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.”

Expect the Unexpected

THE RUSH

This is the Pentecost sermon preached on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Click here to read ACTS 2:1-2.

WRITE “ORDINARY DAY” ON YOUR NOTES

It was just another normal day. Everyone was gathered together. Everyone had been praying for the last 10 days. This was just another average day.

Over the last 10 days, they had been reminiscing. Reminiscing over the incredible things that had witnessed and experienced over the last 50 days. Jesus had defeated death by walking out of the grave, leaving it empty. After appearing to the disciples and even 500 people all at one time, he ascended, was lifted up, into heaven. As he was about to depart, Jesus said these words (that we have come to know as Acts 1:8), “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The disciples gathered together and prayed. I would guess they were bewildered about who/what the Holy Spirit is that is coming. I’m sure they would have tried to recall what their Lord said about the Spirit and what this would mean.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:7-8)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

So…sitting around, praying, and talking about what they remembered Jesus said about this Spirit. It was just a normal, run of the mill day.

Sure, the city of Jerusalem was filled with hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate Pentecost. This holiday fest tradition started with Moses, while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. We read about this in the book of Leviticus. “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev 23:15-16)

Other than the city filled and people were partying, it was really just an ordinary time in the life of the disciples. They were trying as hard as they could to stay on the DL because the Roman authorities and the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious leaders) were on the lookout for them. So they stayed together in one place.

Life can seem like this. We expect the day or the week to go as planned. We like the idea of change but we do not like to change. It seems like it can be more comfortable and easy to live as things have always been. We like to cling to the past because that is what we are familiar with. God does not desire us to live in the past. God does not desire us to play it safe and comfortable. God does not desire us to be the exact same today as we were the year before, or even the day before.

Who-Wants-Change-360x360

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, everything can change! Without warning an illness can occur. Without warning a spouse can file for divorce. Without warning a child can go to their parents and give bad news. Without warning you’ll get feeling to visit or call a friend and find out they needed to talk with you. Without warning, the Spirit of the Living God will come upon you and fill you so full of love and grace that you are different from the inside out which causes your life’s plans to go in a completely new direction.

We have the chance not to view change as negative or bad; but, rather, view change as new opportunities to “declare the wonders of God” to different people and a culture that’s different from how we grew up. God’s Spirit is always at work in and through our lives.

That is what happened on the day of Pentecost 2,000 or so years ago. Nothing was the same after the Spirit came down upon the disciples.

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was experiencing a normal day in Kansas. She visited friends, went on a walk, did her chores, and then went back home and laid down to take a nap.

WIZARD OF OZ MOVIE CLIP

  • Things were normal, grumbly, not very happy, until THE WIND came.
  • Picked up the house, Dorothy, Toto and all, and took them to a place where NOTHING WAS THE SAME
  • Little people dancing around
  • Monkeys who could fly
  • Unexpected dangers
  • Friends with unexplainable gifts–Courage, Compassion, Wisdom–without anything to offer a rational explanation for their presence
  • The Emerald City–beautiful, full of promise

That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit.

NOW, CROSS OUT “ORDINARY LIFE”

WRITE “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” ON YOUR NOTES

We’ve already established we do not like change. But when the Holy Spirit of God fills us, we are experiencing the power of God dwelling, residing, filling our hearts and our lives for incredible change to occur.

The Apostle Peter took the lead in this moment and stood up to proclaim to the crowd what they were witnessing. Now, you remember Peter, right? He always had his foot in his mouth. He told Jesus what he needed to do on more than one occasion. He denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a lot going against him. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood as a superstar, the leader of the disciples to tell the crowd all about God’s promises and about Jesus the Christ.

A favorite question from Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother, was “have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” This was in the sermon “Awake Thou Sleeper”. Nothing is the same after the Holy Spirit washes over you. No longer do you rely on the past to make you comfortable. Now, because of the Spirit, you find your comfort in the unpredictable future and nature of the work God is calling you and I to do right here, right now.

We should never expect to live an “ordinary” life. Because of the grace of God, we are set apart, we are holy. We are the saints of God in today’s world.

The Spirit turns everything we know upside down.

It is not just the young who will have dreams for the future and dreams for the work to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is the elderly people who will also have these dreams because God’s work is never done. It doesn’t matter the age of the person, God can and does incredible feats through each person.

We often go to the older people to get some vision, to get some perspective and wisdom. Because of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out on all people, wisdom will also come from the young, the one people look down upon because of their age.

It is incredible what the Spirit does in each person and as a community! Was Kansas different when Dorothy returned? No. DOROTHY was different! She had seen what life is supposed to be like. Not gray and gloomy; but full of joy, wonder, and unconditional love and grace.

WRITE “NOTHING IS THE SAME” ON YOUR NOTES

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here. Allow this Spirit to wash over you. Be filled with the fire (passion) of God and remember from where you came from and where you’re going.

John Wesley has a great quote we should remember, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Hold fast and firm to the Spirit and trust that his guiding work is taking you to the paths, places, and people God is desiring you to connect with to proclaim and declare the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. What an exhilarating rush this is when the Holy Spirit fills us and guides us!

Each day, I pray we wake up with an earnest desire to seek the Spirit. May this be our song everyday:

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord”

Jesus is Alive!

Yesterday, we celebrated and rejoiced in the truth the Jesus Christ has been resurrected from the dead and still lives. This is a key teaching and cornerstone to the Christian Faith. It was a great time in worship. How do you celebrate the Risen Lord? What brought you to a place of belief?
When we read about the resurrection in the Gospel of John (John 20:1-18), we first see Mary Magdeline go to the empty tomb, then the disciples John and Peter. What I find interesting is each one of them had a different reaction when approaching the empty tomb:

  • Mary made a snap judgement someone stole the body of Jesus just by seeing the stone had been rolled away
  • John knelt down and glanced in, noticing the grave cloths and finally entered and believed
  • Peter pushed his way in and began investigatin the scene

None of these reactions are wrong, they are just different. But these also show us how we react to people and news today. It is easier to make a quick judgement and decision without ever trying to figure out the entire story. Adults teach this to children; yet we, as adults, still make snap/quick judgements on people, news, circumstances, etc. without ever trying to figure out the whole truth of what happened, what was said. There are others who get quick snippets of the situation and come to their own conclusions, whether or not it is the whole truth. Then, there are those who take time to investigate and try to understand wholeheartedly.

I believe it is important to have all of these traits and reactions. We should quickly look to see what happened. Then we should glance in to get more information. Finally, we should investigate and examine what is presented to get to the core of the truth.

One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa is when she teaches someone searching for her about trust versus clarity.

 “John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”
“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Jesus asks us to follow and trust Him through our life journey. Because He is risen and alive, He is with us (Matthew 28:20). The question asked of the congregation yesterday was, “Do you believe this?”

I hope and pray you do. Jesus is alive! Alleluia!

Sermon “Do You Believe” (Easter Sunday 2016) http://youtu.be/uUNE5o3gvWM

Word of Grace

JesusFeet

Colossians 1:1-2 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

This is the beginning of April and Easter is just a few days away. Each month, I have been reading one of Paul’s letters in their entirety each day and then journaling about a few verses. This has been an awesome tool for spiritual growth. Not only do I have the opportunity to see the whole letter, but I also have been looking at shorter passages within the letter and seeing how it fits in with the whole context. I have learned, even more, how easy it is to take verses and ideas out of context and fit into what we want them to say instead of viewing them in the light of the entire work and historical context.

Before we jump into Colossians this month, I wanted to follow Paul’s example and offer you a word of grace. We have been on this 40 day journey through the season of Lent. This journey can bring up many feelings or attitudes and we can begin to feel like we are in the desert. When we begin to feel this way, we notice we become more distant from others, our temper has a shorter fuse, our frustration level and pet peeves begin to rise more. We simply forget that we are not alone. Yes, we may feel like we are in the spiritual desert, but Christ is with us as well.

We are not just taking a journey through the desert; we are taking a journey that will lead us to the cross. Most importantly, we are taking a journey that shows us the resurrection. The resurrection shows us the power Jesus has. This is the same power he gives to us. We may feel as though we cannot come back to life after being in the desert and parched for water; but Jesus can and does bring us back to life.

This is the great message in Colossians. Jesus Christ is central. Everything we do we should do for the glory of God. God is granting us the grace and peace to go through this life. We do not journey alone. We journey with The Creator of the universe, The Creator of you and I. This means we can experience peace beyond understanding in the midst of trials and scorching heat from enemies and challenges. God is freely giving grace to us so we are equipped to go through life and reflect the light of Jesus Christ in all we do, all we say, even all we think.

You are the “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is your calling. I pray God’s grace and peace will be reflected in you and through you in all you do.

Let’s take this journey to explore Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist