Thank God—for being so good.
His Steadfast Love never quits! Psalm 118:1
Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020.
Readings–Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 118; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11
“Behold, your King is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matt 21:5,9
Entering Jerusalem on the back of a colt as a King, Jesus surely enjoyed this brief moment of welcome and worship from the crowd of palm-waving worshippers as they shouted: “Hosanna in the Highest!” Yet, in just five days, the words of Isaiah the prophet will be lived out in Jesus’ suffering and passion:
“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Isa 50:6
How did Jesus have the courage to ride into Jerusalem, the arena of his disgrace and death? The prophet foretells his steadfast determination and absolute trust in his Father, the Lord God:
“But the Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. The Lord God helps me.” Isa. 50:7-8 ESV Luke is the only Gospel writer who describes Jesus’ determination with the prophet’s words: “(Jesus) set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)
Steadfast resolve. Solid. Unmoving. Determined Obedience. Jesus models Steadfast Love in facing danger and opposition in order to offer his life in exchange for ours…obedient even to the death on the cross. The title of my blog, Adventurous Obedience, is a reflection of the person I become when centered and focused on the adventure of following Christ. Adventure hasn’t always meant “good times” especially when paired with the word “obedience.” Jesus says that anyone who wants to follow him must also deny self and take up their cross. This means being focused and obedient to the mission to go and make disciples–loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves along the journey. For me it has often involved an “exchange” of my home, my comforts, my culture to live a shared life with those without a Savior, without hope, without truth.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus lives in the moment of divine identity, when the crowd rightly recognizes him: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! But his enemies quickly turn the praise to panicked death threats on Friday: “Crucify him!” (Matt 27:22) Pain, loss and death are necessary for true transformation as Jesus lives out his teaching: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) This exchange and death is not what we would choose. We want to quickly resolve the problem, get rid of the pain, and live in comfort. Yet Jesus, with determined obedience, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the point of death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8) He was “pierced and crushed” and “poured out his soul to death” so that Easter Sunday could bring peace, healing, wholeness, and redemption.
The story of Jesus does not end on the cross, but as the revelation of the Steadfast Love of God, Jesus is exalted:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phi. 2:9-11)
Reflect. This determined, cross-shaped choice of Jesus to humble himself, to die to self as he asked his followers, should challenge our models of love and leadership. Although Jesus was God, he did not “exploit” his royal position for personal gain or give up his identity as King either. Where have you seen unhealthy leadership that values control and power over love? How can you follow Jesus’ model of self-giving love with those you lead and teach? Is there something you need to let go of or exchange to welcome and bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord?
Praise. Oh, such life-giving, steadfast love, sweet Jesus. Spend some time exalting the name of Jesus and in thanksgiving for the steadfast nature of God’s love for you. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Ps 118
Holy Week Reading and Reflection: A good practice for the week before Easter is to read the entire passion narrative in all four of the Gospels. Click here for an online Harmony of the Gospels. Scroll down to the “Betrayal and Trials” and “Crucifixion and Burial” and finally “Resurrection and Ascension.” https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/harmony/index.cfm