Category: Gospel of Luke

Increase our Faith(fulness)

The second stop on the 2017 Summer Blog Tour is in Timothy Archer’s Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts. Enjoy the read as Tim reminds us of Jesus intention when he talked about faith.

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It was one of those moments. Jesus challenged his disciples to show forgiveness to others, even if it means forgiving them seven times in one day. The disciples saw the challenge and responded: “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)

I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to get from Jesus, but I suspect they recognized the gap between Jesus’ teachings and their own abilities.

So Jesus responded by saying that faith doesn’t have to be huge; even a tiny amount can move mountains.

Then he told them a parable:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’ Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”  (Luke 17:6-10)

I think he was saying, “You don’t need more faith; you need more faithfulness.”

In other words, theirs wasn’t a head problem. It wasn’t an intellectual need. It wasn’t even a lack of commitment. What they needed to do was put their faith into action. Or, more specifically, put their faith into obedience.

Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. We read about Abel, Enoc, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, and the rest. In almost every case, when we read about their faith, we read about something they did. We see their faith in their faithfulness.

Faith is more than an emotion. It’s more than an intellectual exercise. It’s something that you can observe. Faith is belief in action. Faith is being willing to listen to God and follow his lead, no matter what.

Faith leads to action. I can believe that a man is a doctor, yet still have no faith in him. But if I do have faith in a doctor, then I will follow his instructions. It is no special credit to me if I do what the doctor tells me to do; it is merely a symbol of the faith that I have in him.

If you’d like to have greater faith, then I believe the key is to take what faith you have and put it into action. Find ways to serve others. Tell people about what God is doing in this world. Meet needs and better your community.

Because you may not need more faith at all; you might just need a bit more faithfulness.

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Timothy Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006.  Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. You can follow Tim’s personal blog at: http://www.timothyarcher.com/kitchen/.

 

Power & Humility

I preached yesterday on the contrast between Power and Humility. Specifically, I pondered how Jesus could fully embody both simultaneously.

Much of Jesus birth narrative places him at odds with the political powers of his day.

Augustus Caesar was the most powerful man in the world at the time of Christ’s birth. After the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus had defeated the armies of all his rivals. He had only to sign an edict and people like Joseph and Mary would travel from one end of their country to another, just to be counted.

“Augustus proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world. He declared that his father, Julius Caesar, was a god, therefore he was a ‘son of god’. Augustus, people said, was the ‘saviour’ of the world. He was its king, its ‘lord’. And over time people increasingly worshiped him as a god.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone, 22-23)

Then Luke’s gospel tells us that angels broke into the earthly sky proclaiming to shepherds that that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Later, Jesus would be called the “Son of God” but the angels announce that he is Savior and Lord. Augustus is not.

Herod The GreatMatthew’s account focuses upon Herod, the non-Jewish king of Judea. Hearing from traveling magi that they sought a newborn king, Herod becomes enraged. When his plot to identify the child fails, Matthew describes the slaughter of children in Bethlehem as Herod sought to eliminate all rivals to his throne.

Jesus flees to Egypt as a political refugee.

At the same time, Luke tells us that the evidence a rival to Caesar has been born can be found in “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” If not for the angels, no one would have noticed this family in Bethlehem that night. Such was Jesus humble entrance.

Luke previously laid the groundwork for this contrast when he included Mary’s song in his gospel. Mary had no pretensions of grandeur as she praised God for noticing “the humble state of his servant.” She goes on to celebrate how God “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Jesus challenged the existing power structures of the world from conception. He came to humanity with all the power of the Godhead, yet practiced humility and exalted the humble.

When our society combines power with humility it is most often expressed as the powerful demanding humility from the powerless. “Know your place.” “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Leave this to the experts.” The powerful can demand humility from everyone except themselves. And when the people without power rise up to claim some of that power for themselves, more often than not we find ourselves in a situation abounding in conflict and violence.

power-fistOur society equates power with force, with violence, with coercion, with the biggest guns, the biggest muscles, the most money and influence. Power it seems doesn’t require wisdom, because even when foolish actions are taken that person, that organization, that nation, still has power. And power doesn’t need humility, because humility is weakness.

We face the temptation at this point to rail against power as an evil force, yet God is all-powerful. Like wealth, power has no intrinsic value as either good or evil. The person exercising power determines its character.

On the other side of the equation humility also creates temptations:

  1. The temptation to sugar coat abuse and discrimination as humility.
  2. The temptation to accept false humility as true humility both in ourselves and others.
  3. The temptation to equate powerlessness with humility.

Jesus expression of humility didn’t make him powerless and passive. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he refused to allow outside forces to distract him from his mission. He expressed himself assertively and directly challenged those who opposed him. Jesus was humble, but never powerless.

Living humbly means that those of us with power have a responsibility not just to use our power for the benefit of others, but to share that power with those who have little or none. Many people willingly hand over money to assist those in need. But this act of benevolence does nothing to change the power structure that created the inequality. This natural urge to cling to power makes the example of Jesus truly revolutionary. Philippians 2 frames the entire existence of the human Jesus as an emptying of power and an empowering of humanity.

Jesus came to the powerless, to the sick, an poor, and he reflected God by healing them, by forgiving them, and by giving them hope. Jesus left the throne room of heaven to allow humanity the opportunity to become fellow heirs with him. Jesus empowers his followers with the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Jesus empowers his followers by creating a church that welcomes each person regardless of the way society describes and segregates them.

Ultimately Jesus empowers each person by emphasising the basis of all humility. Each person is made in the image of God. Each person is a child of God, and is precious to God. Each person has access to God and all power comes from Him. All gifts, talents, abilities and blessings come from Him. We give up our power and exercise humility as we share this message and embody it in our relationships with all.

We all have power in some sphere of our lives. The question we must answer is whether we use it to exalt ourselves, or others?

The Gospel Inside Out

Church Inside OutI’m grateful to share Brandon Fredenburg’s contribution to our Summer Blog Tour. Brandon is a thoughtful writer who shares resources and perspectives that I usually overlook.
As part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over
HERE.

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I’m afraid the title is more ambitious than my few paragraphs offer. To make my task more manageable, I offer a few idea-starters about the gospel as taught by Jesus, Paul, and the early church bishop, Athanasius.

The gospel Jesus taught

Jesus torah reading 01In contrast to Matthew’s and Mark’s summary of Jesus’s “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), Luke 4:18–19 depicts Jesus preaching selectively from Isaiah 61:1–2:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because

He has anointed me
to evangelize the poor.

He has sent me
to declare liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the broke(n) with a full release,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (my translation).

When Jesus omits “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa 61:2b) and rehearses God’s blessing of a foreign widow and an enemy general, he turns the gospel of God his hearers expect inside out. “He isn’t just our God and he blesses our enemies,” Jesus reveals. Their reaction, like their “God,” is one of deadly vengeance.

Perhaps this is why Jesus begins his evangelizing with the word “repent.” Apparently, even John the Baptist missed it, as Matthew 11:1–15 makes clear. Jesus says those who even barely grasp his message have far greater insight than John. John’s gospel of violent, fiery judgment, it seems, put him at odds with Jesus’s view of the nature of the kingdom of the heavens. “Repent,” then, as Jesus uses it, retains its core meaning of “shift your paradigm” with reference to God and God’s kingdom. For John, repentance focused on the personal sacrifices required for holiness; for Jesus, repentance kept its eyes on the merciful nature of God toward all persons (Exod. 34:5–7; Jonah 4:2b). “For I delight in mercy but not sacrifice; and in knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6, my translation).

Jesus’s gospel is about his Father and his Father’s nature. The Father’s nature was so misunderstood, Jesus claims no one but he knows the Father (Matt. 11:27). He then immediately invites those wearied and burdened by compromised gospels of God to come to him for rest, to take on the easy, restful yoke of learning as a disciple of his gentle humility and light burden. “No one knows the Father except the Son”: not John the Baptist, not the Pharisees or the scribes, not Moses or Elijah, not Jesus’s disciples, no one except he … and his post-resurrection disciples. The Father is known rightly and fully only through his Son (Heb. 1:1–3b).

The gospel Paul taught

Jesus’s gospel reframed a self-serving view of his Father’s compassion; Paul’s gospel applied Jesus’s message more widely. Two passages are especially rich: 2 Cor. 5:11–21 and Eph. 2:1–10.

In 2 Cor. 5:14, Paul claims that Christ’s death universally incorporates humanity. In his death, all died. When this insight becomes clear, a whole new world comes into focus. Paul knows this from his own experience: before he embraced it, he viewed Jesus as a renegade false prophet whose death was just. Once the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he saw the new creation. He no longer saw through Adam’s blind, fearful, ashamed, sin-focused eyes. Jesus Messiah incarnated into the old, blinded, fearful, ashamed, sin-wracked Adamic humanity, embraced it and us fully and carried it and us into Death. And by God’s own unilateral act of cosmic justice, Jesus (and it and us) were raised to newness.

Paul makes a parallel point in Ephesians 2, but goes farther. In 2:1–3, Paul sets the cosmic stage: we were all dead in our sins, naturally characterized by impulsive anger, like the rest of humanity. The “we” in 2:1–3 is undoubtedly all Adamic humanity. “But,” Paul contrasts, “God, being rich in mercy, because of his abundant love with which he loved us — even while we were dead in our sins — co-enlivened us with Christ: you are rescued by [God’s] favor!” Not only did we all die with Christ, God raised us all up and seated us all with Christ. This rescue from Death is anchored in God’s favor, accomplished by God’s faithfulness, given as unconditional gift, and integral to God’s (new) creation-act.

Paul extends Jesus’s gospel to include Jesus’s cooperation with the Father in rescuing Adamic humanity from its errant view of God and the self-caused alienation “in our own minds” (Col 1:21). The rescue for all humanity has been a fait accompli since Jesus’s resurrection. The message of what God has done in Christ is proclaimed so that, by awakening to its truth, all persons can dwell in the present blessings of the new creation.

The gospel Athanasius taught

Athanasius of AlexandriaJust as Paul authoritatively interpreted Jesus’s gospel in scripture, Athanasius’s views both reflected and influenced the understanding of the early church (ca. 200–400). In contrast, Augustine’s perspectives (post-400) dominated the Latin church and, through it, the Reformers and most of contemporary Evangelicalism.

In his On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius explains that humanity, brought to life out of nothing, maintained life by keeping a clear knowledge of God’s nature (i.e., the Logos) within them. Humanity’s existence depended on an uncompromised trust and dependence on God. Once the devil deceived humanity into mistrust, humanity cut itself off from its source of life and knowledge. Thus, by degrees, humanity not only lost its ability for clear reason, it began to disintegrate into physical death and, beyond that, into the corruption of utter nothingness; that is, into Death. Return to nothingness was not a God-imposed punishment, but a God-warned natural consequence of cutting our own umbilical cord.

It was both intolerable to and unworthy of God that he would do nothing to rescue those created in his own likeness, especially because they had been tricked by falsehood, and because a neglect to rescue them would demonstrate weakness. Thus, a rescue by the Logos that had created humanity was needed. The incarnated Logos fully incorporated all humanity into his own body, joining corruptible to incorruptible, and sacrificed himself (and us in him) to death to settle Death’s claim. Since Christ is the incorruptible Logos, Death could not contain him. By Christ’s death, Death died. Because we died his death and he ours, physical death is no punishment and Death-as-annihilation is no possibility. Moreover, once Death died, Christ then offered himself (and us in him) to the Father, who raised him as firstfruits and will raise us-in-him at the final resurrection.

The Gospel inside out

The gospel of God is not an invitation. It has no steps for us to climb to seek and gain God’s favor. It is not an offer that, by accepting, we activate its benefits. No, the gospel is far greater.

The gospel is the astounding declaration that, despite having gotten God all wrong in our thinking, having mischaracterized, misrepresented, maligned, mistreated, and had malice toward him, God has never been against us. To be sure, God has been against all our fearful, ignorant, misguided, vengeful characterizations of him and their effects, but he has endured them to be with us so that we might truly glimpse him and repent. He did not leave the glimpses to chance, but manifested himself entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ and the new creation life in which we participate. The basis of the gospel has always been God’s compassionate nature toward all creation; its benefits have always been active for all persons, but its enjoyment is possible only to those whose eyes see. Repent, and believe the gospel of God!

Peace and all good to all, always.

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Brandon L. Fredenburg is a professor of Biblical Studies and assistant dean for the College of Biblical Studies and Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University. He lives, ministers, and teaches in Lubbock, Texas.

We All Have a God Box

15-03-02/47One of my favorite stories in the Bible revolves around the largely unknown disciple of Jesus: Cleopas. (You can read his story in Luke 24.)

Cleopas was a disciple of Jesus who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. While in Jerusalem he witnessed the crucifixion of his hero. His dreams of joining the Messiah in restoring Israel to glory lay shattered at the foot of the cross.

He stayed in Jerusalem a few days. He gathered with the other disciples and no doubt they exchanged laments at the death of their Messiah.

He listened with amazement when the women returned from the tomb and said they’d found it empty. He pondered the message of the angels who told the women that Jesus was alive. But after John and Peter went to the tomb and came back empty handed, Cleopas gave up.

Confused. Disoriented. Stunned…

Cleopas left his dream. He left the other disciples. He left Jerusalem and returned to the ordinary routines of daily life.

“He had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Had hoped. But not any more. Now he knew better. As Cleopas trudged the 7 miles back to Emmaus he was wiser for the experience. Everyone knows dead people don’t come alive again. Not prophets. And definitely not Messiah’s. In fact, the Messiah wasn’t even supposed to die!

Whatever those angels were talking about, he didn’t know, but he had work to do. He’d spent enough time following a whisp of a dream, now he needed to make up for all those wasted days he’d spent following Jesus around the countryside.

Subsequent events, such as meeting the resurrected Jesus and sharing a meal with him, proved Cleopas’ despondency misplaced.

As we consider the disparity between Cleopas’ perspective of recent events and the reality of those events we notice how his reaction was largely determined by his initial expectations. Cleopas held a rigid, brittle understanding of how God would work through the Messiah. When events didn’t roll out the way he expected, he gave up. He didn’t even wait around to consider the significance of the empty tomb or the angel’s message. He knew how God would work, and it wasn’t like this.

It’s easy to criticise Cleopas for placing God in a box of his own construction. Yet, we all have boxes of various shapes and sizes in which we place God. Usually, it’s easier to see other people’s boxes, so we often don’t notice our own.

god box 01

Anytime we speak on behalf of God describing what He can’t, won’t, doesn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, will, or must do, we add another plank to our own God Box. I’m not suggesting that we simply invent statements about God. We usually have Scripture and good reasons to see God as we do. But Cleopas had Scriptures and and good reasons for his view of the Messiah… He was wrong, and sometimes we are also.

I’m not necessarily using the term “God Box” in a negative way. My goal is simply for us to recognise that everyone constructs a unique view of God. This recognition should cultivate a spirit of humility when we make absolute statements that reflect our own God Box.

Let me provide some examples of planks in a God Box:

  • God doesn’t hear the prayers of unbelievers.
  • God won’t save someone from the consequences of their own stupidity.
  • God doesn’t care about human politics.
  • God can’t get me out of this mess.
  • The Holy Spirit can’t inhabit an unbaptized body.
  • God doesn’t perform miracles today.
  • God wouldn’t send a dream to someone today.
  • God won’t condemn you for that.

These restrictive statements may be true (or not), but even if they are, they create a framework for God to fit inside. But God is always bigger than any box we create. And Scripture frequently describes God creating exceptions to principles we regard as rules. It’s not that God is capricious, but he sees a bigger picture than we can hope to see.

Perhaps more surprising is that we can also build our God Box out of permissive statements:

  • God will answer your prayer.
  • God will heal you.
  • God has defeated death.
  • God wants what’s best for you.
  • God understands our weaknesses.
  • God wants everyone to be saved.
  • God cares more about the heart than rigid obedience.
  • God’s grace always wins out over justice.

These lists could go on and on.

When we make statements like these about God we begin to define Him. They represent our efforts to fit a limitless God inside our very limited minds.

Thus we need humility in (at least) two places:

  1. We need humility to allow God to act outside our understanding of Him. God has the freedom and authority to create his own exceptions to our rules.
  2. We need humility to accept that others’ God Boxes may be correct in places ours aren’t.

To Cleopas’ credit, when the risen Messiah revealed himself Cleopas didn’t argue. He didn’t hang his head in shame. He excitedly ran back to Jerusalem to celebrate his errors (God’s good news) with his friends. May we have the humility to acknowledge our errors when we discover them. And may the construction material of our God Box more closely resemble rubber than cast iron, giving it the flexibility to stretch and adjust as our view of God matures throughout life.

Easter with the Prodigal

You know the story. The parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 is one of the most well known Biblical stories. It’s a simple story of redemption as a son leaves home but returns after frittering away his inheritance. The story captures our imagination because of the father’s response. The father asks no questions and welcomes the son home with a community banquet. The son receives grace, acceptance, forgiveness, and love when he’s done nothing to deserve it.

prodigal son

I’ve heard it suggested that we should more accurately title this story “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”. You see, the word ‘prodigal’ describes someone who is ‘extravagantly wasteful or lavishly generous’. The word emphasises adjectives like: reckless, extravagant, and lavish. While the son in the story recklessly blew through his inheritance, the father lavished him with grace and forgiveness.

As I read the story this time I noticed that the father in the story always loved the son. Even when the son thought he’d be better off without his father, the father granted him the freedom to pursue his own path. The father allowed himself to be vulnerable, susceptible to the pain of rejection. Although rejected by the son, he never returned insult for insult. His love was constant.

The story ends as the son celebrates his return. He celebrates restored relationships. He celebrates forgiveness. He celebrates safety. He celebrates acceptance. He celebrates a second chance. He celebrates…

The difference was not that the father now loved the son more. The son celebrates because he now appreciates the father’s love. He experienced grace. He felt the embrace of acceptance and value. It will take him time to fully grasp the depth of his father’s love, but he now lives a new life within his father’s embrace.

When I view the resurrection through this lens it reminds me that God always gives us the freedom to reject him. I’m reminded that Jesus death was necessary because I walked away from God. I don’t quite understand that equation, but I do understand that it communicates God’s love and forgiveness for me. As I examine the empty tomb I realise the prodigal grace that he’s “wasting” on me.

Perhaps the resurrection’s greatest revelation is not that God loves me, but that I begin to appreciate what it means to be loved by God.

So I celebrate. I celebrate God’s love. I celebrate God’s power. I celebrate God’s victory. I celebrate the grace and mercy God extends to me. I celebrate the hope I have to join Jesus eternally in his new life. I celebrate being accepted. I celebrate restored relationship and the forgiveness that makes it possible.  I celebrate…

…and I hope you do too. My prayer for you today is that you may experience the wonders of life within the embrace of God.

 

 

Eating Jesus

We can all sing in the car, alone.

We can all pray in a dark room, by ourselves.

We can all give online, individually.

Taking the Lord’s Supper requires community.

When it comes to the Lord’s Table, we come together to remind ourselves of the blessings of His body and blood offered for us.

communion 01Regardless of our personal resumes, we all celebrate exactly the same thing at the Lord’s Table. We’re equally separated from God and equally reconciled.

  • Our sins are forgiven;
  • Our guilt is removed;
  • Death is defeated; and
  • Intimacy with God is restored.

Every person receives every blessing.

Three times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus acts as the host of a meal. Luke 9 (Feeding 5000), Luke 22 (Last Supper), & Luke 24 (Emmaus). Each time we’re told, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” The message of the Lord’s Supper, the significance of this table isn’t limited to a solemn Sunday morning. The Lord’s Supper is a continuation of eating with Christ on the hillside, and in the home.

In Luke 24:31, right after Jesus hands these disciples their bread, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him”. When we come to the table each week, it’s good that we don’t see hatred responsible for hanging Jesus upon the cross. It’s good that we don’t see division or classes or races. We see Jesus. Because Jesus is still our host. He still serves us. Our eyes can still be opened to recognize Jesus among us. And as our eyes are opened we acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is not something we do alone. Our eyes are opened to those around us and we see people forgiven by God, just as we are.

The original corruption of the Lord’s Supper that Scripture reveals to us, was the introduction of division into the experience. Class warfare took over the Supper and removed the values of unity and equality before God. 1 Corinthians 11:20 describes the situation as so severe that “when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.

And just as Jesus took his meal on the road, we cannot keep our worship to Sunday morning. I love that the Lord’s Supper is a symbol that we ingest, because it means we take it with. Our challenge is whether we take any more with us than a cracker and a sip of juice.

I wonder when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” as he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, did he just refer to eating crackers and sipping juice? Or did he mean something more? Did he mean to eat with sinners, in remembrance of me? Did he mean break down political, racial and whatever barriers and eat together, in remembrance of me?  Did he mean to forgive and serve our enemies as he washed Judas’ feet, in remembrance of me?

This is a lot more challenging than making sure we have the right type of juice and cracker in the trays each Sunday.

I wonder if he didn’t have in mind this description of the family members of the victims of the Charleston shooting this week. They appeared at the bail hearing for the shooter and while communicating their hurt and loss also managed to speak mercy and grace to him. A journalist at the New York Times described the scene this way

It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.

What a wonderful description: It was as if the Bible study had never ended….

Jesus inspires us to go into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation, taking a message of hope and healing. Having ingested Him on Sunday, we are to live, as if the Lord’s Supper never ends… until the kingdom of God comes.

The Jesus Parade

If you’re interested, you can listen to my Palm Sunday sermon HERE.

palm sunday

Although I like to make a big deal of Easter, I haven’t always preached a special sermon on Palm Sunday. To be honest, I don’t really understand the events of Palm Sunday. Beyond that I have a hard time finding a contemporary application of Palm Sunday. Sure, it’s an interesting event, but do I really need to preach on it every year just because it appears on the calendar?

Here are my questions, with a little commentary.

1. Why did Jesus want a parade?

Couldn’t have Jesus just walked through the gates in the midst of the other pilgrims without drawing attention to himself? He could still have gone to the temple the next day and taught and throne over tables. None of his subsequent actions seem contingent upon this grand entrance.

Remember that Jesus initiated this parade by instructing his disciples to go and get a donkey. He must have had a purpose in making a public entrance, but I don’t understand what it was.

I preached on Sunday that his choice of riding a donkey was a humble choice. Wouldn’t he demonstrate greater humility by cancelling the parade and just walking through the gates?

If I’m grasping at straws, perhaps his grand entrance was a PR stunt to let the people of Jerusalem know he was there and invite them to hear him speak at the temple the next day. According to Luke 19:39 Jesus at least caught the attention of some Pharisees. Perhaps they did the rest of the marketing for him!

2. Was Jesus Intentionally Fulfilling Prophecy?

Many of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled were beyond his control. For example, he had no say in where the Messiah would be born, or which tribe he was from.

palm sunday 01But Zechariah 9:9 reads,

Your king has won a victory,
    and he is coming to you.
He is humble
    and rides on a donkey;
he comes on the colt
    of a donkey.”

The Jews apparently recognised this as a Messianic passage. So in choosing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus intentionally fulfills this prophecy. After all, if he’s the Messiah, then at some point he needs to ride a donkey.

Although Matthew and John both quote Zechariah 9 as an explanation of Jesus’ actions, here’s my question. If Jesus chose to ride a donkey to demonstrate that he was the Messiah it doesn’t seem like a very good strategy.

  • He could more easily have communicated this message by simply saying, “Hey everyone, look at me. I’m the Messiah!”
  • While all four Gospels tell the story of Jesus riding the donkey, only 2 of them connect it to the Zechariah prophecy.
  • Apparently, even at the time, no one really understood the significance of Jesus riding the donkey. After quoting Zechariah, John immediately reflects, “At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand. But after he had been given his glory, they remembered all this.” (John 12:16 (CEV)

If Jesus was just checking off a list of prophecies that he could control, do you think it’s legitimate? It seems a bit manipulative and insincere to me.

3. Was Jesus Surprised?

I am fascinated by the question of what Jesus was thinking as he rode that donkey through the cheering crowds. Matthews account of Jesus’ grand entrance is found in chapter 21. In chapter 20 Jesus predicts, We are now on our way to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses. They will sentence him to death…

He knew his fate.

Was Jesus able to join in the joy and celebration along with the crowd? Was Jesus an island of misery in surrounded by a sea of exuberance? Did Jesus resent the crowd’s shallowness? Was Jesus hoping that the people would accept him and crown him king?

Again, if he knew the praise lacked sincerity, why throw the parade?

I just don’t get it.

I also don’t get why this series of events is important enough to get its own day on the calendar.

4. What are We Celebrating?

When the church celebrates Palm Sunday, what exactly are we celebrating? Are we excited that people misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingdom? Do we want to highlight the rejection of Jesus as Messiah? If so, why the joyfulness and palm branches?  Are we thrilled by the transition in Jesus’ ministry as he finally enters Jerusalem? (Although John’s Gospel tells us he’s been there twice previously.)

In Luke 20:40 Jesus tells the Pharisees that “If [the people] keep quiet, these stones will start shouting.” Clearly he believes that their well-intentioned, but misguided praise is deserved, appropriate and unstoppable. This seems to contrast other passages of Scripture where God cares about right motives when it comes to worship. So are we celebrating a loosening of worship forms and functions?

Perhaps we celebrate Palm Sunday because now that we understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom, we can give him the praise that he deserved in this event but we can give it to him with greater understanding. Hopefully, we also give him our worship from a heart of sincerity and faithfulness. In this way we kind of rectify and redeem the worship of the original Palm Sunday.

5. From a Pre-millenial perspective…

From a premillenial perspective this event seems to make a little more sense. By this interpretation it’s important that the Jews get an opportunity to reject an earthly kingdom. The thinking goes like this:

  1. God’s initial desire was for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah and crown him king.
  2. Jesus legitimately wanted to establish an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as his throne.
  3. All the Messianic prophecies were intended to be fulfilled in this earthly kingdom.
  4. On palm Sunday the Jews reached the brink of crowning Jesus king, but ultimately backed away.
  5. Their rejection of Jesus led to Plan B, a spiritual kingdom made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice.
  6. Although Jesus knew they were going to kill him, it was important that he give them the opportunity to crown him.
  7. Thus the Palm Sunday Parade was not a charade, but a hope-filled opportunity for Israel to embrace her Messiah.

While I don’t agree with this understanding of Scripture. And while I have a problem with the cross being “Plan B”. At least this approach provides an understanding of Palm Sunday in which Jesus acts with genuine motives.

So help me out. What encouragement do you draw from Palm Sunday?

What We Celebrate Matters

This blog post was previously published here.

Lawson Rd Flags

Jesus knew the truth that what we celebrate matters. Shortly before his death Jesus instructed his disciples to remember his death through a simple meal. (Luke 22:14-20) I imagine that without this instruction the disciple may have decided to celebrate other aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the apostle Peter had wanted to construct shelters to memorialise the spectacular event of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking with Jesus. Other disciples could easily have chosen to celebrate Jesus healing ministry or concern for the poor.

How would the history of Christianity differ today if the first followers of Jesus decided to politicise His criticism of the religious establishment? Would they have sought revenge against the pagan Romans? Would they have sought to initiate an uprising and seize control of the temple, freeing it from apostate religious leaders?

Instead, Jesus preempts these possibilities by establishing a celebration of his death and his resurrection. This move required the first Christians to pursue understanding of his death. Why did it happen? Do you remember what he said? Do the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a resurrected Messiah? How does this impact us? Does this change our relationship with God?

The simple meal. The memory. The celebration. The understanding. Jesus directed the focus of future generations for thousands of years to the thoughts that are most important.

Our churches still face the same opportunities. In addition to the Lord’s Supper, we get to decide what and who to celebrate.

I once visited a church and watched an elder call every one 18 and under who had a birthday that month to the front of the room. As they stood on the stage with him he prayed over those children. What an affirmation that these children matter to God and to the church!

I know of a church that hosts a VBS each year for special needs children. This event shines the spotlight of love and grace upon these children and their families, letting them know that they’re valued and important.

Last October, the church a friend of mine attends encouraged everyone to wear purple one particular Sunday in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This topic seldom receives attention from churches and this congregation sought to publicly stand with victims of abuse.

I recently saw a church workshop advertised with the theme, “Reprove, Rebuke, & Exhort”. This celebration clearly communicates what matters to them: Reproving and Rebuking. Getting things right. Doing things right.

I’m aware of many churches that have special “Mission Sundays” or “Ministry Fairs” as they highlight the need to send and support missionaries around the world, or the importance for members to involve themselves in church ministries.

Each of these churches chose to express issues, topics, causes, and people that they view as important through celebration.

It would be overly simplistic to infer that the reverse is true. Just because a church does not celebrate a particular cause or person does not mean that they don’t care. No one church can emphasise every issue. If they try to acknowledge everyone, eventually no person or cause is particularly special because everyone’s treated the same.

Which brings us back to where I began: What we celebrate matters!

With this in mind, I’m thrilled that my church celebrated our racial diversity last Sunday through a special day that we call Harmony Sunday. I’ve been part of multi-ethnic churches in the past who preferred not to acknowledge their diversity. Taking one day to celebrate the reality we see each Sunday communicates to the church and the community that each person matters. It reinforces God’s vision for his kingdom as a house for all nations. And most of all, it communicates that this topic is important, not an accident.

I am convinced that events like Harmony Sunday are vital for the good health of multi-ethnic congregations and those seeking to broaden their membership. Among many other benefits, this type of celebration gives permission for conversations about race to take place. It communicates a desire for the church to provide a safe place for dialogue.

For the “Good Kids”

Rather than celebrate their blessings, I have found that many people raised in Christian homes question the depth of their commitment to Christ because they don’t feel as though they ever went through a transformative conversion experience. The distinction between their old life and their new life in Christ is minimal.

  • Read Galatians 5 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

In Galatians chapter 5 Paul paints a dramatic contrast between the behaviour of a pagan and the values of a Christian.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Paul personally experienced a profound transformation when he encountered the risen Jesus. He stopped persecuting Christians and actually submitted his life to the Lordship of Jesus. The transformation continued as he became a teacher in the fledgling Christian movement and was ultimately recognised as an Apostle.

During my two years as a campus minister I met several young adults from Christian families who questioned the reality of their commitment to God. They felt that because they didn’t have a spectacular conversion story that somehow God’s grace wasn’t as real in their lives. Someone caught up in a hedonistic lifestyle that meets Jesus and immediately pursues a life of simplicity and holiness obviously has a greater testimony of the power and love of God than I do, right?

This line of thought presents some serious problems.

The Bible addresses this logic in Romans 5 when Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” Pursuing sin so that we can then experience God’s love and grace is a destructive cycle.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells the story often given the title The Prodigal Son.  Jesus intends for us to learn from this story how much God loves us, and much he longs for sinful people to return to him. As a second point, he longs for his followers to be like the older son who remains faithful to the father.

Those who question their commitment because of an absence of a “conversion experience” in their life may not realise it, but they distort the message of this parable. They see themselves as the older brother in the story. They believe that the only way they can experience God’s love and grace is to demand their inheritance and live a life of wastefulness. Then, and only then, their father will throw them a party.

The father’s words to the older son provide the ultimate rebuttal to this faulty logic. We absolutely need to celebrate when someone turns their life around in a dramatic way. But for those of us who’ve always been “good kids” God has some special words,

Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours.”

rainbow joy jump

Does your expression of God look something like this?

I’ll close with two thoughts:

First, the Christians described in Galatians 5 really did have a sensational turnaround in their lives. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully to help these people overcome the allure of sin.

In our society every Christian makes a dramatic decision. Sometimes the dramatic decision requires stopping a behaviour. For “good kids” it’s a decision to never start a set of behaviours. We all have the opportunity to be the younger son and leave for a land far away from the father. Yet some of us make the choice to never take that road. We all know friends who took that path. We have family members who woke up in a pig sty. We’ve seen people who settled for sharing food scraps with the pigs. But in the face of social expectations we made the sensational decision to trust our future to God. There’s nothing second best about that. I’ll take love and joy over hatred and rage any day of the week.

Second, churches have clearly done something wrong when our young people would rather identify with the prodigal son than the older son. When Christians believe that they need to taste death to experience living. To walk in darkness so they can appreciate light. To fall so that God will pick them up.

How do we communicate the intimacy of love, the euphoria of joy, the wholeness of peace, the virtue of patience, the value of kindness, the heart of goodness, the security of faithfulness, the safety of gentleness and the wisdom of self-control?

How do we share the fruit of the Spirit?

Why is it so difficult to convince Christian young people that “being with the Father all the time, and having everything he has” is the greatest blessing available to humanity?

Tennyson apparently said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

God says, “It’s best to be loved and to never be lost.”

BONUS TRACK:  If you’ve liked this post you might also enjoy THIS article on ChristianityToday.com.

Love Your Samaritan

We all have dreams, ambitions, and goals for our lives. Some of us have written “bucket lists”. We think of things we’d like to do, and perhaps people we’d like to do them with. God wants us to expand our dreams.

  • Read Luke 10 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

I didn’t really plan this intersection, but the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day I spoke on the topic of “Love Your Neighbour.”

We all have dreams, ambitions, and goals for our lives. Some of us have written “bucket lists”. We think of things we’d like to do, and perhaps people we’d like to do them with.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus challenges us to expand our dreams.

At times, we can get so caught up in “loving one another” (Jn 13:34) that we fail to raise our vision outside ourselves. God’s mission isn’t neat. God is holy and pure, but his mission is messy. If we’re going to join God’s mission we’re going to find ourselves with people who need rescue, not just with those who God’s already rescued.

Children of God experience so much of God’s love and grace, but what will we do with these blessings? Will we sit around congratulating ourselves that God loves us, or will we allow God to use us in spreading his love and grace into a hurting world? Will we sit on our pew and criticize the world “out there”, or will we work to make a difference? Will we highlight hurt, or will we provide healing?

Sadly we often spend more time pointing at problems than loving those people.

What are your dreams? We all have some sort of dreams and ambitions don’t we? Meet the right person? Find the right job? Fund my retirement? Travel? See my Grandchildren? Pay off my mortgage? Get out of school?

Jesus’ dreams featured making the lives of others better. In Jesus’ dreams he died for me. He also died and for you. Do you have a dream? Do you have a dream not only for your own life, but for the life of your community, for the lives of your neighbours? Do your dreams include your friends? Do your dreams include the Samaritans in your life? The people you don’t like, or the people you don’t care about?

Loving our neighbours means including Samaritans in our dreams. It means making our neighbourhood, our community, our world a better place for everyone.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Do this and you will live.

The life of Martin Luther King demonstrates what it means to include your neighbours in your dreams. Here are some of his famous speeches and writings.

The full version of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

The following is excerpts from Dr King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and will take about 10 minutes to listen to. But you need to listen. Here is dispassionate discourse. Here is why Dr King was, and is, necessary. The person reading is not King. The images are commentary on the text. Please do yourself a favor and take the time to listen and watch.

The full recording of Dr King’s final speech before his death in Memphis. “I Have Been to the Mountaintop.”