April 8, 2001
A preacher said to a farmer, “Do you belong to the Christian family?” “No,” said he, “they live two farms down.” “No, no! I mean are you lost?” “No, I’ve been here thirty years.” “I mean are you ready for Judgment Day?” “When is it?” “It could be today or tomorrow.” “Well, when you find out for sure when it is, you let me know. My wife will probably want to go both days.”
One of the challenges that we face in this day is the ability to communicate the Christian message in such a manner that is first of all true in content and then understandable in context. This is no more important than it is this Sunday and next Sunday.
People are interested, despite appearances to the contrary, in spiritual matters. TV, despite all of its undesirable programming, has had programs that address our human need and interest in the spiritual dimension of life.
Teens are asking questions about life issues that we often have trouble hearing behind the screen of promiscuity and drug use. Children are hungering for a caring relationship with an adult who is going to be there for them and we often have trouble seeing that because they have trouble expressing that need in ways that we understand because it is often expressed through actions that turn us off and turn us away.
Four of the greatest needs, writes Kennon Callahan, that we have are: hope, significance or respect, meaning, and community. People are searching for all of these in their lives.
This week, this Holy Week is about hope, significance, meaning, and community. All of these needs are a part of what I call “The Greatest Week In History.” A week that starts today with celebrating and shouting “Hosanna,” continues with serious statements about meaning and purpose, and ends in betrayal and death.
To just celebrate Palm Sunday and not connect it with the larger picture of Holy Week is to do an injustice to it as well as the rest of the Holy Week story. We need to see it as part of a wider whole in God’s redemptive purpose.
We are going to walk through several passages of scripture this morning because I want us to have a ‘big picture’ of this important week as we both move toward Easter and toward what I hope will be a greater understanding and experience of God’s desire for us.
This is a week about hope.
A Little Leaguer was playing the outfield in the first game of the season. After chasing a long hit and hustling the ball back into the infield, someone asked him how his team was doing and what the score was. The boy said his team was doing OK, but they were behind 17 to 0.
The person asked if he was discouraged about being so far behind, and if he was ready to admit defeat. He came back immediately with this retort: “We aren’t beaten, we haven’t even been up to bat yet!”
What is hope? “Desire accompanied by expectation of fulfillment; to desire with expectation of fulfillment” says the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
We desire so much these days. We desire peace and quiet, we desire busyness, we desire to be loved, we desire success, and we desire recognition. We are people of and we live in a society of people that have high hopes.
But, those hopes get dashed and bruised and beat-up. And we begin to lose hope. We begin to give up on a relationship or a resolution to a problem or conflict. And we begin to withdraw or use a substance to numb the pain that we experience because it seems hopeless.
And sometimes, sometimes we give up on God. Our hope that God would do something goes unfulfilled and we grow angry with Him and our faith begins to wane and grow cold and lifeless.
But, this week, this greatest week in history is about a hope that does not disappoint us. It is about a hope that at first ends in pain and death but comes back to life in the form and existence of one who can give us a hope. In Romans 5 verses 4 and 5 we read: And endurance develops strength and character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us . . .
There is a hope for us that will take us through those difficult times in our lives. There is a hope that is available to us that is real, that is relevant, and that is based on something that is solid and can and will and does stand the tests of being challenged as being dumb or stupid or hopeless. It is a hope that will not let us down. Because it is a hope based not on some new and fancy premise, program, or personality but on the reality of God Himself.
And that hope is available to us if we have the willingness to believe and trust what Jesus said and did is true. God does love us. God does care about us. Why would God say anything different and not follow through on His word?
One other thing about hope. It can be experienced in the midst of disappointing and disheartening circumstances. Why? Because if we accept the premise that God is who He says He is, and if we accept the premise that Jesus is who He says He is, and if we accept the premise that all of this is true, then we can stand on the hope, the expectation, the desire that God will be there for us because He said that He would be. As one of my favorite songs says, “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.” This great week, the greatest week in history, we are reminded that God did not create us only to leave us alone and hanging by some thread we call circumstance or fate. No, in this great week, He makes it known that He loves us deeply and dearly. And the demonstration of that love, through Christ, keeps hope alive.
This is also a week about significance.
Significance, noun, 1: something signified: meaning 2: suggestiveness 3: consequence, importance influence, merit, prestige; excellence,
What do you hear as I re-read this definition? I hear ‘respect’ coming through loud and clear. “Respect” – to consider deserving of high regard.
For example: A six-year-old boy came home dejected from his first day at school and announced, “I am not going to school tomorrow.” “Why not?” his mother inquired.
The boy answered, I can’t read, I can’t write, and they won’t let me talk – so what’s the use?”
Or this college classroom situation, “A student in a biology class was given the assignment to learn about birds. He was to learn the classification, the scientific name, the common name, and the characteristics of all the birds. The professor said, “Learn everything about them.”
The day of the exam, the student was horrified when he looked at the test giving the birds pictured from their knees down. He knew the birds well but he couldn’t identify any of them from their knees down. He tossed his paper onto the pile of exams on the instructor’s table and explained his frustration.
The unsympathetic professor said, “Well, you’ll just have to take a zero. I told you to learn everything about them. What’s your name, son?”
The boy reached down and pulled up his pants to his knees and said, “You tell me!”
Now some of us here side with the professor, don’t we? We side with the teacher trying to keep the six year old boy quiet.
Respect is a two way street. Kids and teens need respect because they need to feel and be significant.
We don’t have to look very far to see the need for respect in our time. People will do the craziest things to gain the respect of others – including acts of violence.
I am not condoning violence in schools, the workplace, or the home. But, I wonder if we gave more respect to one another would there be as much violence?
God understand our need to feel and be significant. He knows that we need to be respected. I think that is in our very nature, a nature, though warped and distorted by sin, reflects the image of God in us.
Jesus demonstrated this respect even during his arrest that took place during this week, the greatest week in history. We read in Luke 22 verses 50 and 51: And one of them slashed at the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “Don’t resist anymore.” And he touched the place where the man’s ear had been and healed him.
Could we do that? How many of us would lash out? We do lash out don’t we? And we are lashed out at as well.
Jesus showed respect to those who arrested Him. And I just wonder if some of those who were a part of the arresting party were familiar faces to Him. Faces who had argued with Him, faces who had anger and contempt and disrespect on them as they faced Him once again, this time with the upper hand.
But, not only did Jesus show respect during His arrest, he also demonstrated it during his crucifixion. We read in Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
It is important to understand that Jesus is expressing respect towards those who are crucifying Him because God’s plan was to forgive these people for all their sin not just what they were doing to His son. Could we do that? Can we do that?
All of us have been disrespected: sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally. But, during this week, the greatest week in history, we see in the actions of Jesus Christ, a respect for people that is a model for us when we are wrongly accused or disrespected in some way.
This is a week about meaning.
In the definition of significance that I just read the word ‘meaning’ is a part of that definition. But, what does ‘meaning’ mean? In the dictionary that I use it says, among other things, aim, significance.
A search of synonyms to meaning includes the word ‘intent.’ Aim and intent these are words that deal with goals and priorities.
What is the aim and intent of your life? Once you identify that, then you have an idea of what gives your life meaning or as we sometimes say, purpose.
The loaded mini-van pulled into the only remaining campsite. Four children leaped from the vehicle and began feverishly unloading gear and setting up the tent. The boys then rushed to gather firewood, while the girls and their mother set up the camp stove and cooking utensils. A nearby camper marveled to the youngsters’ father: “That, sir, is some display of teamwork.” The father replied, “I have a system. No one goes to the bathroom until the camp is set up.”
Perhaps the father should have said, “I have a motive, I have an intent, namely, I am not going to set-up this campsite by myself!”
What is the intent of your life? To just get by? To just hang on? To have fun? To get away with what ever you can get away with? To appear successful? To appear accomplished in something? To be accepted?
When you answer these kinds of questions, you then start to identify what gives meaning to your life.
Meaning and purpose were topics of the first Holy Week. Jesus was in the final week of his life. He was headed to the cross. God’s plan of forgiveness was about to be completed. Jesus had a very clear understanding of the meaning of his life.
But, those with Jesus who did not understand what was happening and had no idea what was about to happen did not have such a sure and clear understanding. They were confused and mystified by His words and actions and they were stunned by a betrayal by one of their own.
Jesus addressed this need for meaning and purpose by using two small, but vitally important, words “I am.”
In John chapters 14 – 17, commonly referred to as the Upper Room passage, Jesus reveals to the disciples, and through the written record of that account, to us, His purpose on earth:
14:2 – There are many rooms in my father’s house. I am going to preparing a place for you.
14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
14:20 – When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you.
14:27 – I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
15:1 – I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
15:5 – Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
16:5 – But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and none of you has asked me where I am going.
16:32- But the time is coming-in fact, it is already here-when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. But, I am not alone because the father is with me.
17:11 – Now I am departing the world; I am leaving them behind and coming to you. Holy Father, keep them and care for them – all those you have given me – so they will be united just as we are.
17:13 – And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.
17:18 – As you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.
17:20 – I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony.
In these verses Jesus is describing His purpose, still yet to be fully understood, and also God’s purpose for us who choose to trust and obey Him – a mission a purpose, of telling the story of what happened and why it happened – a story of salvation, of deliverance, and freedom.
Behind all of the activity of our lives there is a hunger for meaning and purpose that cannot be satisfied until we accept the truth about what happened during the greatest week in history. Real purpose and meaning comes as we surrender ourselves, to God through Christ and allow Him to reshape our life’s purpose in and through Him.
Finally, this week is about community.
Despite what is thought about the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, his 1992 campaign thought of “a place called Hope” resonated with millions of people. And it resonated because it spoke of not just opportunity, but of community, of the need to belong.
The phrase, it takes a village to raise a child likewise generated a groundswell of new ideas and programs because our children do need a community in which to belong to. We all need a community to belong to. Even God Himself said in Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.”
We have been created to belong. But, belonging is a tough thing to do. Exclusion is easier to do than inclusion. We ache and grieve when rejection comes our way.
There is no greater pain than to be rejected, to be excluded. All of us can recall moments when we didn’t get selected. When we were cut during from the team. When we were passed over for a promotion. When we were told that our best friend was not our best friend anymore.
But during this week, the greatest rejection of all took place. It was during this great week in history that Jesus was rejected – first by Judas, then by Peter, then by Pilate, and finally by everyone it seems as they stood by and mocked Him on the cross. “Let him save himself! Let’s see Him come down off the cross!”
But, then God Himself rejected Jesus. In Mark 15:34 we read, Then, at that time Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus was alone. The human community had deserted Him. Heaven had deserted Him.
In Psalm 22 we read these words, My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Everyday I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. Everyone who sees me mocks me; They sneer and shake their heads saying, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves Him so much, let the Lord rescue Him!” My enemies surround men like a herd a bulls; like roaring lions attacking their pray, they come at me with open mouths. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
During this week, the greatest week in history, the Son of God, went to the cross so that we could be forgiven of our sins and so that we can experience a hope that is beyond belief, a significance that is not subject to external measurement, a meaning that rises above moments of uncertainty and despair, and membership in a community that will last forever. All that we have to do is reach out by faith and accept His offer of forgiveness.
There is one other person in this story that I want to mention this morning because he represents us – fallen, flawed human beings and if we could take the time to go behind the scenes and look at him we would probably see all four of these important needs being either met in unsatisfactory ways or not at all.
He is the repentant thief hanging alongside Jesus. I would love to know the train of thought that brought him to the place of confession as he hung there dying. I wonder if he already knew who Jesus was and finally in his last moments realized what Jesus could do for him.
As I conclude this morning we are going to hear a contemporary song that is from the perspective of this dying thief. By the way, He was not a thief to Jesus, but a person who needed forgiveness and redemption. As you reflect on it, I would have you open yourself to God this morning and allow Him to speak to you and then respond to Him as you see fit.