Jesus Knows What He is Riding Into

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” —Luke 19:38

Have you ever been guilty of misinterpreting a situation? How many times have you said to yourself: If only I had known then what I know now? The old saying “hindsight is always 20/20” certainly has relevance in our lives, as it did for the disciples when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem during his triumphal entry (John 12:16).

Palm Sunday is the day we observe that triumphal entry. In the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday serves as a preparation of one’s heart for the agony of Jesus’ passion and the joy of His resurrection. It’s the beginning of Passion Week (Holy Week)—that fateful week in which Jesus entered the holy city to face his cross. Here our Lord would drink the cup of suffering. By the end of the week, he would be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified. His followers would be confused, disoriented, and scattered. But not this day…

This day, riding on a donkey, Jesus entered the city and is greeted by ecstatic crowds waving palm branches in celebratory honor. The adulation! The applause! The political rallying! They loved him on this day but were suddenly ready to kill him by Thursday! How fickle this crowd would prove to be. Within a few days, many of those same voices shouting “Hosanna” would turn to raging howls of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21)

Momentarily, while the crowds are enamored with Jesus, the disciples are probably feeling pretty good. It seems like everything is falling into place for a new earthly kingdom to emerge. Jerusalem is welcoming their king. The people are anticipating a Messiah who will rescue them politically and free them from societal oppression—to overthrow the Roman Empire and reestablish Israel’s power in the world. But God is up to something so much bigger.

Jesus is about to turn the whole system upside down.

He rides in on a lowly donkey. Now a donkey is hardly the stuff of a royal motorcade. Yet some 500 years prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah had already prophesied this event would take place precisely in this fashion (Zechariah 9:9), adding to over 300 other Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled.

In the ancient Biblical world, a leader rode on a horse to declare war, but on a donkey to signify peace. Jesus didn’t come with violence. He didn’t come with bloodshed. He didn’t come with hostility. He came in humility and servitude—to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He didn’t take life; he gave up his own life to save the world.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. —John 15:13

Once the crowds saw no more political capital in Jesus, they turned on him overnight. But Jesus knew what he was riding into. He came to suffer and die for the sins of the world. By triumphing over the grave, the risen King of glory has established a kingdom that is not of this world—but a Kingdom that has conquered this world!

Sometimes God’s plans don’t make sense in the moment. His infinite ways can never be constrained by our finite understanding—though He can certainly be trusted.

Jesus knows full well what he is riding into in your life. He knows the hurt, the loneliness, the grief, the betrayal, the anger, the doubt, the despair, the exhaustion, the weariness, and the constant struggle. He knows all the madness. Yet your King lives, beloved—and he will indeed triumph over every last bit of it. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

King Jesus, I worship you! You didn’t enter your holy city on the back of an intimidating warhorse, but humbly on a lowly donkey. You knew what you were riding into—the hostility of a lethal multitude—yet you came in peace. You died for my sin; you conquered the grave and disarmed the power of death that holy week. You laid down your life to save mine. You are worthy of my praise! I will sing of your goodness and continue to declare your deeds to the next generation. Your kingdom come! Your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. In Your name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Can you share a time you couldn’t figure out what God was doing in your life, only to understand more clearly later?
  2. What strikes you most about the imagery of Jesus riding in on a donkey?
  3. If Jesus were to ride into Washington, D.C., on a donkey today, what do you think the headlines would read?
  4. What kind of reaction do you think the religious leaders had during Christ’s triumphal entry? (John 12:19) Why do you imagine they were so threatened by Jesus?
  5. Jesus knows full well what he is riding into in your life, and he’s not the least bit intimidated by any of the drama. How can you find rest in that this week?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

Worldwide Christian Persecution: How Many Are Being Killed? Where?

This past Palm Sunday was a dark day in Egypt. Suicide bombings at two Coptic Christian churches, one in Alexandria and the other in Tanta left 45 people dead and many more wounded. Although there has been an uptick in violence against Christians in the region, Egypt is hardly alone in a long list of countries — many in the Middle East — that are violently hostile towards Christians.

A list generated by Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization focused on serving persecuted Christians, shows the Middle East accounts for a majority of countries ranked in the top 10 for extreme persecution of Christians. In order, the countries are as follows:

1. North Korea

2. Somalia

3. Afghanistan

4. Pakistan

5. Sudan

6. Syria

7. Iraq

8. Iran

9. Yemen

10. Eritrea

Egypt ranks No. 21. According to the Christian advocacy group, one in 12 Christians today experiences high, very high or extreme persecution for their faith. Nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution, with 100 million of those living in Asia.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends in Christianity, estimates that between the years 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred — an average of 90,000 Christians each year.

From Nov. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016, Open Doors documented as many as 1,207 Christians who were killed around the globe for faith-related reasons during the 2017 list’s reporting period. This is a conservative estimate since it only includes documented cases and does not include statistics from North Korea and large areas of Iraq and Syria. Of the lists procured, these are the Middle Eastern or Muslim-dominated countries where Christian deaths occurred during the same time period:

1. Pakistan: 76

2. Syria: 24

3. Somalia: 12

4. Egypt: 12

5. Afghanistan: 10

6. Yemen: 4

7. Libya: 2

8. Iraq: 1

Open Doors also documented a total of 1,329 churches attacked worldwide for faith-related reasons. These are the Middle Eastern or Muslim-dominated countries where those attacks happened between Nov. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2016:

1. Pakistan: 600

2. Iran: 11

3. Iraq: 8

4. Syria: 7

5. Yemen: 3

6. Libya: 3

7. Palestinian territories: 2

The underlying cause for persecution is Islamic extremism, according to Open Doors. The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000. In a few years that number could be zero, activists say.

Palm Sunday: Don’t Be a Fickle Sunday Morning Cheerleader

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

They embraced him as a king, and yet only five days later the crowds were yelling, “Crucify him!”

What would it look like if the biblical accounts of Palm Sunday were taking place in our generation today? Imagine Jesus entering New York, Miami, Los Angeles, or Seattle during Holy Week. I’m sure the crowds would welcome him with awe—especially if the network news channels had just reported him raising Lazarus from the dead. We’d strike up the band, ribbon the streets, and cue the parade. People would be intrigued. Just like in the Gospels, the whole world would come out to see him (John 12:19). Folks would be lined up by the droves hoping to capture a selfie with Jesus passing by behind them, so that they could post it on their social media profiles.

But this is something I am equally sure of: by the end of the week, we’d have him nailed to a cross, too.

Why? Because the Kingdom Jesus came to establish still threatens the kingdoms of this world—the kingdoms of lust, greed, power, self-promotion—even religious bigotry (exemplified by the Pharisees in Jesus’ time).

Have you come to experience in your lifetime that we, human beings, can be a strangely fickle species? You can be loved one day and hated the next simply because of one petty action, an offensive statement, or a politically charged “Tweet.” Loyalties in our day can be rather capricious and temperamental. In that regard, not much has changed since Jesus passed by those adulated crowds on Palm Sunday.

Palms were a symbol of royalty and nobility in Jesus’ time, and everyone who lined the streets of Jerusalem had a different reason for waving those palms. Some were political activists hoping that Jesus would overthrow opposing parties, and ultimately to liberate Israel from Roman rule. His disciples were expecting Jesus to establish himself as an earthly king. Many were curious onlookers casually joining in on the cultural festivities of the day. For others this was a moment of desperation; they may have been sick or had loved ones who were dying, and they waved their branches in faith, hoping for a miracle.

In the parade that day, only Jesus knew why he was coming into Jerusalem—to give up His life as the Savior of the world. He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.

You know, it is a lot easier to cheer for Jesus than it is to lay down our lives for Jesus. It’s easy to praise the name of Jesus and sing “Hosanna” when it doesn’t cost us anything. Posting inspirational Bible verses for the world to read doesn’t require much of us—certainly no degree of sacrifice. As Adam Clarke says, “How strange is it that these same people… should, about five days after, change their hosannas for, Away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him! How fickle is the multitude! Even when they get right, there is but little hope that they will continue so long.”

This Palm Sunday let’s be reminded that our worship must cost us something to go beyond Sunday morning cheerleading.

Oswald Chambers wrote,

“It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God.”

This high calling bids us to live beyond Sunday morning ‘cheerleaders’ and to give way to his Kingdom rule in all of our earthly affairs—to surrender our pride when there is strife in our day-to-day relationships (Proverbs 13:10), to do the gritty work of peacemaking with others (Matthew 5:9), to love the unlovable (John 15:12), to show mercy to those who deserve it least (James 2:13), to forgive your enemies and do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27), to do what is just and right for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Jeremiah 22:3), and to keep no record of wrongs done to us (1 Corinthians 13:5).

It’s easy to sing about Jesus on Sunday. But it will cost us much more to follow him all the way to the cross the rest of the week. Let’s don’t just wave our palm branches when it is convenient as the worship band plays, let’s lay down our lives in daily submission to His Kingdom reign, fleshing out our faith when it becomes apparent that it will truly cost us something in our generation.

Think about that, beloved, as you seek to abide in Him this Holy Week.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to live beyond religious fanfare. Holy Spirit, embolden and empower us to follow Jesus down that blood-stained path to a rugged cross which beckons us to lay down our lives in reckless abandon and total surrender. Show us what it looks like to live under your Kingdom rule in all the affairs of our lives. For your glory and your Kingdom come, we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

twitter-64It is a lot easier to be a cheerleader for Jesus than it is to lay down our lives for Jesus. Tweet this

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How would you describe what it means to be a loyal sports fan?
  2. Where have you seen loyalty or disloyalty play out in your relationships?
  3. In what ways do you think our culture makes it is easier to breed ‘cheerleaders’ for Jesus rather than true disciples of Jesus?
  4. When has it been easy or convenient for you to proclaim the ‘teachings’ of Jesus without necessarily having to sacrifice for them?
  5. What will your faith cost you this week? Spend some time in prayer talking to God about this. Ask Him for wisdom in fleshing out your faith.

 

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.