to the story.


Matthew 21:1-13
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The Donkey
Just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Gospels tell the odd story of how Jesus sends his disciples to confiscate a donkey and it’s colt to ride into Jerusalem.  When bystanders see them untying the young donkey, they understandably concerned.  “Hey, why are you stealing that donkey?  That’s not yours!”  But the disciples say what Jesus told them to say, “The Lord needs it.”  Jesus is not just a prophet.  He is not just a Rabi or a preacher.  He is not just a healer or a kind man or an advocate for justice.  Jesus is not just a king.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He is the Son of God come to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  When your Lord comes and says He needs your donkey, you yield.  And that’s what the bystanders did. 

The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us the colt had never been ridden before.  Now think about that for a minute.  If someone brought you a donkey and told you it had never, ever been ridden before, and then I said, “Alright, hop up on there and take him for a ride…”  I’d say, “You’re crazy.  I ain’t stupid.”  Unless you’re a rodeo cowboy, I don’t think most people would want to break their neck on some wild, untrained donkey.  But Jesus hops right up on it and the thing doesn’t buck and fight and kick.  Why?  Because John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  When the Creator of the universe decides to ride into Jerusalem on an untrained donkey, one that's never been ridden before, even the dumb donkey knows you say, “Yes sir!” and give him the best ride he can give.

The People
And off Jesus goes, riding into Jerusalem.  And everyone is excited and cheering.  They’re waving palm branches, which was a sign of victory and peace.  They’re also spreading their clothes out across the road, which was a symbolic way of saying, “We submit to be ruled by you! Even if you walk all over us, we are your subjects and you are our king!  We'll do whatever you say!”  Everyone’s praising God and singing hosannas.  They’re Savior had come!  And they even called him king, but were they really willing to follow Jesus as their Lord? 

Apparently not. Their actions over the next week show they didn't t really submit to the Son of God.  They wanted the Messiah to come be on their side.  They wanted Jesus to drive out the Romans and restore their glory so they could live their lives the way they wanted to live.  But Jesus comes in and starts by—not driving out the Romans—but cleanses Jerusalem’s own Temple--flipping over the money changers tables, driving out all the buyers and sellers, disrupting their way of life, saying "My Father's house is supposed to be a house of prayer,but you've turned it into a den of thieves!"

And then, through the whole next week, Jesus doesn’t do what the people wanted him to do.  They want a Savior to save them from the Romans.  But Jesus didn’t come to do what they want him to do.  Jesus came to do the will of God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

The leading priests and elders starts asking, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” (Matthew 21:23)  Jesus finds the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors are more willing to accept his authority than the religious leaders.  Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is being taken away from the ruling authorities in Jerusalem and given to the weirdos, outcasts, and sinners who repent and accept the Savior as Lord.

The Pharisees and good people of Jerusalem want Jesus to defeat the heathen Romans so they don’t have to pay taxes and tributes to them anymore.  But instead, Jesus keeps showing the good people in Jerusalem they're not really any better than the heathen Romans.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the heathen Romans and the hated Samaritans are actually closer to the Kingdom of God than the good people of Jerusalem.  He preaches, “Everything [the religious leaders and Pharisees] do is for show.” (Matthew 23:5)  He says they are blind hypocrites heading for destruction and anyone who follows them will end up being destroyed with them.

Rather than rallying the troops to fight for Jerusalem, Jesus actually grieves over the city.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Matthew 23:37)

When the disciples marvel at all the incredible buildings and architecture in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them it’s all going to be destroyed.  “Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:2)  And in the end, the Messiah would judge people not according to their position or possessions or power or where they live, but according to three things:
  1. Whether they truly have to the Spirit of God in them (Matthew 25:1-13)
  2. How they used the blessings God gave them to be fruitful (Matthew 25:14-30)
  3. And whether they cared for people who were in need (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus came to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  The people called him their messiah and king, but it was only lip service.  When he proved he would not do things their way, they turned their backs.  You see, for the people of Jerusalem, it was never really about following God.  God was a just a means to an end--their end.  They were never on God’s side.  They just wanted God to come be on their side so they could get what they want.

Jesus comes to each of us just like He came to Jerusalem.  We have the same decision to make.  Do want want Him to be on our side?  Or are we truly ready to be on His side?  Sure we all say we want to be on Jesus side, but then He starts tearing down the idols in our hearts and flipping over our way of living.  He challenges our sins and then I’m not so sure we might not want start crying out with everyone else in crowd on Good Friday, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Or we might be like his disciples who all abandoned him in fear and ran away.  Or we might be like Peter who boasted he would die for Jesus, but then denied even knowing him three times.  Or we might be like Judas who agreed to betray Jesus, hoping to get a better deal from someone else. We might do all these things.  We have done all these things at one time or another.  But who will truly recognize Jesus as Lord?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus Clears the Temple

Holy Week
            Lent is the 40-day period of spiritual preparation between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  It is a time when Christians focus on deepening their relationship with Jesus through prayer, study, and service.
            That last week of Lent is called Holy Week.  Holy Week consists of several special days that commemorate important events during Jesus' last week on earth.  The Wednesday before Easter is called Spy Wednesday and commemorates the day Judas and the priest conspired to betray Jesus.  Thursday is called Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday and marks the day Jesus shared his last supper with the Disciples.  We will have a special service at my Pleasant Grove UMC at 7:00 PM (Varnell UMC will join us).  Friday of Holy Week is called Good Friday and recalls the day Jesus was crucified; There will be a Good Friday service at Varnell UMC at 7:00 PM and I will attend that service with members of my church.  I hope you will join us for one or more of these services or choose another that is near you. 
            Holy Week all starts one week before Easter on Palm Sunday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  We call it “Palm” Sunday in because the crowds of people waved palm branches and cheered as Jesus entered the city.   

Slides – Matthew 21:1-17
1As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”

But the leaders were indignant. 16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” 17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.

Summary of the Story
            That is a long passage, so lets summarize.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He comes as a King—fulfilling the prophecy that one day Jerusalem’s Eternal King, the Messiah, would arrive riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).
            Everyone is thrilled (well, everyone except the cynical religious establishment who felt threatened by Jesus). The crowds of people cheered as Jesus arrived—expecting Jesus to do great things as the long-awaited Messiah. Everyone wanted the Messiah to come and make Jerusalem great again.
            However, Jesus immediately shows His Kingdom is incompatible with many of the practices in Jerusalem. It infuriated Jesus that merchants and bankers were doing business right in the middle of the Temple at the only place Gentile’s could pray. Even worse, they were cheating their customers right there in the holy Temple.
            This is the only story in the Gospels where Jesus takes up arms in the name of God. He flipped over the bankers’ tables and used a whip to drive them and the merchants out.  We like to think of Jesus as sweet and gentle and carrying baby lambs, but sin is not compatible with the reign of Christ.  Christ must drive sin out from us and we must decide if we will let him cleanse us or will we be offended and resist and ultimately join the crowds of people on Good Friday who demanded that Jesus be crucified.

Jesus is Coming
            Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago, but Jesus is always coming to us in a spiritual sense.  Perhaps the thought of Jesus’ coming does not thrill you. Perhaps you are ashamed of something in your life that you don’t want Jesus to see.  That’s ok. That’s a good place to start. At least you are not a hypocrite. At least you recognize you are a sinner. That’s a good thing. Jesus can work with that. The Apostle Peter once felt that way. When Peter first realized Jesus was holy, he said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid!” and invited Peter to be his disciple.  Peter followed and became one of Jesus' closest companions, and eventually the leader of the Church. You can follow Jesus too. Jesus accepts you as you are when you are humble. Jesus can work with that.
            However, a lot of people are like the crowds cheering Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “Praise God! Jesus is here! This is amazing!” We are so happy he has come. 
Yet, we must realize, Jesus has come as our King. And there are somethings we must let him change in our lives.  I do not say that we must change ourselves. We can’t change ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit that changes us when we accept Jesus as our Lord, but we must be willing to be changed.
And sometimes that change is difficult. It may even feel like Jesus has come into our sacred Temple and flipped over some tables. He may even need to break out a whip and chase some sinful behaviors out of our hearts. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Sin has no place within your heart. Jesus must drive it out.  When these times come, we are faced with the choice: 
  • Will I humble myself before the King? Will I allow him to make these changes? Will I cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart?  Or...
  • Will I resist? Will I try to hide my sin in the shadows? Will I secretly plot to thwart the Lord—like Judas and the priests? Will I be proud and angry and defensive? Will I refuse to let Jesus be King—the true Lord of every area of my life? Will I join the angry protest of the crowd who ultimately rejected Jesus? “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. (John 19:15).

Are You Ready? Jesus is Coming Again.
Jesus is King.  And Jesus is coming.  He is coming to take back what belongs to him.  You.  He is coming to break every chain that has you shackled.  He has come to set you free.  You have a choice to make.  Will you let Him?