Reading Ramblings – April 5, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:12-19

Context: Normally I prefer the longer reading for Palm Sunday, that takes us all the way from the night before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem all the way through the crucifixion. But this year seems like we ought to do something different. In the year of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place and social distancing, perhaps the shorter reading just of the triumphal entry that John provides will work. A different approach, but then this day has been observed in a variety of ways based on different times and places so it’s hardly inappropriate. Jesus enters Jerusalem not for the first time but the last time, fulfilling prophecy and signaling He is about to accomplish what He was sent ultimately to do – to offer himself as a sacrifice. It’s a day full of promise, a day we ought to relish for what it is without rushing too far ahead to what is coming. The King is entering his city! Acknowledged by his people! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Isaiah 50:4-9a – These verses look ahead to the full scope of Holy Week, but they are also appropriate here and now. Jesus allows himself to be carried by the praise of the crowd into Jerusalem. Allows prophecy to be fulfilled. Allows himself to be who and what He has come for. He remains perfectly obedient. Not passive, but actively obedient to the words poured into his ear by God the Holy Spirit. Knowing what lies ahead, how the shouts of joy will be replaced with demands for his death. But through all of this, He trusts in his heavenly Father’s will and plan which will include his vindication. His enemies will be defeated not by his divine power but through divine love. A defeat which has the power to transform them in that defeat from enemies to sons and daughters. God is not satisfied with simply defeating his enemies, but rather in converting them, saving them from the death and defeat that is the rightful fate of our one true enemy, Satan.

Psalm 118:19-29 – This psalm is a beautiful responsive psalm of praise to God who delivers his people. It can be divided into two major sections – vs. 1-18 and vs. 19-29, with calls to worship and praise both starting and ending the psalm. The psalm specifically deals with he who comes in the name of the Lord (v.26). It is this person who rightly speaks in this psalm and to whom the people of God ascribe praise and blessing. The irony is that the one who comes in the name of the Lord is also a sacrifice to God (v.27). Yet this one can proclaim that he shall not die but live (v.17). He is the righteous one who can enter the gates of righteousness (vs.19-20) and proclaim the salvation of the Lord (v.21) despite he himself being despised and rejected (v.22). Only the Lord God could choose to work his salvation in such an unlikely way, and for that He alone deserves all glory and honor (vs.23-24). The congregation responds in blessing upon the one sent in the name of the Lord (vs.26-27) who is the answer to their prayer for deliverance (v.25). He is the embodiment God’s steadfast and faithful love (v.29). Definitely words appropriate to Jesus on Palm Sunday, and definitely words of blessing and praise appropriate to we his people by faith, who He has saved and delivered!

Philippians 2:5-11 – All this praise and glory might go to your head. It would mine, and I doubt there are many people who could resist the temptation to lord their supremity over others, or flaunt their blessedness in the face of those despising and persecuting them. Yet even here Jesus is obedient, refusing to indulge in the temptation of vanity or self-glory or pride. The very Son of God who refuses to use this identity as a means of glorifying himself, when his duty is to glorify his heavenly Father. He didn’t simply avoid self-glory He obediently emptied himself and became the most base and lowly of us. He stooped to do things – like washing his disciples’ feet – nobody else would consider appropriate for themselves, let alone the Messiah! And He was obedient to being branded a criminal and executed as such, publicly humiliated and shamed and seemingly thoroughly discredited. Even then, He trusted in his heavenly Father as the source of his vindication rather than seeking to vindicate himself. These are all wonderful things to recite and proclaim about the Son of God, and ignore Paul’s admonition at the beginning – we are to seek to be just this humble, just this desirous not of personal glory and gain but only of obedience to God that He might receive the glory!

John 12:12-19 – Lazarus has been raised from the dead but Jesus withdraws from Bethany to a nearby town to avoid the Jewish authorities plotting to kill him (John 11:54). Ephraim was not far from Bethany, apparently, and so as the Passover grew closer, Jesus returned to Bethany and the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus and is the guest of honor of a dinner there, probably on Saturday night after the Sabbath ended at sundown. It is the next day, Sunday, when Jesus begins his final entry to Jerusalem. However he was not alone! There were many people at the dinner party the night before, a celebration of Jesus and what He had done so recently for that small family. These people had returned to Jerusalem that night after the dinner. Now they hear Jesus is on his way and they go out to meet him. The words of Psalm 118 seem very appropriate for a man who can raise the dead. While they may not understand him fully as Messiah or the divine Son of God, they can affirm that He is someone who obviously comes in the name of the Lord, else how could He perform such an amazing miracle? They acclaim him King of Israel, which further indicates their faith that He is a holy man at the very least, and perhaps much more than that – the promised Messiah and son of David who would be king. His manner of arrival would further contribute to this idea, so that John draws the connection with Zechariah’s prophecy in chapter 9. John further admits the disciples – himself included – didn’t understand the full significance of these events until after the resurrection. Until after the Holy Spirit had enlightened them and opened their eyes to the Scriptures as Jesus had promised them (John 13, 16; Luke 24).

We see in this scene excitement to be sure, but we should be cautious in seeing here full faith in Jesus as the Son of God and promised Messiah. But that faith was growing in the crowd, particularly given the witness of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Faith and joy and trust are the only reasonable responses to seeing the clear work of God. The work of the Pharisees to compromise or discredit Jesus has failed. The power of God is stronger than their plans, and their misunderstandings and misperceptions cannot and will not stop the truth of God from playing out. It is not our faith and understanding that determine what God can and cannot do. God does what He will, and we are called in faith to recognize it for what it is and respond in the appropriate obedience and praise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s