Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rethink Jesus: Part 1

Last week, Craig Cortright started off a new series at church entitled “Rethink Jesus.“ In this series, leading up to Easter, Craig, Kent, and Chad will be going deeper into the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Craig started out by talking about the triumphal entry; otherwise known as Palm Sunday. And, just so you know, Craig has a more factual and historical approach in his messages. He’s really good at explaining those things; I am not. So, you might want to listen to him preach it because I likely won’t articulate those things as well as he does.

Craig talked about the triumphal entry being the time of Passover. Passover was always a time for celebration because it was all about the Jews freedom and how they were liberated from slavery in Egypt; and spared from the plague of death of the first born. But, even at the time of Jesus, they still weren’t free. They were dominated and occupied by the Romans and they longed for their Messiah to come to their rescue and free them. They were expecting the Messiah to be a great warrior who would bring them freedom and restoration. In fact, there were many revolutionaries (Zealots) who were so eager for it that they encouraged others to rebel and revolt against the Romans.

Little did they know that the Messiah was coming; riding in on a donkey. Many had heard of Jesus. Some knew he was much more than a prophet and some did not. Many were just curious and in awe of him due to the wondrous miracles he performed (including just recently raising Lazarus from the dead) and his teachings. Many laid out their cloaks as he passed down the road on the donkey. It was an act of submission to the King. They even waved palm branches; which Craig described had a deeper meaning. The palm branch was like their national symbol and waving a palm branch was like us waving our American flags. They were shouting “Hosanna” and hoping that He was the one that would save them. And indeed, He was (and is!) the one who came to save. Though, it wasn’t exactly in the way they had hoped. The expected a great lion and a warrior that would save them from their temporal oppression; but what they got was a lamb who came to free us from eternal suffering. In fact, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on “lamb selection day.” Coincidence? I think not!! As they were all choosing their perfect lambs for their Passover feasts, God provided HIS perfect lamb for all of them!! JESUS was and is that perfect, blameless, and spotless sacrificial lamb who was offered up for us all!

Many of the people in the crowd who were praising the lamb of God didn’t even know just who He was. Some of them would later on be the very same people calling for his crucifixion. Some of them were just going with the flow. Jesus was “popular” at the moment. He had done a lot of miracles and had even raised the dead. But, one thing about popularity is that it can come and go quickly. People could turn against you in an instant. As Craig pointed out, “popularity is often based on false assumptions.” Some may have been praising him just because of what he did, or how he taught, and not necessarily because they knew that He was the one and only Son of God worth praising. If they had known, they wouldn’t have later been going along with the crowd (egged on by the Pharisees) to crucify him. It’s funny how popularity can be manipulated isn’t it? All the hype and perceptions really has power over how a person thinks and behaves to whatever/whoever is in the spotlight (we see that in the media every day - I could give you a prime example, but knowing me, I’ll bet you already know what I am referring to! LOL Think about it people; and don‘t be duped!!).

The popularity factor was realized by the Pharisees. They fully loathed it. They didn’t want people worshipping Jesus; whether He was the Son of God or not. They told Jesus to rebuke the people for their worship. But, Jesus said that if they didn’t worship, the rocks would cry out. And, like an old pastor of mine always said, “I don’t want a rock doing my job!”

So, what did “Mr. Popularity” do next? Well, as he saw the city, he began to cry. Craig said that the word for cry in this instance wasn’t like the word for cry when he cried for Lazarus. For Lazarus, it was more a cry of sympathy. For this type of cry, the word meant a deep lamenting and sorrow. Jesus’ words in Luke 19:42-44 reflect the reasons for his tears: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." Jesus said this because he knew the suffering that was to come and that in time, there would be a revolt and that many of them would be killed and the city would be destroyed.

Craig said that he thinks differently about God and about how He feels for us and weeps for us. So, how does Jesus weep for us? How does He weep for YOU? Is He weeping for your sorrows, struggles, and pain? Is He weeping for the things going wrong in your life right now? Or, is he crying tears of joy over the good things you are experiencing? Whatever you are going through - whether pleasant or painful - Jesus shares it with you. He is always right there with you. Did you know that? Does that surprise you? It might have surprised the Jews as they watched him weep. That’s likely not what they were expecting. They were looking for a tough lion-type Messiah; not a soft-hearted lamb. They likely felt that Jesus’ couldn’t be the Messiah they were expecting because He didn’t line up with their own expectations of what they thought He should be. So, maybe this was the turning point. Maybe this was when Jesus’ “popularity” starting going down; because they didn’t see or get what they wanted. It’s amazing how attitudes and perceptions change isn’t it?

The bottom line that I get from all of this is that Jesus is who He is. You can’t put Him in a box or “limit” Him. If you limit Him, you limit yourself and what He can do for you in your life. He’ll only bless you as far as your faith. If you only see Him as a “great guy” who did “cool stuff” or something like that, then you won’t experience much else with Him. When your perception is based on a superficial “popularity“ factor (which as we have seen can be a very temperamental thing) you don‘t get to know the REAL person. (Yeah, and I‘ve been there too!! I know of and have met lots of people who aren‘t who everyone thinks they are - and THEY don‘t even know who they are either because they are so caught up in their own hype!!). But, thankfully, Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus is modest, humble, and isn’t just a hyped up “good man” or a “good story” in the Bible. Jesus is real; both then, now, and forever!! If you see Him and accept Him for who He TRULY is, you’ll know Him deeply and intimately. THAT is how you will be able to experience Jesus and connect with Him!! Don’t settle for a shallow relationship based on “popular assumptions.” Experience Jesus for yourself!! Go deeper!!

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