April 2, 2007
“It was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. The written notice of the charge against Him read: the King of the Jews.” Mark 15.25-26
We are between two moments of victory in Jesus’ life – Palm Sunday, recalling His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead and defeated death itself. Yesterday, nearly every pastor I know had little children parading down the aisle waving palm branches and glorious music to sing and hear, as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was duly celebrated. With trumpets reverberating through the sanctuary and the cross leading the way down the aisle as people poured in from outside singing, “All glory, laud and honor to Thee Redeemer King…”, I couldn’t sing for tears welling up and choking me. What is more fitting than the whole family of Christ coming in from the world and filling His sanctuary while singing praise, honor and glory to Him?
Our Palm Sunday celebrations, however moving and well-intended, are a long way from the reality of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Palm branches were the symbol of Jewish national identity. The children waving palm branches as they entered the Temple would have evoked a response among the Romans not unlike a parade of American flags in downtown Tehran today. Little children were singing and waving palm branches for the same reason that Palestinian children throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. If the adults had done it, they would have been punished or killed. Jesus rode on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah that the king would come in that manner. From the perspective of the Roman authorities, Jesus’ arrival was an act of defiance, bordering on being a declaration of war. From the Jewish perspective, Jesus’ entry was practically a call to arms to reclaim the nation.
Jesus’ second moment of victory is Easter Sunday, the Resurrection from the dead, defeating death once and for all. On Easter Sunday, there were no crowds – not even any witnesses – no grand hurrahs, no singing or fanfare, just an empty tomb. I have always wondered what it would have been like to be able to watch God pour out His divine life in that dead, beaten Body, what happened when He suddenly breathed again or how He stood up from death to Life. What does the power of Life look like?
Between the victory of Palm Sunday and the victory of Easter stands the Cross – quite literally. On display in one is the full power of humanity, and on display in the other is fully power of God. One trumpets the power that leads to death, while the other whispers the power that leads to Life. Contrary to so much we hear in contemporary Christianity today, eternal victory often is unrecognizable to the world; sometimes, it is not even visible.
During Jesus’ long trek to Golgotha, His followers moved further and further away, in part in horror at the unfolding events, and in part for fear they might be caught and included in the murderous tide. Eventually, they stood back or hid, watching from a distance where the danger was less. In the end, only Jesus Christ went the whole distance; only Jesus made the journey to the cross.
So many of us want the safe distance between the cross of Christ and ourselves. We want to stand back where the cost of sin is not so horrific, where self-importance and independence are not as deadly, and where religion is doable and comfortable.
The Lord does not give us the option of choosing to have a little of each victory. Standing back from the cross and enjoying a bit of salvation is not a possibility. We have to choose. Victory in the world seldom has anything to do with eternal victory. All the power and influence, all the fame, money and approval the world can give are nothing more than victories that lead to death. We cannot hold onto a life that leads to death while at the same time dying in order to Live. Which victory will you choose?
Let this truth be a factor in your decision: God does not require our salvation; He does not need our affections or service; He will not be less God whether we exist or not. The very act of creation was an act of pure generosity and love, that He let us have life at all. While the cross stands as a condemnation of the world, of sin and evil, the cross is also the eternal and uncompromising act of immeasurable love. He will go to whatever distance and pay any price to save you. On which side of the cross do you choose to stand?
In Christ –
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