Skip to content

Beyond our vision…

April 18, 2011

Stumptown Mennonite Church
Matthew 21:1-11

At the core of Christian faith is the affirmation that God enters history as a human being. This affirmation calls us to examine what happens that gets him killed. Since today is Palm Sunday, it seems only right that we pick up the story with Matthew’s account of the events that lead to Jesus’ passion.

In chapter 15, the Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem to confront Jesus about some matters of right practice. There is the healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman. Great crowds are following Jesus. There are more healings and the God of Israel is being praised. Peter confesses Jesus as the long-expected Messiah in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi. Then in 16:21, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Their pilgrimage reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem in the town of Bethpage, on the Mount of Olives. As he has throughout his gospel, Matthew is clear about the connection between the unfolding events and the prophetic tradition of Israel.

The location is significant. The Mount of Olives was the traditional location where the Messiah was expected to appear. In Zechariah 14:1-5 the Mount of Olives is the place where the Lord declares he will stand in order to defeat those who have gathered in Jerusalem. From that mount the Lord will become king over all the earth.

The mode of transportation is also significant. Jesus rides on a donkey, Matthew tells us, because in Zech. 9:9 the ruler of God’s people will come in this way. In sending two of his disciples to go into the village and bring a donkey and colt back, Jesus is making preparations for an entry into the city of David in a way that would clearly be perceived as an explicit messianic claim.

If this is a triumphal entry, it is also unconventional. Donkeys are not a creature normally associated with kings. He has come to be acknowledged as king. But what kind of king?

Some commentaries actually imagine two processions into Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the city, the Roman governor—Pontius Pilate—will enter the city on a war horse at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. His purpose in coming is to maintain law and order during the days of the Jewish festival of Passover. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God. Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.

What does the crowd see?


When there is a yearning for change, crowds have a way of gathering to give voice to their hopes. I think about the scenes from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt not too long ago. The crowds accompanying Jesus seem to carry a similar surge of hope and expectation.

The crowds accompanying Jesus sing Psalm 118—a song of liberation. Like “We shall overcome…” during the Civil Rights movement, this psalm expresses a deep hope—that even though things are not yet as they should be—victory is at hand. Even when Israel is surrounded by the nations—God does not forget his promises. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the donkey, the song bursts forth. Surely liberation is at hand.

“Hosanna to the son of David,” is a cry to “save now.”

What is the salvation the crowd expects?

Perhaps some in the crowd were hungry for more bread. Perhaps there were those in the crowd whose bellies had been filled when Jesus blessed a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (14:13-21 and 15:32-39). There were those in Palestine who were genuinely hungry. The Roman tax system was oppressive and the economy was stagnant. Perhaps their cries of “Hosanna” were echoes of the cries of Amos for the prophet from Nazareth to bring economic justice.

Maybe they were weary of the religious hierarchy. In Jesus, their faith in God had been renewed as they listened to his teachings on the mountainside. Some had been astounded by his authority and his ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. The word throughout Galilee was that “never had anything like this been seen in Israel.” Surely, Jesus was coming to set things right in the temple—which had become corrupted by the interests of money and power.

Perhaps some wanted political freedom. There may have been as many as 200,000 pilgrims crowding into the holy city which normally had around 40,000 inhabitants. Perhaps they had visions of Jesus restoring sovereignty to Israel by overthrowing Rome’s occupation forces. For many, messianic expectations were tied to this political vision.

So here they were—waving their branches…looking for salvation. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds who had converged on Jerusalem were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is the biblical context in which we are asking an important question: how does Jesus’ death save us? I want to offer a few observations that emerge from this text as we think about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

1.) The gospel of salvation in Jesus is always contextual. Jesus death is not in a historical vacuum. It happens in a particular place where there are particular issues of power which lead to his death. This is important. There has been a tendency at times to decontextualize the gospel of salvation. We sometimes reduce it to a formula that packages neatly for certain methods of evangelism. When I was nineteen years old, I engaged in this method of communicating the gospel at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. This method is based on a particular understanding of how Jesus’ death saves us. This abstract formula represents a de-contextualized gospel. Sometimes I wonder how it translates into human situations where sin is very context specific.

2.) God’s saving work in Jesus is both physical and spiritual…now and not yet.

Perhaps some in this procession of palms were also present later in the week when the crowd had changed its tone. Perhaps it is some of the same crowd. Perhaps it is a different crowd. It raises an important question about crowds who look to Jesus for salvation. Did the crowds want a salvation which was spiritual or physical? Did they want a salvation which was immediate or future? The good news of how Jesus saves us addresses all the ways in which sin has deformed our humanity.

During the time when the colonies were being established, Virginia found economic success by growing and exporting tobacco. Since this required much labor, the colony began importing slaves from Africa. The settlers were still members of the Church of England, which did little for the conversion of slaves. To avoid the difficult situation of holding fellow believers in slavery, slaveowners preferred that their slaves not be baptized.

The physical expresses the spiritual. Liberation often comes with death when salvation has become colored by the interests of power. Jesus’ death saves us from being captive to systems of oppression and death—whether we are the oppressed or the oppressor. The triumph of the march on Jerusalem would be followed by a coronation with thorns.

3.) Salvation breaks into our lives in surprising ways…in unexpected ways.

This was true for the crowds, for Peter and the disciples who expected to sit at the right hand of Jesus, when he took power. Salvation calls for death and resurrection.

Karen Sensenig, pastor at Habackers Mennonite Church shared a story which illustrates this. Their congregation has been transformed in the last year as they have gone from a congregation of 40 to almost double that. A group of Karin refugees has become a part of their congregation.

During this time, a young Karin couple had become pregnant and were not married. They came to Karen with a sense of guilt and a desire to confess. Karen and the group that gathered around them were able to proclaim to them the word of forgiveness through Jesus. Because of some teachings they had received in a refugee camp from a particular Christian group, they felt a need to confess before the whole congregation. They did so. As they demonstrated humility and brokenness before the community, others began to confess. Karen shares that their Karin brothers and sisters are teaching them what it means to walk with Jesus as a vulnerable community.

As we move among the crowds we will hear many stories which represent the hope that Jesus is coming to bring about something new.

As we enter Holy Week, may we be transformed by the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

AMEN.

Discussion questions:

What are the signs of two processions still happening today?

What are the voices from the crowd? Where are you in the crowd?

How does our relationship with power and economic interests impact our understanding of the gospel?

How does the way Jesus confronts the powers in Jerusalem (ultimately through death on the cross) inform our proclamation and demonstration of the good news?

When there is a yearning for change, crowds have a way of gathering to give voice to their hopes. I think about the scenes from Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt not too long ago. The crowds accompanying Jesus seem to carry a similar surge of hope and expectation.

The crowds accompanying Jesus sing Psalm 118—a song of liberation. Like “We shall overcome…” during the Civil Rights movement, this psalm expresses a deep hope—that even though things are not yet as they should be—victory is at hand. Even when Israel is surrounded by the nations—God does not forget his promises. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the donkey, the song bursts forth. Surely liberation is at hand.

“Hosanna to the son of David,” is a cry to “save now.”

What is the salvation the crowd expects?

Perhaps some in the crowd were hungry for more bread. Perhaps there were those in the crowd whose bellies had been filled when Jesus blessed a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (14:13-21 and 15:32-39). There were those in Palestine who were genuinely hungry. The Roman tax system was oppressive and the economy was stagnant. Perhaps their cries of “Hosanna” were echoes of the cries of Amos for the prophet from Nazareth to bring economic justice.

Maybe they were weary of the religious hierarchy. In Jesus, their faith in God had been renewed as they listened to his teachings on the mountainside. Some had been astounded by his authority and his ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. The word throughout Galilee was that “never had anything like this been seen in Israel.” Surely, Jesus was coming to set things right in the temple—which had become corrupted by the interests of money and power.

Perhaps some wanted political freedom. There may have been as many as 200,000 pilgrims crowding into the holy city which normally had around 40,000 inhabitants. Perhaps they had visions of Jesus restoring sovereignty to Israel by overthrowing Rome’s occupation forces. For many, messianic expectations were tied to this political vision.

So here they were—waving their branches…looking for salvation. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds who had converged on Jerusalem were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is the biblical context in which we are asking an important question: how does Jesus’ death save us? I want to offer a few observations that emerge from this text as we think about God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

1.) The gospel of salvation in Jesus is always contextual. Jesus death is not in a historical vacuum. It happens in a particular place where there are particular issues of power which lead to his death. This is important. There has been a tendency at times to decontextualize the gospel of salvation. We sometimes reduce it to a formula that packages neatly for certain methods of evangelism. When I was nineteen years old, I engaged in this method of communicating the gospel at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. This method is based on a particular understanding of how Jesus’ death saves us. This abstract formula represents a de-contextualized gospel. Sometimes I wonder how it translates into human situations where sin is very context specific.

2.) God’s saving work in Jesus is both physical and spiritual…now and not yet.

Perhaps some in this procession of palms were also present later in the week when the crowd had changed its tone. Perhaps it is some of the same crowd. Perhaps it is a different crowd. It raises an important question about crowds who look to Jesus for salvation. Did the crowds want a salvation which was spiritual or physical? Did they want a salvation which was immediate or future? The good news of how Jesus saves us addresses all the ways in which sin has deformed our humanity.

During the time when the colonies were being established, Virginia found economic success by growing and exporting tobacco. Since this required much labor, the colony began importing slaves from Africa. The settlers were still members of the Church of England, which did little for the conversion of slaves. To avoid the difficult situation of holding fellow believers in slavery, slaveowners preferred that their slaves not be baptized.

The physical expresses the spiritual. Liberation often comes with death when salvation has become colored by the interests of power. Jesus’ death saves us from being captive to systems of oppression and death—whether we are the oppressed or the oppressor. The triumph of the march on Jerusalem would be followed by a coronation with thorns.

3.) Salvation breaks into our lives in surprising ways…in unexpected ways.

This was true for the crowds, for Peter and the disciples who expected to sit at the right hand of Jesus, when he took power. Salvation calls for death and resurrection.

Karen Sensenig, pastor at Habackers Mennonite Church shared a story which illustrates this. Their congregation has been transformed in the last year as they have gone from a congregation of 40 to almost double that. A group of Karin refugees has become a part of their congregation.

During this time, a young Karin couple had become pregnant and were not married. They came to Karen with a sense of guilt and a desire to confess. Karen and the group that gathered around them were able to proclaim to them the word of forgiveness through Jesus. Because of some teachings they had received in a refugee camp from a particular Christian group, they felt a need to confess before the whole congregation. They did so. As they demonstrated humility and brokenness before the community, others began to confess. Karen shares that their Karin brothers and sisters are teaching them what it means to walk with Jesus as a vulnerable community.

As we move among the crowds we will hear many stories which represent the hope that Jesus is coming to bring about something new.

As we enter Holy Week, may we be transformed by the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

AMEN.

Discussion questions:

What are the signs of two processions still happening today?

What are the voices from the crowd? Where are you in the crowd?

How does our relationship with power and economic interests impact our understanding of the gospel?

How does the way Jesus confronts the powers in Jerusalem (ultimately through death on the cross) inform our proclamation and demonstration of the good news?

Advertisements
No comments yet

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: