Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the followers named Mary. You are going to the tomb to visit, much like when we go visit the graves of loved ones today. This is the first chance you have had to go since Jesus was buried, because yesterday was the Sabbath day. As dawn is breaking, you make your way to the tomb, expecting to find a sealed grave where the two of you could have some quiet reflection and prayers for Jesus.
Then all of a sudden: BAM!
An angel comes down from heaven, seemingly so fast that it causes an earthquake. And this angel was shining like lightning and white as snow. It must have been terrifying for you. It was for the Roman guards. They were so afraid they passed right out.
Then the angel rolls away the stone covering the tomb, and then sits down on it. By now, you are probably thinking of running away as fast as possible, but the angel says to you: “Don’t be afraid.”
Are you kidding me? Don’t be afraid? I’m downright terrified!
“Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he has been raised from the dead just like he said. Come, look here where they laid him. Now, hurry, go and tell the disciples. He’s on his way to Galilee and you will see him there. This is his message to you.”
And so filled with fear and excitement, you hurry along to go find the disciples. Read more…
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
What a week.
At the beginning of the week you are raiding a villager’s stable to get a donkey and her foal for Jesus to ride in an impromptu parade into Jerusalem. And next thing you know, you are running for your life trying to hide so that you don’t get arrested for being a follower of Jesus.
What a strange week indeed.
Where did it all go wrong? Why do we go from waving palm branches and shouting “hosanna” on Sunday to shouting “crucify him!” on Friday? What happened that caused the Jerusalem establishment to want to kill Jesus and the crowd to either go along with it, or even worse – turn their backs in apathy?
Why do we go from triumphant entry to crucifixion?
I think the answer is this – unfulfilled expectation.
To explain this, we need to go back a ways. Back hundreds of years to the days when the Israelites were in exile and the prophets were telling them of a messiah that was to come and deliver them. We remember in Advent the prophet Isaiah predicts a savior will come who will come with might, his arms will rule for him. A savior who will lift the yokes of oppression.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus’ birth. A baby is born who is to be called the King of the Jews. The establishment is already afraid of him – so afraid that Herod orders all baby boys be killed.
And now, under the oppressing rule of the Romans, the Israelites are yearning for freedom. And along comes this Jesus fellow. The man from Nazareth who claims to be the messiah. In Jesus the crowds see freedom from Roman rule. They see an end to their oppression. They see a political savior.
The triumphant entry into Jerusalem is full of symbolism to encourage their beliefs about Jesus. When soldiers entered villages under Roman rule, they typically entered in the same fashion as Jesus. Branches of trees were laid down in front of them. People placed their cloaks on the road for them to walk over. As Jesus is being led into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the crowd sees the man they think will overthrow the government and kick the Romans out for good.
Hosanna, they shout.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest.
But as the week progresses, the come to realize that Jesus is not who they think he is.
Jesus spends the first three days in the Temple, teaching. And his teaching does not go well with the religious establishment. Or the crowds.
First, he wreaks havoc with the moneychangers in the temple. These where the people who took the Roman currency and exchanged it for goods that were acceptable sacrifices in the temple – Roman coins were unacceptable because the proclaimed Caesar as God. The moneychangers made a good profit in this business, something that made Jesus angry enough to toss their tables across the courtyard.
The Priests and Pharisees were probably thinking – “Whoa, who does this guy think he is?”
The crowds were probably wondering when they were going to start the coup.
But Jesus had other plans. Jesus wasn’t planning a political revolution. The revolution Jesus had planned was much larger than that. In Jesus, God had come to earth, to live among us, to teach and show us a new way of living. A new way of being. Jesus wasn’t interested in being the King of the Jews. He wanted to usher in the Kingdom of God.
“What? Kingdom of God? You mean you aren’t going to kick out the Romans?” the crowds thought.
As Jesus taught in the temple that week, through many lessons and parables, people realized he wasn’t who they thought he was.
The crowd realized he wasn’t their political savior, so they moved on. And when he was crucified, most of them stayed away out of apathy.
The temple establishment saw that Jesus was out to change the status quo for them. This new way that Jesus was teaching would upset their comfortable way of life. So they conspired to find a way to have him arrested so they could turn him over to the Roman authorities as a traitor.
As we listen the story while traveling through Holy Week, we will learn of the betrayal plot by Judas, we will see the Disciples celebrate Passover and learn from Jesus the way we are to remember his sacrifice. We will be there with the disciples trying to stay awake as he prays in the garden. We will watch as he is arrested, beaten, and finally crucified. And we will ask – who is Jesus?
That is the question of Holy Week. Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus have to die on that cross?
On Easter morning, we will know the answer.
Until then, we must walk with him through Jerusalem. As we walk and learn from Jesus, and realize that he is not a political savior, how will we react? Will we, like the crowds, turn away with apathy? Or will we continue to walk with him all the way to the cross?
In the shadow of the cross it may seem that hope died that day. But as Christians, we know that joy dawns again. And when it does, we will celebrate.
Well here we are almost on the other side of Lent, getting ready to make the final journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We’ve been traveling with Jesus as he encounters people and shows them and us who he is. Each of these encounters reveal a bit of Jesus’ identity. We’ve been with:
- Jesus & Satan in the wilderness and saw that Jesus declares that we are enough, just as we are & calls us to claim our identities as God’s beloved children
- Jesus & Nicodemus at night – Jesus came to love the world, offering freedom & we are called to embrace the freedom to allow the spirit to blow us where it will
- Jesus & the Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus is always with us in our darkest hours and calls us to share our faith experiences
- Jesus & the Blind man – Jesus opens our eyes and calls us out of our theological boxes
And here we are this week with Jesus & Mary & Martha & Lazarus. For 42 verses it seems like a story about death and dying, grief & lament. But in the 43rd verse we see that is not the case. No, this is a story about life. New life. Resurrection.
I wonder how much we understand about resurrection. I wonder this because I have been thinking about salvation and resurrection a lot lately. I tend to do that every Lent. Coming out of two edges of the bible belt – the Midwestern edge and the edge that sits just north of the Mason-Dixon line, the prevailing theology was one of salvation for the future. The question always asked was “Do you know where you are going to spend eternity?” The focus was on saving souls for the future. But that never sat right with me. What is the point of life on earth if all we are living for is the future life we have with God? Are we just supposed to grin and bear all the suffering we endure before the end, and have no hope for a good life now? And are we just supposed to sit back and watch it all happen? Read more…
There was a man born blind.
On that point, everyone seems to have been in agreement. He had become a part of the cultural scenery, so familiar that people forgot to look at him. As a beggar he received food; but received little actual attention.
He was born blind. Everybody knew that. And that was how he was to be classified for life. He had been neatly placed in the “blind and helpless” category, so that folks were free to go about other tasks in life. Even today, society and daily culture depend upon people first being categorized and, then, staying in their place.
But all this changed on the day that Jesus walked by. Everybody still agreed that the beggar who used to roam their streets was born blind – but no one could get straight exactly what had happened to him. The story of this dramatic event is one of the funniest stories in scripture, told in the entire ninth chapter of John. The public investigation of how this blind man became able to see sounds like an early story line for the Keystone Cops.
Here’s how it happened. Read more…
A few years ago I took a youth group to Philadelphia on a weekend mission trip. While we were there, we had an opportunity to take in some of the sights, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. It was a beautiful Saturday in May, a nice warm and sunny day. So naturally, there were quite a few people waiting to see the bell. The line curved around the building and lined the park between the Liberty Bell center and Independence Hall.
While we were waiting in line, there was a guy standing in the park wearing a headset microphone and speaker on his belt. He was preaching to the crowd waiting in line – a captive audience. I really don’t remember what he was saying, other than it was directed against the United States policies with Israel and implored Americans to repent and believe in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. It was a very angry message. As we stood there, moving in a very slow line, one of the youth leaned over to me and said, not at all quietly, “You know Pastor Jeff, I don’t think that is the best way to get people to follow Jesus.” No, Hayden, it’s not.
It’s probably the most famous verse in the bible. Go to a major sporting event and chances are you will see a sign for it. John 3.16. Or maybe someone will be wearing it on a t-shirt. Or, if you’re Tim Tebow – you paint it right on your face.
This morning’s gospel reading is the story of Jesus and Nicodemus and includes this verse. We are continuing our Lent sermon series of “What Kind of Messiah?” which looks at the texts assigned during Lent and asks two fundamental questions:
What kind of Messiah is this Jesus?
What kind of Christians are we supposed to be?
Well, here we are in another season of Lent. This week you may have seen people around town with what looked like black smudges on their foreheads – these folks participated in an Ash Wednesday service to kick of Lent.
Lent is the time in the liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Easter. It is 40 days in length, not including Sundays, as a way to remember the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.
The traditional purpose of Lent is our preparation for the Easter Triduum – the three day period beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday, and including Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday – through prayer, confession and repentance, and service to others. It is our hope that we come to Easter Sunday prepared to celebrate the good news of the resurrection with a heightened sense of joy because of our preparation.
The texts we read during Lent help us prepare with stories of Jesus’ identity. They help us understand what kind of Messiah Jesus came to be and what kind of Christian we are supposed to be. This year the stories are all about Jesus in relationship with someone, and how that relationship plays out. We begin this week with Jesus and Satan. Read more…