Reading Ramblings – March 25, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Context: The sixth Sunday in Lent is the beginning of Holy Week and is commonly referred to as Palm Sunday, though it has gone by many different names in different languages and places and times. The celebration likely has it’s roots in Jerusalem, and passing references to what might be the earliest incarnations of this day are found as early as the late 4th century. The tone is celebratory, as it should be every Sunday even in the season of Lent, a mini-reflection of Easter Sunday, but the tone is heightened. For a brief moment, our Lord receives the praise and adulation which He will enjoy through all eternity. Even in the midst of sin-streaked creation, broken and confused and frightened friends and family, Jesus receives the bitter-sweet and fickle welcome of God’s creation. It is both beautiful and tragic. But we need to be careful not to let the tragic elements overwhelm the reality beneath them. Jesus is no victim – not in the sense that we understand this. Jesus comes willingly, obediently, and intentionally. He comes not to be the victim, but to be the sacrificial offering through which the power of Satan and sin and death are ultimately undone. That this is even necessary is the tragic aspect.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – This chapter follows a chapter that predicts the peace and prosperity of God’s people. It’s beautiful, but the problem is that God’s people have enemies, and it isn’t until these enemies are dealt with that the peace and blessing of God can be enjoyed properly. So Zechariah 9 opens with oracles of judgment against the enemies of God’s people. These are characterized by geographical areas and by extension the rulers and powers that are centered there: DamascusTyre, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Philistia. Familiar enemies of God’s people, continued thorns in the side of God’s land and people of Israel. But at verse 9 we meet the reason why these enemies will be destroyed – the King of God’s people has come! Who is the right king of God’s people? God himself, as He established himself in the Exodus. In 1 Samuel 8:7 God makes it clear that He has been his people’s king, but in asking for a human king they reject his authority and in such a rejection will follow all the calamity and strife that will fill much of the rest of the Old Testament. So the king celebrated in Zechariah 9 can only be a divine king, God himself. And it is God who will destroy the enemies of God’s people, and this will need to be not just empires and kings and regions and cities, but the very source of strife and struggle in creation – Satan, sin, and death. Only then can God’s people truly live in hope and joy, in peace and prosperity.

Psalm 118:19-29 – This is a jubilant song of praise and confidence in the Lord’s provision and victory. The verses particularly assigned for today are the words of a conquering king entering into his victorious city. The words might be heard as just the words of the conquering king entering his royal city, giving thanks to God for deliverance and salvation (v. 21). But it also makes sense as a dialogue between the king and his people, as they acknowledge the miraculous salvation God has accomplished through an unlikely or overlooked resource (v.22). It is the nature of this victory that is glorifying to God – He accomplishes it in a way nobody expected or would have looked for. What God accomplishes in his victory is then extended to his people. They inherit the blessings of his victory over all those who opposed and stood against him. The psalm ends as it begins, in thanksgiving and praise to a victorious God, and is hauntingly appropriate to be quoted by the people welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, who likely had dim if any understanding of just how appropriate this psalm was for that day and that king!

Philippians 2:5-11 – The welcome Jesus received that first Palm Sunday might have been enough to make even the most level-headed of us a bit drunk or giddy on the euphoria. Who could blame Jesus if He had gotten caught up in the adulation? Had welcomed and encouraged it, had urged the people on to higher and greater praise? Had formed and guided the swell of praise and excitement into a tool to sweep him into Jerusalem with the promise of political or religious power? But Jesus remains calm amidst the praise. He does not condemn it but He does not encourage it. It sweeps around and past him and He remains centered and calm in the midst of it. It is not for this that He has come, and He knows that his true glory will arrive in the least likely and most undesirable of means – through his total humiliation and defeat, his physical and psychological and emotional abuse that will culminate in hanging naked to die in full view of everyone. The praise is fleeting. His eye is on the real victory and celebration that will come with the tomb is broken open and He walks out free and alive and victorious. It is this we should keep in mind and model our lives after. Going viral or reaching the heights of public office or corporate success is not our goal. Our goal is the victory that will come in the least desirable or admirable of ways – through the death of our bodies in one manner or another. A death that reduces us to nothing in the eyes of the world, but in faith in Jesus Christ leads us to the highest glories and honors and victories in him.

Mark 14:1-15:47 – I like the tradition of reading the entire account of Holy Week on Palm Sunday. It provides an overview, a context for everything that will follow. The various services during the week will highlight specific moments – a dinner here, death, burial, resurrection. Moments brought out in bright relief like specific aspects of the landscape at night illuminated by lightning. But the Palm Sunday reading is a survey of the entire landscape in mid-afternoon. We see things in relationship to each other, in proportion. It is part of the blessing of hindsight that we can see things like this, caught up momentarily in the emotions of sacrifice and loss but always in the light of the empty tomb on Easter morning.

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