Strengthened For Glory

[]Jesus is riding in to Jerusalem, fulfilling the messianic prophecy that a Messiah would come humbly riding on a colt to shouts of acclamation and proclamation. We hear the people cry, "Hosanna, hosanna in the highest heaven. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the one who comes to restore the kingdom of our ancestor David."

It is no accident that in his Gospel Mark mentions the people crying out that they are waiting for the restoration of the kingdom of David, their most famous king when Israel was at its highest level of authority and influence in the land and the Temple was at its very center. As we read through the Gospel of Mark, there are many references to King David. There are also prophecies that, from the line of David, the Messiah would come. These pieces are carefully crafted and part of this story of who the people were proclaiming Jesus to be. The Messiah that had been promised would come from the line of his ancestor, David, and the glory of the people Israel would be lifted up and God would be at their center.

Jesus, understanding this, also knew what was coming when he arrived in Jerusalem. He knew there would be a confrontation with the Temple authorities and he knew there would be a confrontation also with the Roman authorities. Even the instruction to the disciples to go and find a colt and bring it to Jesus is part of the wonderful celebration of the Messiah's arrival. The people, seeing him coming, would have understood that. And the many things that Jesus had done…the healings that had occurred up to this point, and even Jesus walking on water…were all things that showed the people that the messianic age had arrived. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, and Jesus had even raised someone from the dead. The people knew this must be the Messiah. And Jesus instructing them to bring the colt fulfills what prophecy had said, that the Messiah would come and how he would arrive. And Jesus comes. The people who followed Jesus and knew Jesus, and even those who were just curious about who Jesus was, were there to welcome him. You can imagine what that would be like in our time if we had someone of the authority of Jesus coming into our midst, how fast word might travel and how we would drop what we were doing and rush to go and be part of the event and to welcome. That is, in fact, what we believe happened. And that is what the story encapsulates, that there were many there who were just so excited that the time had finally come, the messianic age had arrived and the Messiah was here. And here he was, coming into Jerusalem.

Now, Jesus had to be strengthened by that event, to have so many people proclaiming who he was, who he knew himself to be. And Jesus would need that strength once he arrived in Jerusalem because the welcome mat would not be out in front of the Temple for him. In fact, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus attacks the Temple and flips the tables of the moneychangers after his arrival in Jerusalem, but not on the initial day. It says it was late and so he returned back to Bethpage. In other Gospels, he immediately attacks the Temple, but in Mark's Gospel, Jesus pulls back. After looking around and taking stock of things, Jesus goes back and there the confrontation with the Temple authorities begins.

Soon after, we hear that the Temple authorities have plotted to put Jesus to death because he had done too many things that were in violation of the laws of clean and unclean, too many violations of the ordinances of Israel and the way that the chief priests interpreted them. So Jesus would rely on the strength that he had received from those who welcomed him as he would face a trial. The disciples, as we will hear on Thursday, gathered in that upper room. Through that holy communion time with Jesus and celebrating the Passover, Jesus was strengthening them for the journey they would begin after he was arrested, crucified, and would die on a cross. Though he had said three times before being put to death what would happen to the Son of Man and that he would rise again, the disciples did not fully understand this until possibly a week after that Easter Sunday morning when he rose again because there was much fear and trembling in those who went to the tomb. And we'll see next week that it is Mary who recognizes him only after he calls her by name. But even after Jesus predicts his passion three times, he knows his disciples need something to hold them together. And so they celebrate that Passover meal and Jesus institutes what we celebrate as Holy Communion, strength for us.

On this day, we celebrate the coming of Jesus to that holy city of Jerusalem. We celebrate with palms, remembering what a glorious event it was. And wouldn't it have been wonderful for us to be there? Certainly, it strengthened those who had been walking with him, those who had seen and confessed Jesus to be the Messiah even before that day. We too are strengthened by that. And as the disciples are strengthened with that holy communion, we also are strengthened with Holy Communion, as we will next Sunday. So there is strength that comes out of this story, and there is strength that will even come out of the Passion story, although it is a story that often we dread and wish to turn our eyes from, feeling perhaps our complicity in the event through our ancestors or realizing our own doubts. But these are important things for us to experience and to go through because these are the strengthening factors. These are what help make us the people of God who follow Christ.

So as we journey into this Holy Week, we recognize the strength that came to Jesus through these extraordinary events. Jesus was strengthened for great purpose, and we too as his followers are strengthened to continue his purpose and God's purpose for our lives. So let us reflect on that and focus on that, and let us engulf ourselves in the events of Holy Week, that we may be touched in spirit so that we might sing with joy next Sunday when we celebrate Christ's resurrection. May you be blessed and may you be part of the unfolding story of Jesus and his great sacrifice and love.

April 5, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve