Palm Sunday: Laying it Down for Jesus Christ, the Son of David

Many people spread their cloaks on the road while others spread branches … Mark 11:8

Palm Sunday- Lippo Memmi. JPG

The origin of Palm Sunday in the tradition of the church goes back to 4th century Jerusalem. People would gather at the Mount of Olives in early afternoon on the Sunday before Easter. At about five o’clock the passage of the gospel telling of Jesus’ entry would be read. A processional into the city would begin, and people with palm or olive branches would wave them as they walked.

Jesus approached Jerusalem by way of Bethany and Bethphage (Mark 11:1). Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. The exact location of Bethphage is not known but it must have been even closer. He sent two disciples there to get a “colt,” a term used in biblical and other ancient literature to describe the colt of a donkey. Matthew’s account tells us that both the colt and the colt’s mother were brought (Matthew 21:7).

The action of the crowd is described as completely spontaneous. Lippo Memmi (1291-1356), an Italian painter, is one of the artists whose work adorns the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. In his artistic tradition (seen above) the figures are somewhat static. In his presentation of these events, everything sort of seems like it has stopped and everyone looks so still -except the one person who steps in front and is placing his robe on the ground. He makes it just in time! His huge cloak falls into place precisely at the moment when donkey’s hoof will touch it. Here, as in 2Kings 9:13, the laying down of cloaks signifies submission to royalty.

Because of what God has done for in Jesus, the Apostle Paul calls upon us to lay down our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). When God sends forth His Spirit into our hearts that is what we should want to do! People all over the world are coming to know His power, and they want to submit to Him. They are laying down their lives in submission to the King of kings. He is coming! Want to join them? The celebration is about to start. Hurry! You’ll make it just in time.



Lent and the Grace of God

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. … Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me. Psalm 51:1-3,9-10

Honesty about our condition is the beginning of blessing. The words of David prayer – For I know my transgressions – remind us that reflection is an indispensable part of a Spirit-filled life. We are a people of joy but, like David, our joy has God’s grace and pardon in Jesus Christ as a backstory. If we accept God’s grace, we are acknowledging our ongoing need of it. As one who sought and experienced God’s grace, David tells us in Psalm 51:17, that a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  

The season of Lent is a time to contemplate the pardoning grace of God and our need of it. The church calendar marks the sacred seasons and times for believers worldwide, reminding us of God’s marvelous redemptive work in our history. It adopts the chronology given in the book of Acts with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover feast. Of course, the months and dates associated with all of the seasons and events on the church calendar, like December 25th for the birth of Jesus, are not the actual dates in history, but we know they did happen! The dates are commemorative.

As evangelicals, I believe there is great value in recovering aspects of our larger Christian tradition as a means to reflection and critique in order to help us refocus on genuine Christian spirituality in our increasingly secularized culture. Renew a right spirit in us, O God!


The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”  Psalm 87:6-7

 No matter where you were born, when you are born again in Jesus, God issues a new birth certificate: born in Zion.  Zion is often used in the Scriptures to point us beyond earth to heaven – “the Jerusalem that is above” Paul calls it in Galatians 4:26. The idea in the words of the Psalm seems to be that no matter where you were born or how connected you might be to your birthplace or any other place, or what your previous associations were, your place now is with Him and His family. Your “citizenship is in heaven” Paul says in Philippians 3:20.

The crowds celebrated in the earthly Jerusalem with singing and dancing. For them Zion was a place of “fountains” because their God was “the spring of living water” (Jer.2:13). Jesus tells us in John 8:37-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
 Isaiah 55:1 says, “Everybody who is thirsty, come”!
All week long the devil, the world, and our own flesh use every deception and device, trying to quench a thirst that only Jesus Christ can slake. In the true worship of Him, the world’s river of lies is washed away by the River of Life. I don’t how this week or today have gone for you, but never forget WHO YOU ARE and WHO HE IS. The only way to get ready to “make music” is by hearing the music of His grace.

Resurrection – the Debt is Paid!

 Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:15-16
It is one of those mysterious things in life that we can often recognize someone we haven’t seen in a long time when they speak our name. Perhaps it was the way Jesus said her name that caused her to recognize Him. Jesus rose from the dead, just as He told His disciples that He would.  There are many implications to be drawn, but the most important is that this ended all the claims of God’s justice against those who know Him. Think of the gospel message this way: After a criminal fulfills the requirements of the sentence, the law has no more claim on him and he walks out of prison completely free. The gospel teaches us that Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for us. He must have satisfied it fully, because on the third day He rose up, and walked out of the prison of death completely free. As Tim Keller has put it, “The resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.”
Mary was searching for the Lord’s body and was prepared to carry it away, but all she carried away that day was the good news. That is what the church of Jesus Christ has for you, too, just the good news, no burden, only gratitude for grace. Come and join us as we praise the name of the One who has made us free.




Palm Sunday – Its About Him!


This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Matthew 21:4-5

Jesus Enters Jerusalem           Sir Anthony Van Dyke


Upon Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Zechariah 9:9. But the good news of this coming King is not simply for Israel but for the whole world. As Zechariah 2:11-13 makes plain:

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. 

The joy of this particular moment goes beyond the immediate context and crowd of these events. ITS FOR US! Matthew believed there was something in these events that could bring joy to anyone who read of them with a believing heart. This explains why Jesus is so upset by the presence of the money changers and other businesses throughout the temple area and He runs them out. He is angry because “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17).” ITS ABOUT US.

Jesus cleanses the Temple      Rembrandt
The message which our Lord proclaims in the parables of this chapter is about us, too. We are one of these “sons” in 21:28-31. We are the new tenants of 21:41. And what exactly is Jesus’ message? Through His own death He is about to bring those into the kingdom of God who could never belong otherwise – “I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you (21:31).”
He is calling everyone who doesn’t seem to belong in the Kingdom of God, who feels too ashamed, too sinful, too hopeless, too helpless, too messed up to be part of anything that has to do with God.  Because He has done all this for us, our worship can never be about us. It is not about us. ITS ABOUT HIM! 


Not Beyond the Cure of Christ

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

The human heart is beyond a “cure” according to the Bible, it must be changed. When it comes to the spiritual condition of the human heart, the prophet Jeremiah is not optimistic (c.f. 13:23, 30:12).

The recent military trial of Army General Jeffrey Sinclair has once again exposed in public the incurable heart of humanity through the adulterous behavior and abuse of power carried out by this highly regarded military figure. In his defense, 24 of Sinclair’s colleagues and soldiers who had served with him or were under his command, came to testify about his good character.

I was especially struck by one of Sinclair’s character witnesses. He alluded to the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murderous cover-up that takes the life of her husband, Uriah. (2Samuel 11). He then went on to compare Sinclair to David, “I believe that General Sinclair is a man after God’s own heart. I believe he can be rehabilitated.” His opinion of his friend is that he is a kind of David, who is described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22, 1Samuel 13:14).

I’m glad this soldier has friends but do not think it is really helpful or accurate to describe the disgraced general this way. This is the Bible’s comment on David in his youth and long before he commits his crimes, not in their aftermath! He was not always after God’s own heart, and the Lord’s message to David after he does these horrible things is very different: Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, to be your own (2Samuel 12:10). Like all of us, David would need God’s generous grace to live with the consequences of his actions.

The general, his friend, and all of us, must realize that we deceive ourselves with talk of the human heart being cured or “rehabilitated.” It has to be “regenerated” – made new through faith in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5, Ezek.18:31,36:26). In truth, there has only been One who was consistently a man after God’s own heart and He is God’s own Son. That is is my only hope, David’s only hope, your only hope, and that is the help the general and every human being needs. When we are troubled by our trouble,
stressed out by sin, weary of wickedness, and burdened by the bad, only Christ our Savior and Lord, can be the Cure.


The Great Physician is Ready to Help

Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you …your guilt is so great and your sins so many … But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 30:12-14,17

Before we hear the good news we must face the bad news. In this passage from Jeremiah, Israel is plainly told that even though her wound is fatal and that every accusation against her is justified, the Lord is going to bring restoration and health.

It has been a little over five years ago that a woman in Connecticut was viciously attacked by an enraged chimpanzee, leaving her bloodied, blind, and disfigured. Her story and the horrendous injuries she suffered shocked the nation.  Images of her ordeal still startle us. She was beyond hope but was rushed to the hospital and a 20 hour surgical marathon was performed by a remarkable  team of more than 30 doctors and nurses to give her a new face and a chance to live.

The horrifying truth about sin is that I am morally disfigured by it, and there is no hope for me. Our wounds are startling. But God has now undertaken to do what seems impossible, to make me whole again. Even now, if you could capture the condition of my soul on a photo, it probably would not impress you. But if you knew how really bad the wound of sin was, how awful the injuries of iniquity were, you would be amazed that I am even alive.

Paul describes our injured state in Titus 3:3-5, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another but when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.”

Whatever your injuries are, there is healing for you through Christ, our Great Physician. The church of Jesus Christ is ready for you. A remarkable team is waiting to care for you. They, too, know how ugly sin can be but have found healing in Christ’s forgiveness. If sin has injured you this week, rush yourself to Him, rush yourself into the nearest hospital of the saints so that you can get the gospel of Jesus Christ for your wounds, and the joy of the Holy Spirit in your heart. I praise God for His gospel and His church, a hospital for the saints, recovering sinners who are being made whole again through the grace of Jesus Christ!




Big News !

I am a little behind these days with my postings, and I’ll probably continue to be behind for awhile. Some great news has come our way that has set off a flurry of activity. Exactly two weeks ago, I received a phone call that I had been hoping and praying would come. Early in June, my wife and I had gone to Los Angeles to interview for a pastoral position in a wonderful and vibrant church. The phone call was from a representative of the congregation’s committee letting me know they wanted us. We are praising God for the opportunity to join with his people in Los Angeles in the service of our Savior! The house is littered with boxes and wrapping paper. Just yesterday we received news that our application for a rental house has gone through. We have a list with a thousand things to do before we can head out of North Carolina for California, but we are trusting in the Lord’s care for all of it. We just need to get packed and go!

Imitators of God!

Be imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us… Ephesians 5.1-2

When I was just a little boy, my friends and I thought it would be fun to try to fly like Superman. We chose a nearby clay pit – a huge commercial digging site – for our attempt. The pit was about the size of a football field and roughly twenty to thirty feet deep. We took turns jumping off a ridge, yelling, a few feet from the bottom with our arms in front of us, and usually landing on all fours in the bull dozed clay. We did this a few times, climbing a little higher each time, Finally we had jumped off from the last available ridge in the cliff’s side and only the top of the pit was left. It was way up there. There was a discussion about who was going to try it. Somehow through the skillful negotiations that I was frequently involved in as a young boy, but for which I had not yet acquired much skill, my friends convinced me that I was the one who should go, and up to the top I went. Safely at the bottom, they shouted and coaxed me forward. I yelled and jumped and landed hard face down. I rolled over and I couldn’t breath because the breath had been knocked out of me, there was nothing I could do until I was able to breathe again. Finally, when I could breathe again, I was able to get up and laugh about it.

In this verse the Apostle Paul refers to us as “dearly loved children” dependent on the breath of God’s Spirit given to us in our Christian birth – that new and spiritual and second birth – without his Spirit we can do nothing of what he calls us to do. We know from the Genesis account of Adam and Eve that at the beginning of history, in an act of rebellion and coaxed by the devil, all of humanity, figuratively speaking, jumped off a cliff. We can’t laugh it off. The fall left us completely and morally ruined, disfigured in sin and without a hope (Rom.5.12-21). In Ephesians 2 we are told apart from him “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Apart from him we can only “follow the ways of the world” and are “children of wrath” ( 2:1-3). But our new birth in Christ gives us his Spirit – despite all temptation and manner of discouragement and suffering and our ongoing struggle with the reality of sin – with his Spirit we can both imitate him and creatively and joyfully live with one another in this world.

We imitate God and live this way because we are his children. And here is seen the critical and important difference between Christianity and mere morality: Morality is about being good for its own sake. Christians, however, are not called to be good simply for the sake of goodness. We are God’s children! This is about us belonging to him. Related to him. That is why we are to live this way. Notice the text, we are not just his children, we are his dear children. He loves you, you are dear to his heart. We are called to a child-like and willing assumption of Christ’s behavior and manner in this world. We are called to be imitators of God. We are in the world but without its impurity. We have been called to “walk” in love, because this is Christ’s way. The Christian faith does not call us to do something that is impossible such as flying like a bird. But we are called to walk, a means of advancing in our faith, step by step as we are taught by the Word and Spirit of God how to love and so every act of love towards one another becomes a step in the right direction.

A Closer Look at John 3.16 (part 3)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What does it mean to “perish”? Generally, the term describes destruction instead of preservation. For example, in 1Cor. 1.18-19 “perishing” is the opposite of “being saved.”In the context of John, the term also implies to be forever excluded from any relationship with God. The Jews believed their relationship with God was assured because they were Jewish, but in the verses leading up to John 3.16, Jesus tells Nicodemus no can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again and no can enter the kingdom of of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. As mentioned previously, as an important member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was familiar with the terms or concepts used by Jesus in John 3. For example, the Talmud, a central text for Rabbinic Judaism, describes a convert to Judaism as a “newborn infant (b. Yeb 22a, 62a, 48b; y. Bk 3:3 vii)”The Talmud was produced later than the gospel of John, but depends on oral teaching and tradition reaching back to ancient Judaism with which Nicodemus was probably very familiar.

The importance and role of water would also be familiar to a Pharisee like Nicodemus. Earlier in John 1, the Pharisees had asked John the Baptist about his practice of baptism. The baptism of someone entering Judaism from non-Jewish society was commonplace, but the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus’ words implied that Nicodemus and the Pharisees needed real repentance and baptism for themselves. Jesus’ words make it clear that outward conformity to Jewish rituals and beliefs had no weight on the eternal scales. Eternal life could never depend on conformity to any of these things. Instead, it depended on one’s recognition of Jesus as the Son of God.

It is always good for me to be reminded that my status with God is not dependent on my outward conformity. Like Augustus Toplady says in his great hymn, “Rock of Ages”, Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your cross I cling! If we are going to hold on to the cross, we must first let go of any claim we have. Only when our hands and our hearts are emptied of our own merit, only then are we able to fully grasp the salvation found in the God’s One and Only. Even though elements of John 3 might indicate that Nicodemus did not really understand, perhaps he was beginning to get it. The unpredictable and powerful Holy Spirit may have begun blowing new life into him. Later on, in the aftermath of Jesus’ death, he emerges again from the shadows to assist in helping with the Lord’s burial (John 19.39).

What does it mean to perish? It does not mean merely to die. Nor does it mean annihilation or to cease to exist. It means to experience futility and the complete loss of all that makes existence worthwhile. It is the state of existence in which humanity presently exists. We are alive in a state of existence described in the Bible as dead in our sins (Ephesians 2.1).

The Parable of the Prodigal Son give us an insight into the meaning of “perish.” Notice how the father describes his son in Luke 15.24- …this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. The term used for “lost” in the Luke passage is the same term we translate as “perish” in John 3.16. Here it is rendered “perish” because apart from believing in God’s only son, we are truly “lost” – even a son of Israel, like Nicodemus, regardless of what he thought, was lost. Like Nicodemus, apart from the grace shown to us in Christ we are lost and perishing people, a world of prodigal sons and daughters ready to satisfy the deepest hunger of our souls with the pig slop of a world far away from our Father and the feast awaiting our return.