Standing in the Midst of Converging Forces – 3.24.2013 (Zechariah 9:9-17 Luke 19:28-48)

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013 in Sermon Notes | No Comments

 

Luke 19:28-48

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.

And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

 

A number of years ago there was a movie titled The Perfect Storm—I remember coming across it on TV once at the point where it was depicting a fishing boat being assaulted by this horrible storm. The movie was based on a book about an actual storm in the North Atlantic in which a fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, had been caught and destroyed.

The actual storm was the result of a remarkable convergence of weather patterns. A cold front was moving along the U.S. Canadian border. At the same time a large high pressure system was building over southeastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces. As these two systems came together the incoming low pressure system was greatly intensified, producing a memorable storm that the local people call the Halloween Nor’easter’. To make matters worse a hurricane from the Atlantic met these bringing a huge amount of tropical energy.

These three forces, from the west, the north, and the south converged on the Andrea Gail about 500 miles off the coast and reduced the boat to splinters.

 

Jesus also faced a “perfect storm” on Palm Sunday and through the Passion week. In the words of the New Testament historian, N. T. Wright:

First, there was the rising superpower coming in from the West. Rome had been steadily increasing in power and prominence over the previous centuries. Until thirty years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Rome had been a republic. But with Julius Caesar all that changed. His ambition, and then his assassination, threw Rome into a long, bloody civil war, from which Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, emerged as the winner. He took the title ‘Augustus’, which meant ‘majestic’ or ‘worthy of honour’. He declared that his adopted father, Julius, had become divine; this meant that he, Augustus Octavian Caesar, was now officially ‘son of god’, ‘son of the divine Julius’. The word went round the world which Rome was quickly conquering: Good news! We have an emperor! The Son of God has become King of the world!

 

This message was sent around the Roman Empire as an “evangel”, that is, as a gospel, an official Imperial proclamation. Shortly before Jesus had been born Paulus Fabius Maximus, Proconsul of the Province of Asia had sent out another evangel or gospel about Augustus Caesar in which he decreed that the calendar was to be calculated according to the year of Augustus’ birth—in other words that history should be marked as either before Augustus Caesar or from the birth of Caesar. This gospel made some other remarkable declarations:

  • The birth of Augustus is the birth of God, and that birth begins (initiates, inaugurates) a new era—the new age of good news!
  • He has renewed the universe, saving it from destruction.
  • He is the perfect consummation of human life.
  • He is filled with virtue for the benefit of mankind.
  • He is a savior—for the present and the following generations.
  • He is making wars to cease.
  • He is creating order everywhere.

Like Julius Caesar, Augustus was divinized also after his death; therefore, Tiberius, the emperor at the time of Jesus ministry was also known officially as “the son of god” and “son of the divine Augustus.”

Therefore, when, on Monday after what we call Palm Sunday, when Jesus asked for “a coin for the tax” (Matthew 22:15-22), they gave him a denarius on which the likeness of Tiberius Caesar had been inscribed. These coins are still plentiful. On the one side is Tiberius’ likeness along with the words, “Tiberius Ceasar, son of the divine Augustus.” On the back is a likeness of Tiberius mother, Liva, with the words “high priest,” referring to him, not to her.

As it is today, the Middle East was very important to the peace of the Roman world. Caesar was highly invested in keeping the Roman Pax—peace and order–in that part of the world.

 

The second element in the “storm” in Jesus’s day centered in the expectations of the people of Israel at the time. They had God’s covenant promises, confirmed by generations of prophets, that they would be freed from their oppressors and would come into their God-given destiny, to be the people of God, not the tail, but the head of all the nations.

This expectation was never more clear than in the history of their deliverance from Pharaoh, their “exodus” from Egypt so that they could return to the land promised them. This story would be recounted in great detail in the upcoming celebration of the Passover, not only as a remembrance of the past, but as a prayer for the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver them again and bring them into their own.

The thoughts of many of them would be centered, especially in the Passover season, on the wicked oppressor Tiberius Caesar who blasphemously called himself “the son of god” and on their hopes for the deliverer described by Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.

The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar.

On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women. (Zechariah 9:9-17)

 

At that specific time of the year, expectations were especially high toward God while resentment and anger were strong toward Ceasar and toward his minions who were representing Rome right there in Jerusalem and Palestine. The western wind of Rome was meeting the high pressure system of the expectations of the Jewish people.

 

However, there was a third element at work in this “storm.” That was the hurricane of God’s sovereign purpose.

Yes, God had promised to return his people to power and glory; he had promised to establish is kingdom on earth as in heaven. However, his purpose for Israel was never solely for Israel. The Offspring of Abraham was to be a blessing to all nations. The savior (deliverer) of Israel was to be the savior of all those with the faith of Abraham. The true capital of the world was never to be the earthly Jerusalem, what Paul would call Hagar, the Mount Sinai of Galatians 4.

The Offspring of Abraham came to save the true offspring of Abraham, all those with the faith of Abraham where they were of his physical lineage or not. He came to make of the two, Jew and Gentile, one new mankind, as they were joined in one body in him (Ephesian 2:11-22), joined in to one household to be the one temple in which God himself would dwell. The true capital of the world was to be the free woman, Sarah, who is the Jerusalem from above, the church (Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-24; Revelation 21:1-10).

Jesus came, not to fulfill the expectations of the Jewish people, but to bring forth the purpose of God. He came to bring God’s people into power and glory, but it was power and glory of a completely different kind. It was the power of the Holy Spirit, not military might. It was the glory of offering himself to death in order to be resurrected, thereby bringing “many sons to glory” with him.

 

The day of Israel’s visitation had come. Jesus had come to them embodying the rescuing, redeeming love of God. As Wright put it,

This is the moment, and you were looking the other way. Your dreams of national liberation, leading you into head-on confrontation with Rome, were not God’s dreams. God called Israel so that through Israel he might redeem the world; but Israel itself needs redeeming as well. Hence God comes to Israel riding on a donkey, in fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming peaceful kingdom, announcing judgment on the system and the city that have turned their vocation in upon themselves, and going off to take the weight of the world’s evil and hostility onto himself, so that by dying under it he might exhaust its power.

 

This week as we remember again our Lord’s last encounters and the actions that led up to his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection, let us be aware of the moment that he was in. In order for the hurricane of God’s purpose to be fulfilled, Jesus faced the cruelty of the pagan empire and the self-centered aspirations of those who claimed to be the people of God and the center of his kingship. Jesus surrendered himself in order to fulfill the will of the Father in the face of the converging forces.

Later the apostles and the other disciples would also offer themselves as living sacrifices; for they did not “loved not their lives even unto death.” In the face of deadly opposition from both Jews and the Romans, that first generation of Jesus’ followers proclaimed the evangel, the good news, about the kingdom of God.

  • They claimed to have THE evangel, the true gospel, direct from the throne of heaven and earth.
  • They claimed that the age of restoration and renewal had begun, not with Caesar’s birth, but with the birth of King Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.
  • They attributed the first announcement of the euangelion to a heavenly evangelist:

 

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news [evangel] of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:9-14)

  • They claimed that Jesus, the eternal Logos, is the Creator of the world.
  • They claimed that Jesus has divine authority over disease, over deformity, over nature and over death.
  • They claimed that Jesus teaches with divine authority.
  • They claimed that Jesus overcame all the principalities and powers through his death on the cross—that he triumphed over them and displayed them as captives in a triumphal victory parade.
  • They claimed that Jesus is proven to be God by His resurrection from the dead.
  • They claimed that Jesus has already taken his seat on the throne of the universe—that He is now the rightful Lord over all kings, and nations and peoples.
  • They claimed that King Jesus is calling all men to repent and to submit to His authority.
  • They claimed that Jesus is the Savior of all who confess that He is the Messiah (Christ), the King, the Lord of heaven and of earth.
  • They claimed that Jesus’ government and the order and peace it produces will increase without end.
  • They claimed that Jesus’ reign will consummate in the resurrection of all men to judgment and in the liberation and re-creation of created matter.

Where are we today on this Palm Sunday? Are we facing another “perfect storm”? Will we be faithful to live and proclaim the good news about the King and his kingdom in our generations, not matter what we may face?

Today we appear to be on collision course in one area after another.

  • Islam against Israel. Islam against the once “Christian” West. Muslim against Muslim.
  • An inflated, materialistic lifestyle that most have come to see as their right, not as their privilege, in the face of economic forces that are forcing reality upon us.
  • The god of secularistic freedom—the right to do whatever I want—opposed to the God who created and saves men to be free to do what is right.
  • The god of tolerance—the right of every one to believe and do whatever he or she wants without consequence and without criticism—versus the God who says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

 

Then there are our own aspirations and expectations. Are we more committed to our own visions and desires for life than we are surrendered to the will of God who, as he did Peter of old, often leads us where we don’t want to go.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18)

In one way or another, we all have faced, or will face, that time when our hopes and dreams crash against the purpose and the ways of God. We will face times when, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we say, “We had hoped… but now it’s all gone wrong.”

Who knows what might happen in our day if one of us – if ten of us – if fifty of us – were to go through this week of the Passion praying humbly for the powerful fresh wind of God to blow into the present combination of cultural pressure and personal aspiration, so that we may share in the sufferings of the Messiah and come through into the new life he longs to give us?

 

Who knows what God’s power and God’s glory will look like when they are seen in this day and this time.

If the Son of God is now King of the world, what will his kingdom look like in this next generation?

He is indeed now King of the world! Therefore, how will we posture ourselves before him for this time in history and for our generations?

 

Leave a Reply