Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A New Kingdom - A Fundamental Happiness

Preached on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

Scripture readings: Psalm 22:1, 16-31; Matthew 21:1-17

One of the silvery haired couples who came to worship every Sunday was famous for sitting together, holding hands in church. Another church person came up to them and told the wife how wonderful it was that they were still so much in love that they never let go of each other’s hand. The wife answered: “Love has nothing to do with it. I hold Henry’s hand to keep him from cracking his knuckles.”
Cherry Orchard, Desert Aire/Mattawa WA: March 2015
It looked like such a strong show of affection, that day when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem. It’s hard to know what to think about it.
If we didn’t know what was going to happen next, we’d probably think that this was the happiest and most exciting stage in Jesus’ ministry. Knowing the end of the story, we realize that the most joyful things were yet to come, but also that the most horrible things were to come first.
We know that this is what is called “Palm Sunday” and that by this Friday all the cheering and singing was going to change. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” was going to change to, “Crucify him! Kill him! Die, Jesus, die!”
We can take the lesson of fickleness to heart. We are more fickle than we know.
None of the people who welcomed Jesus with such joy really knew what his coming to the city was about. They welcomed a prophet. They welcomed a king who would through out the Romans.
They got something much more than they expected, and also much different. Maybe some of them decided that they didn’t like it and maybe they turned on Jesus.
Some of the people didn’t know who Jesus was at all. They had to listen to the words of the songs. They had to question the people around them. Who could tell how they would make up their minds?
Young Apple Orchard on Trellises, Desert Aire/Mattawa
March 2015
The disciples themselves barely grasped who Jesus was and what had come to do. But they would cheer whatever he did. And there were crowds of disciples besides the famous twelve. There were surely thousands there who loved Jesus and put their hopes on him.
There were also great crowds of people who thought they knew who Jesus was and what he represented, and they feared and hated him for it. We don’t see them much in the Palm Sunday crowd, except that we see them in the Temple.
To them, Jesus was dangerous: dangerous to Israel’s peace with the Romans, dangerous to God’s law as defined by the rabbis, dangerous to the Temple-based economy of Jerusalem. They feared Jesus because the taught the people about the duty to forgive, and to make peace, and to love one’s enemy, and to consider the whole world your neighbor. They hated Jesus because he claimed to have the authority over the Temple. They hated Jesus because he claimed to have the authority to teach these things because he was one with God.
When Jesus stood up for the children who sang his praises; he quoted from a verse in Psalm Eight which says, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” This psalm is about little ones praising God. In claiming the Psalm, Jesus claimed that this praise was for him.
Yes, Jesus was clearly dangerous. The ones who hated and feared Jesus were the heart and core of the crowd that shouted “Crucify him!”
Do you think it seems strange to say that Jesus must have smiled during this parade? Of course he did stop to weep. The gospels tell us that he did this once, not for himself but for the city that welcomed him. You can find that in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 19:41-44)
Surely the people in the parade sound happy. They wouldn’t have sounded like that if Jesus had done much weeping. Children wouldn’t have sung to Jesus if he was weeping, or angry.
When he knocked over the tables at the currency exchange and the cages and pens of sacrificial animals and yelled at the people who ran them, I tell you he must have done it with a joyful anger if it was followed by children singing. Children don’t play in the yards of weeping people or angry people. The children knew that the rulers of the Temple were mad at them for singing, and they knew that Jesus enjoyed what they were doing, and (to their mind) the approval of Jesus was what mattered most.
The Bible never says that Jesus smiled, but he did tell funny stories (like the one about the farmer who let weeds grow up in his fields in order to protect the harvest, which you never do, if you know what you’re doing), and so Jesus must have known how to smile. Children were not afraid of him, and so he must have known how to smile.
Jesus knew about the cross and about his coming death. He had tried to warn his friends but he found them too afraid to listen to him. Jesus knew about the secret crowd that was frowning down on his parade from their widows and doorways.
Jesus knew that the joy that surrounded him and the fanfare that he was deliberately encouraging would provoke the angry crowd to action. The happy crowd, without realizing it, were welcoming Jesus to his funeral.
It must have been hard for Jesus to avoid thinking about this. But the only sign of distress on Jesus’ part was that sudden burst of tears that Luke tells us about: tears for the people and not for himself.
When Jesus stood up for the children, he was defending their capacity to enjoy, and celebrate, and praise. They were happy and Jesus wanted to enjoy their happiness no matter what was going to happen next. He didn’t want them to stop.
This is what the king was like who came to town on a donkey’s back, with singing and not with a rattle of swords, and not with the heavy, solemn choir music of the Temple. Jesus had serious business coming up, and yet he was still capable of joy. He was committed to keeping a merry heart.
As his cross drew nearer, the natural human feelings that Jesus came to earth to share with us show themselves. Anger and anguish come out; but they don’t take him over. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was so tormented that he sweated blood (Luke 22:44); but, when the troops came to arrest him, he talked them into leaving his friends alone. (John 18:8) Anger and anguish never took over Jesus.
I picture Jesus entering Jerusalem smiling and laughing and, when the people blessed him, he blessed them right back.
The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews says a mysterious thing about the joy of Jesus. In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews the author described “looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame.” And the reason for this was so that we “will not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)
Even the Twenty Second Psalm (that begins with the words that predict the agony and the torment of the cross) turns into joy. “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” (Psalm 22:22) The agony did not take over the joy.
Jesus, on the cross, shouldered our sins and the sins of the world. Jesus absorbed into himself the experience of all human pain, guilt, injustice, and despair. Yet, even there, he had some awareness of the great peace and joy that lay just ahead of him. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said this to the man on the cross beside him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
My King Jesus is a Captain Courageous. He sees all the highs and lows in perspective. Jesus can tell us to live by faith because he knows how to live by faith. He has felt the deepest fear, but he has never been conquered by it. Jesus is really unquenchable. Nothing fazes Jesus.
Knowing this is good for us. When I was a teenager, I seemed to be, more and more, on my way to being a misfit and an outcast. I would pray about this in the dark after I went to bed, and pour my heart out to God. In the end I would run out of words and be completely exhausted. And Jesus was there.
In these experiences of mine, over and over again, there was simply Jesus and silence. But (within the silence) there was this steadiness of Jesus, and there was the presence of this joy of Jesus that nothing fazed. Nothing could overcome it, and this joy didn’t need to use words to tell me that I belonged to this joy. This joy was my friend, whether I felt it or not.
The crowd didn’t know what was ahead of Jesus and they didn’t understand him at all. But I think they understood this: his terrific fearlessness and joy.
The people in the crowd knew that the Roman soldiers posted at the gates and along the road were watching them. Guards sent from the temple could be seen watching them. And surely they knew there were traitors and spies watching them. It was at least mildly risky for the people in the crowd to be there. But the fearlessness and joy of Jesus rubbed off on them. They made the most of their celebrating.
Jesus does this. Jesus makes this possible. The world is dangerous and uncertain. We have got responsibilities and worries to deal with. We have got our own crosses to bear, and we know that some crosses kill in the end.
Road Going Down to Desert Aire: March 2015
But we can welcome Jesus in; who is the king of courage and joy. He can inspire us to live unconquered lives where we can still smile and laugh and praise because he is part of us. I have seen this happen many times.
When we turn to Jesus and let him get through to us, he will enable us to do more than merely exist. He will also enable us to help those around us to live with more peace and confidence, because of our king who faced the cross bravely for us and rules above it all in heaven in joy.
But, even though he seems above it all, he really isn’t, when it comes to us, his children. His cross is not only grace, and mercy, and forgiveness. His cross is also courage, strength, and happiness. His cross is joy.

This is where our salvation comes from. This is just a small part of the new life that Jesus, and his cross, and his resurrection make possible.

1 comment:

  1. Jesus, King of Courage and Joy.
    I remember reading somewhere that Christians should be known not for their great knowledge of the Bible, but for their JOY!