We are continuing with our worship of God and our exploration of what it means to be a Christian through our understanding the answer to the question, “What Is Truth?” Today, I am going to ask you to get three things for you and anyone with whom you are sharing this moment. I am going to ask that you get your Bible, a small piece of bread for you and each person with you, and a cup of juice or water for you and each person with you. Although we are separated from each other, I want us to share the Lord’s Supper together because doing so reminds us that we are intimately connected with Jesus, with those who died in Christ, with one another, and with those who will come to Jesus through our witness. I invite you to hit the “Pause” button and gather up your Bible, bread, and cup.
Welcome back. Let’s begin.
Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday. It is the first day of what some Christian communities call “Passion Week.” It is a time in which Christians reflect on the rapidly evolving events in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago that began with Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey accompanied by crowds of people waving palm branches, laying their coats on the road ahead of Jesus, and singing “Hosanna, Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni.” “Savior, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.” During the days that followed Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city. He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple. He had compassion on the people with His teachings all the while scolding the religious leaders with power words. Jesus rested with his disciples while one of them named Judas sought out an opportunity to betray. Jesus dined with his disciples tenderly washing their feet and he established a new way to experience the Passover with pieces of bread and a cup of wine. Under ancient olive trees, silent witnesses to years of conquest and rebellion in Jerusalem, Jesus prayed that God’s will be done, even if it meant his own death on the cross. Armed men arrested Jesus and brought him at night for a trial before religious leaders who hated him. Jesus stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, whom Jesus told, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate scoffed, “What is truth?” (John 18:37, 38). Pilate proving Jesus words to be true, immediate left Jesus’ presence without an answer to his question. Pilate was not on the side of truth. Soon thereafter, in response to the angry shouting crowds of religious leaders, Pilate ordered Jesus to be executed. Jesus nailed to a cross, an instrument of torturous death, spoke seven times. He said:
- Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). As Jesus spoke, the Roman soldiers divided up his clothing.
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). This was Jesus’ promise one man hanging on a cross next to Jesus. The others present mocked Jesus.
- Woman, behold thy son! Behold thy mother! (John 19:26, 27). This was Jesus’ expression that family was born in faith and not blood. The religious leaders stood by howling insults at Jesus.
- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). Jesus tormentors made the experience a spectator sport shouting, “Leave him alone and see if God sends him savior!”
- I thirst (John 19:28). Those present gave Jesus vinegar.
- It is finished (John 19:30). There was silence.
- Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46). Remarkably, a Roman centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
Jesus died and the Passion Week, the Passion of Christ came quietly to a close. All that remained to do was for Jesus’ body to be placed into a tomb and for the religious leaders and inhabitants of the city to quietly observe the Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection upon God.
The truth is all throughout Passion Week two kingdoms were colliding. The kingdom of earth ruled by religion and government was clashing with the kingdom of heaven ruled by God’s grace and truth. The kingdom of earth always shows power by taking life. The kingdom of God always shows power by giving life. The kingdom of earth seeks significance by creating institutions, loving things, and being proud of its accomplishments. The kingdom of God seeks us to find significance in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
How did that passion week start and how does the truth about God and the clash of two kingdoms all those years ago matter to us today? To answer that question, I would invite you to open your Bible to our Old Testament passage today from Isaiah, Chapter 55. This entire passage is conversation from God through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel and thus to you and me. I want to focus on the tenor of the words and hear how different God intends life in his kingdom to be than from life in an earthly kingdom.
From verse 1: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” God is offering a sustenance unlike what is available on earth and it is available to all. You need no money to receive what God has to offer.
From verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” God’s purpose and His word is always life giving.
From verse 8 & 9 we see why the kingdoms are different: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God was making it clear that the emphasis for life in God is different from earthly existence. Our thinking and ways are not his at all. Therefore, we should not expect our traditions and practices to accomplish for us what only God alone can do.
From verse 10, God described His way in terms we can understand, rain and snow. “10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God would and did share the truth through his word in the form of messages through the prophets like Isaiah, but most profoundly through the person of Jesus Christ. The apostle John described Jesus as the Word, instructing us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I so love the way the Old Testament and New Testament blend together. It gives me greater confidence that although there are 66 books of the Bible with about 40 authors writing at different times over a 1400-year period, we have a coherence in thought. This says to me that the Holy Spirit was engaged in working through these authors to make sure the written word of God was accurately conveyed. And the Word of God usually clashes with human thought. Moreover, we will see that the Word of God in the flesh, Jesus, was in the earthly kingdom proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. Jesus too clashed with earthly thinking. Let’s turn our attention to Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem that began the Passion Week.
From the Gospel of John, Chapter 12, we read, “12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Baruch Haba B’shemi Adoni) ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’ 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’ 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified (died and resurrected) did they (Jesus’ disciples) realize that these things had been written about him (Jesus) and that these things had been done to him. 17 Now the crowd that was with him (Jesus) when he (Jesus) called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him (Lazarus) from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.’”
The drama in this scene cannot be underestimated. The city of Jerusalem swelled with people coming to celebrate the Passover festival. The influx of people could mean trouble so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, came to the city with his contingent of Roman soldiers to keep the peace for the Emperor Augustus and Herod Antipas, a man Augustus appointed king of Israel. Jesus entered the city, not quietly and unassumingly as he had in the past, but with a crowd shouting their desire to see Jesus become the king of their earthly kingdom. And yet, he did not come as a conquering hero upon a steed, a king’s horse, but upon a donkey that symbolized both an entrance of peace and an act of God’s Messiah.
Just days earlier than Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the chief priests and Pharisees met to discuss the problem that people were beginning to follow Jesus. “‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked (each other). ‘Here is this man [Jesus] performing many signs. If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation…’ So from that day on they [the Pharisees] plotted to take his [Jesus] life’ (John 11:47-48; 53).
Now, Jesus dared to enter the very heart of Judaic tradition and practices, the center of the religious institution and the core of the earthly meaning for the Pharisees. We saw the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ entry in verse 19, “19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him [Jesus]!’” The Pharisees’ “Jesus Problem” was growing. If Jesus was not stopped then, the keepers of the Temple, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Chief Priests could have the Temple taken from them. Their place of significance could fall.
The Temple was everything. During the Passion Week, Jesus and his disciples were leaving the Temple for the day. “One of his (Jesus’) disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1, 2). The disciples loved the Temple and all the glory the Temple meant for them and the people of Israel. Even those closest to Jesus did not understand Jesus’ words that something greater than the Temple, Jesus, was among them and that Jesus came to reveal the truth that God desired mercy not sacrifice (Matthew 12:6).
Jesus’ words harkened back to the Old Testament prophet Micah who wrote: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with [the sacrifice of] thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn [child] for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).
Jesus was and is inviting all who listen to him into a different kingdom, with a life built upon love; a love for God and a love for one another and not Temples. A love that finds fulfillment in service, justice, humility, and mercy not in rituals and traditions. The magnificent Temple of Jerusalem, the place observant Jews felt compelled to uphold as the earthly place of worship and sacrifice to God, would fall to the Romans. The Temple was destroyed. The Romans, masters of earthly kingdoms, left no stone upon another. But that which is greater than the Temple, Jesus, was not destroyed. And Jesus wanted his disciples, the apostles as well as you and me, to see that Him most present within life on earth. Jesus entered Jerusalem to signal life lived in the kingdom of God was not for the dead but for the living. Jesus invites us to live in the kingdom now and to let our membership in the kingdom be known by the way we love one another and by our reverence toward God.
Jesus knew people need to be strengthened to live in the kingdom of God. So, Jesus wanted the apostles as well as you and me to be reminded that we are part of the kingdom of God as often as we ate of bread and drank of fruit of the vine. I want you to now get ready your piece of bread and cup of juice.
During the Passion Week, Jesus shared the kingdom of God this way. During a meal, Jesus took bread and he blessed it. “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Jesus then gave that bread to his disciples and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). This was Jesus’ way of sharing with his disciples the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth. This was Jesus’ way of reminding us that we are part of the kingdom of God a place where its members seek to act justly and be righteous before God and one another.
I invite you now to take the piece of bread that you have and pray with me, ““Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Let’s now eat this bread and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which hunger is satisfied by justice and righteousness. Take and eat.
In a similar manner, when supper had ended, Jesus took a cup. That cup had wine, the fruit of the vine. Jesus blessed the contents of the cup. “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Jesus then gave the cup to his disciples and said, ““Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27, 28). This was another way Jesus shared with his disciples to remind them of the presence of the kingdom of God here on within the kingdom of the earth. It was Jesus’ way of granting us mercy by forgiving our sins and a call upon each of us to be merciful and forgiving toward one another.
I invite you now to take the piece the cup you have and pray with me, “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Let’s now drink this cup and savory an experience in God’s kingdom in which thirst is quenched by mercy. Take and drink.
The truth is the kingdom of God is a place of justice, righteousness, mercy, and humility before God. The truth is that Jesus’ urgent desire as he entered Jerusalem was that his disciples would live in this manner. The truth is that our significance in life is not found in a Temple of rock and clay but in life with God. Let us choose now truth of God’s kingdom. Amen and Amen.