Jesus, I await you.
Be risen anew in my heart
as the light of Easter
I am reposting this from last year with a few edits.
Typically, we skip this day, jumping right from His death on the cross on Friday to His resurrection from the dead on Sunday. But some pretty significant stuff happened on Saturday, so let’s just take a few minutes tocontemplate the significance of His burial.
The early church, by the way, didn’t miss the significance of Saturday. In fact, they saw so much significance in this day that they deemed it appropriate to include two phrases about this in the Apostle’s Creed. One of the phrases seems like a redundancy; the second phrase seems more like heresy (but it isn’t, rest assured).
The Apostle’s Creed reads as follows:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son,
our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day He rose from the dead;
I was talking with someone about the Apostle’s Creed the other day and when I asked her if she had any questions about anything in the Creed, she said, “What about that phrase ‘he descended into hell’? I’m not so sure about that.” And my guess is that some of the people reading this have the same kind of question. But first, let’s take the “and buried” part of the statement…
Let’s pose it as a question: Why would the Apostle’s Creed read “and buried” when it just got done saying Jesus was “dead”? Of course, He
was buried! No need to point that out, right?
There are at least a few reasons why it is important to note that Jesus was indeed buried.
One: The gospel writers thought it important to note that Jesus was buried. There are whole paragraphs in the gospels dedicated to pointing out the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial, laying him into Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and even noting that those faithful female followers of Jesus saw it happen.
Two: This establishes the final fact of Jesus’ death. In modern times this is important since some skeptics of the resurrection claim “Jesus never actually died, he just passed out.” The painstaking preparations utilized in burying Jesus dispel the possibility of that theory. The death of Christ becomes a firmly established fact in history, not just a fanciful expression in an epic allegorical poem.
Three: On a more “spiritual” level, Jesus’ burial is important because, in His burial, He took our atonement one step further. Here’s how: not only did Jesus bear our sins in His body on the Tree of Calvary, He also carried those sins with Him into the grave, leaving them buried there forever. (Leviticus 16:22 prefigures this with the picture of a “scapegoat”: the scapegoat has the sin of the nation of Israel placed on it and then it is set free to wander in a “solitary place.” This foreshadows Christ’s burial–the scapegoate being a “type” or “picture” of Christ. Exciting, eh?!)
Corrie ten Boom makes the point that our sins are thrown into the ocean and then God posts a sign there that says “No fishing.” Christ’s burial is like that.
Our sins are left buried in the grave.
In light of that, it is indeed important to observe and contemplate Christ’s burial.
Reflection: “My sin is forever dead and buried. Do I keep digging it up? Why?” Prayer: ”Thank you, Jesus, for your atoning work that leaves nothing undone. You are truly the ‘author and perfecter’ of my faith.”
Now let’s tackle the more controversial phrase in the Apostle’s Creed: “he descended into hell.”
To understand this, though, we need to understand what the early church meant by the word “hell”…
In our day, “hell” has come to mean essentially “a place where the wicked are punished.” But a few hundred years ago, when the Apostle’s Creed was first translated into English, the word “hell” meant simply “the unseen place” or “the covered place” (not necessarily a “place where the wicked are punished”). Investing the word “hell” with this kind of broader meaning had its roots in the Greek word “Hades” and the Hebrew word “Sheol.” So, it seems, to understand the word “hell” in the Apostle’s Creed, we do better to understand what Hades/Sheol means, since this is the intention of the word as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed (not as we use it today, let me stress). Now: In the early church, Hades (or Sheol) was a place where all the departed went (both the righteous and the sinner; the blessed and the wicked) and it did not necessarily involve “fire” or “punishment.” It was more like a waiting place. A place where people awaited future judgement. This, then, is the correct meaning of the word “hell” as it appears in the Apostle’s Creed. For sake of modern-day clarity, we would not be amiss in substituting the word ”Hades” for the word “hell” when it comes to translating the Apostle’s Creed.
With that background, let’s get back to the issue at hand: Jesus’ descent into “hell” (Hades). Why is it important to note that Jesus descended into Hades? I can think of several compelling reasons:
One: it was in descending to Hades that Christ completed His identification with us as humans. You see?: at that time, every human descended into Hades, whether wicked or blessed; and so did Christ. His descent into Hades, therefore, shows that He really was fully human! He really does know what we go through! How awesome! He left no “stone unturned” in taking on our human nature. He went “where every man has gone before.”
But, Christ is not merely human, He’s also God. So, as God, Christ did a unique work. He did something no mere human could ever do: He took the keys of death and Hades, and He released the righteous dead that were being held captive there so that they could enjoy His presence from that time on in Paradise. And, he didn’t stay there, like the rest of humanity. He emerged from Hades–something no one had ever done before.
Now: I can just hear someone saying “Wait a minute there, Tim! This sounds a little like heresy to me. Where does it say that in the Bible?”
There are a few key texts that support this (in addition to what we know of the early church beliefs and the Apostle’s Creed, which are also, in my mind, good indicators of orthodox–right–belief). Bear with me, some of this is a bit “technical” but the last text/point is very juicy indeed!: First, the apostle Peter refers to Jesus’ descent into Hades in Acts 2:24-32. In quoting king David, Peter says in verse 27 that Jesus will not be “abandoned to ‘Hades’” (NIV translates “Hades” as “grave”: this is not a literal translation–a truly “grave” mistake–sorry for the pun!). It is an important distinction, however, because this seems to indicate that Jesus did indeed descend into “Hades” but was not “abandoned” (or left) there. In other words, David/Peter seems to indicate that He did go there, He just wasn’t left there.
Second, this also fits with the picture we get in Ephesians 4:8– “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train…” That begs the question: Who were these “captives” he led in his train? The early church believed that this is none other than the “blessed” (“righteous”) inhabitants of Hades at the time. Their waiting was over. So now, when someone dies they go directly to be with the Lord–there’s no need for a “waiting place” like Hades anymore. See Philippians 1:21-23 where Paul indicates that we are present with Christ the moment we depart–that’s because the righteous don’t go to Hades anymore to await judgement. In fact, C. Donald Cole (Moody Press) notes that there is no such thing as Hades anymore: only heaven and hell (in the modern-day sense of the word), because when Christ led out the righteous inhabitants of Hades (as is indicated by Ephesians 4:8) “Hades” became “hell”–a place reserved only for the “wicked.”
Third, this way of looking at it does not contradict what Jesus told the prisoner on the cross next to him: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Fourth, this also fits with the picture in Revelation 1:18. (Brace yourself. This is the juicy part!) Jesus appears to John in a vision and identifies himself as the one who holds “the keys of death and Hades.” Where did Jesus get these keys? The early Christians believed He got them by going there and fighting for them.
And this is the part I like the best: the early church believed that Christ was not just a sacrificial lamb. They also believed He was the victor. The irony is thick: soldiers are posted at Jesus’ tomb all day Saturday. Meanwhile, Jesus is waging a battle on a more strategic front: in Hades. The soldiers by the large sealed rock can’t touch Him. In fact, they’re completely unaware of the battle being raged “beneath” them! Jesus goes where every man has gone before to do something no man has done before. He “breaks the seal” by stealing the keys! The soldiers posted at the tomb’s entrance are impotent to stop it all from happening.
When Christ descended into Hades, a battle was waged and Christ emerged victorious. He now has the keys of death and Hades–for real. I don’t know about you, but I think that is way way way way COOL!!! Christ is the victor! He fought the battle! He released the prisoners! He led them out of Hades into His glorious presence! So now, when we die, we go directly to be with Him. Directly to heaven. To paradise. (I can’t wait!!!)
And to think, all that was happening on Saturday (even the guards were oblivious!). Explain to me again why we tend to skip from Friday to Sunday, because, quite honestly, I don’t get it???…
Reflection: “Christ is the victor. Am I experiencing His victory in my life?” Prayer: “Lord Jesus, thank You for your full participation in our humanity. And thank You for your deliverance. I proclaim you to be the Lord of everything on the earth, above it, and beneath it. You are the Almighty One. You hold the keys of death and Hades. I long for that day when I, too, will be with You in Paradise.”
Tonight, we held a Tenebrae service to remember the events of Good Friday. What is a tenebrae service? The word ‘tenebrae’ is Latin for shadows. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion story, so this is not supposed to be a happy service, because the occasion is not happy. If your expectation of Christian worship is that it should always be happy and exhilarating, you won’t appreciate this service until the second time you attend it.
Here is the worship bulletin for tonight’s tenebrae service.
Good Friday is a crucial day, not only of the year, but also for world history.
Since Jesus’ death, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. On Good Friday, millions of Christians set aside our other concerns to meditate8:upon what this astonishing claim means.
One way to meditate on the crucifixion is to read and reflect on the seven sayings of Jesus from his cross. These sayings have been used in Good Friday services for centuries. However, none of the evangelists (the four gospel writers) record their words in their entirety so we have to jump from gospel to gospel to fully grasp the words.
- Luke 23:34: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
- Luke 23:43: Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
- John 19:26-27: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
- Matthew 27:46: At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Mark 15:34: At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
- John 19:28: After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
- John 19:30: When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.
- Luke 23:46: Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.
Of course, these words merely capture a snapshot of Jesus’ last moments and death. I recommend going back to the Bible and reading all of the crucifixion accounts in their entirety. I have provided links (below) to the crucifixion accounts in each of the four gospels. Spend some time today reflecting on the death of Jesus (in your place) and if possible, share in a Good Friday service.
At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” But Jesus gave no more answers so that Pilate marveled. During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They shouted even louder, “Crucify him! Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters,and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it. They crucified him. They divided up his clothes, drawing lots for them to determine who would take what. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left. People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!” In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself.Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died. The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him. Since it was late in the afternoon on Preparation Day, just before the Sabbath, Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was a prominent council member who also eagerly anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom.) Pilate wondered if Jesus was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him whether Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate gave the dead body to Joseph. He bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the cloth, and laid him in a tomb that had been carved out of rock. He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried.
Crucifixion is one of the cruelest forms of execution ever invented. Its purpose was not just to put a man to death. It was to bring extreme public shame and to cause the greatest possible amount of physical suffering. Crucifixion had been in occasional use among the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and others, but it was the Romans who made it a common means of execution. Men hanging on crosses became a familiar sight in the conquered territories of Rome.
In order to produce the greatest amount of shame and pain, crucifixion was almost always publicly preceded by both lashes and mockery. Then the condemned man was made to carry the crossbeam along public roads, admist the jeers and insults of the people, to the place of execution. The victim was then stripped of all his clothing and hung completely naked on the cross. A sign giving his name and sentence was put at the top of the cross and he was the object of continued mocking from people who passed by.
The physical torture of the cross was greatly increased because the process of crucifixion damaged no vital part of the human body. Death could take days. The victim was attached to the cross , either by tying his hands and feet to it or by the more cruel way of being nailed to it. Thus he was held immobile, unable to cope with heat or cold and insects.
The pain of his wounds, his thirst and exhaustion, would gradually leave him so weak he could no longer support himself with his legs and he would hang limp. His body weight pulling against his arms would gradually cut off his air supply and death would finally come by suffocation. The process could be sped up by breaking the victim’s legs.
The cross was looked upon with such horror and scandal, that it was considered bad manners to even mention it in the presence of respectable people. To quote Cicero: “Let even the name of the cross be kept away, not only from the bodies of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thought, sight, and hearing.”
Then one day, a carpenter was crucified and instead of bringing shame, His death conquered the cross. Early in the Fourth Century, Roman Emperor Constantine banned the practice of crucifixion, in honor of Jesus Christ.
Jesus took the cross, the cruelest of all human implements and made it a universal symbol for the love of God for human beings! Now you know the best of the story.
Up Thy Hill of Sorrows
Thou all alone,
Jesus, man’s Redeemer,
Climbing to a Throne:
Thro’ the world triumphant,
Thro’ the Church in pain,
Which think to look upon Thee
No more again.
Upon my hill of sorrows
I, Lord, with Thee,
Cheered, upheld, yea, carried,
If a need should be:
Cheered, upheld, yea, carried,
Never left alone,
Carried in Thy heart of hearts
To a throne.
(by Christina Rossetti)
A reading from John 13 (CEB):
Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully. Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.” Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!” Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.” After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
As I read this scripture, I have several thoughts about lessons to take into the final days of Lent and beyond.
- Today we need to recognize Jesus as the pinnacle of love. I believe as John writes this he is allowing the fullness of Jesus’ work on the cross to be included in this description of His love. It is this verse that projects the love of Jesus over all the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, burial and resurrection. Thus the statement, “he loved them to the end.” This love is extended throughout history to all those who are “His own.” Celebrate His love today.
- A stark comparison to the glory of Jesus’ love is the darkness and betrayal of Judas’ heart. Judas becomes the agent through whom Jesus is found, arrested and tried. Today, we must face the many ways we betray Jesus. We must not allow our hearts to be hard or give a place for the devil to tempt us away from our loving Lord.
- Jesus was full of confidence because He understood His identity and what He came to do. This confidence is seen throughout the events of Good Friday and Easter. We too can be confident in our identity in Christ. Not arrogance, but confidence that we are born of God and going to God when we pass from this life.
- Jesus, full of confidence, had no problem bowing in humility to wash the feet of the disciples. This was another display of His love for His disciples. Humble love always serves. Today we are reminded of Jesus’ example to serve, and we too should serve one another.
- The word “Maundy” used on this day comes from the word mandatum in Latin, which means command. Jesus commands us to follow His example and wash the feet of one another. This should be our commitment today. Who will you serve?
- Jesus uses the symbol of the breaking of bread to represent the breaking of His body coming in hours ahead. The command of Jesus here is to “take” and “eat.” The imagery is hard to miss. To ingest the bread is symbolic of our deep internal need for Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, the breaking of His body, forever removed the penalty of sin from those who are saved. I encourage you to celebrate the Lord’s Supper this week and remember the body of Jesus that bore the penalty we rightly deserved for our sin. Okay, granted that John’s account does not include the Last Supper but it is part of this story.
- The second part of the symbol Jesus used at the meal is the wine, representing His blood. He clearly states the meaning; His blood was the blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sin. The cup of Communion reminds us that Jesus’ blood sealed a covenant; a promise that our sin would be forgiven and we would be made right with God. I love the hymn that asks the desperate question, “What can wash away my sin?” This faithful hymn gives the only right answer, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” As you take the cup this week be thankful for the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
I am certain there are many other lessons we can learn from Maundy Thursday but here are a few to take with us.
A reading from 1 Corinthians 15 (CEB):
This is what I’m saying, brothers and sisters: flesh and blood can’t inherit the kingdom of heaven. Something that rots can’t inherit something that doesn’t decay. Listen, I’m telling you a secret: all of us won’t die, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen: Death has been swallowed up by a victory. Where is your victory, Death? Where is your sting, Death? (Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.
Life after death is mystery. Paul gives an inspired glimpse of our resurrection transformation. The mortal becomes immortal. The limits of life today will be no more.
“In the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” There is a sense of instantaneous transition. A trumpet plays “Taps” at a soldier’s burial, and I think, “God’s time is now!” Wonder. Mystery.
Paul says “changed.” What change? What age? What features? Maybe it doesn’t matter. We will be recognizable; the fullness of the person God is creating us to be.
I know that as I live in Christ, I am being changed now – by God’s love and the loving presence of others. In this very moment, God is loving us into newness of life. We already live as resurrection people, dancing with Jesus even now.
As our focus shifts this week towards the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that we are living between two resurrections: that of our Lord and Savior and our own. We are a people of the resurrection whose hope is in the resurrection. We may have our struggles and our pains but we know in the end, we have our own resurrection to look forward to. It is this hope that carries us through Lent and through life.
Gracious God, take my life to shine with faith in you, that I may dance the steps that follow Christ, bringing hope, love and peace to life, now and forever. Amen.
…if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14 (CEB)
I can’t help but think this was on Jesus’ mind as he entered Jerusalem and made his way around the city. We know a lot of his ministry was spent calling out to people to live differently in the light of God’s coming kingdom. I think his message would echo today during Holy Week as well (and beyond).
Lent is an opportunity to give serious thought and attention to our spiritual health and our relationship with God. A time to look at the world we live in and the place of the gospel in it. Each Christian has an opportunity for faithfulness not only in their personal relationship with God, but also in tending the gospel where we live. This means that the environmental, political, economic, and relational issues we see around us are also spiritual issues.
God’s promise in this verse says He will heal their land. It is good to prayerfully consider whether or not we and our land are living in accord with His ways. When we see brokenness in our world, we need to repent and actively return to the Lord. The Lord has said that He will respond to our prayers and to our hearts. Let us embrace the attitude God Himself has directed: humbleness, prayer, seeking His face and turning from our wicked ways. We do this on our own behalf, but also on behalf of our land, knowing He will heal it in response to the humble cry of His people.
We are not helpless in the face of the struggles in our communities. We are not limited to the wisdom of humanity. These things, all things, are subject to the power and presence of our God. God loves this land and its people. This Lent, let us take the opportunity to take action and ask the Lord to heal us and, using us, to heal our land.
Father, we ask that you would move in our hearts that we may come before you in humility. Forgive us and forgive the people of this nation for turning from your ways. Bring true repentance to us. Thank you for loving us and for this land where you have planted us. Heal this land and fill it with your kingdom and its ways. We ask you to use us to display your glory and to bring your grace to those we live among. In the name of the only Lord, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen
Here is my Palm Sunday sermon based on John 12:12-19:
Did you hear the news? The king has returned and he is coming to the city! The people say he is coming with a great army to take back the city. The city is prepared: the people have cleaned the streets; the homeless have been relocated; flags are banners drape the city walls; and a national holiday have been declared so everyone can line the streets to witness the procession and catch a glimpse of the king as he rides by. Before long, cheers erupt from the crowd as the king and his army are seen coming but then there is a stunned silence before laughter erupts from the crowd because you see the king is not in a limousine nor is he accompanied by a great army. Instead he was driving a 1987 Toyota Corolla which was painted in several shades of primer and missing three hubcaps. There was no great army but rather a ragtag band of laborers, women, a few prostitutes, and even a couple of criminals. This was not the king or army the adoring crowds were expecting and many in the crowd began to walk away because they doubted this was a real king or because this was not the king they were expecting. Others walked away laughing but there were a few who stayed until the end of the parade because they believed in this king despite his appearances.
This morning, I would like to explore the members of this crowd and who they are in the church and what they mean for us.
- The participants in Jerusalem
- Many people had gone to see someone famous
- There is something about seeing someone famous
- May not be a fan of the person but still want a glimpse
- Red carpet syndrome
- Wanted to be part of history
- Wanted to be “there”
- Do you remember where you were when?
- Pearl Harbor
- World Trade Center
- Wrapped up in the moment
- The crowd mentality
- On Sunday they were shouting “Hosanna” but on Friday they will be shouting “Crucify!”
- Not usually serious or committed
- Many people had gone to see someone famous
- Signified by the Pharisees
- Believed in a Messianic king but missed the obvious signs
- Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy yet they doubted it was really him
- To the scoffers, it must have seemed as if the entire world had gone over to Jesus in that moment
- Had a sense of jubilation
- God was going to set things right
- The messiah was coming
- Lord, please save us! Lord, please let us succeed! The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed; we bless all of you from the Lord ‘s house. – Psalm 118:25-26 (CEB)
- They had the wrong kind of king in mind
- The crowd wanted Jesus to be the very thing he refused to be
- Many believed in him but believed the wrong things
- Had a sense of jubilation
- There was one more person involved but more about him later
- Where do we fall in the church
- Sightseers have sentimental faith
- Salvation and faith based on emotionalism
- Come to worship to get our “God-fix” to make it through another week
- Many people come to praise Jesus on Sunday morning but reject him on Sunday afternoons
- May be classified as hypocritical at times
- Come to church because they always have
- Jesus’ example of the shallow or rocky soil
- No real roots when life comes at you
- Seekers have active and changing faith
- Recognize Jesus as the Messiah and seek to know more about him
- The problem is that at times we think we know Jesus and he does not live up to our expectations
- Want Jesus to hear their prayers and pleas but not on his terms
- Many times if we would stop seeking him and look at what he already done, we would want to do more
- Scoffers have limited or weak faith (at times!)
- We can actually skip this group because it applies to no one here, right?
- Actually may apply more than the others – especially to me!
- It’s not about having enough faith, it’s realizing that Jesus is enough
- It’s when the rubber meets the road
- The African impala can easily leap 10 feet into the air but they can be kept in an enclosure with 3 foot walls – why? Because they cannot leap unless they see where their feet will land.
- We are the often the same way
- James 2 talks about dead faith, dynamic faith, and demonic faith
- Dynamic faith is ever-changing and even though we may doubt, we still seek and at the end of the week it may be the scoffers who find themselves at the foot of the cross
- Sightseers have sentimental faith
- Which brings us to the last person
- He claimed to be a Messiah
- Zechariah 9:9 (CEB): Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.
- Jesus boldly did what the prophet said
- The people were oppressed and expectantly looking for the promised Messiah
- He claimed to be a particular kind of Messiah
- By riding on a donkey and not a horse
- A king would ride on a donkey to convey the message of peace
- Jesus brought peace and love not swords
- The Romans understood violence and oppression, they could always out kill anyone; they did not understand love
- Matthew 11:29 (CEB): Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.
- By riding on a donkey and not a horse
- He claimed to love us
- John 3:16 come to life
- He was willing to do anything to reach us
- He died for us
- Only a handful of people stood at the foot of the cross
- Not what they were expecting
- Not what they thought they needed in a king (refer to Judges and 1 Samuel)
- Jesus died for everyone anyway – the sightseers, the scoffers, and the seekers
- Only a handful of people stood at the foot of the cross
- He claimed to be a Messiah
So, the question remains: where will you be on Friday? Here we are worshiping Jesus, welcoming him, calling his name, and singing his praises. But where you will be on Friday? Or tomorrow morning? Or even later today?
I guess I’m asking you what kind of faith you have. Are you sentimental because you come to church to feel good or because it is expected? Are you scoffing because you are not sure Jesus will do as he promised? Or are you a seeker?
Perhaps a better question to ask is where would you have been on that Friday? Search your heart because only you can answer that.
Would you have stood at the cross where his mother stood nearby or would you have been with Peter denying him by the fire? Would you have heard him tell John to take his mother home or left him abandoned and alone. Would the sound of the nails have ringed inside your ear would you have run and hid, overcome by fear The answer is simple, answered by what you say when you answer the question, where will you be this Friday?
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
A reading from Isaiah 50 (CEB):
The LORD God gave me an educated tongue to know how to respond to the weary with a word that will awaken them in the morning. God awakens my ear in the morning to listen, as educated people do. The LORD God opened my ear; I didn’t rebel; I didn’t turn my back. Instead, I gave my body to attackers, and my cheeks to beard pluckers. I didn’t hide my face from insults and spitting. The LORD God will help me; therefore, I haven’t been insulted. Therefore, I set my face like flint, and knew I wouldn’t be ashamed. The one who will declare me innocent is near. Who will argue with me? Let’s stand up together. Who will bring judgment against me? Let him approach me. Look! The LORD God will help me. Who will condemn me? Look, they will wear out like clothing; the moth will eat them.
Throughout Lent, we have talked about being changed by the love of God and being moved by that love to serve.
As we gather for worship this morning, we will experience change in a dramatic way. The Palm Sunday shouts of “Hosanna!” will quickly be replaced by shouts of “Crucify him” as we hear the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. The joy of welcoming the Savior into Jerusalem will be overcome by the pain and sadness of Christ’s final days.
We don’t always experience such a significant change so quickly. Often, change is more subtle and occurs over a period of time. That change can either lead us closer to God or farther away from God. However, we trust that God continues to work in our hearts, wakening our ears to hear the good news of his love and grace each morning. As God changes our hearts, our attitudes change as well. Even when we face challenges, we can stand sure in God’s love and grace. When we trust that God is near and will help us, our shame and fear is changed to grace and confidence.
Especially on this day when we hear the passion story, we may quickly associate these words from the prophet Isaiah with Jesus: “I gave my back to those who struck me … I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” We know all too well that this is precisely the story we will hear about Jesus during this coming week. But when Jesus died and rose again, he changed the world – and each one of our lives – forever.
Transforming God, you changed the world with your love. Continue to awaken us to your Word, that we, too, may be changed and learn to trust in you completely. Amen.
Here is my sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21:
A few years ago, Mr. Rogers was invited to give the invocation for the graduation at Boston College. As the Presbyterian minister stepped to the podium, the deans and professors were not prepared for what happened next. The 5,400 graduates leaped to their feet, threw their hats in the air, and began to chant “Mr. Rogers!” Standing behind the podium, Mr. Rogers wondered how he would get the excited kids to quiet down so he could pray. In his tiny voice, he said into the microphone, “Will you sing with me?” The graduates linked arms and swayed together as they sang songs about neighbors and neighborhoods.
The collective memory of the graduates went back to the happy songs, simple puppetry, and grandfatherly conversation. He used these tools to share his message with children everywhere. What was that message? That you are special. That you are loved. That you are worthwhile. It does not matter what is on the outside but what matters most is what is on the inside.
If we look at the familiar lines of John 3:15, we can see that Mr. Rogers’ simple message echoes God’s message to the world. You are loved. You are special. You are worthwhile. You are so loved, worthwhile, and special that God gave all of heaven just for you.
Let’s take a look at this one verse line by line.
- For God so loved the world
- Our view of God
- Santa Claus: we get whatever we ask for with no strings attached
- A Las Vegas slot machine: put your good deed coin in the slot and hope for a jackpot
- Ebenezer Scrooge: someone who drains all the fun and joy out of life by following a bunch of rules
- The Bible gives a clear picture of God
- A better image would be a loving parent
- Lived in fellowship with humanity in the Garden of Eden
- Slow to anger but quick to forgive
- Walking daily in the garden
- Seeking humanity out
- Adam and Eve began to doubt that love
- We’ve all been there
- Listened to Satan (or do we listen to friends)
- Sin penetrated the human heart
- What does sin do to us?
- David Roever’s story in Vietnam (include white phosphorus)
- Unlike David’s case, sin will continue to burn unless it is doused with blood and it is always fatal
- What’s a loving God to do?
- Our view of God
- That He gave his only begotten Son
- God’s secret plan
- Developed knowing humanity would doubt his love
- Jesus would come to earth to pay the penalty for our sin
- Only the one who knew the full height and depth of God’s love could show it on earth
- In a mystery that defies our understanding
- The king of glory became the babe of Bethlehem
- The creator of the universe became a creator of furniture
- He gathered children in his arms, healed the sick, raised the dead, and shared the kingdom of God in a humorous wit
- He did not flinch in the face of oppression
- Even when he was opposing the religious leaders of his day, he had tears in eyes because of his love for them
- Ultimately, he died on the cross for us
- Treated as we deserved so we might be treated as he deserves
- He was suffered the death that was ours so we might receive the life that was his
- God’s secret plan
- That whosever should believe him should not perish but have eternal life
- The future is bright for those who embrace love
- Jesus who lived, died, rose again, and ascended to heaven promised to come again one day
- When he does there will be
- No more death
- No more war
- No more earthquakes or tsunamis
- No more gangs or violence
- No more illness
- He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:4 (CEB)
- So what does it take to get all of that?
- Jesus gave us the answer
- Whoever believes in him will have everlasting life
- We can’t do it on our own
- We need outside help (it would be like trying to do surgery on yourself)
- We need Jesus
- The way we connect to Jesus is through faith
- By trusting Jesus, we admit that we can’t do it alone
- The bleeding woman (Mark 5:24-34)
- Was not just a casual touch to see what would happen
- A deep, need to connect and be healed
- Casual contact and deep faith
- To believe that Jesus lived like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln is not enough
- To believe intellectually is not enough
- The future is bright for those who embrace love
On day, Brian Campbell traveled to Pittsburgh to visit the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood set. He was awkward as he had William’s syndrome which causes mild mental retardation and heart defects. As he walked through the studio, he spotted his hero.
“You’re the real Mr. Rogers!”
Mr. Rogers bent down to shake his hand and said, “And you are the real you. You’re brave to shake my hand.”
“I’m special, aren’t I, Mr. Rogers?”
“Yes, you are.”
“You know what, Mr. Rogers? You are my friend!”
And with that, Brian began to sing some of the neighborhood songs. As the last words were sung, Brian’s eyes got big and he said, “Mr. Rogers, can I give you a big hug?”
Down on his knees, Fred Rogers opened his arms as Brian fell into that warm embrace.
Right now, God is bending down to take you into his arms. I wonder if you will fall into that embrace? Will you say, I love you Jesus? Do you want to spend eternity basking in the wonder of his love? Embrace the love. For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only son that all who believe in him will not die but have eternal life. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.