Tag: celebration

Story 160: The Triumphal Entry of a Weeping King

Matthew 21:1-11; 14-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-10

Church of St. Anne - Palm Sunday

The Lord Jesus and His disciples began their trek from Bethany to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Jesus had raised His friend, Lazarus from the dead only a few days before.  Multitudes of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast had gone to Bethany to see Lazarus and Christ.  It was the talk of the nation.  It confirmed to the religious leaders that Jesus had to die.  Now as Jesus and His disciples made their way back to the City of David, the crowds followed them with all the clamor and excitement of high expectations.  What was Jesus going to do when He arrived?  Would there be more miracles?  What would He say to their leaders?

When they arrived at Bethphage, which was on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead. There were special preparations that had to be made. For you see, the events of this day were going to have a high and holy meaning. Events that were predicted hundreds of years in the past would finally come true.

Jesus gave two disciples very specific directions. He said:

“‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her upon which no person has ever sat. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’”

Matthew 21:2-3 and Mark 11:2b

 The disciples went off and did just as the Lord had said. They found the animals tied to a door outside in the street. When they began to untie them, some people standing nearby with the owners asked, “‘Why are you untying them?’”

The disciples said, “‘The Lord has need of them,’” just as Jesus had told them. The owner gave them permission to take the creatures. The disciples lead the donkey and her colt out to Jesus on the Mount of Olives.   Little did they understand the significance of what they were a part of. In fact, it was only after Jesus ascended into Heaven that they would think back on this day and realize the great prophecy they had taken part in. For you see, in Zechariah 9:9, the prophet said:

“‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you,

righteous and having salvation is He,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Zech. 9:9, ESV

These verses are a part of Zechariah’s description of a time when the King of Israel would see that His people were deeply afflicted. God would move in power on behalf of His people to deliver them. After complete and final victory over their enemies, their righteous King would ride into Jerusalem in victory. His conquest would bring peace not only for Israel, but for all the nations of the world. He would be the perfect, ideal ruler, like nothing the world had ever known. He would also be humble. Though He was mighty, He would submit with perfection to the King of Creation, honoring the Most High God with His reign.

Obviously this King would be no ordinary man. These were prophecies of the coming Messiah. As Jesus operated in absolute obedience to the will of His Father, God carried out His plans in perfect unison with the things He had foretold in His holy Word.

As the disciples led the donkey and her colt to Jesus, they had no idea they were swept up in the Great Unfolding of Zecheriah’s words. They just obeyed. When they arrived, they lay their garments across the back of the colt. Jesus sat on the young creature, and they began their procession into the City of David.

As Christ and the multitudes with Him moved towards the high walls of Jerusalem, the great crowds inside the city heard that Jesus was on His way. They began cutting the branches of palm trees to wave for the royal procession. Then they rushed out to receive the One they had been waiting for. Imagine their joy and excitement as they all began to shout out praises from their sacred book of worship:

“‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Psalm 118:26

 The crowds that had followed Jesus and the disciples from Bethany walked along behind Jesus as He rode on the colt. They had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and they were full of hope for the great things that He would do. Pretty soon, the masses from Jerusalem joined them in one great throng of vibrant energy and celebration as Christ rode the hill up into the City. The people began laying their cloaks and garments out on the road ahead of Him. It was an act of humble submission. They were physically showing their homage to the Man they were calling their King.

Imagine the fervor and joy! Thousands of years of national longing was pouring out in a lavish display of thankful praise. They had seen the miracles! They had heard the stories of His powerful works! The Great Day had arrived!

The entire city was alive as even more people rushed out to see the Man who had raised Lazarus from the dead.

The religious leaders heard the commotion and joined the throng of jubilation. When they heard the people give praise to Christ as King, they began to grumble to one another. “‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!’”

Then some of the Pharisees went to Jesus as He rode through the shouts and praise of the crowd. “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!,’” they demanded.

Jesus looked back at them and declared, “‘I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones will cry out!’”

Jesus was not only the King of Israel, He is King of the universe, and every part of it is called to worship Him!

But even as the Lord rode through the excitement and clamor, He was flooded with a deep, inner sorrow. He looked up at the great walls of Jerusalem, the City of God’s special choosing, and wept, saying:

“‘If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you in the ground, and you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’”

Luke 19:42-44

This terribly sorrowful saying was a prophecy. “If only you had known what would bring you peace.” Consider the sorrow of Jesus, reconciling His rejection with the vast and breathtaking consequences that were to come. The city of Jerusalem was going to be so devastated that every building would be crushed to the ground. But Jesus was not only mourning the future of Jerusalem. He was mourning the future of the whole nation. Jerusalem was the capitol, where God had set His special, intensified presence on earth. It was also a symbol for Israel, His treasured possession.

Even now as the people joined in wild celebration, Jesus knew what lay ahead. This moment of righteous glory would not last long. The nation that refused to repent through the Lord’s years of wondrous ministry would not stand with the Messiah in the end, either. The consequences would be great. Within the lifetime of the children who walked the streets of Jerusalem that day, the Roman army would come. When they were finished brutalizing the City and its people, there would be nothing left to call a city. The nation of Israel would disappear from the face of the earth for thousands of years.

With the rejection of their Messiah, the Jewish people were about to choose the ways of God’s enemy over the way of God’s righteous plan. And so the Lord would give them their way. Instead of having this humble King on a colt, they would have the malicious ways of the world, and it would devour them. The mighty Roman Empire would crush them. The depths of grief in this Son of David, this Son of God’s holy love, must have been great as He wept on His way into his City.

Picture the moment…the eloquent mourning of the King for the deep tragedy ahead in the midst of the jubilant crowds, waving their palms.

Yet in the midst of the disaster that faithless Israel was bringing upon themselves, Jesus carried a much deeper hope. He would have victory in spite of their betrayal.   It would be nothing like what they were hoping for. Through His perfect life, Jesus had been conquering the powers of sin and death by making the way to become the perfect, spotless Lamb. Now the time of His sacrifice was upon Him.

The grandeur of what He was going to do was far more vast and deep and high than anything they could comprehend. His deliverance was not for the nation of Israel alone. It was not merely for all the nations on earth for all time. Jesus had come to redeem the entire created order! His death would purchase the entire universe. He would make all things new!

As the throngs of people entered Jerusalem with their Messiah, they had no idea of the greatness of what they were celebrating. But the ruckus they caused stirred the rest of the city. “‘Who is this?’” was asked as the loud parade made its way inside the walls.

“‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth!’” the crowds proclaimed back to them.

The crowds journeyed with Jesus all the way to the Temple. The blind and the lame were there among the people, and an outpouring of healing came through Christ, making them whole and strong. What a delight and absolute thrill to watch men and women who were bound up and deformed jump up and dance and sing! What a marvelous party they were having, right on the steps of God’s holy Palace! The children were so swept up in the excitement that they were jumping and crying out with happy exaltation, “‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’”

In the midst of this unimaginably boisterous and absolutely appropriate happiness, the religious leaders and Pharisees grew bitter with indignation.‘Do you hear what they are saying?’” they demanded to Jesus “. They were red hot mad. The people were calling Him the Messiah, and Jesus wasn’t doing anything to stop them. It was as good as if Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah Himself.

Fortunately, Jesus was the Messiah, so He told them, “‘Yes! Have you never read:

‘From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise’”?

Wow. Now Jesus was quoting Psalm 8. If we read a little bit more of the Psalm, we will understand why this made the Jewish leaders even more angry:

“‘O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens,

From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise.

because of your enemies,

to silence the foe and the avenger.’”

Psalm 8:1-2

 Jesus didn’t have to quote the whole Psalm to these men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. The children who give praise in these verses are giving praise to God Himself. Jesus was making it very clear that He was the divine Messiah. He was also making it clear that King David had foretold this very event.

The children were proclaiming the praise of Jesus against the religious leaders who had made themselves Christ’s enemies. These men should have led God’s nation to worship their Messiah. They had failed, and now the children cried out in their place.

Jesus spoke the truth boldly to them, and it was a kindness and a grace. There was still time, this was fair warning. They were on the wrong side of God’s holy plan. Would they repent?  They wouldn’t. They did just as the Psalm foretold. They were silenced in their rebellion, and they went away to plot once again about how to destroy the Son of the Living God.

The evening was drawing to a close on that remarkable day, so Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and went back to Bethany to stay for the night.


Story 157: Zaccheaus and the Glorious Indignity of Tree Climbing

Luke 19:1-10

Sycamore Gap on Hadrian's Wall

It was the time of the Passover Feast for the nation of Israel. Over two thousand years before, God had brought the Hebrew people out of their slavery to the Egyptian Pharaoh. The Pharaoh had been given chance after chance to set God’s people free, but he had refused. The Lord sent frogs and gnats and hail and boils, but still the Pharaoh’s heart was hard against the will of the King of Creation. And so God brought the final judgment… God declared that He would reclaim the life of every firstborn son in the nation of Egypt. It was life that God had given in the first place, gifts of deep joy to the citizens of the nation who were oppressing His own chosen people. In response to the Egyptian king’s continued refusal to let the Hebrew people go, the Lord would withdraw the life He had given to sustain their firstborn sons.

In many ways this was a great reversal. The Pharaoh had been taking the lives of the firstborn sons of Israel so that their population would stay small and under his control. The difference was that he had no right to take these lives. It was murder, pure and simple. But the Lord, the Author of Life and the King of Eternity, sits in a very different position than that of a human king. The way we respond to God is supposed to be very different from how we think about human rulers. If we truly believe that He is Lord, if we commit to trust in His Word, if we recognize that there is a Creator who is the definer of wisdom and truth, then the only right response is to respect His choices and honor Him with obedience.  As He wisely governs over kings and nations, He can see things that we cannot, and His choices are beyond our comprehension. Our role is to simply trust Him.

In many cultures of the world today, it is taught that the human mind is the highest form of intelligence in the universe.  It becomes our job to figure out God, to decide if He is right or wrong, and if  He doesn’t measure up to our standard, we are taught we are wrong to believe in Him. While it is true that God has made humans in His image and that we are responsible to use our minds to discern right from wrong, the way we understand this has to come from God.  There is only One True Lord.  Humanity is far too messy, far too captive to their own needs and the power of their culture to be the final arbitrators of absolute truth.  The only Being great enough for that role is God Himself.

As we look out at all the other options in the world, there are many things we can put our faith in.  We can trust in our own abilities, in other people, in wealth or power, in our leaders or our nation, or in any one of the many religions that claim they are showing the way.  Or we can pray and ask the true and living God to reveal Himself to us and show us how to follow Him.  The Bible is where He tells His side of the story for humanity.

One of God’s major movements in history to bring us salvation came when He set the Hebrew people free from slavery to the Egyptian Pharaoh.  The night that the Lord would claim the lives of the firstborn sons of Egypt, He told the Israelites to sacrifice a  lamb and share it as a meal with their families. They were to take the blood of the lambs and put it on the doorposts of their homes. This act of faith would tell the Lord to pass over their homes and keep them safe from judgment (see Exodus 12).

The judgment of God came on the nation of Egypt in that long, dark night, and all the firstborn sons lost their lives…including the son of Pharaoh, the future king. In his grief, the Pharaoh finally agreed to let God’s people go.

God told Moses that His people were to commemorate that remarkable release from bondage every year in the great Feast of Passover.  And they did.

Over 1,500 years later, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to celebrate that great Feast. Only this time, He would be the firstborn son who would bear the brunt of the judgment brought by the sin of humanity. He would be the Passover Lamb whose blood would bring protection from judgment for all who respond to God by faith. God had already planted deep in the heart of His people the images of and understanding of sin, judgment, and grace…images that would find their final resolution in the Person of Jesus Christ. The images that pointed to the coming of the Son of God were in their history…they were in their beloved symbols of faith and rituals and the pilgrimages that marked their calendar year.   Would the people of Jesus’ time have eyes to see what was unfolding before them?

As Jesus headed towards the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem, He was flanked by crowds of people. When they passed through the city of Jericho, a 45-mile distance from Jerusalem, everyone must have stopped to see what all the ruckus was about. The rumors of Jesus’ coming had probably preceded Him for days. Everyone wanted a peek at the Miracle Worker who was turning the nation upside down.

One of the men of Jericho was named Zaccheaus.  Zaccheaus was a tax collector, which meant he was doubly despised by the Jewish people. He was a pawn in the hand of the Roman government, collecting taxes for them from his own countrymen. Not only that, but he overcharged his fellow Jews, collecting more than necessary to line his own pockets. Zaccheaus’ work was especially wicked because he was chief over the other tax collectors. He oversaw the corruption that put heavy burdens on the people. Jericho was a major city on a major road, and he could demand a heavy toll.

But Zaccheaus had heard things about Jesus that were curious. It was said that the tax collectors and sinners were flocking to Jesus, and that He wasn’t turning them away. What could it mean? Was there hope for Zaccheaus, in spite of all that he had done?

As the crowd moved down the road, Zaccheus, who was very short, realized he would never get a good look at Jesus unless he got himself to a higher place. So he ran ahead of the mob and found a sycamore tree. He scrambled up onto the branches just as Jesus was about to pass by. When the Lord got there, He looked up and said, “‘Zaccheaus, hurry up and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’”

Wow! Can you imagine? With all the people around Him, and with all that was going on, Jesus was compelled to stop.

Have you noticed how often Jesus was moved by boldness? Whether it was the crying out of Bartemeaus, the bleeding woman who reached out and touched His cloak, the centurion who trusted Jesus to heal from miles away…or Zaccheaus casting aside his dignity to climb a tree…Jesus seems to have been compelled by those acts which fell outside the norm, those moments where someone’s need and faith compelled them to move past their usual ways, often at the risk of looking foolish.

When Zaccheus heard the words of Christ, he wasted no time.   He clamored back down the tree and welcomed Christ to his home joyfully.

When the Jews saw who Jesus was going to spend the evening with, they all began to grumble. How quickly their mood changed from praise to complaint! They hated Zaccheaus! “ ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner,’” they said.

They could have asked Jesus why He was doing something that was so far from what their own religious convictions would tell them to do.  They could have waited to see what He was going to do.  But they didn’t.  Instead, they gossiped.

Jesus was not interested in obeying the crowds. He was loyal to the will of His Father, and God the Father knew a great work was happening in Zaccheaus’ heart.

Zaccheaus stood before Jesus and declared, “‘Look Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’”

Wow! What a beautiful picture of true repentance. Zaccheaus had turned completely around.  Imagine it. He was going to give away half of everything he owned…that might include selling houses and farms and gold. Imagine the wonderful things he would do for the poor.  Imagine how it would change their lives!

It was not only the poor whose lives would change.  Anyone that had felt the bite of his corruption was going to be blessed now...four times over.  This is the beauty of salvation at work.  This was the repentance Christ had been looking for as He traveled around the nation of Israel.  Zaccheaus’ heart was transformed by the Good News.

Jesus declared to Zaccheaus and the crowd, “‘Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.’”

Wow.  It might be easy to miss the power of what Jesus was saying here.  The Jewish people were very proud to be the descendants of Abraham, and rightly so.  It meant they were a part of God’s chosen people. This is the greatest honor that has ever been bestowed upon a nation.  But they did not consider tax collectors a part of their family. Zaccheaus showed by his repentant faith in Jesus that he truly was a member of Abraham’s family. And Jesus showed the Jews in a bright and beautiful way that God has a wealth of compassion and grace for all who believe.

You will notice that Zaccheaus did not tell Jesus, “I believe, but I’m not going to change anything. I’ll just keep right on robbing the people and living in sin.” When we come to the Lord, we need to come with humility and repentance.

Imagine how the world changes when we do that. Imagine how it blessed the poor and the people that Zacchaeus had once overcharged? They could pay their debts, feed their children, take care of their homes. They didn’t have to live in fear of the new tax season. The men that worked under Zaccheaus would learn to do their work without corruption. All that had been crooked and deceitful, the sin that caused so much damage, would become untwisted and straight. Greater peace would be brought to the people of Jericho and everyone that passed through.

This is one of the powerful ways that the Kingdom of God is established on earth.

It is easy to think of Jesus as serious and intense…because He often was. But imagine His joy at the party as they celebrated the change in the life of Zaccheaus.   In just a few days, Jesus would be heading for the cross, yet He took the time to celebrate this one transformed life.

In Hebrews 12:2, the Bible says that Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame because of the joy set before Him. On the other side of the cross, Jesus would be raised up to sit at the right hand of the Father, on the Throne of Heaven. And because of His sacrifice, people like Zaccheaus and you and me will be able to join Him there.  Our salvation was part of the joy that was set before Him.

Was the incredible gift He was about to win for Zaccheaus on His mind as they celebrated? Was the beauty of Zaccheaus’ transformation a comfort to Jesus…a reminder of the beauty of what He was about to do?

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