Shifting Sands (A Holy Week Reflection)

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing but someday you will.'”  John 13:7

A few days ago (Palm Sunday), we were reminded of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The adoring throngs of men, women and children laying their cloaks and palm branches before the donkey that carried Him into the capital city.  Cries of praise and hope echoed throughout the region.  All the while they shouted, “Hosanna (a word that translates as an appeal to God for deliverance) to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (see Matthew, chapter 21).  Four nights later, Jesus is betrayed by one of His own, arrested and set up by a multitude of false witnesses.  What followed in less than 24 hours was humiliation, unspeakable torture and ultimately, His last breath on a wooden cross.

I think we have to ask ourselves….what changed in those few days?

So here we sit….

The midweek point of Holy Week and I can’t help but reflect upon what must have been going on in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.  Jesus had been in the city a few days now.  Many of the people had welcomed Him as their Messiah….but not from their sins….instead they had hoped He would help overthrow the oppressive power of the Roman authorities. Looking back through the dusty pages of history, we can see how limited and shortsighted their expectations were. God had something much bigger in mind.

They had seen, or at the very least heard the news about Jesus healing the leper and the paralyzed man and how He had raised His dear friend Lazarus from the grave.  Surely He had the power to decimate the Romans with fire from Heaven itself…and they were ready!  So what happened with this particular expectation that they had placed on Jesus?  Nothing.  A few days later and there had been no overthrow.  They had not been “healed” of the disease they saw as the Roman government.  Unmet expectations….and rather than trust God, what do they do?  They turn on Him.  In their pride, they believe that they know better.

Before we judge them, I think that we need to take a look in the mirror for a minute.  How do we treat God after He responds to our heartfelt prayers in ways that are different from our expectations?  The job ends.  The cancer does not disappear.  The spouse leaves.  What do we do?

Just this week a friend sent me a text message asking for prayer for her friend.  She had just lost her fiance in a tragic accident (they were to be married in about six weeks).  He had gotten out of her car to walk home and somewhere between the car and his home, he was struck and killed by another vehicle….

Even as I write this I have to pause at the sheer, gut wrenching devastation of something like this.  She’s angry and bitter at God….and I understand.  There are no answers on this side of Heaven for what has happened.  Figuratively speaking, she is at the midpoint of her own “Holy Week” in the sense that her expectations and her reality are vastly different….and in this darkness the attacks of the enemy are relentless.  In a nutshell they amount to this….  “Curse God and die”, those spirits quietly cackle in her ear.  Seeds of rage and bitterness can easily take root in this soil.

As I continued texting my friend, my prayer for this poor woman is that she would ultimately fall back on God’s love for her, His good character and ultimately be reminded of the reality that no matter the terrible things that can happen to us in this sometimes brutal world….This. Is. Not. The. End. Of. The. Story.

We have a living Hope that is beyond the brokenness.  Beyond the darkness.  Beyond any and all of the tragic events (this is not meant to minimize any particular terrible event….they are absolutely crushing, so let me make sure and validate that right now).  Our Hope has a name.  His name is Jesus and He is the Messiah (on a personal level we have to allow Him to be just that in each of our lives).  This is the hope of the Gospel….of Easter.

Betrayal.  Torture.  Death.  But afterwards…..the stone of the tomb is rolled away!  Resurrection, a living Hope and a Helper that indwells us (see John 16:7).  The head of the serpent has been crushed and when we are in the midst of the shifting sands of unmet expectations, these are the realities that we need to reflect on and consciously, purposefully remind ourselves of.  If we see the “Holy Week” story all the way through, we can see how Jesus actually surpasses the expectations of those at Jersusalem’s gates all of those centuries ago.  Not to mention, He does so in ways that are often very different from how we might have first imagined.  This is the great love of God.

“Even when I hear nothing.  I rest in knowing that He hears me.”

“I am with you always.  Until the very end of time.” -Jesus

Walk in the light of this truth, my friend.  Happy Easter.

The Barabbas in the Mirror

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

The house was quiet last evening.  Jen had taken Sean to an offseason hockey workout and I had prepared my bachelor meal of Hawaiian grilled chicken and a giant salad for dinner.  I settled in on the sofa, grabbed the remote and pressed play….

Every year during Holy Week, I will sit down and watch “The Passion of the Christ” in order to help me reflect on the power, depth and magnitude of Jesus’ redeeming love for humanity.  As many may know, this is not an easy film to watch but for me, it is necessary.  In my mind I can easily “whitewash” the events that happened that day, as if seeing them through rose colored stained glass windows.  This film helps prevent me from doing that.

As the story progresses I arrived at the scene where Jesus is brought back to Pontius Pilate for the second time.  The crowd has grown even more visceral and in what is seemingly Pilate’s attempt to talk some reason into the crowd, he brings out a convicted murderer, Barabbas.  “Which one do you want me to release to you–Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?….the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas…’Barabbas’ they answered.  What shall I do, then, with Jesus….?’  They answered, ‘Crucify him!'” (taken from Matthew 27)

The scene continues….

After a series of mocking gestures to both his Roman captors and the crowd, the newly freed Barabbas glances at the Man who has just taken his place.  Seemingly a look of both sorrow and conviction momentarily flashes across his face.  He, a guilty man has been set free.  Jesus, an innocent man, silently and faithfully accepts His purpose.

Now before we go on thinking, “That horrible man! That murderer!  I hope he realized the undeserved second chance he got!  I hope he ended up getting what’s coming to him!”…. Let’s reflect on the words of scripture:

“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer….” (1 John 3:15a) 

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  (James 2:10) 

If we are honest with ourselves and our own human condition, it is easy to see that we….we are all Barabbas. 

Yet there stands Jesus….taking our punishment on Himself to fulfill the requirements of the Law, so that we may go free.  This is how much He loves YOU.  He has gone to every length to demonstrate His Love for you.  What will you do with it?  How will you live the rest of your days knowing that this is the truth?

If you’ve never responded to Jesus, I would encourage you to do just that.  Turn from your past and your sin and into the outstretched arms of your Savior.  Call out to Him and He will hear you and save you.  There is no better time than now….

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

Welcome to the family….you are richly loved by the Creator of the universe and you have a unique purpose in God’s unfolding plan.

Be vigilant in love.  Be watchful.  Stay faithful.