Sunday In Jerusalem

The Sunday before Christ’s crucifixion is typically called “The Triumphal Entry.” But was it really? One thing’s for sure—Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem the way the people expected! 

To fully get the picture of what’s happening we need to turn back the calendar several hundred years. Ever since Jerusalem fell to invading armies, the Jews hung on to the promise that God would restore their king and their kingdom. They were awaiting a descendant from the line of King David who would drive out their overlords and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place. 

They clung to a promise in Psalm 118 that included these words—“Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar” (vv. 25-27). 

But Jesus was prophesied to come as the Prince of Peace, gentle and unassuming, the Servant of all people (Isaiah 9:6; 42:1-3). Jesus simply didn’t do things the way the crowds expected! He was born in a manger in Bethlehem (not as a king in Jerusalem), and hailing from Nazareth caused people to mock, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?!” 

So on that Sunday as Jesus approached Jerusalem, it wasn’t as a conquering King but as a humble servant. As He came near, He wept a sobbing lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). 

The crowd took palm branches (as Psalm 118 suggested) and shouted, “Hosanna!” That word means “Save us,” but what they really meant was, “Save us NOW!” Jesus came riding a mule—a lowly work animal, not a war horse—to remove any fear people may have, and to show them His servant’s heart. 

Even His disciples didn’t get this. But the Pharisees sure did: They wanted Jesus to rebuke the crowd for their insolence and blasphemy! Many of the worshippers were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus, so Jesus said to the Pharisees, “They have to give praise to God for this!” 

Jesus made His way to the temple but there were no sacrifices, no anointing, no coronation. Mark tells us Jesus simply “looked around at everything and then left.” 

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never rushes? He’s never early. He’s never late. He’s never confused. He’s never trying to catch up. 

This is because Jesus was in complete sync with His Father. Jesus said that everything He did was directed by His Father, and every word He spoke was given to Him by His Father. 

We, too, should be able to move in that same unrushed pace. Because of what Jesus did for us on Calvary, we may have the same “oneness” with our Father as Jesus did (John 14:20). 

Worry creeps into our lives when—like those cheering crowds in Jerusalem—we try to make our agenda happen on our timetable with our own resources. But when we look to Jesus, we see such a perfect peace as He relied on His Father. 

Christ’s passionate journey was out of love for us, so that we could know peace with God as we journey through life with Jesus. 

Join me this Sunday as we take a closer look at the Monday of Christ’s Passion Week. 

Passion Timeline

As we approach Christ’s Passion Week, I think it’s a good time to slow down and remember all of the events that took place during a very short time. 

The Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible has an excellent infographic on the timeline of these events. You can click on the image above to access a larger view, or you can check it out on the website. 

I also invite you to join me at Calvary Assembly of God as we are taking a slow walk on Christ’s Passionate Journey toward the Cross and the empty tomb. We’re spending one week looking at each of the 8 days of His Passion Week. If you cannot join us in person, please check out our Facebook Live broadcast.

One Saturday In Bethany

Six days before His crucifixion and burial, Jesus was prepared for His burial by the most unlikely of people. This story takes place in Bethany, where Jesus spends a lot of time during His earthly ministry. 

As was customary, the most influential men in the village would try to entice visiting guests to join them for dinner. Simon—a Pharisee and a former leper—was the one who extended the invitation to Jesus. Simon is a former leper because one who still had active leprosy wouldn’t have been allowed in his own home, let alone allowed to host guests. I think (as you will see in a moment) that Simon had been healed of his leprosy by Jesus.

Although it was customary for someone like Simon to host visiting guests, in this case, the religious leaders were scheming to arrest Jesus. In other words, there was an ulterior motive for Simon to have Jesus in his home.

Which is probably why Simon neglected his host’s duties: No welcoming kiss, no foot-washing, no anointing. All normal hospitality is ignored. Jesus appears to ignore the snub and simply recline at the table. But another guest takes Simon’s incredible rudeness personally. 

Mary was standing or sitting along the wall in Simon’s house, as many common villagers would in that day. Luke tells us that Mary had lived a sinful life. But while sitting at Jesus’ feet earlier she heard the good news that Jesus could forgive sins, she placed her faith in Him, and her lifestyle changed 180-degrees 

Mary is overcome by emotion at the inhospitable—rude!—way Jesus is being treated and tears began to well up in her eyes. Since Jesus is reclining at the table, His feet would have been pointed in her direction, and she began to use her tears to wash His feet. Then—horror of horrors—she uncovers and lets down her hair in public(!) and begins to dry His feet. 

Simon the Pharisee judges Mary by her past. Simon twice says, “Does Jesus even know what kind of woman she is? Does He know she is a sinner?” Mary is in big trouble: she is publicly pointing out the rudeness of the host, she is touching a man that is not her husband, and she has uncovered and let down her hair in public. 

Jesus responds not to Mary, but to Simon: “Simon, I have something to tell you,” He says and then shares a short but powerful parable of a creditor who had two debtors. One owed him the equivalent of a year-and-a-half’s wages, and the other owed about two months’ wages. Since neither could pay, the creditor forgave both of them. 

Jesus asked Simon, “Which of the two forgiven debtors do you think would be most grateful?” Simon correctly responds, “The one who was forgiven more.” 

Jesus points out that Mary’s acts didn’t bring her forgiveness, but that her acts were a loving response to the forgiveness she had already received. Jesus said things like, “You have been forgiven,” and “Your sins are forgiven,” and “Your faith has saved you.” 

Jesus took the anger that was focused on Mary and redirected it to Himself, as Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do (see 53:4-5).

At the same time He is also challenging Simon, “Don’t you have something to be grateful for? Weren’t you once a physical leper? Mary was a spiritual leper, but she has been forgiven and is now overwhelmingly grateful. What about you?” 

Mary was forgiven. She gave all she had in worship. Her anointing oil was lavishly poured out. It was worth a year’s wages, but she spent it all on Jesus. She anointed Him for His burial. The aroma of the oil remained on Jesus throughout His Passion Week and through His crucifixion. The aroma remained on Mary’s hands and hair. The aroma remained in Simon’s house. The memory was fixed in the memories of everyone in that room. 

What about Simon? Did he ever acknowledge his gratitude? Or was he more concerned with receiving praise from men? 

Have you received the forgiveness Jesus offers you? Can people tell you’ve been forgiven by your willingness to stand up for Him? Can people tell you’ve been forgiven by your willingness to give up everything for Him? 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue of slow, deliberate walk alongside Jesus on His passionate journey to the Cross and the resurrection. 

Christ’s Passionate Journey

In some of our favorite action movies, when the crucial moment for our hero has finally arrived, filmmakers will often switch into slow motion filming. They want you to feel the tension. They want you to see the emotion etched on the face of our hero. They want to make sure you don’t miss a single detail of this pivotal moment in the story. 

The same thing happens in the life of Jesus.

The four Gospels record 3+ years of the life of Jesus on earth. But when Jesus is approaching the Cross—the crucial moment of His ministry—all the Gospel writers go into slow motion. 

For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. The numbers are similar for Matthew and Luke, with John devoting almost one-half of his account to Christ’s Passion Week. 

Clearly, there is something happening here that the Gospel writers want to ensure that we don’t miss a single detail! 

Jesus knew all that was about to happen to Him. When Peter swung his sword at the soldiers that came to arrest Him, Jesus said, “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way” (Matthew 26:53-54). 

Every step that Jesus took toward the Cross was a step of love. Every word He spoke in His final moments before His death was calculated to sink deep into the memories of all who observed this story. 

We are going to go into “slow motion” as well as we look closely at each day of Christ’s final week of ministry. From His dinner in Bethany to His resurrection, we’ll slow down and ponder deeply the love message Jesus is still conveying to us. 

Join me this Sunday as we begin this passionate journey. If you cannot join us in person, we will be broadcasting each message on Facebook Live.

Here are the days we have already explored on this journey:

What’s Your Knee-Jerk Response To Trouble?

The patellar reflex is a helpful diagnostic tool for a doctor to check the health of your central nervous system. It’s commonly called the knee-jerk response. But beyond the medical world, it’s also come to mean “an immediate unthinking emotional reaction to certain stimuli.” This has implications for the health of our prayer life too. 

When Jesus talked about praying He never said, “If you pray,” but always “When you pray.” He assumed it would be a vital part of a Christian’s life. He also used a verb tense which would add an “ing” to the verb, so He was really saying, “When you are maintaining an ongoing dialogue with your Father.” 

So when something unexpected happens to us, Jesus wants us to say, “Why, my Father already knows about this!” This is the knee-jerk reaction Jesus wants to see. 

We see this on full display when Peter and John are told by the Jewish religious authorities not to talk about Jesus publicly anymore. When these men reported this threat to the rest of the church, notice their knee-jerk response: “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” 

There are two interesting things I notice in their prayer. The first thing is how they used the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as the template of their prayer. 

  • Our Father in HeavenSovereign Lord.
  • Hallowed be Your nameYou made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
  • Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heavenYour power and will decided beforehand what would happen. 
  • Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors“Consider their threats” was like saying, “Forgive us for inappropriate thoughts and forgive them for speaking ignorantly against Your name.”
  • Give us today our daily breadEnable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness today. 
  • Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory foreverStretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders. May Your name be glorified!

The second thing I see in their prayer is that they stood on a biblical promise. They quoted the words of David from Psalm 2—words that had been penned nearly 1000 years earlier—and applied them to their present situation. 

What’s your knee jerk response to troubles? It’s an easy question to ask, and an easy answer to change.

When something comes at you from out of the blue, learn to say, “Why, my Father already knows about this!” Then find a biblical promise you can claim and turn that promise into a prayer modeled on Christ’s prayer. Pray that again and again until God provides the answer. 

Let’s make prayer our first response and not our last resort! 

Winning The Unseen Spiritual Battles

C.S. Lewis said, “If satan’s arsenal of weapons were restricted to a single one, it would be discouragement.” How true! In relation to our prayer time, satan tries to discourage with lies like—

    • “God has bigger things on His mind than your puny request!” 
    • “God helps those who help themselves; what have you done for yourself?”
    • “You created this situation and now you think God is going to bail you out?!?”
    • “Haven’t you prayed about this long enough already?” 
    • “Your prayers don’t really make a difference.” 

All of these lies are designed to discourage you, but always remember this—they are all lies! David said to God, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book. My enemies will retreat when I call to You for help. This I know: God is on my side!” (Psalm 56:8-9) 

A great example of a man who prayed long and hard—and fought off the things that might discourage him to give up—was Daniel. 

Daniel had previously been given insight from God to interpret dreams, visions, and other messages from heaven, but on one particular instance, he was stuck. God gave Daniel a vision, but not the meaning of that vision. 

Daniel began to do two things in the physical realm that results in two unseen spiritual victories taking place. 

First, Daniel prayed. Daniel not only prayed boldly, but he also prayed long. Although Daniel prayed for 21 days, when an angel arrived with God’s answer, the angel said, “From the moment you decided to humble yourself to receive understanding, your request was heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.” 

Second, Daniel fasted. The word fast literally means “to cover the mouth.” In Daniel’s case, we know that for 21 days he abstained from meat and wine. But he also abstained from “choice food” (NIV). What are those? I think these might be our “comfort foods.” Foods we go to to help relieve stress. Foods that become substitute sources of help, instead of humbling ourselves to go to God and ask for wisdom. 

As Daniel was praying and fasting, it appeared that nothing was happening. But there were actually two victories won out of human sight. 

First, a spiritual battle was won. The angel sent to Daniel was locked in combat with a demon for 21 days before he broke free to come to Daniel. We are still involved in that kind of spiritual warfare today (see Ephesians 6:12-18). 

Second, Daniel was being refined and strengthened. When the angel arrived, he called Daniel “highly esteemed.” Don’t miss this—this greeting is the same Hebrew word used for what Daniel fasted (“choice food”). In other words, the temporary thing Daniel fasted turned into something of invaluable strength. 

What if Daniel had stopped praying after 2 days? 10 days? 20 days? 

Daniel—and you and I—may not see with our natural eyes the victories that are being won, but make no mistake about it: Our fasting and praying IS doing something amazing. 

Your prayers are being heard. Spiritual battles are being won. You are being refined. God IS going to accomplish something great. God IS being glorified. Don’t stop praying and fasting until God comes through!

Do not be discouraged as you wait on God. There is winning even in the waiting!

Join me this Sunday as we conclude on series looking at the bold pray-ers in the Bible. 

The Impossible Prayer

We have been looking at some bold pray-ers in the Bible, but today’s example takes it to a whole new level by praying an “impossible” prayer! Here are 4 valuable lessons we can learn from the prayer of Joshua. 

When this story opens, the city of Gibeon is calling on the Israelites to help them. Five Amorite kings have all ganged up on Gibeon because of the treaty they made with Israel, and they intended to crush them into oblivion! 

Joshua—without any debate, consultation, or hesitation—mobilizes his forces. Notice that there are no half-measures or hedging his bets. Joshua marches out with the entire army, including all of his elite warriors to rescue Gibeon. 

Joshua’s troops marched all night to cover the 21-miles to get to Gibeon by daybreak. Modern-day military experts say that an army can cover about 20-25 miles before they are at the point of total exhaustion, so Joshua took his men right up to this point. But this all-night march surprised the five attacking armies, so much so that the Bible says God threw those enemies into a panic and God even fought for them, raining hailstones down on the Amorites that killed more men than the Israelites did in their attack! 

After an all-night march and an all-day battle, the Amorites are on the run. This is when Joshua prays his “impossible” prayer. He asks God to let the earth stop rotating so that the sun and moon in the sky will give the Israelites enough light to complete their victory!!

AND GOD DOES IT!! 

How could Joshua pray such an “impossible” prayer like this? 

  1. He had already seen God do the “impossible” like drying up the Jordan River and knocking down the supposedly impenetrable walls of Jericho.
  2. God already told Joshua, “I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” Joshua didn’t put an asterisk on God’s word—if God said every enemy would be defeated, that’s what Joshua was claiming. 
  3. Joshua was already moving forward in faith. He wasn’t sitting around waiting for God to do something. He was letting his marching be his praying. 
  4. By publicly praying this “impossible” thing, Joshua was ensuring that God would receive all the glory. The Bible says that Joshua prayed “with all Israel listening.” 

The sun stopped in its tracks in mid-sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since—God took orders from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel (v. 14, The Message).

What about you? Does it feel like your problems are ganging up on you like a bunch of bullies? You, too, can pray an “impossible” prayer like Joshua did—

  1. Get God’s Word—what promise will you stand on? Don’t put any asterisks in there! 
  2. Know God’s peace—God told Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them.” 
  3. Watch God confuse your enemies—when the Israelites showed up God “threw them into confusion,” which literally means He discombobulated them so they couldn’t coordinate their counter-attack on Israel. 
  4. Publicly pray an “impossible” prayer while you fight! Tell others what your “impossible” prayer is so that God gets all the glory.

Join me this Sunday as we learn from another bold pray-er from the pages of Scripture. 

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