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Palm Sunday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, April 5, 2020

Looking for the New Normal

Text: Matthew 21:1–11

Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Usually each person attending our service would have a palm frond to wave as we enter the sanctuary together in memory of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It was a joyous celebration of those who assumed that Jesus was entering the city of Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah, which was true. However, they were celebrating because they believed that Jesus had come to defeat and plunder the Romans who had conquered Israel and ruled over them with an iron hand for over 400 years. They celebrated because they thought that this Messiah would deliver Israel just like God released them from 430 years of enslavement to the Egyptians in the time of Moses.

All the stories that we have looked at during this season of Lent have one major misconception in common: everyone misunderstood who Jesus really was and the reason that he had come. I want to briefly recap what we have seen from God’s word this season.

In our first week of Lent we looked at the story of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to pray and fast for 40 days and nights. At the end, when Jesus was at his weakest, Satan came to tempt him to question the goodness of the Father and ultimately to bow down and worship Satan. The reward would be that Jesus could totally avoid the cross and receive all the nations of the earth as his reward. Satan misunderstood the relationship that Jesus shared with the Father, a relationship that had eternally existed. Jesus would receive back all that had been stolen from the Father but there would be no shortcuts—he would go to the cross to atone for the sins of the people. Jesus remained faithful and through his power and authority sent the deceiver away, for the moment.

In the second week of Lent we considered the story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee coming to Jesus under cover of darkness seeking to find out who he was exactly. Jesus challenged Nicodemus, who was a teacher of Torah in Israel and should have recognized who he was from the prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. He confessed that they knew that Jesus had come from God because of the amazing miracles that he performed, but he missed the most important part of who Jesus was and would not see it until after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to the Father. Even the teacher of the law and prophets would not understand until after the glorification of Jesus as risen King.

In week three we discussed the story of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at a well. He spoke to her first which was considered a violation of Jewish law. She was a Samaritan and should be considered an enemy and unclean. In their conversation Jesus let her know that he understood who she really was and why she was coming to get water at the hottest part of the day. He acknowledges that she has no husband but has actually had four husbands. He told her that he knew that the man she lived with then was not her husband. This was scandalous and she would be a social outcast. Jesus does not condemn her and cause her shame, instead, he says to her in John 4:10,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Rather than condemn her and walk away in disgust, Jesus offers her life in him. That story should move us into a greater understanding of the heart of God. Later, in John 7:53–8:12, Jesus would essentially protect a woman caught in the act of adultery. The Jewish leaders wanted to stone her, which was according to Jewish, (not entirely, because the man should have been there as well). Jesus responds, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Everyone ended up quietly walking away in shame. Jesus reaches his hand down and lifts up the woman, restoring her dignity. He didn’t chastise or tell her that she disserved to die. Instead, he asks her,

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Again, Jesus shows the reason for his coming, which John captures in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” He didn’t come to judge the world because it had already been judged and found guilty, even from the Garden of Eden.

In week four of Lent we focused on Psalm 23 and the encouragement that Jesus, the perfect Shepherd never leaves our side. He leads us to green, lush pastures, he provides us with living water that restores and refreshes our soul. He’s with us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and he feeds and anoints his children with oil even in the presence of their enemies. He promises eternity in his house and in his presence. The Psalm was to be a constant comfort to God’s people (sheep), but sheep are easily distracted and forget the blessings and protection of the good Shepherd. They wander away, and yet the Good Shepherd goes to their rescue.

Last week we considered the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Initially, no one in the story—Lazarus, Martha, Mary, the disciples or the mourners—really grasped who Jesus was. Up until that point they all considered him an amazing rabbi that had special connections with God. Jesus had come to raise Lazarus from the dead to testify to his identity in John 11:25–26,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus wanted them to grasp that their understanding of him was limited and incomplete. He was so much more than they could comprehend. If they followed Jesus as savior and Lord, then even when their mortal bodies perished there would be no break in the new life that he was offering. He was and had always been the life-giver. Lazarus, Martha, Mary and everyone else in that story eventually died, everyone does. Jesus had taught them that he had come to overcome sin and death, but as cool as that sounded, it hadn’t pierced their hearts yet.

Today we come to celebrate and remember the day when Jesus, knowing exactly what was about to happen to him, entered into the den of the enemy, the very place where he would be arrested, tortured and crucified. He came because he knew full well who he was, and that the Father had sent him to do what only he could. The price was far worse than any of us could imagine, but the reward was seen by the Father and the Son as worth it. Even now I marvel that Jesus felt that I was worth dying for, but once I recognized that, I came to believe that Jesus was worth living for. As Jesus entered Jerusalem he knew the cheers of the crowds were to be short-lived and they would turn on him in a matter of a few days.

As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:41-44) records him stopping and weeping over the city 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 with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

I wouldn’t be long before Jesus’ words would be fulfilled. In 70 AD in the first Jewish-Roman War, the Roman General Titus captured the City of Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and its temple.

Most of us have read the story of the Triumphal entry of Jesus and heard it preached many, many times. Some times there are explanations as to the imagery of all that is going on and how it relates to prophecy or an explanation of why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey instead of a warrior’s stallion. If you want to re-visit that type of sermon, please go to the church's website and look in “Sermon Archives” under April 14, 2019.

Today, I have felt God sending us in another direction that speaks to how this passage relates to all that is happening in the Coronavirus Pandemic. As I considered our gospel reading for today, I wondered if Jesus was right now looking down upon our world and weeping because most have no desire to see him for who he really is. If you’re like me you have been following the news reports and the countless articles on this or that expert’s opinion as to how bad this is going to be and how long will it last. Certainly, this is important information if we are to know how to plan and stay safe. The gist of the information from the experts (a term that seems arbitrary because they can’t seem to agree) is that everyone wants to know how long it will be before everything returns to normal. Which begs the question: what is normal and is where we have been for the last 50 years or more, to be seen as normal? Who decides what normal is?

Well, if we are Christians, meaning true followers of Jesus Christ, then normal is to be defined by the word of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Most of us would likely agree that when a society’s “normal” allows for over 61 million unborn children to be violently aborted (murdered), for convenience sake, and the process is proclaimed by millions to be desired, celebrated and fought for as a reproductive right of women, then this is not only abnormal according to God’s Holy Word, but is exactly the opposite that word. God’s word declares that every life is precious because we are made in God’s image.

Most of us would agree that marriage by God’s design and command that is to be between one man and one woman, not between members of the same sex. Most of us would agree that pornography, and the celebration of perversion in ways that defy any sense of normalcy is in direct contradiction of God’s word and is in fact designed by the enemy of God to make a mockery of his word. In many schools across America, parents are sending their little children to classrooms that are teaching these young minds how to practice these perversions.

Federal courts have removed prayer and God’s word from public education and replaced it with teaching from the Koran or the teaching of witchcraft. Publicly placing of the Ten Commandments, (which were foundational in the structuring of our country) has become illegal and are being removed from public places because they might be offensive to someone.

When the laws of any state or nation make the public proclamation of the gospel illegal in the public arena, then we should mourn that what is now considered “normal” shows us how far away we have moved from the commands of God Almighty and the life that he had designed for us. I read this post on Facebook this past week and I thought it worth sharing.

We all better wake up. In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship.

[It is as though] God said, "You [people] want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians; I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors; I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money; I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You want to brag about your excellent healthcare system, I'll show you how vulnerable you are. You don't want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can't go to church. Do you really think that you have 'got this?'"

The truth is that we don’t want to go back to what has become normal and frankly, it doesn’t look like that will even be an option. I believe that God is giving his people a chance to be what he called us to be.

So, what now? Well, God’s word has much to say on the subject. Our passage from Isaiah 42:1–9 points us to the only one who can put us back on the path that he designed for us. Consider verses 5–9,

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;  I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Isaiah 42 was God promising Israel that God would send his servant to save them. This was likely written to Israel while they were in exile in Babylon and was meant to comfort them. They were in Babylon because of God’s judgment upon their disobedience, but God is using the prophet to bring comfort that he had not forgotten them. They went through a long time of judgment, but God promised that when they were restored they could expect God’s mercy and tender care. The servant of the Lord would not be shouting at them in the streets because he knew that they would certainly be poor, needy and likely would have very little faith or hope after such a long period of exile. The servant would reestablish justice and righteousness in the land.

Why should they find faith and hope again? Because the one who they had turned away from was the same one who was going to restore them. In Isaiah 42:5 God declares to them who he is so that they might remember the God who had delivered Israel out of the land of Egypt under Moses.

Essentially he declares to them, “I am the Lord God Jehovah who created the heavens and the earth and all that within it, I breathed life into all living things.”

If they had any memory of the stories passed down from generation to generation this should be very good news. The Servant who was coming for them would be empowered with the Spirit of God that would enable him to transform the earth with new spiritual life.

Of course, we now know that this promise was fulfilled in the Servant Jesus Christ. He would affect a new covenant by his death and resurrection, for the sins of his people. The Good News of the gospel is that the Servant would call his people in righteousness and would keep them. The result would be that the true people of God would have their eyes opened enabling them to see the Glory of God in the face of Christ the Lord.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6,

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God’s people would be empowered to speak to those in prison and bondage to their sins and death and see them set free. No matter what it looks like all around us, we see in Christ Jesus going to the cross that God gave his word through the prophet Isaiah and kept it. How would God continue the work that Jesus began? Through those who have their blinders removed and entered into the new covenant with God, found in Christ alone.

How can we know that what began with Jesus the risen Savior continues even in times of plagues and disaster? There are at least two ways that we can see the answer in our passages this morning:

  1. The last part of our Isaiah 42 passage this morning in verses 8–9, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” One of the clearest ways that God self identifies is in “I am” sayings which are a shortened form of “I am the Lord”. He reveals his nature and character in those sayings of which there are over 900 in the Bible. This is how he spoke to the patriarchs and promised to always be with his people. He is the God of the past, present and future and he will fulfill all his promises. His names assure us of that.
  2. Psalm 118, which we read a portion of this morning, was the last song of a group of Psalms (113–118) sung at Passover. As the last Psalm it would have been sung by Jesus as he celebrated Passover with his disciples for the last time. This Psalm anticipated the suffering and glorification of the Messiah. Jesus quoted verses 22–23 concerning himself in Mark 12:10–11, “Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” In addition, the people greeted Jesus at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of joy quoted in this Psalm, Mark 11:9–10, “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Finally, in referring to the “stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone, the Psalmist continues in verse 24, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Often people quote this verse as a reason to rejoice about any and every day and there are scriptures that would give us that command. For instance, Philippians 4–8,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Frankly, that is an excellent verse for God’s people during the pandemic. However, Psalm 118:24 is very specific: we are to rejoice about the day that the stone that was rejected by the builders became the chief cornerstone. Remember and rejoice in that day because God kept his word and came to our rescue.

That’s the timeliest word during our remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The religious leaders were going to reject him as the cornerstone of our faith, but God was pleased to place Jesus as the cornerstone that is the foundation of all that we stand for and believe as Christians. It was marvelous in God’s eyes. Rejoice in that during this time of trouble. Pray that we will come out the other side ready to work for a new normal found in Christ alone.

Let’s pray.

©2020 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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