By Jared Warner
April 28, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Have you ever sat and wondered what the conversation of the disciples was that first Easter morning? Maybe I am the only one that does this sort of thing, because I tend to have an overactive imagination. I do not think this is a bad thing by any means, because it causes me to investigate things that some people just take at face value. What were the disciples thinking that first Easter morning?
Mary Magdalene and some of the other female followers of Jesus had visited the tomb in the early morning hours, and they had come running back to tell them all that the tomb was empty. Shortly after this, Peter and John ran to the tomb to investigate. Why was it only Peter and John? Did the other nine disciples not have their sandals on yet or what? And why did John need to let everyone in Christendom know that he won the race to the tomb? These are question that we really need answers for, but we will not know those answers until we can ask them on the other side of life’s veil.
They had heard of and some saw the empty tomb. They sat in that room wondering what had happened. What they saw did not really make sense to them either. The burial clothing was removed. Who would remove the burial clothing if they were going to steal the body? These are deep questions, questions that I have wrestled with along my journey of faith. Yet the only answers I find raise more questions. Peter and John returned explaining what they had seen, and Mary remained at the tomb. They left her there. The only possible answer running through their mind was that someone stole the body. This is a serious crime, because the tomb was sealed by the government, meaning if you messed with the stone covering the entrance you could face death. The men returned to the room and locked the door and they left Mary there.
Sometimes we fail to recognize the immense fear that earliest followers of Jesus faced that day. In today’s passage we get a glimpse into it. They locked the door for fear of the Jews. I want to stop right there and make a comment about John’s language. The Jews are not bad people, they were the very people we draw our spiritual heritage from. To hold any ill will toward a people group for any reason is not a testimony that is compatible with the teachings of Jesus. When John says, “the Jews,” he is referring to the religious leadership. The early followers of Jesus were Jewish people, all the disciples were Jewish. They worshiped and continued to worship at the temple and in the synagogues while Jesus ministered and after. The reason they stopped worshiping with the other Jewish people is because they were put out of the synagogues. This means that they were rejected by the community, they were no longer accepted. This rejection eventually leads to violent encounters where the leadership would work the masses up to the point people were willing to take up arms against fellow human beings over a different interpretation of how to live life. The followers of Jesus hid in a room afraid of their fellow countrymen. They were afraid because those very people had used their influence to take an innocent man to trial and allowed even demanded that that man be executed. What standing did they have?
They hid in the room, because they had already considered fighting. They had taken swords with them to the garden with Jesus. They had taken up arms, and Jesus himself told them to put the swords away. If their leader did not want them to fight for what they believed what were they supposed to do? They hid. Then they heard frantic knocking at the door and the voice of Mary. Mary was ecstatic, she was uncontrollable, was she being pursued, should they open the door or let her suffer fate? They had no idea what was going on. Eventually they let her in, and she excitedly told them a story that was beyond belief. She told them that she had seen the Lord, she had seen Jesus. And they locked the door.
They locked the door. They locked the door out of fear. They locked the door out of fear of their own friends, family, and their religious leaders. They locked the doors because they were afraid. They had listened to one of the greatest stories that any human being could possibly hear, Jesus had risen from the dead and Mary had saw him, had even touched him, and they sat there behind closed locked doors.
Mary saw this great thing early in the morning. The women went to the tomb before the sun even rose above the horizon. Peter and John raced to the tomb early in the day, probably before most of us even wake up. They returned to the room and locked the doors. Sitting there in that room for the entire day wondering about what was going on. These were men and women of strong faith. They had walked with Jesus for three years. They had heard him teach, they had seen him heal, they had even participated in these same things. They had watched as Jesus provided food for multitudes, they were at Mary’s house when Jesus had called her brother from the tomb, the tomb he had been in for four days. And they had listened to the testimony that Mary had provided. Imagine what was going through their mind. Imagine what you would think if you were sitting in that room with them. Imagine all of that and consider why the door was locked.
That locked door is what I have seen this week. That locked door is often the thing that is before me. That locked door. You have seen that door looming and casting its shadow over your life. That locked door is fear, doubt, uncertainty, self-righteousness, and many other things within our lives. That locked door is everything in our life keeping us from engaging the world just beyond. That locked door is in front of us. It is a barrier. Something that gives the illusion of safety and security but has become something that restricts and imprisons us. They sat an entire day behind a locked door out of fear, when their teacher was seen standing outside the tomb, they had laid him in three days prior. Their teacher lives, yet they sit behind a door.
I sat this week looking at that door as I contemplated this passage. Over past couple of weeks I had read or listened to the complete Gospel account, I had considered the amazing life of Jesus and the adventures the disciples had experienced as they followed him. And I sat looking at the door. These men and women had given everything for Jesus. They had left jobs, they had turned their backs even on family members to follow, they had devoted their lives to their teacher, and they sat that day staring at a door, paralyzed, unable to move or act. Fear had grabbed hold of their lives to such a degree they could barely breath. The door.
The sun had made its course through the sky. They had seen the rising and the setting is upon them. They had listened and retold all they heard and seen, and they watch the door. What will happen next. What do we do now? The air is heavy, thick, and stale as it often gets when a group of people are confined in a room. They sweat. Someone asks again, “Mary are you sure it was Jesus?” and they stare at the door. And someone checks the lock one more time.
They are watching the door, and out of no where someone says, “Peace be with you.”
I want to know why John is so careful and diligent to inform us that, “the disciple Jesus loved” won the foot race to the tomb, but he neglected to mention the numerous curses that were probably uttered the moment Jesus opened his mouth in that room. We have all been startled at least once in our life and know exactly what reaction we have. Imagine what reaction you would have had if you had been safely secured behind a locked door, the door you had been looking at all day, and have someone came in (not through the door) and say, “Peace be with you.” I have been known to jump out of my skin if a garden hose looks a bit to snakey in the yard.
Imagine the shock. Imagine the fear and relief. Imagine the shame. Imagine the tears and the laughter. Imagine the bump on your head or the bruise on your knee where you probably hit the table. Imagine. Because you know that feeling. Jesus startled them, he took them by surprise, he did the one thing they least expected. He found them in their place of fear, and he met them there.
He lifts his hands. He holds them before their eyes, he probably smirks in a way that they all recognized because he had caught them once again doing something that he disapproved of yet found funny. He stands there, and slowly they catch their breath. Slowly they recover from their shock and Mary probably bandages someone’s forehead. He stands there as they begin to smile at their teacher, as the tears begin to turn from fear to joy and he says to them again, “Peace be with you.” And adds, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
He then breaths on them. I do not know exactly what that looks like, but as I read this, I imagine that Jesus goes to each one of the disciples and takes them by the head and embraces them. Pressing his forehead to theirs. He embraces them, shares the air with them so to speak. Who knows, he might have had to give CPR to one of them. But he breathes with them in such a way that they know something very intimate and special is occurring. Something sacred and empowering. The man, their teacher who was once dead, is now clasping them and breathing words of encouragement to them. Saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Consider the scene. Consider the confusion and the fear. Consider the joy and excitement. Consider the door looming behind them locked. Yet the one they loved, the one they had left everything to follow found a way to be with them even though they had sealed themselves into a room cutoff from the world around them. Jesus came into the midst of their fear, and he breaths new air into that stale room. And he gives them a challenge. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold the sins of any it is withheld.” Imagine you are standing in that room on that day as the sun’s light dims behind the horizon and imagine the door.
There is a door somewhere in each of our lives. A door that is locked out of fear or maybe for some other reason. A door that is locked separating our lives from something we consider dangerous or threatening. There is a door, a locked door. CS Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain, says that the gates of hell are locked on the inside. This means that we are the ones that close the door, we are the ones that lock them, we are the ones that stand behind them hoping that whatever is beyond those doors does not enter. We are hiding behind the doors living in hell because hell is a place where we seal ourselves off from others, we find ourselves alone, isolated, and imprisoned. There was song that was popular when I was in college that says,
A court is in session, a verdict is in, no appeal on the docket today just my own sin. The walls are cold and pale the cage made of steel. Screams fill the room alone I drop and kneel. Silence now the sound my breath the only motion around. Demons cluttering around my face showing no emotion. Shackled by my sentence expecting no return, here there is no penance my skin begins to burn…I hear a thunder in the distance, see a vision of a cross, I feel the pain that was given on that sad day of loss. A lion roars in the darkness only he holds the key, a light to free me from my burden and grant me life eternally…I cry out to God seeking only his decision, Gabriel stand and confirms I’ve created my own prison. (Creed- My Own Prison)
I have locked myself in a room. Locked from the world outside, locked from others alone in a cage with only ourselves as company. Our fears, our efforts, our disgrace. We isolate ourselves. We shackle ourselves. We create our own prison and we dwell there in our own hell.
We lock ourselves into a room for fear of our own neighbors, our own friends, our own countrymen. We are not even afraid of the world we fear ourselves, so we lock the world out. Yet in our fear, Jesus meets us, he holds us close, and breaths on us saying “receive the holy spirit.” Receive the very breath of God and open the door. Forgive and its forgiven, release the burden because that fear, that bitterness that judgement we hold against others is keeping us within a locked room. And if we are in that room isolated from others we are prevented to serve. Jesus is sending us. He is sending us to bring hope and healing. He is sending us outside of our rooms to bang on doors and encourage others to open their doors too.
Jesus meets us in that darkest place. He is with us in the tomb, dwelling there in the darkness with us. He is beside us as we face our fears, as we encounter those areas of rejection and distress. He is with us in our personal hell. But he will not stay in that prison. He rolled away that stone and opened the door. He embraces us and tells us, “Peace be with you.” You do not have to stay imprisoned by fear. But embrace life. Unlock the door, forgive, and loosen the bonds that keep you. Live life loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others!
Jesus finds us in our locked rooms staring at the door, the door we locked. And he whispers to each one of us. What is he saying to you?
By Jared Warner
April 21, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 20:1–18 (ESV)
20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
This year I want to remember Holy Saturday. For the past couple of weeks, I have sat while reading scripture and I have reflected on Saturday. I think we rush from the crucifixion to the resurrection too quickly. When we do this, we often forget one of the most important aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was fully human and fully God. Jesus is Emanuel, God with us! We are excited at this concept when things are going as expected. When the Chiefs are winning, we know God is with us. When the Royals lead the game, God is with us. When we get a new client, when our boss gives a raise greater than we anticipated, God is with us. When the blessings are flowing toward us, we are often quick to remember to praise the God from who all blessings flow. But on Saturday when Jesus lay in a tomb, nothing felt like a blessing.
Last week we joined the celebration of a king, The King. The king of kings and lord of lords. Jesus rode into the holy city being cheered as the king of the Jews the very anointed son of David. The people cheered because at that point everything was amazing. This great teacher attracted crowds to the shores of the sea, crowds coming from Jerusalem, Galilee, and even from the coastal regions of Lebanon. Diseases were being healed, the ears of the deaf were being opened, the tongues of the mute were loosened so that they could sing the praises of the Lord. At the mere touch of Jesus hand, at the breath of his words dreaded skin diseases were eradicated, by the brush of the fringe of his garment chronic blood disorders ceased and at the sound of his voice the dead awoke from their eternal sleep.
Not only does the human body bend to the command of Jesus, but nature. The closest followers of Jesus had testified to Jesus walking on water, he even commanded one of his disciples to join him on the surf. Peter joined him in the waves and if his eyes were focused on Jesus he was standing on the surface of the swells. The disciples of Jesus could walk on water if they maintained faith in their beloved leader. Do you understand the value of this ability? Rome lays beyond the sea. Anyone wishing to bring a battle to the capital of the empire would have to do one of two things: build a navy and sail the Mediterranean or march across the entire empire. With Christ as king they could defy the laws of nature and avoid the garrisoned cities throughout the empire and march directly to Rome across the waves with no need for ships or sails. Not only could they simply walk the sea, but they would not need to dread the threatening storms. One of the greatest fears of the ancient seamen was a storm. If we remember the story of Jonah, we would remember that they believed the storms to be the anger of the gods. People met their deaths upon a stormy sea and under the direction of Jesus, this teacher from Nazareth those fears were laid to rest. Yet that was not all, out in the wilderness far from the nearest as town Jesus was able to cause bread and fish to multiply. He was able to feed a multitude of thousands not once but on two different occasions. Illness and injury, storms and nature bent to His will, but the greatest thing is that the dead could rise. An army under the command of Jesus would be invincible. Hail the King!
We cling to these stories. These are the stories of power and hope. The stories of victory and liberation. When Christ is for is who can be against us! Imagine the pride of the disciple as the marched into the holy royal city of David. Imagine the vanity of the disciples closest to Jesus, who not only walked with him but could perform many of the same miracles. Imagine not only a king able to do these things but also those that spoke in his name. And not only those close to him, but anyone that called upon. The name of Jesus could join into this powerful multitude. These followers of Jesus were walking into the city not as meek petitioners of grace, they were marching as conquerors.
They marched as conquerors, but only in their own minds. These were not people of power or influence. They were beggars, they were prostitutes, they were people who had spent years in isolation. They were common men and women deemed unworthy of greater positions. They were simple uneducated laborers. These were not the leaders of men. They were not the military strategists. They were not even scribes or teachers of the law. They were common people like you, or I. Common people filled with pride of their heritage and faith and hope for their future marched to the city singing their praises while their king wept. He wept because he knew what they were unable to see. People with power and influence do not like when their power is threatened. And even ambitious people with the best of intentions can do the worst and most unjust things to obtain and maintain the influence they seek.
This is what brought about Good Friday. It is something with source that go to the very origin of the roots of humanity. Our first parents saw that the fruit on that tree looked wonderful and it promised something they greatly desired, to be like God possessing the knowledge of good and evil. Every side of the story believed what they were doing was for good of some sort. The religious leaders believed they were maintaining the faith of their ancestors. The Romans were maintaining and securing their authority and rule over the provinces. The disciples were seeking the establishment of the new kingdom of Israel. Yet everyone used their perceived knowledge of good and evil and totally missed what the creator desired
We call this original sin or the sinful nature. Simply put it is putting our desires before honoring God and encouraging others. It was this desire, this desire of self-fulfillment and power that drove the religious establishment to seek to silence an opponent. It was this desire of self-fulfillment and power that urged the governor of Judea to allow public opinion to rule instead of justice. Christ died for our son. Christ died for our selfish pursuit of power. Christ died for our injustice.
And on Holy Saturday Christ laid in the tomb. He laid in that tomb for each of us. He knows what it is like to be wrongfully accused. He knows what it is like to experience injustice. He knows what it is like to have amazing potential and for that potential to seemingly have the bottom drop out before it starts. Jesus knows. God knows how it feels to be in our position.
The disciples also know. Imagine you were there last Sunday cheering. And imagine you were there on Friday in disbelief. Imagine you sat all day and night Saturday waiting in an upstairs room, wondering what had just happened. You invested everything you had into this sure to win opportunity and all your hope is buried under tons of cold stone.
The disciples were depressed. They were hopeless that Saturday. Everything they lived for died. It is alright to admit that at times life plain sucks. God knows. The saints know. You are not being sinful to admit that at one point in time we have no hope for the future. It is ok to live through a Saturday every now and then. We lose jobs. We lose clients. We might get divorced. When a child or spouse gets sick it is alright to cry out that life is not fair, at times life sucks and sometimes it seems like all our hope and all our dreams are buried in a tomb dead before they even had a chance.
We live through Saturdays, but we know something the disciples didn’t, Sunday is coming! Mary went to the tomb early Sunday. She walked there with the other women, dreading the feeling they knew they were going to be felt. The dreaded the sight they would see, because they thought that maybe, just maybe they would have hope. That finally normal people, common people would finally have a chance. Yet they were going to the tomb to wash and anoint the body of their beloved teacher, their king. They were going to clean the blood from the man unjustly slaughtered because people with wealth and influence were uncomfortable. They went to the tomb, but the tomb was empty.
We endure Saturday but Sunday is coming. We do not always know why things happen now, but we know that God can recreate something out of nothing, God can bring light to the dark, God can breathe life in to death. We wait through Saturday, but Sunday is coming
Mary looked in the tomb and she ran to tell the others what she thought she saw. Peter and John ran, and they saw the burial clothes laying where the body of Jesus should have been. Peter even saw the head covering neatly placed by itself apart from the rest of the clothes. Just so you know how important that one point is, the fact the head coving is laying separate means that Jesus’s bodily did not turn to vapor as some say in attempts to explain why the tomb is empty. The way they buried the dead is they cover the head and then wrap the body. Jesus body was unwrapped, and he stood before removing the head covering.
They went back to the house wondering what all this meant. Even though Jesus had told them three times what was going to happen they still did not understand. They did not understand because their minds were set on their own ideas, their own desires, their own interpretations as to what Jesus and the Messiah was to be. When Jesus died, their hope was buried with him. They were caught in that dark Saturday of hopelessness unaware that Sunday was upon them.
As Peter and John returned to the house, as they returned to their room of mourning, Mary waited at the tomb. Unable to bear the loss anymore she just stood and wept. Unable to serve even the memory of her teacher she wept over the loss of hope she wept over the reign of injustice and misery. She stooped one last time to gaze at the last remnant of the teacher, the blood-soaked linen garments. She looked through her tears she saw two angels in white standing where the body once was. They asked her why she wept, and she answered them. It did not even occur to her that she was talking to two beings that just manifested a presence before her eyes. No one entered the tomb she was there when John and Peter left, she was at the door, yet she stood there weeping as she spoke. Unable to see what was before her eyes because she was dwelling in Saturday when Sunday had come.
Then Jesus came behind her and he spoke to her himself. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” He asked. She, even though she too knew what Jesus taught because it was her brother’s house in Bethany that Jesus had stayed just a week before, thought that the man standing there was someone else. Because she dwelt in Saturday. It was only when Jesus called her by name that Sunday dawned.
Today is Sunday. Yet often we dwell in Saturday. People all around us are broken and bent under various oppressions. Many are faced with injustices and live without hope. They live in the shadows of the tomb buried under the cold stones, hopeless and in the dark. Their dreams are dashed against some stormy shoreline. They once had dreams, they once had potential, they were once going to change the world. But life began to weigh in, catching and hemming them into an endless Saturday. They are unaware that Sunday is upon them. It took Jesus calling Mary by name. It took the intimate encouragement of a loving friend to draw Mary from the dread of Saturday to the hope of Sunday. And at the uttering of her name Christ rose to life before her eyes. The mournful blindness was removed and hope once more reigned and dreams could again be considered because sin could not hold, and the curse of death no longer carried a sting. Christ has risen from the dead and Sunday is upon us!
But do we live in the day of the Son or do we dwell in the cool tomb where death sat? Christ is calling you. He calls to you like you are his own. Just as David said his psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death. That is the tomb, that is that area of hopelessness that we all feel at times. Even when we walk through those dark times. We know God is there with us, He is calling us by name and opening our eyes once again to the light.
Saturday has past, Sunday has come. Why do you seek the living among the dead, He is risen! Amen
By Jared Warner
April 14, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 19:28–48 (ESV)
The Triumphal Entry
28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
I am probably the only pastor in the world that struggles with preparing sermons around this time of year. I struggle with the major holidays, you know Christmas and Easter, and this Sunday being Palm Sunday is in that Easter category. I have prayed about this, I have chided myself for this, because these are the days that really matter. These are the days of worship that are central to our very faith. Even with that self-condemnation I struggle. Why? I wish I had a good answer, but I mainly feel that it is because I have such strong faith in God, I have such a love for the Gospel that I do not want to place myself in the story.
This is one of my personal issues. Only one, because I have many, but we do not have time for all my confessions. I love the gospel. I love the story of Christ. I love the humanity and the divinity of Christ. I love that Christ came from heaven to live among mankind, that he is God with us. That very mystery of God fascinates me and has caught my attention for the past few months. Emmanuel, God with us. I do not feel that we explore that concept, that idea or theology, enough in our faith. Therefore, I struggle with these traditional Holy days, part of it is because of my love for our Friends traditions where every day is holy, but the other part is that the theology of the holy day is so often missed.
This day nearly two thousand years ago, crowds of people jubilantly cheered as they walked the road to Jerusalem. They were crying Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! For three years, Jesus had been teaching the people. He had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee telling proclaiming the Gospel. The Gospel, the good news. This is something that we should be interested in. The gospel that Jesus taught was that the kingdom of God was at hand. Sometimes we forget that the kingdom of God is the Gospel. We focus instead on one part or another and say that is the gospel.
The same thing could be said about the people two thousand years ago. The gospel that Jesus preached was that the kingdom of God was at hand. When we say the word kingdom, we each have different ideas that course through our minds. For some it is the thought of empires, for others it is tyranny, for some it is freedom, and for some others it is slavery. Kingdom is a word that has positive and negative impact on our minds. And for the people of Israel in the first century, it meant different things as well. For centuries they had been waiting for the Messiah, the anointed one. Even the idea of Messiah had different meanings to people. Some thought that it was going to be a king. Some thought it was a priest. Some thought that it would be three separate people. When Jesus and John the Baptist said that the kingdom of God was near or at hand, this had people thinking very different things.
We might not understand why or even how these different ideas emerged, but it is in part because of our understanding of king and kingdom. The term kingdom can mean a nation ruled by a monarch, but it can also mean a sphere of influence. A kingdom can be on singular nation or it can be an abstract concept of intellectual ideas or religious identity.
The kingdom of God is at hand and for those people two thousand years ago, they celebrated the idea of a rising nation. They had lived under the lordship of other for several years. Israel was exiled, then they returned to their land but were ruled over by Persia and Greece. They briefly gained their independence only to invite the Roman empire into their land to help protect them from a reinvasion of a Hellenistic empire. This invitation became perverted and eventually became subject to Rome. They longed for freedom and independence. They longed to be a nation bound and influenced by their faith, but they could not even agree on what that meant.
They waved palms and chanted and proclaimed their king, and the religious leaders came out to Jesus and demanded that he silence the people. That sentiment shows us just how divided the first century people of Israel really were. You would think that if the entire nation was anticipating the coming king that when that king made an appearance they would rally together, but they were divided as to what this anointed one would be. When Jesus made his advent so many missed the mark because what they saw was not what they expected.
People are cheering, they are waving palm branches, and placing their coats on the ground before Jesus. Jesus is listening to their cheers. He gladly accepts them because he is Emmanuel and their true king. Yet in all this praise, Jesus weeps as he nears the city. The city is filling with people as they crowd into it for the Passover feast. They cheer because in their mind God is again going to deliver them from the hand of oppression that they celebrate every year. They cheer, and Jesus weeps.
Jesus looks at this city and weeps. I want us to really imagine this for a moment. For those of you that will be traveling to Israel this summer, I encourage you to remember this passage as you enter that holy city. For those of us that do not have that privilege I encourage you to look up a picture of city and to imagine instead of the dome of the rock imagine a bright shining white stone structure larger than several NFL Stadiums combine reflecting the light of the sun. With smoke rising from the alter signaling the prayers and praises of the people. Imagine the smells of burning meat, grains, and incense lofting over the city reminding everyone there of their sin, their blessings, and their prayers. Imagine the pride and the hope that that great city brings to the nations. Imagine that beauty and greatness. Imagine that city dedicated to the idea of peace, hope, and faith. Imagine it and remember this city caused God to weep.
“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:42-44)
Jesus wept because after three years of teaching they still did not understand. After three years of God living among them, they were still unable to see what God desired for humankind. Jesus wept because he knows that the cheers would be converted into vengeance, that the vengeance would be converted into ambition, that the ambition would be converted to rebellion, and the rebellion would be converted into suffering. The city of peace. That is what the name Jerusalem literally means, the abode or city of peace. This city was the center of the religious establishment of the one true God, yet Jesus knew that they did not understand what it takes for peace to be established. It was hidden from them. Hidden in plain sight.
Jesus weeps over the city as he enters. Jesus weeps while those around him are praising his very name. Jesus weeps yet no one seems to notice that their king is mourning. They cheer him on up to the very temple courts. Still no one notices the sorrow of Christ. Jesus enters the courtyard of the temple; he sees all around him what humanity has made of something so precious and simple. Jesus knew Abraham, he knew Moses, he knew Elijah, he knew the prophets, he knew all those great men and women of faith. Those faithful that walked with God. Those that lived faith every single day of their life. Those that taught faith to their children and grandchildren. The fathers and mothers we still read about today. He knew them, yet when he walked into the temple, he did not see any resemblance of that life. What he saw was exploitation in God’s name. And he wept and he cried out in anger.
Today we celebrate the proclamation of Christ the king, but what does that really mean? If the kingdom is power and influence, Jerusalem had that, yet Jesus wept over that city. In Christ’s anger he cried out, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you made it a den of robbers.” A house of prayer? An abode of communion, community, unity, or peace. Jesus came to bring in the influence of communion with God, because God is with us. He came to bring peace not through the sword, or any other wielding of power but through mercy and sacrifice. Jesus wept for Jerusalem because that great city named for peace did not see what it took. True peace comes when we step back from our own personal agendas and we decide to work in conjunction with other for mutual profit or the common good. True peace comes when we put down our desires and work for the good of those around us. True peace comes from sacrifice of self, or repentance. And Jesus brought that to us because he died for our selfish desires. He died because of our injustice and hunger for power and influence. He died, so that we could see just how much God loves us. Though we are sinners, enemies of God, God died for us, taking our shame, our injustice and our sin on himself and redeeming us.
This week, I have struggled. I struggle because we live in a world of injustice and division. We live in a culture that seems to thrive on conflict. We live in a place where we have so many things to be thankful for. We have so many people that are doing so much to make our world greater than anyone could imagine yet we focus on the conflict and the divisions. We have so much, yet God weeps because we miss what is right in front of us, and we build houses of conflict instead of abodes of peace. We focus on just a part of the gospel, just a part. Yet Jesus is telling us the Kingdom is here all around us, if we would only open our eyes.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy I ask, what is the kingdom of God to you, and who is your king? I ask that in all seriousness because as the crowds cheered their king wept. How does your king feel?