Hosanna!

PalmSundayLoop_03Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12:12-19

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” John 12:13

 The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

Jesus’ previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, He publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. To announce that He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

The people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt. They shouted “Hosanna” because they recognized Jesus was fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. They began to spread their clothes in the colt’s path to provide a “royal carpet” and they cut branches from palm trees, adding them to their garments on the ground and waving them before the Lord.

 

The word “Hosanna: is made up of two Hebrew terms, “hosa” meaning “save” or “help” and “na,” which is a plea based on the urgency of the need. In the original setting of the word, which would have been familiar to the Jewish people, “Hosanna” meant “Help us, please, Lord!”

 

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?

He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

 

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”

The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.

The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence. No my friend, Jesus is the reason for the season!

 

Will you and I regard this week as truly Holy? Will we remind the world that this season is about a gift far richer than chocolate – the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah King? Will we lift high the Cross of Christ for all to see? We will proclaim that He is Alive!? “Christ the Lord is Risen!”

 

Lord, Jesus, our Savior and our King, on this Palm Sunday we raise our voices with the multitudes and cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

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Selah

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” Psalm 46:11

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant. You may have even heard it as the name of a popular contemporary Christian group. It is believed to be a choral or musical notation and seems to indicate a dramatic pause in the music. I discovered in the Amplified Bible, a version that gives word translations that deepen the meaning of the text, that this word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that.” John Phillips says it means “to pause and lift up”; [and] can be freely rendered: ‘There! What do you think of that?’”[1] The word and these translations intrigued me, so I began hunting through the Psalms (and Habakkuk) for the occurrences of Selah.

Much of the times we see Selah the writers are declaring God’s blessing, kindness, protection and deliverance on behalf of His people. It is frequently used as the Psalmist reminds himself and the nation to trust in the Lord:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Trust in Him at all time, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 62:5-6, 8)

You will see Selah often in Psalms praising God for His great victories, power and might:

“O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories You give! You have granted him the desire of his heart and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah” (Psalm 21:1-2).

It often became part of a cry to the Lord for help, comfort and mercy.

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Imagine that you are part of the nation of Israel, and your enemies are surrounding the city. You gather your children to your side and pray for strength and safety. Then the prophet of the Lord stands high above the crowd and proclaims:

“Lord, we have heard of Your fame; we stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day.” You rode with Your horses and Your victorious chariots.   You uncovered Your bow and You called for many arrows. You came out to deliver Your people; You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness” (Habakkuk 3: 3, 8-9, 13). Then he pronounces the Selah – “Pause and calmly think about that.”

To your frightened people, the reminder of God’s power and might on the nation’s behalf brings renewed courage and hope. As you stop and calmly think about the prophet’s words you realize that God had been faithful before, and He will be faithful again.

Selah is such a beautiful and powerful reminder to us that the Bible – all of God’s Word – should be received with such depth and thought. God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and ponder. There is nothing you will face in your life that is not spoken to in the Scriptures. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think calmly about that.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). Pause and calmly think about that.

To the saint drawing her final breath: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43.) Pause and calmly think about that.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and calmly think about that.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). To borrow from John Phillips: There! What do you think about that?

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction or chastisement is meant to be examined and pondered and remembered. God intends for you to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them. Make them personal – put your name in the verses, let them speak to you and about you. The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). How might it transform your heart and life if you came to God’s Word each day with the intent to pause and really think about what He is saying?

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).  I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

Holy Father, You have said “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). You have promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Jesus, You have vowed “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). Oh what sweet joy to pause and calmly think about that. Amen.

[1] John Phillips, The John Phillips Commentary Series: Exploring Psalms, Volume One, An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2002) 14.

“. . . but have not love . . .

“…but have not love…” 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3

I am committed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 – “The Love Chapter” – because I want to be better at loving others. I want to love like Christ loved – deeply, tenderly, attentively and unreservedly. I want to love others because they, like me, are made in the image of God. Most of all, I want to love others because Christ gave His life out of love for me and you and every person, past, present and future. So I am “storing up” this wonderful thesis on love in my heart.

Yet, I know, loving others requires more than words. This is what Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 13. Listen to these first 3 verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. It I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When we consider this chapter, we tend to go right for the “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” (v. 4f) and it is good to know what love looks like in action – what is does and does not do, because love that stays in the mind and heart has no impact on the beloved. But in verses 1-3 I find a core truth that I must always keep in focus: the greatest spiritual gift requires the most humility.

The Love Chapter comes in the center of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, very appropriately placed because he has looked at and will go back to those abilities and callings that make the church a functioning Body. Some of these gifts put people in the forefront of ministry, where pride can get out of control. So he tempers the ego with this discussion about love, calling it “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). And the most demanding.

In the calling of a teacher, it is very easy to get “the big head,” and if, in the future God allows me to become an author, I know the temptation will be greater still. Eloquence of speech, knowledge, Scriptural understanding can all get in the way of service. If love is not my motivation, then I am being driven by my ego.

Yet Paul also shines the spotlight on what we see as the most Christian behavior: self-sacrifice. He equally says that if we sacrifice all that we have, including our very lives, but are not motivated by love, our actions gain us nothing of eternal significance. But oh, how we will be remembered in history.

What the apostle is saying is that we may be able to impress men with our great words and actions, but God knows the heart where the true motivation lies. And the heart is what he measures: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). That which is done for ego’s sake has no standing before God, only what is done for the sake of love will come forth out of the fire as gold.

Love and humility are the twin sisters of the Christian life – you truly can’t have one without the other. Jesus gives us the perfect example in John 13:1-5, as he humbled Himself to wash His disciples’ nasty feet. Verse 1b says: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the extent of His love.” The NASB says it so beautifully: “He loved them with a perfect love to the end.”

I want to love with as near to “a perfect love” as is humanly possible. But that’s the problem – it’s not “humanly possible.” So how do I do the impossible? John has the answer: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). The only way I can love like Christ is if I allow God’s love to flow through me to those around me. That’s why anything done for the sake of appearance is “a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” It’s a lot of attention grabbing noise – but it’s not love.

Holy Father, You are love – Your Word declares it and You proclaimed it loudly from the Cross. You call me to love others, in my home, my church, my neighborhood and the world. I can only do it if You love them through me. Let me be Your conduit of love Lord. Amen.