John 12:12-19 (Processional)
And he will say, Where are their gods, The rock in which they took refuge.
We begin this week with the story of Jesusí triumphant entry into Jerusalem. For three years, our Lord has traveled about the country, teaching the about Kingdom of God and calling the people into a relationship with their Father. He has cast out demons, offered forgiveness, healed sickness. He has mentored a group of men and women who would follow His leadership and ministry. He even raised Lazarus from the dead.
Now, many were bothered by the authority with which Jesus spoke, and they were concerned about the lessons He was teaching. They didnít like that Jesus had gained a following, which was so obvious when He entered Jerusalem. The thing that concerned them most was the raising of Lazarus, because in that one incredible miracle, Jesus won the hearts of the crowd. John tells us that the witnesses were telling the story to everyone, and because of it, they came running to meet Him. After all, if He could raise the dead, then surely He must be able to do anything. They were even calling Him the King of Israel.
Of course, weíll hear in the second Gospel reading how quickly the acclaim would pass, but in this story we see the disciples beginning to grasp what they had joined. Jesus wasnít just a rebel with a cause or someone who wanted to fight for the crown. He was the fulfillment of Godís promises. They saw how the words of the old prophecies were coming true in His life. He rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and it was a sign that the people should not live in fear. The King is coming! But would Jesus be the king they expected?
The people had every reason to look for a king that would be like David. Their ruler, if you can call him that, was nothing but a puppet for Rome. He was one of them, but not really. He was willing to compromise and tolerate the Roman rule because he had the power to make himself comfortable. The religious and other leaders felt the same way. The Romans may have abused the average citizen of Israel, but they had everything they needed. They even had justification in their interpretation of the Law: if the people were suffering, it was their own fault. They were sinners that deserved everything that came to them. They did not want anything rocking the boat.
They may have talked a good game, teaching the people about caring for neighbor and living according to Godís Law, but they were hypocrites who promoted that which benefitted them and rejected the suggestion put forth by Jesus that they had lost touch with God. They demanded offerings and sacrifices, but forgot what it meant to be merciful. They insisted on strict obedience to their laws but lost sight of Godís laws to love Him and one another. It was more important for a son to give an offering to the Temple than to care for his aging parents. It was better to speak long agenda filled prayers than to admit that they were sinners in need of a Savior.
In the text from Deuteronomy we are told that the Lord will judge His people. The problem with human nature is that we tend to create our own gods and we ignore or reject the true God. For those in the days of Moses, the gods were localized, specifically attributed to certain aspects of the world. They had a god for rain and one for the sun. They had a god for procreation and another for the harvest. If there was a death in the family, they prayed to a god that helped their beloved over to the afterlife.
The gods we create are not always so easy to identify, especially when we claim to believe in the one true and living God. The gods of Jesusí day were, of course, the Roman gods, but even the Jewish religious leaders had their own gods. They conspired with the secular authorities to keep their power, and by doing so honored their ruler as a Ďgod.í In some ways, they even acted as if they were also gods; their power and position was more important than God. They missed the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ because they were focused entirely on themselves. We are, too often, our most beloved god.
So, in Deuteronomy, when God sees that His people have stumbled and that they are left powerfulness, He asks, ďWhere are their gods? Where are the ones they relied upon to save them? Where are the gods that ate their sacrifices and drank their wine?Ē Those gods, whether they are the ancient gods of the pagans, the Olympic gods of the Romans, or the gods of self and power and position, have no power to save. There is no god but our God; no god has power the power of our God. He can kill and He can bring life. He wounds and He heals. And no one can do anything to defeat His power.
The tide turns very quickly for Jesus. He didnít present Himself as the conquering hero they expected. He didnít call the troops to arms or confront the Roman leaders who were oppressing them. Instead He confronted the priests and religious practices, attacking the piece of their world they thought was right. They willingly supported Barabbas, a Jewish insurrectionist who was in Roman custody. Instead of choosing Jesus as their Messiah, they chose the man they thought would lead them to a victory against their oppressor. They didnít understand that they were oppressed by something greater.
What is amazing about the Passion story is how Jesus seems to be so out of control. After all, if Jesus is the Messiah, shouldnít He have the power and the authority to subdue any opposition to His plans? It is no wonder that Jesus lost the crowds. He didnít act like a man who was ready to fight for a throne. He acted like a man with a death wish. He even talked about death, His own death, more than was healthy. We donít expect our leaders to do anything so foolish as to get hung from a cross.
The Passion and Easter story is the most difficult thing about Christianity to believe and to accept. Why did Jesus have to die and how does that line up to the ideal of a loving and caring God? How does that help Jesusí social ministry and seemingly political aspirations? It doesnít make sense. It might seem like Jesus had no control, but the reality is that Jesus was in control of every moment. They could see it, after the fact, in the way every step fulfilled the prophecies of the past.
And yet, we canít help but understand why Jesus might have felt like the writer of todayís psalm. After all, Jesus was fully human even as He was fully divine. Despite His confidence in God and in Godís will, Jesus felt the weight of the pain and suffering of the cross. He was abandoned, broken, attacked from every side. Even though He experienced the anguish, He knew that God was faithful. He trusted God, He put Himself in Godís hands. He sought deliverance, but with twenty/twenty vision we know that the deliverance promised by God was not fulfilled by saving the one many Jesus from the cross. Instead, Jesus dying on the cross provided deliverance for all who believe.
On this Sunday we celebrate the triumphant entry with a processional and palms, but we also focus on the Passion of Jesus. In the lengthy story we see how Jesus came up against the leaders, both Roman and Jewish, and He stood firm in the Fatherís will. He never wavered; He never turned away from God. The day begins happy, but ends on a very sour note. Jesus was dead and they laid Him in a borrowed tomb. Luke tells us that the women followed so that they would see how Jesus body was laid, and then they returned to their home to prepare the spices. They could not even deal with His body until the Sabbath was over. We are left hanging with them, wondering what will happen next.
Every moment that followed the triumphant entry was planned and foreseen as Godís plan for His Messiah for the salvation of His people. From the last supper and the prayer in the garden, the trial and journey to Golgotha, and then the nailing of His flesh to the cross, was purposeful. Jesus knew what He was doing and He did so for our sake. At the very moment of death Jesus commended Himself to the hands of God.
Paul encourages us to have a similar attitude. Paul writes, ďHave this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.Ē
Paul is not calling us to follow Jesus to the cross, but to follow Jesus wherever He leads us. He wonít make us hang on a cross; He finished that work. But now we have been saved for a purpose, to continue the work that Jesus began. Now that sin and death have been defeated, it is up to us to take Godís promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration to the world. We canít do that if we are busy chasing after our self-created gods. We canít do that if we are focused on our selves. We canít do it if we are too worried about rocking the boat to tell people the truth.
It wonít be easy. We will suffer persecution at the hands of those who would rather worship their own gods. Should we let it stop us? Jesus did not. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save. He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. We are called to do the same, not on a cross but in our every day experiences.
The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but will they bow in thanksgiving or fear? We are sent into the world with an attitude like Jesus, trusting in God and following Him where He leads. We are sent to introduce the lost to the Lord Jesus so that they will be found, those in darkness so that they will see the light, the sick so that they will be healed, and those who are still dead in sin so that they will have eternal life.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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