Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter Week

“Our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  And, all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink (for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ). Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’”  (1 Corinthians 10:1–7)

Paul reminded the church in Corinth about the events of the Exodus.  First, that God had rescued them, fed them and took care of them.  In spite of all this, they turned to idolatry.  Specifically, he’s writing about the matter of the golden calf.  What many people miss is that although they made the calf, they were actually praising Yahweh (Exodus 32.5). 

Today instead of a calf plus God, we have a bunny and Jesus.  Just as they “stood up to play,” so we have Easter egg hunts and other hand-me-downs from our forefathers and their pagan rituals, but so long as we cloak it in Jesus’ name, everything seems OK. 

I’m not so sure this is right.  Maybe the whole “Easter season” with its origins deep in Paganism and practices borrowed from Roman Catholic inventions – maybe it’s OK.  And since I no longer face pressure from family to disobey scripture and put on fancy clothes (1 Timothy 2.9), or encourage kids to chase pagan fertility symbols, it’s certainly easy for me to be judgmental.  So I’ll limit myself to a few lines of caution, and suggest that you consider celebrating the Passover instead.  It is around this time of year, and if you feel the need to celebrate a holiday, why involve paganism, when you can simply enjoy a festival invented by God?  And Passover is of double importance to Christians, because we weren't merely rescued from human slavery, but from slavery to sin! 

Either way, I intend to obey Paul who wrote this to the church in Rome:
“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”  (Romans 14:5)

On the other hand, “this” week is important.  Events of the final days of Jesus’ life are among the few things to be found in all four Gospels, and each one goes into an unusual amount of detail about this last week of Jesus life. 

I’ve developed the habit of remembering this last week of Jesus’ life in my own way.  I try to spend each day remembering where Jesus was and what he was doing and/or teaching on each of these final days.  In some places the chronology is speculative, but in parts where it isn't clear from scripture, it must not be important to the story, so I’m hopeful you’ll allow me a bit of leeway.  

I hope you’ll join me in remembering this season as it is found in the bible, instead of the way it is celebrated in our culture.  But if you can’t give up bunnies, chocolate, fancy clothes and religious nonsense, then at least don’t neglect the real messages of this important time in Jesus’ ministry on earth. 

Good Morning, Jericho!

This morning (called “Palm Sunday” by Catholics), Jesus apparently woke up in a bed in Jericho.  Jericho is in a deep valley near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea.  It’s below sea level there, it’s a desert very much like today’s Coachella Valley near the northern edge of the Salton Sea.  It’s a desert oasis filled with Date Palms grown by sweet spring water (made sweet by the prophet Elisha - 2 Kings 2.19-22).  It’s also the ancient city that Joshua defeated when the walls came down, and where one of Jesus’ ancestors lived – a gentile hooker named Rahab. 

Jesus has been traveling south from Galilee down this valley next to the Jordan to arrive in Jerusalem for Passover.  His popularity has grown and there are many thousands of pilgrims already making the same journey.  Now knowing Jesus is among the throngs traveling together makes for quite an event.  Everyone knows that a big “show-down” is coming when he arrives.  Some believe he is the promised messiah, others that he is preceding the Messiah, and others think he is a false Messiah.  But everyone knows that Jesus is opposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin), who view Jesus as a false Messiah and a threat to their fragile peace with Rome. 

So last night Jesus and many thousands of his followers and other pilgrims made it to Jericho.  The crowd was so big that it was hard to get a glimpse of Jesus.  One short man named Zaccheus went so far as to climb a tree just to see him (an undignified thing for a wealthy, powerful man like Zach).  The result, however, was that Jesus recognized him, and proclaimed him to be saved and stayed that night in Zach’s house.   

This morning Jesus left Jericho (Matthew 20.29) to travel up the steep, barren road up to Jerusalem, which is high in the hills above the Jordan valley.  This road is the one Jesus used in his story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.30), known for being desolate and rough.  But today there were many thousands of Jesus’ disciples and pilgrims all making the climb together. 

They came to the top of the hill opposite Jerusalem, where there was a village called Bethany.  This is where Jesus will stay tonight, and each of his nights leading up to his execution.  And apparently he was staying at the home of Lazarus (the man he had raised from the dead in Luke 11) and his sisters, Mary and Martha (John 12). 

Bethany is also where our Lord told his disciples to get the donkey that he would ride down the pathway through the Olive grove on the western slope of the hill leading to the gate on the East side of Jerusalem. 

This is the sight of “The Triumphal Entry” – and what a scene it must have been! 

For as Jesus was riding down the hill toward the Kidron Valley with the thousands who followed with him from Galilee … they could see the temple mount on the other side of the valley, were many thousands more would be waiting in great anticipation of the arrival of this man.  Two great throngs of people on either side of the valley, all cheering and shouting and filled with expectations that this new “Moses” would lead them to freedom from the Romans, and build the final Jewish kingdom that would rule forever! 

an idea of Jesus' view descending Mt. of Olives - where trees are by the dome would have been tens of thousands of people. 
As our Lord heard these shouts of praise and apparent acceptance of his title as God’s Anointed, do you suppose he swelled with joy and pride?  No – he did not.  Instead, he wept and was sorrowful (Luke 19.41).  He wept because he knew the people (as we usually do) had misunderstood prophecy about this day and they didn’t know that soon the physical temple and physical Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans.  They had accepted Jesus as Messiah, but for the wrong reasons.  They didn’t know that he had come to introduce the spiritual kingdom of Israel and the spiritual temple.  (Something people misunderstand to this day, and expect a physical temple to be built in Jerusalem)

I’m fascinated by Jesus’ behavior. 

- On one hand, you’d think that Jesus could finally feel a bit of joy at his acceptance by the throngs after years of doubt and criticism. 
- Or maybe this was his chance to set everyone straight and tell them they were wrong and teach a lesson on the truth about the kind of Messiah he would be and the kind of kingdom he was establishing. 
- Or maybe he should be angry with the leaders of the Jews and use this as a good time to wipe them out.  After all, he knew they were going to kill him and continue to mislead the people for years to come. 

But instead Jesus was hurting for his people who were like sheep without a shepherd: ignorant of their impending and inevitable destruction.  In one of the most intense moments of all of human history, Jesus was thinking about the people; not himself, not the enemy, not his appetites or festivals or the rules or any of that; he was so loving he could not help himself!

Today has been a long day, to begin a rough week.  As he lay down tonight to sleep in Bethany, I wonder how confused the 12 must have been!  By this time, maybe they had grown comfortable with confusion, and learned to just “roll with it.”  Surely at least Peter expected this was about to be a big show-down kind of moment. 

Throughout Jerusalem and the villages around it, the dinner conversations must have been remarkable as people reflected on the events of this extraordinary day, and leading up to the Passover, when Moses led them from Egypt.

In the next few days, if we follow Matthew’s accounts, we’ll see that he saw this as a week of preparation.  Not only preparation for the Passover, but also for Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and the kingdom to come.  Over and over Jesus will tell them (and us)  to “get ready.” 

So what lessons apply to you?  How do you handle confusing times, or days when it seems like everything’s turning around, or when everything seems to be coming to a conclusion? 

Consider spending this week with Jesus, and learn how to live and lead as he did.   

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 
But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42–45)

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