Palm Sunday’s Choice (Updated)

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

Luke 19:38

On Sunday of Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophetic word (Zech. 9:9-12). This unique day will be called Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar and is often referred by commentators as Jesus’ triumphal entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-1; Luke 19:29-40). Archbishop Craig Bates of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.) wrote, “The triumph however is not because the crowds declared Him King but because He was to take upon Himself the sin and suffering of the people and win the victory when God raised Him from the dead.” Jesus’ entry was a triumph not because all of Jerusalem turned out for the parade giving him the red carpet treatment, but because his death, burial, and resurrection in Jerusalem would defeat our greatest foes: the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil.

On that fateful day, and during the coming week, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would face a choice: demand that Jesus be Israel’s earthly king elevating the country to renewed worldly glory, or repent recognizing that their real problem was a heart problem. Israel’s real need was not deliverance from the Roman oppression, but a deliverance from themselves. Their selfishness, sin, and pride was bringing about the destruction of Israel’s life in God, not the hated Romans. The resurrection of Israel’s glory under King David and Solomon would not bring salvation, only the work of the Holy Spirit could restore Israel’s hope in God (Ezek. 36:26-27).

Holy Week reminds us once again that our problem is not others’ sin, weaknesses, and frailties. Our biggest problem is us and only by turning to Jesus can our lives be transformed.

We must recognize that our essential problem is not our parents, our economic background, our upbringing, our circumstances, or our bosses, etc. No, our greatest problem is us that great trinity of me, myself and I. Our selfishness, our self-absorption, our self-concern, and our self-conceit reap utter destruction. Sin is selfishness evidenced through our willful thoughts, words, or actions involving a choice in which we consider ourselves as more important than God or anyone else. The foundation of sin is our selfishness.

Jesus rode that colt over the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem for the purpose of dying on the Cross. He died that we might be freed from ourselves (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Phil. 2:5-11). He came to conquer out deepest need: selfish, greedy and prideful hearts. Jesus’ death on the cross transforms our lives: he bears our sin, shame, and guilt away.

The Palm Sunday choice:

1. Do we want a Jesus who comes to fix our problems or do we want a Saviour to change our hearts? “Hosanna, save us” (v. 10). What we need most is not a deliverance from our circumstances (i.e., enemies, problems, relationships, etc.), but a salvation from ourselves (i.e., our selfishness, pride, demands, etc.) We tend to play the victim when what we need is repentance and a change of heart.

2. Do we worship Jesus even when the crowd does not understand? We live in a secular culture that is becoming increasing hostile to the Gospel, our culture wants to make Jesus into a postmodern, super-tolerant, pluralistic image of themselves. What happens when Jesus demands to be Lord, when he declared himself to be the exclusive savior of the world, what happens when he bids us to come and die to ourselves and follow him?

3. Do we or will we only follow Jesus when life is going well? Where will we be on Good Friday when it seems that all that Jesus has taught and said is evaporating before our eyes? Will we trust him even when our world is crashing down around us. Will we trust his words and promises that death will not hold him down.

4. Do we understand that only political fights will not resolve out greatest needs? Our culture needs changed hearts in order to value marriage, sexual morality, and religious freedom.

Conclusion: Will we accept the challenge? Allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives or go the way of the offended, angry world. The same world of expectation, resentment and fear that placed Jesus on the Cross.

Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the Good News to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say yes or no. That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion: He had to wait upon how people were going to respond.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, “A Spirituality of Waiting,” The Weavings Reader

Why We Are Liturgical

 

And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, athe Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Acts 13:2–3 NASB

Liturgy means, “the work of the people,” but that definition gives little insight into why we do liturgy and why it is important. Liturgy is an ordered service of worship that includes the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word, and the experience of the Word (i.e., Holy Eucharist): these elements bring us, the people of God, into the presence of God. The liturgy ushers us into the presence of God, so that, we might encounter afresh the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are liturgical because it is ancient, holy, participatory, cross-centered, and God-centered. Liturgy develops a consistency in our worship, discipleship, and spiritual growth. Liturgy is is not an end in itself, but an ancient pattern of worship that magnifies Christ and his finished work on the cross.

At the church where I serve, we kneel to confess our sins.  We chant a Kyrie, the Sursum Corda, and many of the ancient canticles of the church (Te Deum,Gloria) as part of our musical ascent into God’s presence.  We use Collects, sing the Lord’s prayer each week, say or sing a creed.  The pastors who lead worship wear white robes and stoles whose colors change with the liturgical seasons.  We have seasonally-colored paraments on the pulpit and table.  We are coming to the end of a Lenten season, and we will be telling people over the next several weeks that we are still celebrating Easter, and then we will have an Ascension service.

We believe that all of these practices are biblically-based and edifying for the church.  We believe it is better for a liturgical minister to be marked with a white robe than for him to be dressed in a suit or a Genevan black gown, better to observe the church calendar than not.  These practices are not a matter of taste or merely for aesthetic appeal (though they have their aesthetic appeal), nor are they mere window-dressing.  Though we don’t think that white robes  or observing the church seasons or chanting are of the esse of the church, we believe that they promote the bene esse of the church.  We think these are means for deepening the worshiper’s and the church’s encounter with the Triune God.

Peter Leithart, “On Not Being Afraid of Becoming “Episcopalian”

The Trinity Wants You Free

All the Members of the Trinity Want You Holy

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Cor. 13:14

The Father is the Heavenly Vinedresser, the Son is the Vine, and the Holy Spirit is Life itself (John 15: 1-4, 7:37-38). The Father outwardly prunes, the Son indwells us, and the Holy Spirit works through us.  The Father sovereignly directs our circumstances, the Son’s work redeems the circumstance, and the Holy Spirit transforms us in the midst of our circumstances. In short, the Father directs, the Son performs, and the Holy Spirit applies. The Holy Spirit does in us what the Son did for us on the Cross by the will of the Father. All three persons, the Triune God of grace, wants you and me to be free. Free from sin. Free from guilt and shame. Free to enjoy the eternal, unconditional love of God.

The Father is intimately involved in our lives so that our circumstances train us in godliness. The Son has set us free from both the penalty and the power of sin so that we now live under the reign of grace. The Spirit gives us a new attitude toward sin and a new power to change.

The combined forces of the Trinity are at work in our lives to set us free and make us holy.

Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010), 53.

Jesus Christ cannot begin to do anything for a man until he knows his need; but immediately he is at his wits’ end through sin or limitation or agony and cannot go any further, Jesus Christ says to him, Blessed are you; if you ask God for the Holy Spirit, He will give Him to you. God does not give us the Holy Spirit until we come to the place of seeing that we cannot do without Him (Luke 11:13).

Oswald Chambers, The Shadow of an Agony [CD-Rom] (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1934).

HT: Of First Importance

What of Holy Saturday?

The Defeating of Death

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Hebrews 2:14-15

Holy Saturday commemorates the day that our Lord Jesus Christ was in the tomb. Jesus in his life lived every aspect of our existence and now in his death; he indeed experiences the same separation of soul and body that we will experience upon our passing. Many theologians believe that on this day, Jesus enters into Hell and defeats the forces of darkness. He conquers its grip upon our lives.

Today is the time of waiting for the victory of God to be manifested to the world. Holy Saturday is to be celebrated in quiet and meditation.

The burial of our Lord was another part of his ignominy. Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere even to be buried. So Joseph of Arimathea provided a tomb fit for a king. While Jesus was entombed he was silent. Finished were the cries and taunts of the cross but it was not yet time for the triumphal declaration: “He is risen.”

Today is a day of silence, and yet the work of salvation, of deliverance from the curse and its effects, continues. We can see the work of salvation on the cross and we see it in the empty tomb, but neither of those means anything without the three days in the belly of the whale, in the womb of death, from which he must emerge.

Today, God is, as it were, silent but he is not asleep. The tomb is ugly, but it is also sanctus. Today is the in-between time. The first act is finished but the curtain, though torn, is not closed.

R. Scott Clark, The Heidelblog

Ash Wednesday: “We Are But Dust”

The Meaning of the Lenten Season

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Ps 51:10 KJV

Ash Wednesday is the service and Lent is the season for repentance from phony Christianity, pretend spirituality, and words without works Christian living. The Holy Spirit uses the Lenten focus as a tool to open our hearts which have grown calloused through selfishness and pride. Throughout the busy year, we become spiritually dull and unapologetically self-absorbed. Our attitudes and actions are insensitive to others’ needs and disobedient to God’s call to life and holiness. Ash Wednesday stops us in our tracks and reminds us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. Dust can’t demand, dust can’t argue, dust can’t exalt itself, and dust can’t boast. Dust needs God to have life and only in God can these “jars of clay” minister life (Gen. 1:7, Ezekiel 37:4 ).  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are nothing but dust, dirt, and mire without the crucified and risen Jesus.

We too easily forget our Maker and Redeemer; replacing God with things and ambition. Lent is the season that does something about this situation. It calls us back to God, back to the basics, back to to the spiritual realities of life. It calls us to put to death the sin and the indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our fellow persons. And it beckons us to enter once again into the joy of the Lord–the joy of a new life born out of a death to the old life. That is what Ash Wednesday is all about–the fundamental change of life required of those who would die with Jesus and be raised to a new life in him.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 99.

Feast Day of Epiphany: January 6th

The Appearance

For the grace of God [i.e., Jesus] has appeared [Greek: epiphany], bringing salvation for all people.

Titus 2:11

The feast of Epiphany celebrates the appearing or manifestation of God in Christ as Savior to the world. Epiphany is the oldest feast in the church calendar connected with the historical coming of Jesus. Three events in the life of Christ are commemorated: arrival of the Magi, baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana. Appropriately, these three stories, all miraculous events, are found at the beginning of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, respectively. The Apostle John tells us, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). God incarnate in human flesh made himself known to the Gentile wise men, revealed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and his first miracle attested to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

The conduct of the wise men is a striking example of faith (Matt. 2:1-12). They believed in Christ when they had never seen Him – but that was not all. They believed in Him when the Scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving – but that again was not all. They believed in Him when they saw Him a little infant on Mary’s knee, and worshiped Him as a king. This was the crowning point of their faith.

They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They beheld no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a new-born infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any one of ourselves. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Savior of the world. ‘They fell down and worshiped Him.’

We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible. It is a faith that deserves to be placed side by side with that of the penitent thief. The thief saw one dying the death of a criminal, and yet prayed to Him and ‘called Him Lord.’ The wise men saw a new-born babe on the lap of a poor woman, and yet worshiped Him and confessed that He was Christ. Blessed indeed are those that can believe in this fashion!”

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew, 12-13.

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

Did the Slaughter of the Innocents Happen?

Feast Day of the Holy Innocents

On December 28th of every year, the Church Calendar commemorates the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents. The commemoration of the Massacre of the Innocents recalls the events of Matthew 2:16-18. By Herod the Great’s direction, the slaughter of all males two years old and under was ordered in an attempt to kill the infant Messiah.

Liberal scholars question the veracity of this story because the event is only told in the Gospel of Matthew and not mentioned in the writings of Jewish historian, Josephus. Recently, National Geographic magazine reported:

But, gratutiously, and highlighted by a quotation box, they insert the claim that Herod almost certainly did not kill the babies two years old and under in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.  The sole reason given is that the report of this massacre occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew.  Of course, very liberal scholars have said something similar for a long time, but without good reason.

Craig Blomberg, National Geographic Blows It Again”, PrimetimeJesus.com

Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Theological Seminary in Colorado points out the inconsistency of the National Geographic argument:

What makes the National Geographic report’s statement all the more unfortunate is that it comes right in the context of fairly detailed recounting of Josephus’ reports of all the cruelty and executions Herod did manufacture.  Increasingly paranoid as he got older about supposed threats to his “throne,” he had several of his sons and wives put to death.  It would be one thing if Josephus gave one kind of portrait of Herod and Matthew a quite different one, but both sources agree entirely on Herod’s ruthlessness and the specific manner it most manifested itself–repeated murders of those even slightly perceived to be a threat to his power.  Reports that a boy had been born with the right ancestral credentials to reign over Israel would easily have threatened this megalomaniac from Idumea who wasn’t even a Jew by birth and would never have survived the installment of someone with the right lineage.

Why then is this murderous tragedy not retold in secular histories? Blomberg explains:

So why didn’t Josephus say anything about these babies?  Because, like all other historians of his day, he was concerned to recount the events related to the kings and queens, military generals, aristocracy, and institutionalized leaders of religion of his people–not the lives and times of ordinary peasants.  Bethlehem had at most 500 people and, even factoring in large families, one can scarcely imagine more than 20-25 babies affected by Herod’s soldiers’ raids, and perhaps less.  It was a blip on the horizon of Herod’s nefarious resume.  It may even have been little reported in circles outside of later Christian ones.

One more time, major press outlets cannot ask one Evangelical scholar for an opinion about a Bible story. The press acts as if Bible-believing scholars do not exist.

Eucharist on a Handkerchief

Jesus in the Bread and Wine

When he [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.

Luke 24:30-31

Fr. Walter Ciszek was truly a saint of God. Called by the Holy Spirit to be a missionary to the Communist state of the Soviet Union, Ciszek deliberately entered Russia for the purpose of reaching prisoners with the gospel of grace. From 1939 and 1963, he toiled in various prison camps of the Gulag. Ciszek’s memoir, He Leadeth Me, was my Lenten reading two years ago, it is a book I will read again and again.

The quote below is a beautiful depiction of Holy Eucharist being provided in the most difficult of circumstances to prisoners who count the Body and Blood most precious.  No beautiful vestments, no towering cathedrals, no gorgeous vessels, etc.,  just the precious presence of our Lord and Savior in the bread and wine.

When I reached the prison camps of Siberia, I learned to my great joy that it was possible to say Mass daily once again. In every camp, the priests and prisoners would go to great lengths, run risks willingly, just to have the consolation of this sacrament. For those who could not get to Mass, we daily consecrated hosts and arranged for the distribution of Communion to those who wished to receive. Our risk of discovery, of course, was greater in the barracks, because of the lack of privacy and the presence of informers. Most often, therefore, we said our daily Mass somewhere at the work site during the noon break. Despite this added hardship, everyone observed a strict Eucharistic fast from the night before, passing up a chance for breakfast and working all morning on an empty stomach. Yet no one complained. In small groups the prisoners would shuffle into the assigned place, and there the priest would say Mass in his working clothes, unwashed, disheveled, bundled up against the cold. We said Mass in drafty storage shacks, or huddled in mud and slush in the corner of a building site foundation of an underground. The intensity of devotion of both priests and prisoners made up for everything; there were no altars, candles, bells, flowers, music, snow-white linens, stained glass or the warmth that even the simplest parish church could offer. Yet in these primitive conditions, the Mass brought you closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine. The realization of what was happening on the board, box, or stone used in the place of an altar penetrated deep into the soul. Distractions caused by the fear of discovery, which accompanied each saying of the Mass under such conditions, took nothing away from the effect that the tiny bit of bread and few drops of consecrated wine produced upon the soul.

Many a time, as I folded up the handkerchief on which the body of our Lord had lain, and dried the glass or tin cup used as a chalice, the feeling of having performed something tremendously valuable for the people of this Godless country was overpowering. Just the thought of having celebrated Mass here, in this spot, made my journey to the Soviet Union and the sufferings I endured seem totally worthwhile and necessary. No other inspiration could have deepened my faith more, could have given me spiritual courage in greater abundance, than the privilege of saying Mass for these poorest and most deprived members of Christ the Good Shepherd’s flock. I was occasionally overcome with emotion for a moment as I thought of how he had found a way to follow and to feed these lost and straying sheep in this most desolate land. So I never let a day pass without saying Mass; it was my primary concern each new day. I would go to any length, suffer any inconvenience, run any risk to make the bread of life available to these men.

Walter Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995).

HT: America

Christian or Secular Time?

The Church Calendar

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

The Church has a choice: live by Christian time or secular time. The Church can center its worship in the events of the life of Christ or it can celebrate every holiday that the Hallmark Card Company invents. From its earliest beginnings, the Church celebrated Jesus Christ: his birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return. The annual cycle educated the Church in the gospel saturating believers in redemption history by grounding the saints in the life of Christ through worship, preaching, and the sacraments.

Advent is a time to wait. Christmas is a time to rejoice. Epiphany is a time to witness. Lent is a time for repentance and renewal. The Great Triduum is a time to enter death. Easter is a time to express the resurrected life. After Pentecost is a time to study and evangelize. Of course we are to do all of these Christian practices all of the time. But a rule of thumb is that a specific time set aside for each facilitates and empowers our Christian experience at all times.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 180.

Feast of All Saints

What Is a Saint?

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

1 Cor 1:2 NKJV

According to the Church Calendar, November 1 is All Saints Day. All Saints Day commemorates all who have died in Christ and walked holy and faithfully with him. Special attention is given to their having been living examples of Christlikeness with special praise to God for their availability to the Spirit’s work, gifts, and power.

A saint is not someone who is perfect, but a sinner who looks to Christ for life-transforming grace in their chronic weaknesses and on-going struggles. Saints are not those who perform adequately in the spiritual life, but are those who most available to the Holy Spirit’s gifts and power. Saints are those who are needy and looking constantly to Christ for help.

To be holy does not mean being superior to others: the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger