Gift of Salvation

The date was July 17, 2001. Up until this date, I had always thought I was a person who followed Jesus Christ. This day, something changed my life, for the better. Six to eight months beforehand, I had been having lunch with a friend of mine and his pastor. This lunch turned into a weekly Bible study. During this study, I began to sense a desire to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ and have him save me from my sin. What I have later learned is there have been people God has placed in my path my entire life to show me and teach me about God. I have also had people show me what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Many people have their own story of how they came to faith. I have learned, though, it is not the “coming to faith” that is the crucial thing. I have learned it is what happens after we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When a person speaks about being saved, they are communicating they have been set free from sin and have been given life everlasting by the grace of God. It is the hope, desire, and longing of every person to live for something greater than themselves in this physical life. When John Wesley died, “His last words served to not only capture the quality of life he lived but also the kind of life he wished for others. He died saying, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’” (Harper 13) Wesley was considered a practical theologian. As Wesley was teaching and preaching and organizing new converts into groups, he learned a process for salvation. This is not something new, but he did organize the thinking into what we know as the order of salvation.
How does a person come to be saved and receive life everlasting? Why would a person desire to be saved? Oden writes, “The benefits of salvation are summarized as justification (receiving the pardon of God), regeneration (receiving new life in the Spirit and participation in the family of God), and sanctification (receiving the growth-enabling, completing, maturing, perfecting grace of God that leads toward holiness of heart and life).” (Oden 607) The Apostle Paul writes in the letter to Titus, “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. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7 NIV) Salvation is a gift of God, it is because of God’s grace we have been saved. (Ephesians 2:8)
The first step in the order of salvation is “realizing that something is wrong with the human race.” (Harper 21) In the beginning, God created male and female in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Then, in Genesis 1:31, it says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV) But then, a brief time later, the humans decided to listen to the voice of the serpent and evil/sin entered the heart and lives of the people from that point forward. Humanity was more interested in themselves, from then on, than they were/are about listening to God.
When a person realizes there is something inherently wrong, there is nothing we can do on our own. “We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Grace is essential.” (Harper 28) One can look back on their life and see that God has been working and moving in many ways. Even before people have an idea about God, God is pouring out his grace. Wesley called this “prevenient grace.” This is the act and movement of God to work in our lives to bring us out of a place of hopelessness. Prevenient grace is seeking ways to break through into peoples’ lives to show God has been there all along. Romans 1 demonstrates this, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) The Apostle Paul is showing that God is making himself known even before the people realize it.
A person comes to the realization God has been working in their life and has felt a strong sense of conviction about their life in sin. For some, this realization can happen at an instant. For others, it can occur over time. This is the point of justification. “Justification is the acceptance of the sinner, united in Christ by faith, precisely while it remains clear that he or she has done wrong…openly declaring his guilt that acquittal is announced.” (Oden 588) The person has been set free from the slavery of sin and has been given new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has justified. Christ has made right the person through grace by faith. The person now belongs to Jesus Christ. Repentance has taken place, and a new life begins to unfold for the new believer. “When the New Testament speaks of repentance, it uses the basic idea of change. Wesley called it, ‘a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.’” (Harper 44) The idea is the person now desires to live for Christ and has forsaken all sin. A new way of life is now beginning. John Wesley called this converting grace.
The work of the Spirit is not done in the life of the person. The process of being made holy, of being made into the likeness of Jesus Christ is beginning. At this point, the person is being made new. We call this new birth. Wesley called this process sanctifying grace because this is the process of being sanctified, being made holy, and it takes time. We also know this as regeneration. “Wesley called it God’s activity of ‘renewing our fallen nature.’” (Harper 56) Oden says, “Regeneration is the work of the Spirit by which new life in Christ is imparted to one dead in sin. It implies a change in the inward person by which a disposition to the holy life is originated, and in which life begins. It is the acts of God by which the governing disposition of the person begins to be responsive to the reconciling God.” (Oden 612) The person is in the process of being made new, living into a new will, receiving a new heart.
God’s grace has done incredible work in the person and is working to change the person from the inside out. Oden helps to define grace. “Grace means unmerited favor. To affirm that God is gracious is to affirm that God does not deal with creatures on the basis of their works, merit, or deserving but rather out of abundant divine compassion. It is through grace that God’s mercy is free given precisely to repentant sinners.” (Oden 73) Salvation is God’s gift because of his grace.
The gift of salvation means the person has the opportunity to live in the presence of God, here and now and in the life to come. “[T]he kingdom of God is here now. We do not have to put emphasis on some future climatic event outside the bounds of time and space as we know it. As Christians, we affirm and look to the existence of eternity, but we live in the present.” (Harper 95) We have been given the opportunity, here and now, to live in the presence of God and allow God’s grace, through the working of the Holy Spirit to refine us from the inside out. “
The final aspect of the salvation process occurs when this earthly life is complete. Wesley called this glorification. This is when we enter, fully, into the life to come and live in life everlasting with God in paradise. This is the benefit of living knowing and following Christ here and now. The goal of salvation is to save us from ourselves (sin nature) and to align our lives with the ever living God who desires to be in relationship with all people. The goal of the Christian life is to become perfect in love.
The order of salvation is not as cut and dry as it may seem. People take their own path, the path God’s grace leads them. The point is so one can experience incredible love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and live in God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever a person is going through the salvation process, God desires we bring people along with us. We were meant to be in community with one another and what better way to live out God’s love than with others. We are saved from ourselves (sin nature) and we are saved so we can work with God for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Bibliography

Harper, Steve. (2003). The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York: HarperOne.

Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

And Then…Everything Changed

CHRIST IS RISEN!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

Five-year-old Brian had a pivotal verse to recite in an Easter program: “He is not here, he is risen” (Luke 24:6). Unfortunately, he could not remember what to say, and the director had to quietly remind him of his line. He then confidently grabbed the microphone and triumphantly shouted, “He’s not here; He’s in prison!”

What brought us to this day? During the season of Lent, we took time for self-examination and reflection, hopefully drawing us closer to the throne of Grace. The week before Easter, Holy Week, traced the final week of Jesus’ earthly life from 

Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “Hosanna”, which means, “Save us!”, 

to the Upper Room where Jesus, with His disciples shared their Last Supper together.

We then, on Good Friday, went from the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal from Judas Iscariot, the mock trials, the humiliation, the torture, the crucifixion, the burial.

This looked like the end. Evil seemed to have won. Hope seemed lost.

READ MARK 16:1-8

This seems like such an abrupt ending to the greatest story of the greatest life ever told. Jesus is alive, the women had been told, and they went away and “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

This can’t be the ending to the story.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not! Christ rose from the grave. Christ is alive. Christ in the world, changes everything. Because of this, his disciples went into the world proclaiming the gospel, AND we can go into the world with this confidence.

The passage we read today is the traditional ending to this gospel. Out of no where, Mark begins the gospel with Jesus being baptized. he ends it with quickly and with no real explanation with the women being afraid and not saying anything.

Now, we know from the other synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke), and the Gospel of John and the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark, the disciples reaction to Jesus raising from the dead and their proclamation to the world.

Doesn’t it often seems like things go bad or we cannot get out of the situation we’re in. It seems like everything goes so wrong at times. It seems that nothing can get us out of the pit of despair and fear. It seems like we have to stop what we’re doing because we’re too afraid to keep going. But fear should never stop us in our tracks.[1]

Because Jesus has risen from the grave, there is so much more to the story, to our story, than we can even see at times.

Because Jesus Christ is alive…

EVERYTHING CHANGES!

The women who went to the tomb to perform the burial rituals, became the first preachers of the gospel:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

We proclaim with Christians around the world and throughout history:

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELULIA!

Nothing has been the same since Jesus Christ came to us, as a human being, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Nothing has been the same since he showed the disciples, and many of the people of Israel, what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like (and is like on earth here and now).

Nothing has been the same since Jesus died.

Nothing has been or will be the same since God raised Him up from the grave!

Now is the time to unwrap the gift that came to us that first Christmas, when Christ was born. We get to unwrap and live into the joy and new life that God offers the world through Jesus Christ.

Everything has been changed. Christ has won (Christus Victor)!

Jesus Christ is alive and is showing us how he is redeeming the world. 

Through His Love.

I never what joy was, or how much joy there really is in the world. They suddenly seemed to appear in my life. It is amazing how much love a person can have and give. We spent some time together and I knew they were an answer to many years of praying. I knew Amanda was the one for me…I found someone I want to share life with. Then, at Sea World, I got to meet them. Their smile, their sense of fun and adventure was encouraging to my soul and I knew my older kids were special people, now I have the privilege to call them my kids.

For some time, I thought my joy was complete. I have an incredible wife and two amazing kids. On a November afternoon, a couple years ago, the world was introduced to my youngest daughter, and I fell in love once again.

Love is an incredible thing. Because of the love of God that was and is experienced through Amanda, Sage and Solomon, and now Samarah, I can see Jesus working in and through them to share His love and grace to the world, which ultimately changes the world and makes this world see, experience, and live into God’s Kingdom here and now AND in the life to come.

JESUS HAS COME TO REDEEM AND TRANSFORM ALL OF CREATION.

He starts with us, as individuals, who bring others into the community of faith, working in the world to show the world Jesus Christ changes everything.

Scholar NT Wright puts it this way, “The call of the gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love. The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice.”[2]

In John 20, we see Jesus, who seems like a gardener to Mary Magdalene, working on tilling the soil. He is doing this to demonstrate he has come, not just to change individual people’s lives, but to change the world as a whole. So, Jesus is working in the dirt…what Genesis 2 says humans were made out of…what Genesis 3 says people will return to be…and what is also cursed. He is working to redeem and transform all of creation.

In the book, “Give them Christ”, Asbury professor, scholar, and author, Stephen Seamonds, writes, “The resurrection of Jesus was therefore not only one miracle—extraordinary no doubt—among others; nor was it simply the final guarantee of life after death. Rather it was the decisive start of the general resurrection, God’s final redemption of all things!”[3]

See, it is not enough to just say Jesus “changed my personal life.” That is only a small part of the real story. We get to be instruments of his grace, that are transformed into his new creations [4]that go into the world to work with God to transform the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ wherever we go.[5]

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave also demonstrates God’s incredible power.

WITH GOD NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

The stone has been rolled away. The stone would have been too large and heavy for people to roll back on their own. Remember, the women at the tomb would have been perplexed because they had seen the stone rolled in place and knew how heavy it was.

When the stone was put in place, it rolled down an incline to make sure the tomb would stay closed. Moving the stone away, then, was no simple feat.

But, no matter what seems to be blocking the path. No matter what seems to be interfering with God’s work in the world (natural disasters, terminal illnesses, famine, poverty, hungry, people in prison), nothing is too great for God to handle. Nothing is beyond the reach and scope of God’s power.[6]

God raising Jesus from the grave, rolling the stone away shows that everything is different now. Nothing is impossible with God. We can have sure and certain hope of God’s incredible power, presence, and love flowing through our lives and in the world.

The love and power of God and His word, can transform any human, break any addictions, free people from internal prisons of self-doubt, hatred, cancer, illnesses, comas, you name it.

I visited a person in the nursing home. This person had been unresponsive for awhile. I started reading Psalm 23, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” “the Lord is my shepherd, I am in need of nothing else.” When I began reading Revelation 21 about a new heaven and a new earth, she suddenly became (more) alert and was reaching for her “mama”, trying to sit up. This was the first time she had really moved in awhile.

God through His word, through His son Jesus Christ, brings people to a new sense of alertness and “wakes them up.”

Paul declares, in Ephesians 5:17, “Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

If God can raise Jesus Christ from the dead, He sure can wake up those who are asleep to His word, those who are passed away and will be part of the final resurrection.

With God, nothing is impossible.

Jesus being raised from the grave shows this. Because of our knowledge and faith in the resurrection, because we know Jesus is still alive and with us always, everything changes with how we view the world. We live as people of the victory of the resurrection because God has won!

Philosopher Stephen Davis sums up Jesus’ resurrection well:

“[The resurrection] assures us that God will win and that accordingly the world is not mad. Events do happen that we cannot explain. Irrational tragedies and horrible outrages do occur. But because God raised Jesus from the dead after the catastrophe of the cross, we can be sure that God will one day overcome all catastrophes…The resurrection is proof that no matter how bad things get, we can trust in God. God loves us. God has our interests at heart. God works to achieve what is beneficial to us. And in the end God will win.”[7]

Friends, I not only believe this, I’m counting on it!


[1]1 John 4:18

[2]NT Wright, “Evil and the Justice of God” Page 98

[3]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 106

[4]2 Corinthians 5:17

[5]Matthew 28:19-20

[6]Romans 8:38-39

[7]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 119

Moving Toward Victory

Welcome to the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week, we have been preparing our hearts for as we continue our journey to the cross which will take us through 

Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem…today)

Maundy Thursday (Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, betrayal and arrest…Thursday)

Good Friday (Jesus’ death and burial…Friday)

Finally to the glorious victory of the resurrection of Easter Sunday!

We do not go into this week with our head held low. Neither do we go into this week trying to avoid the events that happened to God in flesh, Jesus Christ. We go into this week, reminded that the worst thing in life we face is never the last thing. Death is not a defeat. Because of Jesus Christ, we walk with joy. We walk with hope. We walk with a sense of victory.

We begin Holy Week with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus enters Jerusalem as the “suffering servant”, as well as the true Messiah…the Christ…the savior of the world. 

It’s the equivalent of when we say, “hold my drink.” Jesus is saying, “hold my chalice, I got this!”

Remember, Jesus will be saving the world, for us today he, has saved the world, in a much different way than the people of Israel hoped he would – in a militaristic fashion, overthrowing the Roman occupiers.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN JERUSALEM?

First of all, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not the only “entry” that day.

As we think about the events on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, we should think about what else is happening in the city of Jerusalem. There were thousands, if not millions, in the city for preparing for Passover. 

Not everyone in the city was laying their coats down and waving palm branches for Jesus. King Herod Antipas was entering into Jerusalem, in a grand gesture. (Note: This is why Pilate took Jesus to Herod so quickly and easily during Jesus’ “trials.”)

The other processional was that of Pontius Pilate. His procession through Jerusalem was meant to be a reminder to the people who was in control – it was a blatant show of force.

2 of the 3 rulers entering Jerusalem in parades that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty. They were perfectly willing to kill in order to hold power, and they used impressive shows of forces to demonstrate that fact. Jesus, on the other hand, had no soldiers. He led a ragtag band of followers who waived palm branches as he passed by on a donkey.[1]

With this, we turn our attention to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In March 2002, the former ruler of Afghanistan, the 87-year-old Mohammed Zahir Shah, returned to his homeland after 30 years of exile. Here’s how an article in the Chicago Tribune described his grand and glorious welcome:

On Thursday, thousands of invited guests lined up for hours at the airport and people gathered on the streets leading to a refurbished seven-bedroom villa to see the former ruler. Delegations arrived from across Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Governors and their advisers, members of women’s groups carrying posters of the king, most of the interim administration, royalists, warlords, men in turbans and others in suits all converged on the pockmarked runway where shells of bombed airplanes lay. Two red carpets were laid out. The newly trained honor guard was on hand, and young women and children in traditional embroidered dress greeted Zahir Shah with flowers and poems.

I hope you’re thinking of the contrast when Israel’s Messiah was born, when he came to his own people.[2]

READ MARK 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

ASK YOURSELF: What catches your attention to this passage?

Have we ever asked, “why Jesus sent his disciples to get the donkey AND THEN RETURN IT?

This incorporates a common folklore technique in which signs identify the desired person or object. These signs may include an encounter with strangers in the process. Romans soldiers routinely requisitioned animal and human labor from the people. Jesus’ promise to return the animal promptly distinguishes him from the ruling forces. [3]Jesus is continuing to set himself apart.

Riding a donkey is a richly symbolic act that goes back to King David. The donkey was a humble beast that symbolized David’s identity as the shepherd king. Davidic kings from that time forward rode on donkeys or mules to identify with David.[4]

HOPEFUL PROMISE

The prophet Zechariah gave a hopeful promise 500 years before Jesus was alive: 

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
[5]

Since everyone in the crowd may have known these words, Jesus was demonstrating, clearly, that he was the long-awaited promised King spoke about through the prophets. He was openly proclaiming he was the Messiah![6]

The crowd was cheering and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

(NOTE: Matthew depicts the crowd “waving” the palm branches on the streets on Jerusalem while Mark says they laid their palm branches down on a street outside Jerusalem as Jesus was about to enter the gates. We do not need to be concerned about this detail; but rather we should be concerned with the purpose of Jesus entering Jerusalem.) 

Palm Branches were a symbol of goodness, victory, and well-being.

The finest specimens of palms grew at Jericho and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan.

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness, well-being, and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple:

“On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalms 92.12 says that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again people from every nation raised palm branches to honor Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
(Revelation 7:9)[7]

SO WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

My guess is we have focused so much on Jesus riding into victory, that we may have missed another point as well. A point that is not mentioned specifically in this scripture; but one that we notice in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

God has won the war. Good ultimately triumphs over evil; but this does not mean we do not face challenging, frightening, unbearable things in our life. We sometimes know, or we anticipate, what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, years:

Cancer diagnoses, terminal illnesses, spouses leaving, relationships crumbling, jobs ending (either by our choice, or by management’s choice). Jesus has been in similar circumstances. He knew he was about to die. That is why he kept pressing toward Jerusalem. This is part of his mission.

We like to think about Jesus just going forward in strength, in courage, with his head held high. Jesus was fully God. The God-part probably did do this; but was also grieved because of why this had to happen.

Jesus was fully human. The human part of Jesus was probably nervous or anxious. Imagine him riding into Jerusalem, his stomach was in knots, his mind racing about the events that would take place soon.

Jesus knows what it is like to get a death sentence, get a diagnoses for a disease he did not want (sin), feel the pain of people rejecting him for his mission and who he was. Jesus knows our every weakness, knows what we go through.

Jesus shows us, we too can keep moving forward. Why?

Because God is there. God is with him, you, I, all of us[8]. God will provide the strength and power when we need[9]it and give a peace beyond understanding.[10]

Jesus is the ultimate example of the power of God, especially in life’s darkest hours. Look at how the Apostle Paul shows how Jesus handled his life, his mission:

Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very natureof a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Pay attention to the events of Holy Week. Be part of the services offered to help us trace the final week of Christ’s earthly life (tonight’s “Easter Experience”, Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service, Friday’s Good Friday service).

Remember the power of God that strengthened Jesus to endure the mocking, humiliation, torture, death sentence, and finally a humiliating death of crucifixion.

Through all of this, Jesus still had the joy of God, the joy of heaven, in his life. He did not allow the weight of the world to bring him down, he still prayed the Psalms on while on the cross. He did not focus on the negative and dwell on it, like we tend to do. He stayed the course of life, trusting God will do what he promised. The promise and presence of God was still experienced by Jesus, even on the cross.

Keep moving forward. Anything you and I experience, God can and does give us strength, peace, wisdom, himself. Move forward because, even though we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the Victory has been won!

God may not get us out of the conflict, the situation we’re in; but he is in it with us. He will ALWAYS get the last word, as we will see next Sunday, Easter morning.

Keep moving toward the victory of Jesus Christ in the world. Everyday, wake up and tell the world, “hold my cup…watch what God will do in and through me today!”

Let’s pray…

Holy God, You have paved the way for us to live as your lights in the world. May everything we do point to you, to Your victory over sin and death, evils which seem to be more noticed than the good, than You in the world. Give us the strength to handle anything life throws at us, help us remember you have won and allow us to walk as joy-filled people shining your light and love to all we encounter, to all who live not knowing the True light of the world – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is in His name that we pray. AMEN


[1]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 139, 143

[2]Preaching Today web Site: Afghans Give Ex-King a Royal Homecoming

[3]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary – Mark. Page 658

[4]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 137-38

[5]Zechariah 9:9 NIV

[6]“The Way” by Adam Hamilton page 138

[7]https://www.thoughtco.com/palm-branches-bible-story-summary-701202

[8]Matthew 28:20

[9]Acts 1:8

[10]Philippians 4:6-7

[11]Philippians 2:5-11

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!

“Doing More” & Church Growth

If you ever wanted to know the strategies about how to grow a church, there are many resources available to help pastors and church leaders. These resources will tell exactly what you should do to grow your church.

On the other hand, I hear many people with a similar question presented, and also a statement which says what we should do in order to gain more members. The statement was simply that we, church members need to “do more.” And the question was, is the church doing anything wrong because visitors do not seem to be coming?

WHO’S CHURCH?

I have an idea to help answer to the question and the statement; but we have to look at something very important first. We have to settle the notion of who the church belongs to. If we continue to use “my church” or something similar, we can be caught into the trap of not allowing new ideas or people to come in because it is not “their” church. Think about that for a minute.

The church actually does not belong to us. The church is God’s. The building we worship in is simply that, a building that is set apart for holy use. The church is the people that make up that particular community of faith. Since the church is God’s, we are always being called to step out of our comfort zone to “seek the lost” and bring them into the fold. We are also supposed to see people as God sees them. This is challenging work, but Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so we could be filled with his power and presence to do the impossible tasks we are called to do.

The church belongs to God. Since the church is not ours, the power of God will sustain and keep the church existing, even in the roughest times.

JUST DO MORE

Now, to the statement above, “we have to do more.” My thought on this is “Yes, kinda.” By that I mean, I think God is calling us to have the same kind of zeal and charisma we had when we first became believers. We had incredible passion for stepping out in faith and telling people how Jesus has come into the world to redeem the people. We have incredible energy for doing mission and outreach work as well. Somewhere along the way, many Christians have just run out of energy to continue the work they had done before.

I think a large part of this is we have not been refilled and refueled with the Holy Spirit and have allowed our zeal to dwindle down. So, we stopped doing the good works God called us to simply because we allowed our life to get in the way. This statement may sound a little harsh, but think about it.

When was the last time you remember being involved in work that was doing good for the Kingdom of Heaven, outside of the church building walls (volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, local pregnancy center, etc.)? I know many people still do incredible work, but I am thinking about those who have become sideline Christians and pew potatoes. This can happen to any of us. So, the answer is YES, we do have to do more. But, we also have to ask who is the “we”. It is too easy to say “we have to do more,” and still assume someone else will do the work.

So, what did God call you to do when you first became a believer in Christ? Are you continuing that work? If you are not, why did you stop? Maybe God is calling you and I back to the work we were doing when we first became followers of Christ? Pray about it.

GROWING A CHURCH

Now, to a question that many people are seeking answers to, “how do you grow a church?” The reality is, we can have every gimmick in the book and do everything exactly right, but we could still be missing something. We could be missing out on what the community of faith is supposed to be involved in: relationship building.

This is much more than just inviting people to worship with us. This involves spending time with them in their messy, every day life so they can see the value God has for them. When was the last time you looked at someone and Sid something like this:

“I love you. Why? Because God loves you. I want you to hear how much value you have in the sight of God Almighty, the One who created every part of you. I know your life is not easy. I, too, have scars from life. But Jesus has helped to heal me. He has healed me through his power and presence (through the Holy Spirit) by bringing people alongside me to help me experience his love and grace in incredible ways. I would love for you to join us in worship this coming Sunday and we can talk more about how God may be working in your life.”

This is what we are called to do: share life with each other, especially the messy parts.

Another side to the question of church growth is thinking about what it is we are praying for. What do I mean by this? I mean, are we truly asking God for, and seeking, a real movement of the Holy Spirit? Or do we ask for a band aid fix by asking God to just fill the pews and the plates? Take time to assess what it is you’re praying for.

We should also see what we are controlling that is preventing a movement of the Spirit to occur. In other words, where do our preferences matter more than the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit?

I hear many people say the church is in trouble now. I think they are right, when we focus on just finding warm bodies instead of seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Unless we take the time to revive and use the power of Christ, then everything we do will disappoint us and we will not see the desired results.

If we, however, seek the movement of the Holy Spirit, expect something powerful to happen. Also be patient becasue the Spirit may just be doing a powerful work in the people who may be blocking any movements God wants to do.

I firmly believe the best days of the church are still ahead of us. Let us hold firm and fast to the prompting and leading of the Spirit who will accomplish more than we could ever imagine. You just might see incredible miracles you never dreamed possible.

Let us pray Ephesians 3:20-21, everyday and watch God move:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”