A revolution was in the air.
Jesus had been ministering for three years; teaching, healing the sick, having conversations about the kingdom of God with people who normally wouldn’t be included in those conversations, welcoming the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized into a relationship with him and God. And Jesus had condemned many of the religious leaders’ practices: the way they prayed, the way they fasted, the way they scrupulously followed rules while their attitudes toward the poor, the outcasts, the sinners were not in line with God’s heart. A revolution was in the air.
Because of Jesus’ ministry, many of the Jewish leaders hated him. They feared that their power over the people was being eroded, that the people would begin to follow Jesus instead of them. On their good days, they cloaked that fear as a fear that Jesus would foment a revolution against Rome, and the Jewish nation would be destroyed.
But, as one of our local theologians, Traci Birge, has said, Decisions based on fear are never good decisions. These Jewish religious leaders, based on fear, decided that Jesus needed to die. A revolution was in the air.
Jesus’ friends, his disciples knew that the Jewish leaders were plotting Jesus’ death. They’d heard the rumors and the grumbling. They knew that going to Jerusalem, the center of the religious leaders’ power was putting them into a very dangerous situation. But one of Jesus’ best friends, Lazarus, had died, and Jesus wanted to go to the family… so they headed toward dangerous Jerusalem. In John 11:16 we read, “Thomas said to the rest of the disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
A revolution was in the air… and his disciples weren’t sure it was a good thing.
And then there was the crowd. The crowd had seen and heard about some of the miracles that Jesus had done… the healing the sick, the blind, the deaf, the casting out of demons, and they had heard Jesus’ revolutionary teaching. And then, just a few days ago, Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the grave, after Lazarus had been dead for 3 days! Wow! The crowd was impressed, frenzied, maybe this guy could throw off the Roman rule!
As Jesus made his way into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey… the crowd erupted: Hosanna! (Which means “save”!) Save us! Save us! They called! Hosanna! They thought the Roman oppression is about to be broken! No longer would they have to pay taxes to Rome, or have their lives governed by Roman soldiers and Roman rulers! The king of Israel had come to their rescue! This man Jesus obviously had great power, and they were sure he was going to use it to rescue them! Palms, a sign of victory, waved in the air! Coats were flung on the ground before Jesus’ donkey! Maybe, maybe even Jesus’ disciples allowed themselves to begin to hope: A revolution was coming!
In the noise that surrounded him, in the cheering children’s voices, in the swelling crowd that gathered about him with excitement and joy on their many faces. What were Jesus’ thoughts?
I think our reading from Isaiah most closely captures them:
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who will condemn me?
Jesus knew: A revolution was coming. But that revolution would bring Jesus humiliation. It would bring him beatings. It would bring him death. It would not be the revolution all these people were anticipating. And yet, Jesus, knowing what Friday would bring, walked toward it.
How could Jesus do this? How could he, knowing a gruesome death was waiting for him, continue to walk towards it? The answer is in the verses we just read… he was in relationship with the Sovereign Lord.
What does the word “sovereign” mean? It means “one who has supreme or ultimate power.” Jesus is trusting that God, the One who has power over all other powers… religious powers…the religious leaders of Jesus’ day held no power that could stand against God’s power, governmental powers…the Roman rulers of Jesus’ day held no power that could stand against God’s power, spiritual powers… satan nor any of his demons have any power that can stand against God’s power, and Jesus knew that Sovereign God was speaking to him, and would help him as he faced the coming attacks. Jesus knew God was the One who had all power and authority and that He would help him. And as Jesus was walking to his death, he knew that somehow, God would be in that with him too. Knowing that the all powerful God was with him in this struggle gave Jesus the courage to continue in spite of the pain it would cost him.
But why would Jesus do this?
Because in one way, the people were right: a revolution was coming. But it was unlike any revolution they could imagine. This revolution is founded on the humiliation of its leader. The writer to the Philippians put it this way:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of 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.
The coming of the kingdom of God to this earth required the defeat of death, because the fear of death is what keeps people captive. How would people choose to live their lives if they knew that death was not the end of their story? (We will talk more about that next week on Easter!) But in order for death to be defeated, it had to be experienced, and a power greater than the power of death needed to stand against it. As awful as death is, there is a power of life that stands against it that is even more powerful. It is supreme power. That supreme power is the life that Jesus Christ offers to all who recognize the revolution that he started. All who bow their knee, who recognize Jesus’ supreme power will have his life that death cannot defeat in them as well.
What does it mean for us? How can we begin to live these revolutionary lives?
- Well, if we are honest, there are times in our lives, when we are facing trouble that we begin to fear, we are going to die. We are going to be overwhelmed and defeated. Walking the way of Jesus means we can have
No fear—confident that whatever hardship or trouble we face, we have the Sovereign Lord walking us through it
- Putting to death in us all that stands against the life that Jesus offers us: we are prone to nurse sins in our lives: grudges, addictions, secrets, imagined superiority to others… these need to be rooted out, confessed to Jesus, and we need to cooperate as Jesus does the work of destroying them
Jesus faced death on the cross in order to follow God’s will for him. We are also called to face our own death to self, that we can be freed to serve God totally
- The beginning of the Philippians reading says: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus In our revolutionary lives we must be committed deeply to the very values that Jesus showed us: humility, loving others, loving God
A revolution is in the air. This week we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. God has brought his kingdom here to earth. Won’t you join us as we seek to live ever more as his people, marked by his kingdom values, freed to love and serve him as his kingdom people?