Thursday, March 29, 2012

Palms and Passion

Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey. He came to the cheers of a crowd ready for a coronation. They waved palms and cried out "Hosanna. Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." Hosanna. Somebody told me we need more hosannas.
Saying Hosanna and waving Palms is a powerful way to reinforce our faith in Jesus and even to connect with the hope and joy of the crowds who greeted him in Jerusalem. The Jewish people hoped for a great leader a savior Roman oppression who'd make everything right. Jesus, prophet and healer, fit the bill. 60 years ago most churches gathered the week before Easter to remember Palm Sunday and the hope.

Today we sing hosanna and we remembered the hope. But 60 years ago retelling Jesus' Cross was set aside for Good Friday. That was the day to remember and pray about the cross. Over the past 6 decades something has changed and the cross has moved right to the very center of our Palm Sunday. We still remember the procession and the adulation of the crowd; but we also come face to face with the cross.

Some people will rightly ask, “Why?” After all there's something wonderful about praising Jesus and remembering the Hosannas as he came into Jerusalem. Why would we want to hear about the passion on this day too? Why not wait until Friday? Freedom, true freedom, comes for us through the cross of Jesus Christ. St Bernard of Clairvaux said,

if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead. To this David testified when he sang, ‘God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same; that power belongeth unto God; and that Thou, Lord, art merciful (Ps. 62.11f).
The cross is where everything starts over. Its the place where before we can start over we have to see ourselves—our pride and our sins put to death—with Jesus. Bernard wrote on,
And surely there is proof enough and to spare in that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven that He might protect us from on high, and sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort. Hereafter He will come again for the consummation of our bliss. In His Death He displayed His mercy, in His Resurrection His power; both combine to manifest His glory.
We look at the cross today not just to be dower and down hearted. We look closely at the cross so that the joy of Easter might start to grow in us. We look at the cross knowing how the story ends and how God ripped that ending apart. It's real for all of us. And so too is the hope we have in Jesus.

Luther wrote of the Passion
We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, pray a psalm daily, yes, better than to hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth. Here the passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.Martin Luther, vol. 42, Luther's Works, Vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1969)page 11
We look on not to drop into despair but to reach up to hope.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lifted up for the world John 3:14-21

Jesus lifted up--to save

Jessu lifted up--on the cross--abandoned and abused, naked and derided.

Jesus lifted up--by the whole church--saving all who come to faith in Him.

Jesus lifted up--by sinners--both then and now.  2000 years ago sinners lifted Jesus up.  Today we sinners lift him up. His death on our hands and our new life in His hands.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When God Overturns John 2:13-22

Jesus stepped into the temple and he didn't like what he saw (John 2:13-14). Rather than walking away he introduced himself.  He wove together cords into a whip to clear things up. He poured out the money changer's coins and tossed over their tables. He drove animals and animal sellers out of the temple court.(John 2:15).

Why? New life starts and Jesus turns things over: the temple, sin, death, and the work of the evil one: Jesus came to turn it all over.  Like a gardener with a spade or a roto-tiller Jesus turns everything. Overturning is key to a new beginning.  Jesus came not to leave us in sin but to turn us away from sin lifting us up out of ourselves. John 2:17 remembers Psalm 69:9 as a prophesy about a heart zealous for the temple.

Does this image of Jesus, strong and independent, shock you? Jesus was so passionate he drove people from the temple. He wanted worship on different terms: Jesus wants change in us and it begins with Him.  People in the temple wanted a miracle as evidence He had a right to speak and act boldly.  Jesus answered them crypticly, “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days.” (John 2:18-19 NCV) Later on Jesus followers understood what he meant. He was talking about his own destruction and resurrection (John 2:20-22).

Jesus' strength:
We sinners think the world is about us.  Jesus teaches something different.  He wants things to change starting with worship.  More than ritual action He wants hearts.  Put away idols, lesser gods like money, power, toys, sex, and come worship with your whole being.

Many mistakenly view Jesus as weak, unable to make change happen: there are at least two views of Jesus as weak.
  • some believe Jesus is weak and zealously rush to help Him.  In confusion they presume Jesus can't act as Son of God without their help. Fyodor Dostoyevsky explored the logical end of such confusion in a novella called The Grand Inquisitor.  It's worth a read.
  • sinners who've grown comfortable assume Jesus is weak and blind loving and accepting all in apathy.  But meeting the real Jesus, who turns things over, challenges us to leave our sins behind.  The difference here is between a God who loves you too much to leave you in sin and a lesser god who tolerates you. A God who loves you will lead you to change.
Jesus, John 2 reveals, is bold, zealous, and full of compassion: this is Jesus true character. Jesus gave both love and forgiveness at a great cost accepting sinners.  He welcomes us not to continue in the way of destruction but in order for us to begin new lives. 

May God help us hold Jesus up high that the world may see both his passion to turn things over and his compassion for all. Pax, John