Hosanna to the Son of David

With Palm Sunday nearly upon us I decided to put my Bible reading plan on hold until after Easter in order to read the parts of the gospels that talk about Holy Week.  I began today in Matthew 21 reading about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This passage of Scripture is always poignant to me because I believe it portrays the human condition extremely well.  It displays to us the depth of our depravity and how all-encompassing our spiritual death is.

Matthew 21 begins telling us that Jesus is about to arrive at Jerusalem and has stopped in the town of Bethpage and the Mount of Olives which is about a day’s journey from the holy city.  There Jesus tells a couple of His disciples to go ahead to the village and retrieve a donkey and its colt and bring them back to Him.  Jesus has a specific prophecy He intends to fulfill by using these beasts.  There was a prophecy made about the coming King of Zion, which is God’s kingdom, that he would come to the city in humility, not in glory or fanfare.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

When Jesus finally enters Jerusalem riding on the colt it is unclear whether the people who saw Him would have recalled this prophecy, but from the words they use to extol Jesus I have to think that they were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy.  They use the phrase that we all know, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  The people of Jerusalem recognize that this man is Jesus of Nazareth and that He is the Son of David.  God had given them the eyes to see this about Jesus.  Many people before this moment had not seen Jesus for who He was.  Only a few people outside of the disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God.  Son of David was a title given by Jewish prophecy to the messiah who would come and restore Israel to peace and usher in a glorious age of prosperity and worship to God.  It took special revelation by the Holy Spirit to see this about Jesus as we know from Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:17 when he confesses Jesus as the Christ and Jesus tells him that God had revealed this to him.

When the crowd recognized who Jesus was they began to spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him and they declared His identity as the Messiah.  But the most interesting part of this passage is the interjection ‘hosanna’ to declare His praise.  The word ‘hosanna’ is interesting because of its meaning in Greek.  The word means literally ‘to be propitious’.  Propitious means to be favorably disposed or a good omen.  The inhabitants of Jerusalem knew that Jesus’ coming to them was a good sign and it meant that wonderful things were to happen.  In Hebrew ‘hosanna’ is a verb translated as ‘to be saved or delivered; liberated; or victorious.’  The people recognized all these positive things about Jesus that they knew from the various prophecies about the messiah.

It seems, at least for now, that the Jews know who Jesus is and what they think He is coming to do.  But of course they were under the impression that the Messiah would come to free them from their Roman occupiers, hence the liberation and victory language used by the word ‘hosanna’.  It seems nobody is ever truly aware of Jesus’ actual mission until after He’s been crucified and risen.  The people, nonetheless, are exuberant with expectation and I imagine it would have been an absolute craze within the city once news of Jesus’ arrival spread.

The part I think is worthy of focus is the fact that just five days later these same people are standing in Pontius Pilate’s courtyard screaming “Crucify him!”  How did this dramatic reversal happen?  How did the entire city turn on Him in a matter of days?  I believe it was because once they got to see Jesus and how He wasn’t living up to their expectation as the butt-kicker of Rome they began to resent Jesus.  Their spiritual blindness had hidden Jesus’ true purpose from them.  They could only see their selfish nationalistic image of their Messiah who would come to serve their own interests as a nation rather than die for their sins.  God’s plan is always much more glorious and important than our own.  We are limited in our vision and knowledge but God sees and knows all.  This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, to send His Son to be the ransom for sinners.

That these people who shouted Jesus’ praise at the gate then demanded Him to be crucified reflects something found in all people.  We are radically depraved in our understanding of God.  The spiritual death that was brought upon the human race because of Adam’s sin is all-encompassing.  We think of ourselves before others and we certainly put ourselves before God.  We are darkened in our understanding and cannot see the things of God.  Sin prevents us from seeing, knowing, and worshiping God.  We are spiritually dead as Paul says in Ephesians 2.  The irony of the situation in Jerusalem is that in their spiritual deadness they missed the point of Jesus’ death, but only His death is what can give them new life to see who Jesus really is.

In this Easter season I hope you would study the Scriptures and ask yourself the questions raised by it.  Questions like “Who do you say that I am?” and “What does Jesus’ death mean for me today?”  Are you living unaware of Jesus’ death on the cross?  Are you unaware that His death secured the forgiveness of your sins so that if you believe in Him you will be called a child of God?  Perhaps you need to be freshly amazed at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?  Pray like the disciples did to increase your faith that you would have eyes to see and ears to hear so that you may receive life.  If you need to have your vision renewed camp out in Scripture and make the words your diet.  May the Holy Spirit cause you to shout “Hosanna!” and be freshly amazed by the cross and what it accomplished.

Who Really Killed Jesus?

Who really killed Jesus?  Secular scholars have been debating over this question for almost two millenia.  The crucifixion of Jesus is considered by many, Christians and non-Christians alike, to be one of the most significant events in world history.  For the believer it is the foundation of their faith and the hope of eternal life, the beginning of a new era.  For the non-believer it is also a dawn of a new era marking a new philosophy and world view.  The rise of a new religion for good or ill resulted in the death of Jesus.  Countless wars have been fought in the name of Jesus and eternal strife between cultures has arisen since the crucifixion.  We regard Jesus’ death as so important we even reckon time by it.  The ancient years being BC or before Christ, and the modern years AD or “Ano Domini” or “the year of the Lord”.  Of course now it is referred to as BCE, “before the common era” and CE, “common era” for those who don’t like to utter the word Christ.  Archaeologists have searched for the tomb and body of Jesus, people have claimed to own or have discovered artifacts related to Jesus, people wear crosses as jewelry accessories.  The point is that the death of Jesus is hugely important in our lives both as Christians and not.  It has huge implications on our beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife, and is the turning point of modern human history.

For almost two thousand years people have been asking the question “who killed Jesus?”  Some say it was the Romans, some say it was Pontius Pilate, some say the Jews.  Everyone seems determined to place a level of culpability on someone or some people group to bring closure to the greatest misdeed in history.  Most recognize Jesus as the meek and mild prophet and teacher who preached a message of forgiveness and love towards your neighbor.  That’s stuff everyone can agree with but Jesus was arrested and tried as a criminal, as one who sought to lead a rebellion against Rome and throw off the Roman rule of Judea.  Of this he was falsely accused.  Some say it was the Jews who’s hand was most prominent in the death of the innocent man Jesus.  The Jewish priests were the ones who brought the false charges against Jesus because he was telling people that he was the Son of God.  Blasphemy was punishable by death according to Jewish law so they sought to put an end to this ridiculous blasphemy by leveling this charge against him.  The claim to be the Son of God was made by Jesus on several occasions, but where the Jewish priests manipulated it was in the fact that the Son of God would be proclaimed as King of kings and Lord of lords and that title directly contradicted Roman rule, specifically Caesar himself.  The Jews hated being under Roman rule but here they manipulated it to bring about their own ends in a disgustingly twisted and evil way.  Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, had his hand forced by the Jewish crowd at Jesus’ trial because they were screaming “Crucify him!” and the Bible says that Pilate, fearing a riot pronounced the sentence of death upon Jesus although he found no guilt in him.

That brings us to the next group of people, or person specifically, who is said to have been responsible for Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate really is in a loose-loose situation during the trial of Jesus.  The Jewish priests keep pressing him to condemn Jesus because he claims to be a king and hopes to lead a rebellion against Caesar.  Allowing Jesus to go free would pronounce Pilate as “no friend of Caesar”, which is ironic coming from the Jews who vehemently hated the Romans.  Pilate also does not want to condemn Jesus because from a legal standpoint he has done nothing to warrant death.  Pilate’s own wife intercedes on Jesus’ behalf telling her husband “have nothing to do with that righteous man for I have suffered greatly because of him in a dream”.  For fear that a riot will soon break out Pilate attempts to shift the burden from himself to the crowd by offering to release to them one criminal as is tradition during the Passover feast time, or kill Jesus.  The angry mob screams “Give us Barabbas!  Away with Jesus!”  Seeing that there was nothing to be gained by bargaining with them, Pilate reluctantly sentences Jesus to death then famously washes his hands of guilt.  The Jews cry out, “His blood be on us, and our children!”  Had Pilate been a stronger, more courageous leader who was devoted to the law Jesus might not have been killed.

But let us consider now another perspective.  The prophet Isaiah provides the most detailed and vivid description of the crucifixion of Jesus about 700 years beforehand.  In chapter 53 of Isaiah, the prophet describes Jesus as a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, being despised and rejected by his own people.  Isaiah outlines that Jesus would be poor, having no beauty that we should desire him, and that we would incorrectly judge him to be afflicted by God.  All this is freakishly accurate when we examine Jesus’ life, but then Isaiah says something completely out of left field.  In chapter 53 verses 5 and 6, Isaiah says the following:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The LORD has laid upon him the iniquity of us all?  Really?  God did that to Jesus?  The answer is yes.  Here is further evidence from Isaiah 53:10:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt

Clear as day right there.  It was the will of the LORD to crush him.  How can that be true?  God is not a murderer, that goes against everything we know about God.  Before you dismiss this evidence consider what the Jews were taught of old about the promised Messiah.  They believed that the Messiah would appear at the end of the age when God would make the heavens and the earth new and God’s Chosen One, the Messiah would redeem Israel from her bondage to her captives, whether it is Babylon, Assyria, or Rome, and usher in the new reign of the kingdom of God where there will be no more sin and Israel will dwell forever with God in the New Jerusalem.  At the time of Jesus the Jews were living under Roman authority.  While not suppressing their religion, the Romans required that the Jews be subject to Roman laws and taxes.  The Jews did not like this idea of paying tribute to a foreign pagan leader so they resented the Romans and hoped for their Messiah to appear and begin the revolution.  This is a drastically different picture of the Messiah from the one that is painted for us in Isaiah 53.  Isaiah paints the picture of the Messiah as a suffering servant who bears the sins of the wicked on their behalf.  The Messiah would stricken and afflicted, murdered, and buried for sinners though he himself was sinless, and Isaiah says that this was God’s plan.

Sin is a big deal to God.  Sin is the opposite of God’s holiness.  God hates sin because at the heart level it is a rebellion against and rejection of God.  Back in Genesis, God declared that the penalty for sin is death and that all those who sin shall die.  After the story of the exodus from Egypt God instituted the sacrificial system in which animals would be killed to take the guilt away from people so that God’s wrath against sin would be averted.  By sacrificing an animal and confessing your sins over it God would agree to forebear with the sinner and hold back his holy wrath from the actual sinner.  But the death of an animal could never truly pay for the sins of a human so the sacrificial system was imperfect.  It was designed to foreshadow the ultimate work of redemption that God promised way back in Genesis 3.  The sacrificial system was given with a promise, a promise that compliance with the gory rituals in faith that there will one day be a perfect sacrifice that would truly and wholly deal with sin would be made, will make a man righteous in the sight of God.  In Isaiah 53, Isaiah is describing that perfect and final sacrifice.  The Man of Sorrows, the Son of God, Jesus is the Lamb of God.  John the Baptizer proclaims in the gospels before the baptism of Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  John the Baptizer knew his Old Testament and recognized that Jesus would be the fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

When Jesus died on the cross He willingly took upon Himself the full burden of the sins of the world.  Although He was entirely sinless in life, Jesus puts Himself in our place and invites upon His soul the full and terrible wrath of God for all of our sins past, present, and future.  He becomes the sacrifice for our sins and obtains forgiveness from God on our behalf.  Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s sacrificial system and it was the will of the LORD that He be so.  God’s plan all along was for Jesus to accomplish this divine rescue mission to rescue us from slavery to sin and to redeem us, to literally buy us with his blood, to the kingdom of God.

So the answer to the question of who killed Jesus is not the Jews, or the Romans, or Pilate, but God.  God the Father killed Jesus in order that by His death, many would be made alive.  The death of Jesus is the greatest act of love the universe has ever seen.  Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love no one has than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  That we would be called friends of God as sinners and then God sacrifice His life for us is astonishing!  But that is not where the story ends.  Easter is just a few days away and it is appropriate that we celebrate the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead.  After three days in the grave Jesus rose again to life!  This ensures for us that Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin was accepted by God and that we are guaranteed to be resurrected like Him if we believe in His death.  Surely there is nothing in me that is worthy of such a deed by God so I am convinced that it is purely of grace that I have faith in this marvelous promise!

So this weekend remember that God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to pay your punishment for your sins so that you wouldn’t have to.  Reflect on the truth of the gospel and marvel at the unfathomable love that Jesus would lay down His life to save yours!

A Must See/Listen!

I just listened to a really great message from Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA.  It’s called “The Coming of the Kingdom”.  It is a part of Mars Hill’s sermon series on the book of Luke.  This message is part 71 of the 2 year series.  If you want to listen to the previous 70 sermons go ahead, it’ll only take you 176,359 hours!  I would strongly recommend this sermon for preparation for Good Friday and Easter.  Click on http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/luke/the-coming-of-the-kingdom to listen/watch the sermon.  That is all!

Holy Week

Yesterday was the first day of what the Christian calendar calls “Holy Week”.  Beginning with Palm Sunday which remembers Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  In the space of a week Jesus will experience exaltation at the gates of the city to despite and humiliation at the governor’s mansion.  It all begins with Jesus humbly riding in on a donkey with people laying down palm branches on His path while saying “Hosanna!  Baruch haba b’shem Adonai” which means “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The people of Jerusalem were excited to receive their king who was going to free them from the oppression of the Roman occupation.  They had messed up beliefs about the Messiah and what He would accomplish.  However, when it became clear that Jesus was not going to lead a rebellion against the Roman rule He quickly falls out of favor with the public and attracts a lot of negative attention from the Pharisees and Sadducees with His teachings about the Kingdom of God.  The people assumed that Jesus would declare Himself king and restore Israel to its former greatness and usher in the Kingdom on earth.  The Jews had always had a nationalistic view of the Messianic mission and it led them to assume that they were the only people the Messiah would come for.  Assuming their righteous standing with God because of their chosen status with God.  They were God’s chosen people from among the nations of the world so the Messiah would be on their team and save them from the other nations, not themselves as Jesus taught.  Their national pride was one of the causes for their blindness to the real mission of Jesus.  Jesus taught from the beginning that He would die in the place of sinners and referenced many Old Testament scriptures as proof of His lordship and mission.

We are all in the same position as the people of Jerusalem who were blind to their own personal need of a Messiah.  The real problem was that we have sinned against a holy God and our sins deserve to be punished.  The punishment for our sins is an eternity in hell.  One sin against an eternal God requires an eternal punishment.  Each one of us is steeped in sin from the moment we’re born and are completely incapable of doing anything righteous in the sight of God.  But Jesus, being God, was sent from heaven to live a sinless life and die in the place of sinners so that He would be punished by God instead of us.  God punished Jesus on the cross to the full extent deserved for every human who would be saved.  Only an eternal soul like the one in Jesus could bear the eternal aspect of the wrath for sins.  So for three hours God relentlessly poured out wrath upon wrath on Jesus in our place.  Because of this substitution those who place their faith in Jesus are forgiven because there is no judgment left for them.  On top of that, Jesus was raised from the dead and gave us the righteousness He achieved during His life so that we can have a righteous standing before God until the day we meet Him in the eternal afterlife.

It takes a miracle work of God to reveal this in our hearts and before that miracle we were among the crowds crying “Crucify him!” before Pilate.  As C.J. Mahaney says, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us leading us to faith and worship, we must see it as something done by us, leading us to repentance.  Only the man or the woman who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in its grace.”

I pray that all of us this Holy Week would seek to go deeper into the mystery and wonder of the cross and that we would find that our Savior’s love goes deeper than we had ever imagined before!  Seek out the Lord, acknowledge your sins, and find forgiveness and life at the foot of the cross and the empty grave.

2 Cor. 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”

Not to Be Served, But to Serve

Matthew 20:28: “The Son of Man came  not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

“So great and wonderful was the work that Jesus had to do for the sinner, that nothing less was necessary than that He should give Himself to do that work.  So great and wonderful was the love of Jesus towards us, that He actually gave Himself for us and to us.  So great and wonderful is the surrender of Jesus, that all that same thing for which He gave Himself can actually and completely come to pass in us.  For Jesus, the Holy, the Almighty, has taken upon Himself to do it:  He gave Himself for us…

…And now the one thing that is necessary is that we should rightly understand and firmly believe this His surrender for us. ..When I receive Him, when I believe that He gave Himself to do this for me, I shall certainly experience it.  I shall be purified through Him, shall be held fast as His possession, and be filled with zeal and joy to work for Him.”

Andrew Murray

Be Anxious in Nothing

“…But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” Phil. 4:6-7, 19

What an awesome promise this is from God for those who trust in Him!  If you’ve been alive for the last 3 1/2 years you know that the world has experienced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Millions of people across the world lost their investments and savings, corporations and small businesses alike folded, and the value of our currency plummeted.  For many, it seemed the collapse of the world economy was right around the corner.  Despair was the pervasive attitude, especially in the United States, the most preeminent and wealthiest country on the map.  In this country, we get so bent out of shape over financial matters such as not being able to afford the remodeling of our kitchen, purchasing the newest HD LCD 3D, anything with a D, television, sending our kids to college, that we often forget to consider how well-off we really are and how much we have been blessed.  Not only are we blessed with great wealth in this country, we are also blessed to live in the most prominent and powerful nation in the world.  If you want proof of this, check this out.  If you’ve ever travelled out of the country, say to France, for vacation and you wanted to call your friends or family members back home in Maryland you would have had to dial a country extension code before you dial the number.  The country code for the United States is “+1”.  We are #1, the first, the most powerful, the most preeminent and important.  We say “God bless the USA!” like He hasn’t done that every day in lavish excess for the last 400 years!  We are extremely blessed by God to live in a country that has experienced the blessings of God for so long, not just in financial matters, but also in political and civil freedoms.

However, we take these blessings for granted every single day.  We find ourselves every day presuming on God’s grace to continue to bless us just because we woke up that day and are hard working 9-5.  Job was a man who we could learn a lesson from if we take our blessing for granted.  Job had an abundance of possessions in every sense of the word.  He was truly blessed by God with riches, possessions, family, friends, etc…until Satan asked for God’s permission to tempt Job to sin against God by taking away his blessings.  Satan’s premise was that Job would curse God if he lost the things he loved so God gave Satan the permission to take away but not to touch a hair on Job’s head.  I assume that many of us under these same circumstances would indeed begin to question and grumble against God and even worse, curse Him when our sons were killed, our house destroyed, and all of our assets lost.  I know I would certainly be angry, confused, doubtful of God, and feeling faithless.  But Job, like Paul, “suffered the loss of all things” but his faith in God never wavered and welcomed the sufferings of Satan because he knew that though Satan had malicious intentions, God’s intentions were glorious because Job’s faith was strengthened and purified when it went through the furnace of affliction.

Job’s trust and faith in God’s glorious purposes caused him to never doubt the love and care of God in his life.  So also we should trust and believe when we come upon troubles in our own lives.  As mentioned before the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:8, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, the I may gain Christ.”  Also, Romans 5:4 tells us about suffering, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Hope is the foundation of faith, and faith is rooted in trust.  So we can conclude that to have hope is to trust as well.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul tells us that we should be anxious in nothing.  If trust in God is what Paul is calling us to in this passage, then the opposite of that trust is anxiety.  Anxiety is stress that is brought about by certain fears in our life, usually relating to loss.  You can be anxious over the fear of loosing your job, your spouse, your money, your possessions, anything that you claim to own you can be anxious about loosing it.  Not to mention the fact that all things in the world belong to God and they are gifts to us to be stewarded wisely; we “own” many possessions.  Paul is calling us to live a life without fear.  In a world filled with sin and uncertainty there is A LOT to fear!  The only thing we are called to fear in this world is God.  Jesus says we should fear the One who is able to save and also to destroy.

But for those of us who have faith and hope in Christ we have the “shalom” of God bestowed upon our lives.  Shalom is the world that is translated into “peace” in verse 7 and it has a very strong meaning of total and complete peace with God, the likes of the peace that exists between the members of the Trinity.  Total, complete, and unending peace that is perfect and eternal.  This peace results in love and we certainly trust those who we love.  So this God whom we have access to in Christ Jesus is most worthy of our complete trust!  That means that when sufferings, trials, financial crisis, and pain comes our way we can trust in the God who loves us and the God whom we also love to not only carry us through whatever we may experience, but to make us the better for it as well.  Now we may not ever experience full restoration of material wealth and possessions but we will certain experience a restoration of faith, love, and grace in our lives as a result of being momentarily afflicted.  The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has promised to guide us through the fires of life and to bring us out more deeply in love with Him and ever more amazed at His grace!  So with confidence we can draw near to God in our moment of distress and cast all our cares upon Him because He cares for us!  Also remembering the faithfulness of God in the past and recounting His goodness and grace.  The remedy for anxiety and fear in this life is trust in Jesus Christ and rejoicing in thanksgiving.  And when we rejoice in goodness and mercy of God we will with unending love sing the words immortalized in this hymn by Robert Robinson:

Come Thou fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise!

Teach me some melodious sonnet

Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the Name I’m fixed upon it

Name of Thy redeeming love!

Hitherto Thy love has blessed

Thou hast brought me to this place

And I know Thy hand will bring me

Safely home by Thy good grace

Jesus when me when a stranger

Wandr’ing from the fold of God

He to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood!

The Pride Test

From Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Luke 14:7-11 on the Parable of the Wedding Feast:

  1. Do you long for a lot of attention?
  2. Do you become jealous or critical of people who succeed?
  3. Do you always have to win?
  4. Do you have a pattern of lying?
  5. Do you have a hard time acknowledging you were wrong?
  6. Do you have a lot of conflicts with other people?
  7. Do you cut in line at the store, freeway, airport, etc…?
  8. Do you get upset when other people don’t honor your achievements?
  9. Do you tend more toward an attitude of entitlement or thankfulness?
  10. Do you honestly feel you are a good person and superior to others?

Each question you answered “Yes” to is 1 point.

If you scored 1-10 points, you are proud.

If you scored 0 points, you are very proud!

Pride is the opposite of humility.  We either start with pride and end with humiliation or we start with humility and end with exaltation.

The remedy for pride is Jesus.  Jesus was the most humble person to ever live and we can learn so much from His life to change the way we live ours.