Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Way of the King (Holy Week 2009)

Last weekend was Palm Sunday. My church held a special session as Palm Sunday coincided with its 11th Anniversary. Founded in April 1998, Lord’s Peace Chapel began with three families, headed by the Chees, the Lees and the Yongs. For 11 years, the seed of faith was sown, water of care was showered, the discipline of loving toil was adopted and the fruits became visible. With more than 100 members attending each Sunday, the Church can be considered a medium sized church in the city of Vancouver. Pastor Josh’s skill in weaving the different ministries together was masterly. Testimonies were shared by children to adults, English speaking to Mandarin speaking, from the young to the not so young. It made the church service a real people affair as individuals appear up on the pulpit to share and to let the rest know that they exist for the benefit of the whole church for the glory of God. The worship service was intentionally led with songs that tell of God’s goodness over the years. I enjoyed the service, not only for its uniqueness but the purposefulness in thanking God for all He has done.

Was it a step in faith at that time? Yes. That was a giant step out of their comfort zones. These families have a church to attend, comfortable environment and predictable routines. Is it tough? Certainly. Planting a church is tough. On a scale of 1-10, many pastors will easily put a 10 in terms of toughness. I have helped plant a church before back in 1993. What made the church plant meaningful was the fact that excitement overwhelms the uncertainty; faith outruns fear; and the desire to be witnesses for God overpower the trepidation of embarrassment if the planting efforts fail in any way. Skeptics may claim such an initiative then as foolishness. Let me add that the very act of following Jesus is already considered foolishness as far as the world is concerned. Why will a heavenly king like Jesus, bother to come down to earth to suffer humiliation? Why will a universal Judge, willingly suffer acts of injustice in an utterly ridiculous trial that convicts the innocent (Jesus) and frees the guilty (Barabbas)? The story of such an irony begins positively on Palm Sunday, but tragically on Good Friday. Palm Sunday begins remarkably with another fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.

Say to the daughter of Zion,
Behold Your king is coming to you,
Gentle, and Mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.
Three observations can be made. Firstly, only the first part of verse 5 refers to the Isaiah passage, namely “Say to the daughter of Zion.” The rest of verse 5 are not from Isaiah. The prophecy being fulfilled is actually in the coming of a king, and the entry on a donkey. This is an amazing contextualization of the Old Testament texts fulfilled in the person of Christ. In order to make such tight integration, one needs to be well immersed and studied in the Scriptures, so that the Holy Spirit can guide one unto all truths at that time. It is interesting to note that the putting together of the prophecy is understood from Matthew’s point of view, and his interpretation of what Jesus has said in verses 2-3. I guess when he was observing Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem that day, he would not have comprehended what they all meant, except to remember that such an event happened, then and understood only later on. Secondly, the reference to the one being king. It is explicitly stated βασιλεύς (basileus) which is ‘king’ who is coming. This is the same word with 'kingdom.' Unabashedly, Jesus declares himself as king. Thirdly, the use of a donkey represents a reference to the use of the donkey as the mode of transport for kingly figures during the Old Testament times, which is also known as the Ancient New East. Scholars have identified many royal leaders riding into cities on donkeys. This contrasts with the idea of a horse which is used in war. When Jesus chose a donkey instead of a horse, he was declaring to all that the spiritual war is not going to be one that is fought using weapons of mass destruction, or might of military prowess. Instead it is going to be gently done in humility and peace. Wow. A triumphant entry into Jerusalem is like a declaration of war on God’s terms, not the world. Palm Sunday kick starts the Holy Week, one of the most significant weeks of the Christian year, leading up to Easter.

As we approach the last days of Lent, it is good to ponder at the way we embark upon adventures or projects we have planned. The three observations made above can help us approach our lives as follows.

1) Integrating the Word into Our Ways
By reading the Word of God on a regular basis, and reading widely, not only the New Testament, we will be able to understand not only the context of the passages we read, but the whole Bible as well. Read the Poetical books in the evening. Meditate on the Pentateuch in the morning. Dwell in the gospels throughout the day. Read intentionally the epistles of Paul and John. Wrestle with the Prophets. Marvel at the history of the Church and the nation of Israel. When one is well soaked in Scripture, he does not need to depend on external expertise of scholars on any one verse, but he will actually be able to link Scriptural truths together with the Spirit of God as Guide. Howard Hendricks, in his classic book on the art and science of Bible reading asks: “If my spiritual life depended on my knowledge of Deuteronomy, how would I make out?” (Howard Hendricks, Living By the Book, Moody Press, 1993, p21). This reminds us that when we say we are Bible believing Christians, it is the WHOLE Bible, not simply selected books or pet verses.

2) Truth in the Name of the King
In “Truth Decay,” Douglas Groothuis seeks to warn readers about the threats of half-truths from postmodern influences. Absolute has given in to the relative. Objective is upended by the subjective and universal truth becoming more customized in the form of ‘what is good for you may not be good for me,; in the name of free choice. He is exceptionally critical of television, calling it the chief agent of truth decay.
The truth is that truth, and the most important truths, is often not entertaining. An entertaining mentality will insulate us from many hard but necessary truths. The concepts of sin, repentance and hell, for instance, cannot be presented as entertaining without robbing them of their intrinsic meaning. Jesus, the prophets and the apostles held the interest of their audience not by being amusing but by their zeal for God’s truth, however unpopular or uncomfortable it may have been. They refused to entertain but instead edified and convicted. It was nothing like television.” (Douglas Groothius, Truth Decay, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000, p292)
Jesus does not mince his words, but tells the truth as it is. He knows that he is king. There is nothing to be shy about. He calls himself as king because he indeed is king.

3) Humility as the Life
In his commentary on Matthew, the RT France from the London Bible College observes that Jesus does not need a donkey in the first place to travel. After-all, he has been traveling on foot all the way from Galilee. Surely, he does not need a donkey to complete his journey? Yet, the very reason he does so is to tell the people to take note and recognize that he is coming as king. RT France calls it a ‘deliberate gesture.’ (RT France, Matthew, IVP, 1985, p296)

Humble living ought to be the mark of any disciple of Christ. No matter what status in society we are in, regardless of the background we possess or the qualifications attached to us, we need to practice humility. Charles Spurgeon made an insightful comment about humility:
Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Donkeys are also used not to represent humility but to contrast with the ways of the world. In the face of power and might, the disciple of Christ must not cower in fright but attest in the light of truth. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) The Christian fight is not something that is evaded in fear. It is something vigorously fought albeit with different tools. In teaching his disciples not to return an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, Jesus said:

But I say to you, do not resist the evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39).
Surely this introduces a new perspective of the Old Testament law that does not nullify but fulfills the law. It tells us that the way of the law leads to unending vengeful acts, but the way of Jesus leads to love and goodwill.

Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, as king riding on the humble donkey. Yet, that is not the biggest declaration of victory. It is the bigger victory that is yet to come, but first, Jesus will need to go to the cross to carry the sins of the world that will be horribly nailed on him.


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