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Saturday, April 12, 2014

A midrash on the Triumphal Entry of Jesus

Tomorrow, the Western church celebrates Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus enters Jerusalem announcing His Kingship in prophetic ways: riding the foal of a donkey, the crowds laying and waving palm branches, singing "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  The cheering was at a frenzy level, because the Jewish people knew what the symbolism meant, that the King of the Universe was arriving.
This arrival meant to end of the centuries of oppression; just as the City of David was built on layers and layers of previous cities, the people of Israel had survived (and still survive) after wave after wave of conquest.  The arrival of the promised Messiah meant the end of such things, and the beginning of theocratic rule.  While this is so: the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ (Revelation 11:15), but not in total on this day.  With the birth of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had arrived, but not yet in its fullness.
At least not in the way that we expected......

So the people who were cheering Jesus into Jerusalem this day would later jeer Him, and call for His crucifixion, not at all knowing what they were doing.  What irony, the fickleness of the crowd.  If we were there, would we do the same?  My best guess is yes, because "the heart is deceitfully wicked, who can cure it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)    In many ways I love Palm Sunday, because all the signs are here: the riding of a colt from Zechariah 9:9, the waving of palms (a sign of resurrection), the spreading of cloaks depicting Jesus' holiness, and the shouting of "Hosanna; " God please save!    "Hosanna" is the cry of a fearful infant awaiting rescue from her father, the bride who desires capture from her groom, the sound of drowning man in the great sea.  Desiring salvation from the great sea of false messiahs, the deteriorating "peace" of Pax Romana, and the brutality and treachery of this present world, the crowd would never realize (although Jesus had been teaching this faithfully during His three-year ministry, that the Kingdom of God would only change those who were willing to have their hearts transformed, to have that heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh, and receiving the Holy Spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26-29)

In other ways, I don't like Palm Sunday, because it marks the beginning of the Passion of the Christ.

Even Jesus' disciples did not believe that the Messiah had to suffer.  Jesus told this to His disciples several times: "Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 'We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  They will condemn him to death, and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.  On the third day he will be raised to life!"  Matthew 20:18; Mark 10:33)

Though Jesus gave many indications of this, their human thinking would have them believing to the contrary.  "From that time on (when Peter was given the revelation that Jesus is the Christ) Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, 'Never, Lord!' he said.  'This shall never happen to you.'  Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.'" (Matthew 16:21-23)

When we think about what will happen to us, as Peter was doing, thinking how will they get along without Jesus, we are thinking the things of men.  If Jesus had been thinking of the things of men, He would have so readily received the adulation of men during the triumphal entry, but instead he wept over Jerusalem.  Jesus was thinking into the not-too-distant future, into AD 70:

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city and said, "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 to the ground, you and the children with your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." (Luke 20:18)

I wonder if the people even heard Jesus' lament for Jerusalem in the midst of the frenetic cheers and jubilation.  Well, at least we know at least Peter heard it (as recorded by Luke).  How ironic: the one who is rebuked for denying that the Messiah will suffer, and the same who denies Jesus three times after his arrest is the one who records this irony.  In the midst of the cheers for the "savior" of humanity, of political restoration, Peter remembers the weeping of Jesus over the destruction of Jerusalem, because the people had missed the season of God's consolation.  But even with that, he forgot all that he knew for fear of his life. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Have we missed the season of God's consolation?  Have we missed the spiritual Kingdom for the human one? Have we mistaken the treasure for the vessel?  Are we listening for the Lord, who has said several times in the Scripture:

"Be ever hearing, but not understanding;
be ever seeing but not perceiving.
Make the heart of these people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."  
(Isaiah 6:9-10; cf. Jeremiah 6:10; Matthew 13:15; John 12:40; Acts 28:27)

Now is the day of salvation.  If you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A useful resource for today's preacher.

O. S. Hawkins has produced a most excellent volume of sermons and outlines for each week in the church year.  The Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook, Volume 3 is a great addition to the preacher's toolbox, but even Hawkins warns: "This sourcebook is designed to lay alongside all your other tools..." and not a stand-alone resource.
While the vast majority of preachers will never rely on such a volume, the Preacher's Sourcebook is a great thought-starter.  There are two unique features to this volume: preachers have contributed series instead of single sermons, and comes with a companion CD-ROM with the entire book for easy use.

Worship helps, including hymns, prayers, quotes and illustrations help the reader to truly use the book as another source document.  One can use or adapt an entire outline or series, or simply graze through the book for quotes and illustrations that will add color to your existing sermon.

Articles on the art of preaching, maximizing the Christian calendar, preaching specific Biblical genre, and sermons for special occasions and holidays round out the volume.
Typically, I use a Pastor's Annual for quotes and illustrations, but not this volume. However, when I received this book as part of the BookLook Bloggers review program, my eyes scanned immediately to the last monograph-length article, "Preaching the Gospels."  So I will use Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook, Volume 3 as the editor intended; it is a treasure-trove of ideas, both classic and new.

I highly recommend its use in the studies of preachers and teachers everywhere.

As mentioned earlier, this review is for HarperCollins' review program, BookLook Bloggers, and in no way am I compelled to give a positive review.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What to do in-between seasons?

In the course of my travels these days, I have met many people, many Jesus-followers, and others on the way.  No matter where they might place themselves on the faith spectrum, almost to a one, they are awaiting their "big break," in which God will really "use" them.  I have often thought this way about ministry, that there is a tipping point; after a period of training, God will release you into "your" ministry.

I think this idea has some flaws to it (n I'm not judging b/c I have thought this way for many years), and here's what I think they are.

NB., someone on the interwebs said I was very opinionated...I have a few thoughts about!)

1- The great bulk of Jesus' ministry occurred while he was "on the way" somewhere else.  Try searching the New Testament for the keywords "on the way", "As"' "While" or others like it, see what comes up.  You will be amazed at how much ministry Jesus did on the move, not established in one place.

So, for this, we will need to adopt an "as we go" mindset.  The way we think about transitions will change, for God will equip us as we go for whatever ministry we encounter on the road to the "big" thing.  This, I am finding out.

2- The seventy who went out before Jesus in Luke 10 had very minimal formal training.  Like the other disciples, they were selected to be with him, and much of what they learned was through watching Jesus work.  Their instructions were minimal, yet powerful:

NOW AFTER this the Lord chose and appointed seventy others and sent them out ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to come (visit). And He said to them, The harvest indeed is abundant [there is much ripe grain], but the farmhands are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no provisions bag, no [change of] sandals; refrain from [retarding your journey by] saluting and wishing anyone well along the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, Peace be to this household! [Freedom from all the distresses that result from sin be with this family]. And if anyone [worthy] of peace and blessedness is there, the peace and blessedness you wish shall come upon him; but if not, it shall come back to you. And stay on in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. [Deut. 24:15.] Whenever you go into a town and they receive and accept and welcome you, eat what is set before you; And heal the sick in it and say to them, The kingdom of God has come close to you. But whenever you go into a town and they do not receive and accept and welcome you, go out into its streets and say, Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we are wiping off against you; yet know and understand this: the kingdom of God has come near you. I tell you, it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that town. [Gen. 19:24-28.] (Luke 10:1-12 AMP)

So we need to develop a Hebraic mindset of practicing what we know.  This is the only way to be sure that we have actually learned.  Like the good rabbi that He is, Jesus teaches us the next lesson only after we've learned the last one.

3- When the seventy returned, they returned with great joy over the mission's effectiveness.
On-the-job training in ministry has its perks, to be sure.   This passage does not negate the value of education in a purely academic setting, but it does highlight the benefits of practical ministry done live in the neighborhood!  Jesus told them (paraphrased): "Don't trip! Yeah, it's cool the demons bowed down to you, but that's because I've got you!  Get excited about that!"

So, wherever we are on the ministry pathway, there is a service component of some kind.  Even if that service is to be silent and listen, it is crucial "do whatever he tells you,"  because all our work, whatever we do, is for the glory of God.  Keeping God in view, whatever we do, casting all of our cares upon Him. Even in our simple responses, in our immaturity, there are lessons to be learned.

4-  Even if our transition period seems like a dry place, an arid and desert-like place, we don not have to fear.  Psalm 84 reminds us that God can turn the desert into a place of springs, that the blessed one is the one who stays on the journey with Him.  The desert is "the place of speaking."  So do not fear even the dry places, because even there God is with you.

Happy transition walking!