April 16, 2019 – Here Comes Your King, the Lamb, the Son of God- Matthew 21:1-11

litter

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Zechariah 9:9)

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.  Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

In Jesus’ day important people and rulers would have been carried in to the city in a litter borne by slaves, as Pilate most likely would have been carried into the city of Jerusalem before the Passover celebration. Pilate’s arrival would have been an important display of Roman might and hegemony- an entrance that would let the people know in no uncertain terms that the Pax Romana would be enforced by force.

Riding on a beast of burden such as a lowly donkey was not how earthly kings traveled. A good comparison today would be when the President comes to town. He arrives on Air Force One, and is further transported by motorcade, where he is transferred to “the Beast” limousine and is surrounded by security and peripheral vehicles.  The President arrives with pomp and circumstance because he’s important.  The President is not just some guy riding into downtown on a BMX bike with a few of his friends- but that was the sort of arrival that Jesus had.  Jesus didn’t storm in like an Important Guy.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t even know who Jesus was until the disciples and those who accompanied Him announced his identity. Perhaps some of the general public of Jerusalem was familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy of their king coming to them riding on a donkey. There may have been whispers and fleeting fantasies that This Might Be the Guy who will raise up a coup to defeat the Romans, and restore Jewish autonomy.

Unfortunately what most people didn’t understand about Jesus then and still do not understand is that His kingdom is not one of political hegemony or earthly strength or material prosperity. Jesus came to suffer and to be wounded unto death for our salvation, redemption and healing. His way was not one of being carried in on a litter to be praised, but to be spat on and beaten, to take up the cross, and to be put to death.

As Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”-John 18:36

He was to be given as a lamb to the slaughter, the Lamb who bears the sins of the world.

The cries of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday will turn in a few short days to, “Crucify Him!”

Jesus’ blood is upon us all. His blood is the blood of the Lamb, foreshadowed by the blood of the lambs spread on the doorposts during the Passover. We are the same people who cry, “Hosanna to the King!” one day, and we also cry, “Crucify Him!” as we sin and pursue our own way. When we were given the choice between Barabbas (the son of the father, of our father Adam) and the Son of God, we chose to save Barabbas, and in so doing, we sent Jesus to the cross.

The good news is that Jesus came to be King – not by upending Caesar or throwing the Romans out of Palestine, but by going to the cross. He did for us what we could never do- He made us worthy before God.

He paid the punishment that brings us peace.

 

March 4, 2019 – What God Plans for Good-John 11:45-57, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 8:28

suffering-jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”  Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 (ESV)

The Romans did succeed in destroying Herod’s Temple in AD 70, and it has never been rebuilt. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the Temple.  The Jewish people, even today, are scattered throughout the world.  So it could be said that the religious rulers weren’t entirely correct.  The Romans did take over “their” place, though they did not succeed in destroying God’s people. We remember that the true descendants of Abraham are God’s children by faith, not by genetic lineage.

Caiaphas’ words were prophetic, though not in the ways he may have meant them. One man did die for the sins of all people, and for the unity of God’s people.

The evil that the chief priests and the Pharisees had plotted against Jesus was actually according to God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God can see beyond what looks rational to us. His plans defy our logic. Some things that can appear to be a grievous evil or injustice may end up being used to good purpose.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Even though his father was led to believe Joseph was killed by wild animals, Joseph was preserved by God for the sake of his family and ultimately for the sake of the bloodline of Jesus- even though along the way he endured slavery and prison.  When his brothers came to Egypt needing help, Joseph forgave them. The trials they had sold Joseph into into ultimately put Joseph in a position to save his family.  We read in Genesis 50:19-21 of Joseph’s gracious forgiveness and good treatment of his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

At this point in the story it would be difficult for Jesus’ followers to see anything good in the intent of the chief priests or the Pharisees, but God had plans to bring good out of their evil plotting.

Jesus knew of the chief priests and Pharisees’ plans to put Him to death. He knew that He came to live on earth as a man precisely so He could become the perfect, holy sacrifice to redeem His people.

As the Jewish nation was preparing for Passover, unbeknownst to them, the true Passover Lamb was being brought to the slaughter.

The curse of death was brought about by the sin of Adam, the sin of one man that each of us inherits. But through the new Adam, Jesus, the curse of death is broken.  One man – one perfect and holy man, whose blood was shed to redeem all of God’s children….

As we approach the season of Lent and consider our own mortality, we consider Jesus as the Lamb of God, who willingly gave His life so that we can live forever with Him. What one group of men meant for evil, God planned for our good.

January 4, 2019 The Light of the World, He Brings a Sword, Depart in Peace

jesus sword

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Isaiah 60:1-4 (ESV)

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And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)

Isaiah. Luke. Simeon and Anna.  The Bible is filled with the accounts of those who point us to Jesus.  Isaiah is given the revelation- the glorious vision of Jesus – seven hundred years before His incarnation. Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord and the Light of the world revealed.  Simeon and Anna were blessed with seeing Jesus in the flesh, as a baby brought to be named and brought in to the community of faith.

It’s good news that those of us who are living in this dark world have the Light of the World here with us.

Jesus Himself was named and set apart for God, one with God the Father always and beyond time. He was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, fully God and fully man, but He was still named and circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic covenant. Jesus had to fulfill the Law in our place.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, and we cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s people. We are brought into the life of Christ.  We share in His suffering and His death as well as His resurrection.

Jesus did not come to bring us happy feelies and Care Bears and flowers. He comes into this world bearing a sword, (Matthew 10:34-39) which inevitably brings upheaval and conflict in its wake.  Some of the most bitter and lethal conflicts in this world have been fought against the spreading of the Gospel, between those who have been brought to faith in Christ and those who would oppose Him. Jesus’ coming and the renewal and life that He brings have always been challenged by the world.

Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul too. Her baby boy would grow to be a man who would be crucified to placate our petulant sinners’ demand for blood at the hand of Pontius Pilate, and left to die in cruel ignominy. She will lament at the foot of the Cross as her Savior and ours gives His life and His blood is poured out for her salvation as well as ours.

Light and truth illuminate their surroundings without prejudice. Beauty is made evident when the light shines on it, but so is ugliness.  When everything is brought into the light, we cannot hide.

Jesus brings us into His light- exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. As we are given the gift of repentance, we confess our sin and shame as we are exposed to His light. He forgives us. He gives us a heart of flesh that desires God instead of a hard heart of stone.  He makes us reflect His goodness and light and takes away the sin and death that are our inheritance from the Fall. He saves us from death and the grave.

Jesus does not promise us an easy or a painless life on this earth, but He does promise us eternal life beyond this world. He does walk with us as we are promised in the beautifully comforting words of the 23rd Psalm. He carries us because we are challenged with many trials we simply cannot bear.  He gives us His peace.  We can pray the nunc dimittis, and go forward in God’s peace along with Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

 

October 30, 2018 The Gospel of the Reformation- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 11:8-12, Galatians 3:7-9

God provides the lamb

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:8-12 (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)

The message of the Reformation is the rediscovery of the Gospel. The Good News of God’s Word was finally printed in native languages so that people could read and discover what Scripture really says. The lies and deceptions that were going on in the name of God, such as the sales of relics and indulgences and other profiteering and vice throughout the church were exposed. Even with the reforms of the 16th century and beyond, the church is still a collection of sinners, and reformation is an ongoing process.

In the pages of Scripture- foretold by the prophets and made real in the person of Jesus, God’s people are no longer bound by the curse of the garden, or enslaved by the futility of law-keeping as a way to assuage the wrath of God and “earn” salvation. We learn that by faith in Jesus the Law that was handed down to Moses is fulfilled. In Christ we are brought back into the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham. Abraham was not a sinless man by any stretch but he was saved and justified by the gift of faith in God.

God gave Abraham a promise, that through Isaac, the child of promise, that he would have countless descendants. It was not a gift with a condition attached.  There was no quid pro quo.  God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, unconditional, from the top down.  God provided Abraham’s faith, even the faith Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (See Genesis 22:1-18) God also provided the lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Isaac.

God provides the Lamb for us as well. Not because we earn or deserve it, but completely by grace.

Because Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our sins, we are set free of the impossible task of earning God’s love or of buying brownie points to heaven. By faith in Jesus we become the offspring promised to Abraham.

Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone. It’s that easy and that complicated.  We are named and claimed in our baptism, covered and made clean in the Blood of Christ.

This is the simple Gospel of the Reformation: We who are born dead in trespasses and sins, by faith, by the grace of Christ alone have been and are being made right with God. Saved. Redeemed. Loved. Forever. Descendents of Abraham and children of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever in our Baptism.  Nothing earned, nothing deserved.  All because of Jesus!

 

May 11, 2018 – The Perfect Man- Psalm 1

jesus psalm1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

The Psalms are prayers and songs- some of praise and worship, and others of supplication and mourning. Still others, such as Psalm 22, are prophetic and speak of the humanity as well as particular details of the passion of Christ. All of the Psalms point us to Jesus in one way or another.

Psalm 1 is a description of Jesus- the person who lives perfectly according to God’s Law. We, of course, cannot do that.

Even though we are not capable of living as Jesus lived, we can still look to His example as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Because we belong to Jesus, we are not counted among the wicked in the judgment. Because Jesus was that man who delighted in God’s law and lived perfectly sin-free in our place; the God-man who died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we are judged as though we lived with HIS perfection instead of our own wickedness and sins.

Thanks be to God that when the judgment comes we who believe in Him and trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins will be judged on the merits of Jesus and considered to be His saints.

May 8, 2018 God’s Promise, Praise, and Abraham’s Offspring- Psalm 47, Genesis 12:2-3, John 8:54-59

abraham

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!

God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! – Psalm 47 (ESV)

Praise is not an optional thing for people of God- it should be an automatic response to the grace and love of God.   When we think about the wonder and majesty of God, how can we keep from singing?

(God says to Abraham):And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3 (ESV)

When the Psalmist speaks of our heritage, he is not just talking about the tribes of Israel or the direct genetic descendants of Abraham.  He speaks of all the families of the earth- meaning all nations, people groups and tribes, receiving blessing through the promise God gave to Abraham.

Jesus answered (the Pharisees), “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:54-59 (ESV)

Jesus scandalized the Pharisees when He informed them, before Abraham was, I AM. Yet Jesus Himself is also a descendant of Abraham.

We see Psalm 47 not only as a Psalm of praise, but also as a vision of the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus- God I AM- long before Abraham was, came down to earth to live as one of us. Jesus, God I AM, was given to die on the Cross and become the perfect sacrifice for our sins, giving Himself as a free gift for all those who would hear and have faith. Jesus, God I AM, defeated death. He is both with us, and has gone to live in glory in heaven.  We will ultimately join him there.  All the more reason for songs and praise!

Jesus is who He says He is- God I AM, on whose Word the world was created. He created humanity perfect, but we fell into the sin of pride and made ourselves imperfect, wanting to be our own gods. He did not abandon us messed up humans who disobeyed Him.  Instead, He gave Himself to break the curse of sin we brought upon ourselves, the sin that began in the Garden. (Genesis 3:1-7) He keeps the promise He made to Abraham- that all the nations and tribes of the earth are blessed- and redeemed- through Abraham’s offspring.

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday-Remember God NOW- Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, Matthew 12:43-45

ashwednesday_event

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

Today Lent begins. Traditionally Lent is a season of examination, repentance, sacrifice, and getting our priorities straight. If we accept the challenge, Lent can be a time of great spiritual growth for us. This Lent begins a journey- a journey with Jesus to the Cross.

It is interesting that Solomon, the Teacher, implores us to remember God NOW. Surrendering to God and getting closer to Him is not something to be checked off the bucket list at the last minute, but something to do NOW, before the bucket list comes into play.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect not only on our mortality and our sins and all the ways we fall short of God’s expectations for us, but it is also a time to reflect on how we “do life.” Yes, we should confess and repent (repent means: to turn away from) of our sins.  As we reflect upon our sins and repent, we should also be mindful that turning from sin and those things that fail to glorify God has another essential component.

When we give up something harmful, what beneficial, God-honoring thing do we take up?  There is a great deal of truth to Grandma’s old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If we aren’t intentionally pursuing the things that God intends for us, we will occupy ourselves with any old thing, and given human nature, many of those idle things do not bring glory to God.

Jesus put it this way: “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” Matthew 12:43-45 (MSG)

There’s no sense in cleaning house and cleaning up our lives unless we surrender our lives to God to put them to good use. The discipline of surrender is simply inviting Jesus to clean us up, and then inviting Him to move on in.  He’s the one at work here, not us. Grace, love, and joy happen when we let go and let Him in. He actively brings about God’s kingdom through us here on earth.

How are we responding to the grace of God NOW? Are we honestly praying the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done?”  Are we listening to the Holy Spirit when He responds?

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” Sacrifice is a beneficial discipline for Jesus followers.  Yet along with giving up harmful things, and/or getting rid of the clutter, we are called to take up our own cross and live surrendered and sacrificially as we follow Jesus.  We are called to live the God-life NOW, not as something to check off our bucket list, but as something to embrace NOW, because our time here is fleeting and not at all guaranteed.

Life on this earth is a limited time offer. We are called to get out there- NOW- and live it in response to God Who has given it to us.