Tag Archives: Jesus

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Crucified with Christ

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Matthew’s Gospel we read:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 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!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”   (Matthew 21:6-11)

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 criminal whom they crucified.

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. Propaganda and lies were used to sway the people. The government, and even the synagogs, were the last places to discover what was actually happening. In fact, both church and state were perpetuating a false narrative on purpose, Their agenda was to obscure what was really true.

When manipulation and control supplant faith and proclamation, the people are deceived and confused. Betrayal of God’s purposes becomes the order of the day. Does this apply to our day as well?

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had 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,
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.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.   (Matthew 26:31-35)

We remember that Peter did portray his Lord as Jesus predicted:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.   (Matthew 26:69=75)

Where did Peter go wrong? Why did he betray his Lord when Jesus said that Peter would be the rock? Perhaps if we can understand this we might also understand why we might betray our Lord. Peter did not understand the crucifixion. We remember when Jesus foretold his death on the cross:

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   (Matthew 16:22-25)

Is our mind still set on human things? Our flesh does not want to understand the cross. The cross is where we die to the flesh. We need the mind of Christ. 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)

Have we humbled ourselves before the Lord? Have we given up our ways to take on the way which is Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.   (Romans 6:3-8)

We are freed from sin only by the extent that we have died to our flesh. Yes, we are made righteous by faith in Jesus. But where is our faith if we do not trust him enough to die to ourselves. Psalm Sunday is a celebration. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But Psalm Sunday is also about the crucifixion. We may say that we have died to the Lord. Paul said that he died daily.

Who is in charge of our life today? Is it Jesus, or are we still gratifying the flesh and doing our own thing? We need to have victory over our flesh, but we cannot not do it on our own. Let us declare, as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

The new creation in Christ only comes through crucifixion. Otherwise, we will be ruled by our flesh, and as Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.   (Romans 7:18)

The flesh is easily manipulated and controlled. If we do not take up our own cross and follow Jesus, we will soon deny him in so many ways, as many Christians are doing today. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

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The Annunciation

Trusting in the Promises of God

Today we read about the greatest announcement in all the world:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”   (Luke 1:26-37)

Surely Mary has been called blessed by all generations. She was selected by God the Father to become the mother of Jesus. By faith and trust she received the gift promised to her by the angel Gabriel. Mary’s reply to the angel demonstrated her faith and trust in the Lord:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.   (Luke 1:38)

The blessing is in the receiving. This was not the case for King Ahaz in today’s Old Testament reading who refused to do what God asked of him.

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:10-14)

The message from God was not only for Mary. It is a message of hope and salvation for the entire world. Believing and receiving this message brings to each of us the greatest blessing from God. We are destined to participate in the eternal kingdom of God under the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Are we an Ahaz or a Mary? King Ahaz said that he did not want to trouble God. He did not want to hear from God. He did not want to listen to His Word. The Season of Lent is a time to open up to God and not be so busy or distracted. This is not so easily done by people who are full of this world. We need to empty ourselves before our maker and hearken unto His Word.

In today’s readings two people heard from God. One was a king and one was a peasant. God made promises to them both. One refused to listen and one welcomed the promise of God. We give thanks to God for Mary and for her example. What is our example?

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Saint Joseph

Faithful Stewardship

King David wanted to build a permanent house for God. By the Prophet Samuel, God promised David that through David’s offspring he would, himself, build David a permanent house:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.  (2 Samuel 7:12-16)

This house would be a lasting kingdom on the earth in which God would rule. God is the builder of this house. It is build upon the rock, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, Nonetheless, faithful people would be needed to be the building blocks.

Joseph was a carpenter. He was not a rich man. He was a husband and a father. He was known in his village, but his recognition probably did not extend much beyond it. He was devout as many good Jews were in his day. He cared for his family and was a faithful in following the Jewish traditions and customs. He lived for a season and then he passed away. Yet Joseph had a great deal to do with the building of the permanent house of David.

Joseph was a descendant of David. He was part of a very significant chain of events. He was given a commission by God the Father to be the earthly father and guardian of His beloved Son. Not fully understanding what God was asking him, Joseph accepted this commission. He accepted it under what, for him, were difficulty circumstances. Mary was already pregnant before Joseph married her. This would have been a disgrace in Judaism. He was asked to believe that her pregnancy was an act of God, something that was unheard. Joseph believed God and faithfully carried out his commission.

We, too, are part of an ongoing chain of events. We, too, have been given a commission by God. We, like Joseph, are often required to make difficult choices. Faith, courage, and a trust in God are required. Life will test us. There will be obstacles and distractions. We will prevail only with God’s help.

What God asks us to do has great significance. We are part of an eternal plan of God. What we do now may seem fleeting or temporary. Nonetheless, God has established a permanent Kingdom that will not pass away. Our life and ministry are very much apart of that Kingdom. What we do now is recorded in heaven. We may not understand the significance of what might seem like unimportant events, but we will when all is revealed to us. In the meantime, God needs us to be faithful. Let us take courage and follow the example of Joseph.

The psalmist wrote:

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing;
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever;
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
‘I will establish your line for ever,
and preserve your throne for all generations.'”  (Psalm 89:1-4)

Joseph was an ordinary carpenter. But no one is insignificant in the eternal plan of God. Let us step into the ministry to which God has called us. One of our greatest ministries is watching over our children and bringing them up in the knowledge of the Lord. We are reminded of this injunction from the Old Testament:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.   (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

Joseph was given the high assignment of becoming that earthly guardian of our Lord Jesus Christ. This he did faithfully.

Lord, help us to follow the faithful example of Joseph in our day. The house of God is still being built. Will we be one of those faithful building blocks and will our children who follow us?

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Ash Wednesday

Remember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus we may be missing the point of confession. From John First Epistle:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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