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

Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

One of the things I love about moving to a new area is getting to know the people. As we learn about the people, we learn their stories, their passions, their hopes and dreams for the future. We also have opportunities to learn more about who they are as a person, what their struggles are, and what’s going on in their life.

So far, we have talked about praying for God’s direction and work in the new area. This is important because we will be able to see and experience much more “success” because we are joining God in the work being done instead of coming in and doing what we want to. Then, we have talked about meeting people where they are and allowing them to be their real, true selves.

This is all “big picture” stuff, if we think about it. I do much better when I think about the bigger picture because I struggle at the detail level often; but this is where we are heading now.

I would recommend finding ways to be in a small group in your new area. This will do a few different things. 1) You will be able to spend more intentional time with a smaller amount of people and give them a chance to learn about you. 2) You will be able to focus more on relationship building. 3) Trust is developed more in smaller groups than always being on stage, or in larger venues.

In a church setting, we often talk about small groups as Bible study groups. These are all well and good; but I would challenge us to think about small groups a little differently. Instead of finding ways to impart “wisdom and knowledge” creating atmospheres where people can share, free of judgement, and build each other up is a key.

What are some ways we can do this? I’ll be talking about what we can do in a church setting; but feel free to modify these approaches for your own setting.

  • Bible Study groups are a way for people to get together and knowingly talk about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. These provide settings for people to tell what they have studied and believe about scripture.
  • Lunch after worship is a great way to connect and be with people in a public setting and enjoy a meal together.
  • Prayer groups.
  • Meet together at restaurants, bars, to share life together.
  • Groups for accountability.

There are many different ways we can connect together in small groups. This is vital because it is much easier to get to know a person in a smaller group setting.

I also want to be quick to note that using small groups to get to know people should not really be why we are doing them. We should be involved in small groups because we are genuinely interested in other people and their lives; because they would be interested in our life.

As we continue to learn about the area, pray for direction, meet people, and really begin to share our lives together, God will be working. It will be incredible to see what God will continue to do to help the church, organization, business, neighborhood, etc.

For a great book resource on starting small groups within a church that promote life transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, check out Kevin Watson’s book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience.

Knowing the Road Ahead

Click here to read Acts 21.

Would you want to know everything that will happen to you before it occurs? If you knew, good or bad, would you still want to go down that path? I’m not sure I would.

Paul has just left the Ephesians and is on his way to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders. He has several people warn him about the danger that is ahead. Paul hears; but chooses to go anyway. He is set on going to Jerusalem. His gaze is still focused on the mission God has laid out for him.

I think we all like to be in control of every aspect of our lives. This is one reason I am grateful we do not know what tomorrow will bring us. Everything can change in a single day and if we knew the outcome before it occurred, we would try to change it. Living each day by faith is more important. This means we are trusting in God to provide what we need and trusting in His grace instead of trying to do everything ourselves as if there was no God.

Paul knows there is danger around every corner and every town he enters. He also knows the presence of God is already there and working. He has learned how to trust in the Living Jesus Christ for his everything and is determined not to allow anyone to take that joy away from him.

I am sure, because it is human nature, Paul did not forget about the warnings he was given; but he did keep turning them around so he could see how Jesus Christ would be glorified. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” Paul is choosing not to live in fear. He is choosing to live in faith because he knows that the promises of God’s grace are more important and powerful than anything.

Paul does believe the people about what will happen to him when he gets to Jerusalem; but he is not outwardly concerned. This is how he is able to demonstrate living in faith and the victory of Jesus.

When you step out each day, just trust in the power and presence of God to give you the grace and strength for what’s ahead. Instead of worrying about what will happen at a future date, we can be thankful the Jesus is already there.

The road ahead of us has many different situations we will go through. Every one of them gives us an opportunity to worship and glorify Jesus Christ in everything we do. How will you look at what you have to do today? Will you take the opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ to lead and guide you along the way?

Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

Set Apart

Click here to read Acts 13:1-12.

Everything is going great! You have just been called and set apart for a special task, an important mission. You are excited! People have been praying over you and are sending you out to do the work they know you can do. God is with you.

As you go on your way, you are thinking of all the things you want to do or say. You take time each day to praise God and to connect with Him. You enter the town or place you were sent to with excitement. But then…someone begins to oppose you and the mission you’re on. It’s like they are trying to wage a war with God Himself by attempting to dismantle your mission.

Let’s just face it. We have all had times like this in our life. We can be so on fire for the mission we are faced with that when someone begins to challenge or oppose us, it stings and can be discouraging especially if you’re there to share the good news of Jesus Christ. “Who would not want to hear this message?” you might think. But people can be stuck in their old ways of thinking and their way of life.

Look at what’s happening in this passage today in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are traveling, after being commissioned by the church to go out, and they run into opposition from a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus. He was trying to lead the governor of the city away from Paul and Barnabas. Why? Maybe he felt like he would not have control over the governor anymore. Or his place of power would go away if Jesus’ name and message was spread. So, maybe he was acting out of fear.

This happens all the time. When people are used to being in a certain position of power and control, it is easy to lash out and to try to stop the gospel of Jesus Christ shining bright. But, we have been tasked to go with God to shine light in the dark places. We get to be people who show and share grace.  Living this life may not always be easy but we can be encouraged that when we follow God’s call and God’s steps, His plans and purposes will prevail.

This week, I invite you to look around. Where do you sense God is working around you? Look at the news, can you see God working and inviting people to join Him to redeem the brokenness that is around us?  Anywhere there appears to be backlash to the gospel, trust that God is on the move and is doing incredible work.

Remember the words of Jesus we read in John 16, “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 CEB)

Filled With The Spirit

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:8-15 CEB.

Whenever you are out in public doing great things, doing great work, opposition will come. How we handle this opposition is important.

First of all, I would need to ask if we are bold enough to speak and do good works even when there is a chance for people to oppose or to speak ill? If we were honest, we would most likely not want that to happen because we would want to protect our reputation. So, then we need to ask, “what is more important? Our reputation or doing what God calls us to do?” Either way, we always have people watching whether or not we will stand our ground, or simply give up when the situation becomes challenging.

Now, this is not a license to say whatever we want or do whatever we want and claim God called us to do it. Instead, we learn that when God calls us to a specific task or vocation, it is always to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and will not do anything to cause division in this incredible Kingdom.

Stephen, from our scripture, was doing great works and signs in public and speaking grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and this caused an uproar with the religious leaders who were seeking to keep the status quo and their position. But God’s work in us will always come out in powerful and transforming ways which people will take notice of.

Look at what’s going on around you in your community. Where do you see God working? What do you notice? I hope the people of God will be revealed in such a way grace will be shown. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was shown to be full of grace which caused his face to exude peace.

As you go out into the world, your daily life, pay attention to where God is working and join him in the task. Allow his Spirit to fill you so much that you will show how to handle opposition. The way to handle any opposition is to be filled with the Spirit of peace that comes from God. This is a peace that is beyond understanding; but comes out naturally when the Holy Spirit fill us.

Seek the face and peace of God in all you do and see what incredible works God will perform in and through you.

Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?