Category Archives: Lent

Palm Sunday & the Passion, Year A

He Emptied Himself

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Passion

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem:

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!   (Matthew 21:8-9)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the crucified. Of course, the chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty when it comes to tyranny. Little has changed over the years.

Nevertheless, such a quick desertion of Jesus was remarkable. Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus foretold:

 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”   (Matthew 26:31- 34)

In the face of such betrayal, Jesus seemed remarkably calm. The wonder of it all is that Jesus so willingly gave up himself. He endured such horrendous suffering. We read in Isaiah:

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.   (Isaiah 50:6)

Let us place ourselves in the story. Have we ever gone from glorifying Jesus to denying Jesus in a short span of time? We celebrate him in church. What about him outside of Jesus? That is becoming increasing more difficult to do in our pluralistic society. Or should we say “atheistic society?” If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

There is a price to pay for following Jesus. The chief priests were unwilling to surrender their gatekeeper positions. Pilate was unwilling to go against the crowd. It was too big a risk for him. At times have we forsaken Jesus and been unfaithful to him?

Jesus has promised us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He forgave Peter and restored his ministry. Do we need his restoration today? He surrounded his all for us. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross. For this reason he is able to pour out his Spirit upon us all. Where we are weak he is strong. Walking together with Jesus in his Spirit. we will be able to stand for the truth of the Gospel no matter what the challenging might be. Amen.

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Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Gathering or Scattering?

The Prophet Ezekiel foretold of a time when God would gather his people together in one everlasting kingdom:

Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.   (Ezekiel 37:21–23)

God is the One who gathers his people together. He is the One who preserves them as a nation.  How is it that those who claim to represent God fear that his actions will divide the nation when it is their actions that divide a nation? This was the case concerning the chief priests and the Pharisees in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”   (John 11:47-48)

This type of thinking demonstrates how Satan works. Divide and conquer. Are we, as Christians, aiding and abetting him? Who is sewing division among us and why?

In Jesus’s day the chief priests and the Pharisees acted out of fear. Their fear, however, was based on a false narrative: God will bring division among his own people. Fear, itself, brings division. That is why Satan sews fear. Our fear leads us to condemn others and falsely accuse them of the problems which we ourselves cause.

Fear stems from unbelief. Faith in a loving God dispels fear. Perfect love casts out fear.

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Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

The Works of the Father

The miracles that Jesus did on the earth testified that he came from God the Father. The Jewish leaders could not deny the works, although they attempted to do so in the beginning without success. However, these obvious works, miracles, and hearings, which only God could do, did not stop them from rejecting Jesus:

The Jews took up stones again to stone Jesus. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ —and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”   (John 10:31–38)

Why is so much effort made to deny the obvious signs of God? We can look to Jeremiah for a clue:

I have become a laughingstock all the day;
every one mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.   (Jeremiah 20:7–9)

People deny God because they do not want to be mocked. The world we live in is all about mocking God. That is what Satan does and that is what he intimidates us to do. But mocking God has consequences:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.   (Galatians 6:7-8)

Do we love the praise of men more that the praise of God. If so, there is ultimately a high price to pay. But if we are true disciples of Jesus, then his presence and Spirit more than compensates for the persecution in this world, and in the end, life eternal in his glorious kingdom.

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Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Before Abraham Was, I Am

What made Abraham great? Better to ask: Who made Abraham great? Abraham had great faith, but he had faith in a great God!

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1–5)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day claimed Abraham as their father. They asked Jesus:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?”   (John 8:53)

Jesus answered:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”   (John 8:56–58)

When Jesus used the name “I Am” he made it clear that he was Abrahams father and not the other way around. I Am” or, in Hebrew, “Yahweh” was God’s sacred name. Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. If the leaders had the faith of Abraham they would have recognized who Jesus was.

We stand on the shoulders of Abraham and all of God’s faithful servant who have gone before us. But especially in this day we are called to give a testimony of who Jesus is. Do we claim to be children of Abraham? If so, who do we say Jesus is?

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Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Fire Walking

Satan wants to enslave us. He wants to force us to worship him, with enticements and even threats. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were very devout. They were not going to worship foreign gods even when they were in a foreign land. Nebuchadnez′zar’s fiery furnace would have been persuasive for most people, but not these three Israelites. They relied on God alone to save them, and even if He did not they were not going to worship the king’s golden statue.

We know the story. The King made good on his threat. But the consequences of his action were not anticipated:

Then King Nebuchadnez′zar was astonished and rose up in haste. He said to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He answered, “But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”  (Daniel 3:24-25)

Attempting to live holy lives does not guarantee that we will be not be tested in the fire. Rather, this is all the more reason for Satan to attack us, and attack us he will. We need to remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. If we are tested by fire, then we can be assured that Jesus will be in the fire with us.

Jesus is the only one who can set us free from sin:

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.   (John 8:31–36)

Our task is to continue in Jesus’ word and keep trusting in him.

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