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Palm Sunday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, March 28, 2021

Seeing What It Means to Trust the Father

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Everyone loves a story about someone laying down his life for the good of others. It’s so out of the ordinary that it causes us to stop and pay attention. In John 15:13 Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, we know that Jesus was pointing his disciples to what he was going to do for them, but it was to serve as a model for how they were to lay down their lives for the good of others.

But what about when someone lays down their life simply because of their love and devotion to Jesus Christ. There is no one to rescue them and all of those people and things that are a part of their lives are taken from them. The only possible hope of escape is to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. I read of two such people in an article from “Belief Net” and I want to briefly share them with you.

Ahn Ei Sook was a Korean woman who lived through terrible times during the Japanese occupied Korea in the ‘30s through 1945. She took a powerful stand alone for God’s truth, despite arrest, imprisonment, and possible execution. She was imprisoned in a prison camp for her faith and refused to bow down to Japanese idol worship though many Christians did that day. She was tortured for six years until her release. Throughout her life, there were countless examples of God’s intervention. On the day of her release, a sympathetic prison guard shouted “Ladies and gentlemen! These are the ones who for six long years refused to worship Japanese gods. They fought against severe torture, hunger and cold, and have won without bowing their heads to the Idol worship of Japan. Today they are champions of the faith!” The crowd then shouted, “Praise to the name of Jesus,” and began to sing joyously. She made the decision to go to the parliament of Japan and speak out against the injustice of the persecution of Christians.

Sarah Corson Her mission was to bring the love of Jesus to the indigenous people of Bolivia. In 1980, she and a team of seventeen young people traveled down the world’s deadliest roads, crossing swollen rivers to reach these people as a part of a project to help the impoverished residents learn how to have sustainable agriculture. She didn’t know that during this journey she would be confronted by military junta, who believed that American missionaries were encouraging the resistance. Because of this, they wanted to eliminate them from the equation. The junta had no idea they were dealing with someone who truly embodied the presence of Christ. She only had seconds to pray before she was discovered by soldiers. In that moment, she was completely aware of the presence of God. When she was found, she began to be shoved around, with gums aimed at her. In this moment, she did the unexpected. She went back and forth with the soldiers about the presence of Christ, and the love she had for them through the love of Christ. Even in the chaos, standing on different sides related to faith, they were amazed by her actions. She was later released. She was a pastor of a Bolivian church. Sarah and her husband Ken worked with the people of the village to find Christ and grow not only spiritually, but agriculturally. She is a powerful testament to what God can do when you’re willing to risk everything to follow Him.

Today is Palm Sunday and we enter what is known to the church as “Holy Week.” Since Ash Wednesday on February 17th we have been in the season of Lent. We have focused on the cross of Christ while we remember that it was our sin that put him there. This year’s Palm Sunday lectionary readings don’t follow the drama from the “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem usually remembered on this day, but instead take us through the last few days in Jesus’ life to his betrayal. In our gospel reading this morning you have had the story read to you in its entirety. Now, for a few moments longer, we will consider the implications and importance of the greatest story of self-sacrifice ever told.

In the stories of Ahn Ei Sook and Sarah Corson, they both reacted to what was happening at the moment and acted wilh tremendous courage. However, neither of them knew the outcome of their situations and were living out by faith the promise of Jesus in Mark 13:11,

“And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

But Jesus, who knew the prophecies foretelling his coming, acted with love and courage knowing fully what would happen to him. Consider a few descriptions from our reading from Isaiah 52 & 53,

His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind… He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief… but he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb he is led to the slaughter…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him, he has put him to grief…”

Jesus with eyes wide open knew what he was walking into and he didn’t hesitate. He knew that what he had to do must be done alone. Though there were many who assured him that they would stand with him no matter what. In Mark 14:29–31, Simon Peter tells Jesus that he was ready to even die for him and I have no doubt that he actually believed that he would respond with courage and even die for his Master. Jesus knew better and told him that in reality Peter would deny three times that he even knew him. Jesus knew that even the Father would have to turn away from him as he bore the sins of the world upon himself, by becoming sin.

You and I can read the accounts in the story, but we still have no way to fully understand the implications of what that meant for Jesus. For all eternity, the Trinity had lived in perfect unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But now for the first time the Father, who is perfect purity, righteousness, and holiness, would have to turn away from his beloved Son in the moment of his great need. There is simply no way that we can ever comprehend what being perfect, righteous, and completely holy is like. Because of that we can’t really understand how sin could be such an affront to God. To many, this whole scenario seems foolish and an overblown reaction on the part of God. Couldn’t he just live and let live? Was all this death and sorrow, and talking about wrath, justice, and hell really necessary?

The holiness and purity of God is something we have no capacity to thoroughly understand, but many places in Scripture show that God cannot reveal Himself to us physically at present or our human bodies would simply be consumed. When Adam was created, he did live in the presence of God and things were vastly different. However, when Adam choose to disobey God, his relationship and existence before God were fractured and death entered the created world for the first time. Since that moment, God has been forced to distance Himself from us for our own survival—this is actually an act of mercy from God! We can’t be in the presence of the God who is without sin, morally completely pure, and undefiled in any way. The fact that men and women don’t see the “big deal” is actually a perfect example of their blindness and the reason that Jesus, the perfect “God/Man” had to come to pay a price we couldn’t pay.

In our fallen condition only Jesus could restore the breach or chasm between us and the God who is Holy. It’s hard for me to understand why he would do it, but we can see that what was done on our behalf was done intentionally. In our Epistle reading from Philippians 2:6–8,

Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Essentially, God was willing to come to us in human form and dwell in our midst, put up with our arrogant, selfish and foolish nature, and die for us. For those of us who have been Christians a long time, we are accustomed to hearing certain passages read during this time of year. We have learned to identify those passages of scripture, Psalms or prophecies that are Messianic in their reference. It serves as a reminder that we can see the history of redemption unfolding and moving ever forward toward the day when Jesus will return, and all things will be made new.

We read together Psalm 22 this morning and from the first verse we are reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross as he experienced the wrath of the Father poured out upon him because of our sin. It’s sobering to consider but is nothing like what it meant when Jesus read those words knowing it referred to him.

Consider Psalm 22:1, 7–8, 10–11,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
7All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8“He trusts In the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
10On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. 11Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

It’s the cry of agony, of someone bereft of all hope and Jesus was willing to go through this moment that you and I could not begin to comprehend. Why? Because this was the only way that we could escape an eternity of this type of agony, where there is “no God.” That is the description of Hell and he was willing to go there so that we could avoid it. Even though we can understand that Hell is a place that we wouldn’t want to go to, we have no sense of what it would be like. It’s a place where God removes his presence entirely, for eternity. No hope of any relief but the eternal of God on those who have rejected him.

We have never experienced that and when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we never will have to. Not long ago I was speaking with someone about their need for Christ and they informed me they had already been to Hell on this earth. Clearly, they had experienced some terrible tragedies but the worst situations on earth do not compare to an eternity of “no God.”

We are living in a time where very many have turned from godly virtue and embraced a level of evil that is startling. We are seeing many of those in leadership resisting the very law of God that was the foundation of our country and insisting that those who love God’s word and insist that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation are bigots, fascists, and could be guilty of hate speech. In his book, The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis wrote,

The descent to hell is easy and those who begin by worshipping power, soon worship evil.

Jesus was in a remarkably similar situation when he entered into the city of Jerusalem. The religious leaders who should have welcomed him, instead saw him as a threat to their authority and rule over the people of Israel.

Leading up to Jesus’ entry back into Jerusalem tensions had been growing between him and the religious leaders, who had made it known that they intended to kill him. This is an extremely dramatic scene. By openly entering the city where he was a marked man, Jesus took the first step toward the final confrontation. Again, it was an intentional move, and he knew there was to be no turning back.

Passover was one of the three major feasts that Jews were supposed to attend in Jerusalem, and consequently, the population of Jerusalem swelled enormously at this time. The city was packed not only with those who had come from all over to attend this feast, but also those who had come to see what Jesus would do. There was a sense that a showdown was imminent. As this great crowd is beginning to gather from around Israel—and even the larger world of those who lived away from Jerusalem—news about Jesus was spreading and for many there was a feeling of hope that maybe, finally, the Messiah had come.

Jesus was indeed the Messiah and he had come to set them free but not from Roman rule, that wasn’t their greatest need, and he knew they wouldn’t understand what he was preparing to do.

The fact that they chose to welcome Jesus by waving palm branches reveals a lot about what it was that they were expecting from him. This had all the elements of a patriotic parade. Palm branches were a symbol of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabees. F. F. Bruce in his commentary wrote,

From the time of the Maccabees palms or palm branches had been used as a national symbol. They had figured in the procession which celebrated the rededication of the temple in 164 BC (2 Maccabees 10:7) and again when winning the full political independence was celebrated under Simon in 141 BC. Later palms appeared as national symbols on the coins struck by the Judean insurgents during the first and second revolts against Rome (AD 66–70 and 132–135).

They saw Jesus as a military leader against the Roman Empire. In many stories within the gospels you may remember that the people came to take Jesus and make him king, but he slipped away from them. He was to be their King but not in the way that they assumed.

He is indeed king, but in a greater sense than they could realize. Jesus knew the prophets and the role he was to play, but at the time he was the only one who did. John 12:16 recounts,

Only after Jesus was glorified did, they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

Try and understand this from the perspective of the disciples. They were most likely caught up in the nationalistic fervor of the crowd because they also believed that Jesus has come to Jerusalem to take over as king and they would rule with him. They thought they were honoring Jesus as king, and they were, but at this point no one was connecting the Scriptures with what was happening—even the disciples would not put the two together until after Jesus was glorified. They needed an “AHA!” moment but that wouldn’t happen until the Holy Spirit anointed them at Pentecost.

It has been my experience that I rarely fully understand what God is doing. Praise God that he is not constrained by the limits of my imagination. God always has a greater thing in mind than I can comprehend, and I think that is true of all of us. Jesus wasn’t going to be limited to being the King of Israel, he was the creator of the universe and had come to do a greater and more complete work than they could conceive of. He was going to transform the world and make a way for mankind to be reconciled to the Father. They didn’t conceive of how lost they were and how much they needed God’s mercy and they certainly didn’t see how far God was willing to go to save them. He loved them more than to simply solve their immediate situation as servants of Rome and his task and vision was far broader than Israel.

If Jesus had settled for the throne of David in Jerusalem the real issue of mankind’s bondage to sin and death would never have been dealt with and the kingdom of Satan would have remained in power and authority over the earth. At the time of his entry into Jerusalem, only Jesus fully understood what was at stake and that only he could do what was necessary to overcome the kingdom of darkness.

It was no coincidence that Jesus chose Passover to enter Jerusalem. Flavius Josephus, the 1st-century Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that one year a census was taken of the number of lambs slain for Passover and that figure was 256,500. Jesus entered Jerusalem walking in the midst of lambs who were destined for sacrifice during the celebration, and as he walked, he alone knew that they were a symbol of what he had come to be: John 1:29, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Jesus was the living reality of what the sacrificial lambs pointed to—a sacrificial atonement that would be made once and for all. He knew what the scriptures foretold about the Messiah and was under no illusion that it would be easy. Scriptures like Isaiah 53:6–7 that we read this morning,

 All we like sheep have gone astray;
          we have turned, everyone, to his own way
and the Lord has laid on him
          the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
          yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, 
          and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
          so he opened not his mouth.

I am certain these things were on his mind as he entered Jerusalem to the cheers and celebration of the crowds, some who would be the very ones a few days later who were screaming, “Crucify him. Crucify him!” and yet he still came. Our epistle reading from Philippians 2:10–11 reminds us that,

at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

Why? Because he is the King who overcame sin and death and for those who embrace him by faith and live for his glory there is new life both now and throughout all eternity.

Unfortunately, the truth is that there are many churches that claim to gather to worship God but deny the divinity and authority of Jesus Christ alone, and as a consequence, they are merely celebrations of death. When he came into Jerusalem, they welcomed him as their new King, but when he went to the cross to pay the price for our sins, He did the kingliest thing that he could do, he laid down his life for his subjects.

As we consider all that is happening in our country and around the world it’s a reminder that we are far from being through telling this story. Jesus won the victory over sin and death, but the battle for souls still rages. The only hope for our community, our state, our country, and the world is Jesus Christ and he has commanded “his body” to deliver the message of the cross to those around them, even if it comes at a great cost.

The task before us is to live into the victory that Jesus won and in His glorious name enter the fight that rages on all around us. Signs of the kingdom of darkness are all around. We don’t have to look very far but can see the evidence and can read about it daily in the news. The task before us is to be living witnesses to the love and power of Christ to those around us and to be continually praying that God would use us in the lives of those in our community.

I want to close with a prayer by A.W. Tozer from his book, The Pursuit of God,

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

Lord, raise us up as faithful servants and use us more fully than ever before. As we move this week towards the celebration of the resurrection next Sunday, let our hearts be longing for the resurrection power to move in and through us that you might be glorified and those who are lost might experience the transforming power of Jesus Christ in their lives. For your glory, O Lord, we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen!

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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