This coming Sunday will be Palm Sunday, a very special day in Jesus’ journey toward the cross. It is the day Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, heralded as a king. People wave palm branches and welcome him with enthusiasm and reverence, caught up in the grandeur of the moment. Most did not fully understand who he was, but they believed he was special—deserving their praise. In all four gospels, it says they shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They refer to him as a king.
Are you ready for a quick lesson in the Greek language? It involves the word “blessed.” It is significant here. At the beginning of Lent, I preached a sermon on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), the introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus uses the word “blessed” there to describe people who will experience God’s goodness because of their poverty, mourning, meekness, peacemaking, and persecution. The Greek word makarios in that setting is an adjective, meaning happy or being in an enviable position. We wonder how people who are in poverty or mourning can be envied. But Jesus was teaching his disciples that those are the ones who will be able to find righteousness, because God will welcome them into the heavenly kingdom.
But in the case of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the word “blessed” has a new meaning. It comes from the root Greek word eulogeo, which is a verb. It means to praise, or to celebrate with praise. The people were waving palm branches and praising Jesus! It was a celebration of praise, fit for a king. One would think that Jesus would be overwhelmed with joy, seeing how warmly he is being welcomed by the people. But, of course, Jesus knew what was happening. He was fulfilling prophecy, and the cross lay just ahead. You see, Jesus wasn’t arriving on a great stallion, surrounded by soldiers. It was not the arrival of an earthly king. He was on a donkey, fulfilling the what was foretold by the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10) Jesus was not arriving in Jerusalem as an earthly king. He was arriving as the savior of the world! His rule would be over the kingdom of heaven. The donkey was a symbol of humility and peace, and Jesus’ arrival on a donkey was the fulfillment of prophecy. As we know, over the course of the next week, the people’s shouts will turn away from praise, and they will soon shout, “Crucify him!” It’s an incredible story about an incredible savior, and the fulfillment of prophecy continues. Thanks be to God!
In the love of Christ,
Wednesday’s Message for Lent March 17, 2021
Dear friends, Many of you know that my passion in ministry is spiritual formation. I became especially fond of the study of spiritual formation even before I entered seminary, once I understood the impact that such formation could have on my life and the life of the church. But I soon understood, also, that using the term “spiritual formation” doesn’t resonate with everybody. Many hear the words, but don’t understand the concept.
I remember one time in my enthusiasm on the topic, I was stopped cold when a longtime church member said, “What do you mean by spiritual formation? What is it?” It was then that I realized I had been in that place for many years of my life. I had heard the words, but didn’t understand what they mean. So, on the spot, I came up with my own definition. I said, “Spiritual formation is the process by which we are transformed into the image of Christ.” The church member said, “Why didn’t you say that?” So there it is. I am passionate about being transformed into the image of Christ!
Of course we all know that when we speak of the image of Christ, we are not talking about the physical appearance of Jesus. We are talking about Jesus’ character—about taking on the characteristics of Jesus. May I be so bold as to say that the core characteristic of Jesus is love? He obviously loved each of us enough to be willing to die a heinous death on a cross for us. He promised he would be with us until the end of the age. He promised that he would not abandon us, no matter how tough the circumstances of our lives might be. And what about compassion? And what about humility? Yes, love, compassion, and humility are at the heart of Jesus’ character. That is what we strive for when we say we want to be transformed into his image.
When God had rejected Saul as the first king of Israel, God called on Samuel to go anoint the one who had been chosen. Do you remember the story? God said to Samuel, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1) After Samuel had observed several of Jesse’s sons, he was confused because God was rejecting them. Why had he sent him to Jesse of Bethlehem? And then God said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) It was then that Samuel was introduced to David, who would become the next king of Israel. God had chosen David because of his heart! And as the prophets foretold, the Messiah would come from the line of David.
Today we celebrate the gift that God gave each of us in the person of Jesus Christ. We look at his heart--love, compassion, and humility—and we realize we want to be more like him. That is a very personal part of the Easter story. As we see Jesus’ character on full display during this season of Lent, we have the opportunity to ask God to make us more like the One we worship. Transform our hearts, Lord. Transform us into the image of Christ! In the love, compassion, and humility of Christ, Pastor Bob