Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
2 Let Israel now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
5 I called on the Lord in distress;
The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
8 It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
9 It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
11 They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me;
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
12 They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns;
For in the name of the Lord I will [a] destroy them.
13 You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened [b] me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 [c] This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Footnotes: a Psalm 118:12 cut them off b Psalm 118:18 disciplined c Psalm 118:23 Lit. This is from the Lord
Behind the Scenes in Jerusalem
“Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.
And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil...
“Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
End of Day One in Jerusalem: “...Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.” (Matthew 21:1-11, 14-17)
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”
So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”
And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve....(Mark 11:1-11)
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again. But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken...” (Luke 18:29-44)
“...He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”
So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them. But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, “Why are you loosing the colt?”
And they said, “The Lord has need of him.” Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him. And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.
Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:
“‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:28-44)
“Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (John 12:9-19)
The next day (Sunday) a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:12-19)
Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:
“ Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”
But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Catholic Church built in 1955 at the foot of the Mt. of Olives
Window in Dominus Flevit Church looking West over the Temple Mount
The Triumphal Entry
From Step Closer April 28, 2019 (Lambert Dolphin)
We return now to where we left off in our series of studies in Mark. As Chapter 10 ended, our Lord and his disciples were making their way to Jerusalem, toward those climactic events of his last week there which ultimately would issue in his death and resurrection. And now we find the Lord and his disciples approaching Jerusalem.
There is a beautiful song which has been written in these last few years -- one of many marvelous compositions which have come out of the great spiritual movement of our day: The King Is Coming. Perhaps you have heard it. I have seen entire audiences greatly moved as that song was sung. It would be very fitting music for our study today, because this is the story of Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem, when the whole city became aware that the King was coming:
And when they drew near to Jerusalem to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'" And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it. And those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go. (Mark 11:1-6 RSV)
It is very apparent from this brief account that Jesus had made certain prearrangements for this day. He knew that he was coming into the city and that he was to fulfill prophecies which had been made hundreds of years earlier. So he had made arrangements in advance for fulfillment of the prophecy concerning this colt. Thus we do not need to see this as some miraculous supply of his need. The colt was tied where it was because he had arranged for it to be there. When the word was given that the Lord had need of it, this was all the owners required, because the Lord Jesus had made such arrangements earlier.
If you recall, in one of our previous studies in Mark we saw that he had made a quick trip to Jerusalem about three months earlier, in what would be our month of January. It is very likely that he made these arrangements at that time. For Jesus knew the day and the hour he was coming into Jerusalem, and he knew what would be required of that moment. As we saw in our studies in the book of Zechariah, in Chapter 9, Zechariah had clearly described what this would be like. The prophet had cried out,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9 RSV)
Jesus knew that prophecy, knew that it would need to be fulfilled. So he had made arrangements, I think, that on this particular day, he would be coming into the city on a colt. He knew exactly what day this would be, for the book of Daniel tells us that, almost five hundred years earlier, an angel had appeared to the prophet Daniel and had told him that a certain amount of time had been marked out by God, and would be given over to the fulfillment of certain climactic and dramatic events which concerned the people of Israel.
And the time when this was to begin was clearly given. It would be when the Persian king, Artaxerxes, issued an edict for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. You will find that edict recorded for us in the pages of Scripture, in Chapter 2 of the book of Nehemiah. And when this heathen king issued the edict, he unknowingly set in motion God's clock for the Jewish nation.
Daniel was told that four hundred ninety years must run their course before all of God's events would be fulfilled, and the passage of four hundred eighty-three of those years would be marked off by the arrival in Jerusalem of Messiah the Prince.
Many years ago there was a brilliant lawyer who served for a long time as the director of England's famed Scotland Yard. His name was Sir Robert Anderson. He was also an avid and devout Bible student. Sir Robert Anderson, with his precise mind and his training in logic, analyzed the book of Daniel and determined the exact date when that decree of Artaxerxes was issued: March 28, 445 B. C. Counting from that date, and making the necessary corrections for calendar errors, he determined that on April 6, A. D. 32, Jesus rode into Jerusalem -- exactly four hundred eighty-three years later.
Now, if a man in the Nineteenth Century could take these Scriptures and figure out the very date on which this event took place, surely the Son of God, who also had the book of Daniel, and knew it very well, and was taught and illuminated by the Holy Spirit as he read its pages, would know the day that he was to come into Jerusalem.
So he made the arrangements to enter the city, and came riding down the slopes of the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey, on a colt on which no one had ever sat, in fulfillment of the predictions of Zechariah and Daniel.
I find it interesting that all three of the Synoptic Gospels tell us that this was an animal on which no one had ever sat -- a young donkey. When I was a boy in Montana, some of us high school boys would try to break horses for amusement. Some of the full-grown ones were a little too much for us to handle, so we concentrated on the yearling colts on which no one had ever sat. I can give you firsthand testimony that these animals do not welcome that experience! And even at a year's age, they are quite capable of dumping you along the wayside. Here is an animal that no one had ever sat on -- but Jesus sat on him, and he was quiet, responsive, and obedient, and carried him through the streets of the city.
"Well," you say, "if Jesus arranged all this, and worked it all out, doesn't that mean that this is really not a fulfillment of prophecy at all?" Well, I think it is true that he arranged some of it; but he did not arrange all of it. There were things he could not have arranged: the response of the crowd as he came into the city, the attitude of the rulers -- these were far beyond his control. Yet when Jesus came riding down the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the crowd welcomed him and greeted him just as the prophets of old had said they would do, Verses 7-10:
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:7-10 RSV)
From other accounts we know they were not so much citizens of Jerusalem as people from Galilee, who were in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Many were children. And yet, as they saw Jesus coming, they felt deeply moved to cry out the very words that fulfilled Psalm 118. You cannot read this account without seeing that these words must have been much in the Lord's own mind as he went through this experience -- and, unaccountably, also in the minds and hearts of these people. In this psalm David cries,
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief corner stone. (Psalms 118:22 RSV)
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalms 118:24 RSV)
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalms 118:26a RSV)
Those were the very words that these people cried out, as Jesus rode through the streets.
Luke adds something very interesting in his account of this event. In the nineteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel we read, Verses 41-44:
And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! [Notice his phraseology: "even today," i.e., "even this day."] But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:41-44 RSV)
Amazing words, fulfilled to the letter forty years later when the Roman general, Titus, brought his armies and began a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, and eventually overcame it. And against the general's command the temple was burned, and the gold of the temple's treasury ran into the cracks of the stones. In their efforts to get at the gold, the soldiers pried apart the stones, and literally left not one stone standing upon another. As he rode down the mountain, Jesus knew all that was coming, and he wept because, as Luke records, he says, "you did not know the time of your visitation."
That is one of the most tragic sentences in the Bible. God had sent out invitations to this great event five hundred years before, had told when it would happen, had given an exact time schedule, had told how to recognize the King. But when he came, nobody in the city knew who he was, except a passel of Galatiansilean peasants and their children, who were there celebrating the Passover. What an ironic twist! Yet that is often what happens with us. We do not know the time when God is suddenly in our midst. In Verse 11 we read the purpose of our Lord's visit:
And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:11 RSV)
That does not sound very significant, yet it tells us what he came to do. This was an official visit of the King of Israel, an inspection tour of the heart of the nation. He went into the temple, where the very heartbeat of the nation was throbbing, represented in the worship that was lifted up to God. And he looked at everything. We know what he saw: commercialism, moneychangers, exploitation, corruption, and injustice. He saw dirt, filth, and squalor, pride, hypocrisy, and haughtiness. He saw that religious ceremonies were being carried on without any meaning whatsoever. But he did not say a word. He just looked around at everything. Nobody noticed him, because he had been there many times before. But they did not know this was an official tour of inspection by the King. God comes into our lives that way, doesn't he?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if God looked at us only when we came to church on Sunday morning, if he would read our hearts only when we were sitting with the Word of God open before us, and thinking all the nice things we should? Would that not be nice? But he does not; he catches us in the bedroom and in the kitchen and at the office -- and in our car! He comes in and looks around at everything, and does not say a word.
In Verses 21 and following we get the results of this inspection. Jesus did not say a word when he looked around, but the next day he took, first, a symbolic action:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12-14 RSV)
As we will read in just a few moments, the disciples were surprised the next day when they saw that the tree was withered clear to its roots. Many have been amazed at this miracle. It seems so unlike Jesus. It is the only miracle in the entire record of Jesus' ministry which is a pronunciation of judgment and condemnation and destruction upon anything. It seems so strange that it would occur to a tree that did not have figs, when it was not the season for figs. This has bothered many people. Why did Jesus curse this tree that did not have figs, when it should not have had figs?
I want to tell you that I puzzled over this problem for years, until I finally decided to conduct some research. When I came to California, I planted a fig tree -- just to see what it would do, and to learn from it. I learned the answer to this riddle from the fig tree in my yard. The first spring I watched with interest as the barren limbs of that tree began to swell, the buds began to fill out, and the leaves began to appear. And to my astonishment -- I did not know this about a fig tree -- little tiny figs appeared right along with the leaves. I thought, "Well, that's strange: the fruit comes right along with the leaf. Fig trees must be very unusual that way." So I watched these little figs grow and turn from green to yellow, and begin to look as if they were ripe. One day I sampled one. To my amazement, instead of being full of juice and pulp as a normal fig would be, it was dry and withered inside, with no juice at all. I opened another, and another, and found the same thing. I thought, "Oh, my fig tree is a lemon!" But then, to my amazement, I saw that the tree began to bear other figs, and these began to swell and grow bigger. And when I opened one, I saw that it was a normal fig, rich and juicy and filled with pulp. And the tree has borne a great crop of figs ever since. So I learned something: a fig tree has two kinds of figs -- one that I call "pre-figs," which look like figs but are not figs, but which always appear first. I learned that if a tree does not have those pre-figs, it will not have real figs later on.
This is the explanation for what Jesus found. It was not the season for real figs. But when Jesus looked at this tree, he found no pre-figs, and so he knew that this tree would never have figs, but produced nothing but leaves. The life of the tree had been spent producing its luxuriant foliage, so that it looked like a healthy tree, but was not. And so he cursed it, and the next day it was withered to its very roots. That tree was a symbol of the nation Israel, as we will see, because what follows here is a dramatic acting out of the symbol of that cursed fig tree. Verses 15-17:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." (Mark 11:15-17 RSV)
Jesus took two very significant actions here which are tantamount to the cursing of this nation, just as he cursed the fig tree when he found it with nothing but leaves:
The first is that he cleansed it from all the false manifestations which had crept in. He cleaned out the commercialism of this temple. This was the second time he had done this. According to John's Gospel, three years before, at the very beginning of his ministry, he had entered this temple and had swept out the moneychangers in very similar fashion. Now he does it again, for the second time, and refuses to allow anyone to commercialize these sacrificial offerings. They were selling animals as a "service" to the people. And because they would accept only the official temple currency, money-changers set up shop (another "service") where people could exchange normal currency into temple currency. The money-changers and traders were making an excessive profit at this business, and Jesus swept the whole mess out.
But then he did something even more significant. Mark says, "He would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple." If you refer to the books of Leviticus and Numbers, you see that God had instituted a certain set of rituals for that temple which necessitated that the priests would carry many things through it. They had to bring the animals into the temple, bind them upon the altar, and slay them. They had to catch the blood of these animals and carry it in basins into the holy place to sprinkle it on the altar of incense. They had to take the bodies of the sacrifices, after they were burned, and carry them back out again. So there was a continual procession of priests through that temple all day long, carrying out the system of rituals which God himself had given this nation.
But on this day, when Jesus came into the temple, he stopped it dead in its tracks. "He would not permit any one to carry anything through the temple," which means that, as the authorized King of this nation, he rejected its worship and refused to acknowledge it as of any value any longer. Though the Jews later restored this traffic, and kept it up for forty years more until the temple was destroyed, never again did those sacrifices have any meaning before God.
This represented the cursing of the heart of this nation, because it had nothing but leaves. It appeared to have life, but in reality did not. It appeared to offer hope to men and women of the nations of earth. From all over the earth people were coming to the temple at Jerusalem, hoping to find an answer to the emptiness and the burden of their heart, but finding no help there at all. So Jesus cursed the nation.
The immediate result was the withering of the life of the nation. It is manifest in these words: "And the chief priests and scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him." Now, they had never done that before. Every earlier account of the opposition to Jesus of the chief priests and scribes cited their getting together to discuss what they ought to do with him. Now the matter is settled. Now they intend to destroy him, and need only to discuss how to go about it, Verses 18-19:
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:18-19 RSV)
That was the point of no return for this nation. It was undoubtedly this act of Jesus -- stopping the worship in the temple -- which resulted in his death within the week. The scribes and the Pharisees would no longer put up with anything Jesus did or said from that moment on. This sealed his death; but it also sealed their destiny. They thought they were getting rid of him. But it was he, as the King in all his majesty, who had pronounced sentence upon them and had sealed their doom.
The next day, coming back into the city, Jesus begins to explain some of these strange things. And here all that has happened in these tremendous events is borne home to our own hearts. We read, in Verses 20-22:
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, "Master, look! the fig tree which you cursed has withered." And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God." (Mark 11:20-22 RSV)
Does that answer not strike you as strange? Many have read this passage and, neglecting to read it in its context, have taken this to be a kind of formula Jesus is giving us which would enable us to work miracles. But if you read this in connection with all the events of this passage, where it belongs, you will see it is not that. He is not telling us the secret of how to curse fig trees; he is telling us the secret of how to live so as not to be cursed. This nation was cursed because it had lost faith in God. It had substituted instead an empty procedure, a meaningless ritual, a performance only, which had an outwardly religious glaze to it, but inwardly was unreal and hypocritical. They had lost faith in God, and so the life of God which was in them was dried up and withered.
This is what Jesus is telling us: "Have faith in God," means that this is the way to live! This is the way to have life full and rich and meaningful -- to trust that the living God knows what he is doing, to believe what he says, to obey what he commands, and to open our life to him so that he may enrich us, and flow through us, and make us a fruitful person, or a fruitful nation, as the case may be. "Have faith in God." This is the answer. A nation or an individual which begins to dry up this source of life, whose faith becomes full and dead, is in danger ultimately of losing the capacity to have life within him. That is what this nation did. Then Jesus went on to say something even more puzzling:
"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him." (Mark 11:23 RSV)
Once again, we extract that out of context and read it as a magic formula for doing amazing things. Imagine going around and commanding mountains to lift themselves up and cast themselves into the sea! We say, "The secret is, you've got to believe that the thing is going to happen." That is like telling someone not to think of pink elephants. If you tell somebody, "You can have all the riches of the world given to you if, when you ask for them, you will not think of pink elephants," do you know what will happen? They will never get the riches, because under those circumstances it is impossible to stop thinking of pink elephants!
But Jesus is not giving us a formula here for throwing mountains into the sea. He is telling us that to have faith in God at times is difficult to do. He knows that. There are mountains which oppose our faith and make it difficult for us. There are obstacles to faith. This nation had experienced those obstacles, and they were formidable, powerful obstacles. One was their slavery under the Romans. Another was the apparent silence of God. All the many circumstances which aroused doubt and fear in their lives were like a mountain which opposed the great fact that they were to have faith in God. Jesus says, "I tell you, if you ask in faith, that mountain will be removed." And then he goes on to tell us how:
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:24-25 RSV)
Now, do not remove that from its context! What Jesus is saying is, "The great hindrance to having faith in God is pride, the pride which refuses to forgive. That is like a mountain which fills up your whole life. All you can see is that big mountain looming before you, and that is blocking the life of God in your life. You have the power to have that removed if, when you stand and pray, you will forgive those who have offended you." Because the only thing that stops us from forgiving one another is pride. We feel justified in wanting others to forgive us, but also in feeling that we have to exact a price for the hurt they have caused us. So, in many ways -- subtle, or direct and open -- we insist that we will not forgive, that they have to pay for what they have done to us. We are going to be avenged! We are going to have our revenge for what has happened. Somehow, we are going to make them crawl, make them beg or plead for forgiveness. "And that," Jesus says, "is a great mountain which needs to be removed, for it is blocking the flow of the life of God to your faith." So when you stand and pray, life will flow from God when you are able to recognize that you, too, need forgiveness. God has forgiven you. Like the very person you are holding a grudge against, you need forgiveness also. God has offered it freely to you; give it just as freely to them.
You know, after thirty years of ministry, I can recite evidence by the yard that this is true. The one thing above all else which seems to block the flow of the life of God to an individual, to a church, or to a nation, is this unwillingness to forgive, this holding of grudges, this desire to put somebody down in order to feel good yourself, this unwillingness to set these things aside and let God heal all the hurts of life.
That is why Jesus puts his finger on this one thing. Is this not amazing? The nation Israel lost its life because it would not forgive the Gentiles, the Romans, who had offended and grieved it. Instead, it gathered its robes of self-righteousness about it and looked with pride up to God and said, "I thank God I am not like these other people." God says that is what ends the life of a nation. That is what ends the life of a church. And that is what ends the spiritual life of an individual, cuts him off.
May God help us, then, to forgive one another. This is no option, nor is it a luxury; it is a necessity of life.
As we go now to the Lord's table and partake of these elements, may they speak to us abundantly of the ground of our own forgiveness: Another has paid the price, Another has assumed our debt, Another has borne the hurt so that we can be free. We can have all his love, and all his life -- freely, without doing anything on our part to merit it. How much more then should we extend that same mercy and love to all who have offended us, and forgive them, so that the life of God may flourish in our midst, and we may grow strong together in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Triumph Or Tragedy?
John's account of our Lord's so-called triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem is very brief:
The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes In the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,
"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass's colt!" (John 12:12-15 RSV)
The traditional view of this event is that it was a well-deserved recognition by our Lord of his Messiahship; that at last he was receiving a proper welcome as a King, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah which is quoted here. The crowd cried out, "Hosanna!" which means, "Save us now!" They saw him as a conqueror and acknowledged him to be the king of Israel. Most of us have grown up with the traditional idea that this was indeed a moment of joy and triumph for our Lord; that he was at last being received as he ought to be.
But that is to misunderstand what is happening here. Many of us have learned more from tradition than from Scripture, and tradition is usually grossly distorted. A reading of the other gospels makes clear that this was not actually a welcome by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. John himself tells us in Verse 12, "a great crowd who had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem." These people who welcomed Jesus were not residents of the city, but pilgrims, in the city for the feast, many of them perhaps from other countries. In fact, in Matthew's account of this incident, he says that the whole city was stirred when they saw this procession coming down the Mount of Olives. But instead of joining in the "Hosannas! " they suspiciously asked, "Who is this?" The crowd making up the procession had to inform them, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth."
No one seems to have truly understood the nature of this event, as John makes evident in the next verses:
His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they had heard he had done this sign. The Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him." (John 12:16-19 RSV)
Even the disciples were bewildered by this turn of events. They had been with Jesus in Galilee when the crowd had tried to crown him king following the feeding of the five thousand, but he would have nothing to do with that. Here, however, they see he is willing to receive the plaudits of the crowd. They must have been very confused at what was going on. In fact, we are told they did not know what this meant until after Jesus was glorified.
Here also was the bedazzled multitude, caught up with the exciting news that Jesus had raised a man who had been dead four days. They were all anxious to see the Wonderworker who had done this amazing thing. Then there were the belligerent Pharisees who had decided (we learn from the other gospels) not to take Jesus prisoner during the Passover feast because they feared the reaction of the multitude. But now, as they see the whole populace seemingly swept along by this appearance of Jesus, they say, "You see that you can do nothing (i.e., their plans to delay arresting Jesus were unavailing); look, the whole world has gone after him." This event changed their schedule. They had to act now.
So not only is this not a welcome to the city of Jerusalem, it's not even a spontaneous demonstration. Most of us have felt that when Jesus appeared the crowd became excited and spontaneously began to break the branches off the palm trees to welcome him. But a careful reading of all four gospels indicates that this was a carefully planned demonstration, orchestrated by none other than Jesus himself! He was the one who was timing events according to his schedule. The other gospels indicate that he had made arrangements weeks in advance for a donkey to be available to him, He told the disciples they would find an ass with its colt tied beside it. "Loose them and bring them both to me" (Matthew 21:2), he told them. "If anybody asks you what you are doing, tell them, "The Lord needs them," (Matthew 21:3). This is exactly what happened. It is clear that some weeks earlier, during a quick visit to Jerusalem, he had made these arrangements. During that visit he also arranged to rent a room in which he and his disciples would celebrate the Passover together. And he had known weeks or months, perhaps even years earlier, the exact day when this would take place.
How did Jesus know that? Well, he knew that the prophet Zechariah had predicted that Messiah would come, riding into the city on a colt which no man had ever ridden. That is a remarkable feat in itself. I speak from experience, having grown up in Montana and having ridden colts which had never been ridden before. I even broke horses occasionally. I once got on a two-year-old colt which had never been ridden and I remained on him about two-and-a-half seconds! But so complete was our Lord's control that this unridden colt behaved as meekly as if he had often been ridden.
More than the prophecy of Zechariah, however, Jesus had read in the ninth chapter of Daniel, in one of the most amazing prophetic passages of the Old Testament, that a special period of 490 years of Jewish history would begin to run its course when the command was given to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. When 483 of those years had elapsed, Messiah, the Prince, would then be presented to his people. Two very interesting books by Sir Robert Anderson, "Messiah the Prince," and "Daniel the Prophet," trace the fulfillment of this prophecy, pointing out that on the very day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem 483 years had elapsed from the time of the issuing of the commandment to build the walls of Jerusalem! This was a strategic day in the history of Israel. Our Lord was fully aware of it and that is why he had chosen this day.
Not only was this not a spontaneous demonstration, it was not even a triumphal entry. Although it had all the outward appearances of one, it was far from that in our Lord's thoughts. We find proof of that in these words from Chapter 19 of Luke's gospel: "And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it," (Luke 19:41).
When he came over the brow of the mountain and saw the city spread beneath him, tears rolled down his cheeks. Not only was he not happy or excited, rejoicing in the acclamation of the multitude, he was actually weeping. He then said,
"Would that even today [note the special significance that day] you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:42-44 RSV)
They did not believe the calendar of events which Daniel the prophet had outlined would occur. Jesus uses this occasion to predict the coming of the Romans, 40 years later, and the destruction of Jerusalem, exactly in line with his words. That is hardly a triumphal entry.
I remember watching on television the return of General Douglas MacArthur to San Francisco following his years of being the virtual overlord of Japan. A holiday was declared and the whole city turned out to greet him. Streamers and confetti were strewn about everywhere as MacArthur rode in a car along Market Street. As the camera focused on his face, I noted the quiet pride and the warm response to the enthusiasm of the crowd reflected in it. That was truly a Triumphal Entry.
But this was a tearful entry by Jesus. He was coming as King, not to receive a throne, but in tears to pronounce a sentence of judgment upon the nation. The other gospels say that he went immediately to the temple. Standing there, having once again cleansed it of the greedy moneychangers, he pronounced these words, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. You will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,'" (Luke 13:35 RSV). According to John's account, that is what the crowd coming down the mountainside had been saying. But that was a crowd of strangers, not the residents of Jerusalem.
It's interesting that even today the Jews welcome those whom they regard as their deliverers by calling them the king of Israel. When Menachim Begin was prime minister of Israel, on several occasions crowds gathered outside his residence and called out to him in these words, "Ha melech Yisrael!" (the king of Israel). Just the other day, following his return to Jerusalem at the conclusion of his libel suit in New York, Ariel Sharon was welcomed in the same words by many of those who greeted him.
But when Jesus came, in fulfillment of the prophecies that he would come as King, he was not riding on a war horse but on a donkey, a symbol of peace. His only scepter was a broken reed, his only crown a crown of thorns, his only throne a bloody cross. This whole scene is telling us that outward appearance means nothing to God when the heart is defiled and unyielded to him.
That is why John goes on immediately to link this with another event which probably occurred a day or two later in this strategic week -- the visit of certain Greeks to the feast:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:20-24 RSV)
The disciples must have been amazed at this reaction of our Lord. These Greeks probably had come into contact with the teaching of the Old Testament, drawn by its purity, its monotheism, its clear message of the nature and the greatness of God. Though they had not become Jews they did go up to the feast to celebrate along with the Jews. Remember that the outer courts of the temple were called "the courts of the Gentiles." Many Gentiles would go up at times like this to celebrate, although they could not go beyond those courts on pain of their life. These Greeks picked out the two disciples who had Greek names, Philip and Andrew. Philip, we are told, was from Bethsaida, on the northern side of the lake of Galilee, the area where the Gentiles had most fully settled. These were sincere people, not curious tourists, who said to Philip, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
Preachers often see this phrase written inside pulpits, offered as a message that hopefully reflects the desires of the congregation. I have seen these words in many pulpits and have been humbled and challenged by them.
Here, however, these words awaken an unusual response from Jesus. He has not been pleased by the triumphal entry, but when he hears that a group of Gentiles want to see him, his response is remarkable. Immediately he declares, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified!" Several times in this gospel we have heard Jesus say "My hour has not yet come." When his mother came to him at the wedding at Cana and asked him to help with a problem he said to her, "Woman, ... my hour has not yet come," (John 2:4 RSV). He did not mean he would not help her, because he did. He meant that what he would do would not accomplish what she desired because his time had not yet come. On several other occasions he made the same point. But the moment he hears of these Gentiles wanting to see him he responds in these words, "The hour has come..."
He goes on to utter words introduced by what I have described as the formula of focused attention: "Truly, truly, I say to you." When you see these words, pay close attention to what follows. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone." What does he mean by that? He is talking about himself. He is the grain of wheat. Unless he is willing to die, unless he goes to the cross, which he seems looming in the immediate foreground now, his whole purpose in coming to earth will have been wasted, he will remain alone. "But if it dies, it bears much fruit." He sees these Greeks as the first fruits, the symbol of the great harvest of earth for which he came.
Perhaps he thought something like this: "These Greeks have asked to see me. What does it mean to 'see me'?" Picture a grain of wheat in your mind. Can you see that grain, so tiny, so obvious? Outwardly you can see what it is, but can you really see it? No. In order to see it you have to plant it in the cold, dark earth. If you watch it, eventually a green sprout will appear, then the blade, then the plant, then the stem, and finally a head. At last it turns golden; the harvest has come. But have you seen everything in that grain of wheat? No, not yet. You must plant those grains again and again. At last, when you stand one day beside a shimmering field of wheat, rippling in the breeze, golden in the sunshine, you can say you have seen a grain of wheat. You have seen all the possibilities of it; all of it has been unfolded and now is visible to the eye. That is what Jesus meant. The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross.
If he had not died we probably would not know any more about him than we know of any other great religious leader, like Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius. We may not have heard of him at all, so meager were the results of his teaching. Only a relative handful stood with him to the end. Because of the cross he was able to do something he could never have done otherwise: He was able to share his life with millions of people. How do we explain men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli and others who changed the entire Western world during their lifetime? How do we explain the impact of men like the Wesley brothers? In our own day, how do we explain the change in the hatchet-man of the Nixon administration, Charles Colson, who is now changing the prison system of this country in the name of Jesus? How do we explain Solzenityn, Mother Teresa, and millions who daily evidence an altered life, a changed outlook? All has come about because of the cross of Christ. God is saying to us in this account that the only way to true glory is to die.
Jesus applies this to us in the next two verses:
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also [the servant will not be any different than Jesus; he will have to go the way Jesus went]; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:25-26 RSV)
Here is the great Christian paradox, the unmistakable mark of an authentic gospel: It begins with dying, with a cross. If the gospel that you hear preached on the radio, the television, or wherever, does not begin with a cross, does not begin by telling you that something in you has to die, it is not the true gospel. This is the identifying mark. How these words of Jesus cut across the philosophy of life today! Every television program, every magazine, every popular song, all present the philosophy, "Your life is your own! Live it the way you please! Watch out for No. 1! Do your own thing! Live so that you can join with Frank Sinatra singing, 'I Did It My Way'!" But Jesus declares that if you follow that philosophy you will lose everything. Life will slip through your fingers no matter what you do. You can gain all the material abundance you could ever wish for, the plaudits of the crowd, recognition by the whole world, but if you live that way you will end up with nothing; your life will be a total waste of time.
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." That doesn't mean you have to hate yourself. It means you must recognize that living for yourself will never supply what you really want out of life. Only as you surrender to the Lordship of Christ can that be brought about. That is why the gospel includes a cross, and why the cross has become the symbol of Christian faith. If the message you are hearing today does not begin there, then it's a false gospel. If you are being told that the way to gain a deep and wonderful sense of self-esteem is to simply come to Jesus and let him build you up and make you feel good about yourself you are not hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It does not begin that way. It starts with a cross.
Let me share with you the words of Dr. A. W. Tozer, the great preacher of a few decades ago:
The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel.
Also it's not the end. The end is, "If it dies, it bears much fruit." That is where life begins. There is a life we are all born with that must end. It is a self-centered life, that thinks only of itself, seeks advantage for itself, is ambitious and proud. That life has to die. That is the beginning of the gospel. But if it dies, then another life takes its place, a life that is gracious, loving, lovely, peaceful, filled with joy, gladness and a deep sense of self-esteem, knowing who it is and what it was made to be. That is the rest of the gospel. You cannot reverse these two, although people try to. They jump immediately to the end of the gospel -- life in Christ -- without first going to the cross. But that cannot be. Jesus said so: "If any one serves me he must follow me, and where I am there shall my servant be also. He must go where I've gone."
In terms of daily, practical experience, what does Jesus mean, "He who comes after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me"? (Luke 9:23). What does it mean to bear your cross daily? It means two things: First, it means a once-for-all decision; and secondly, a continuing series of choices. That is what the cross stands for:
First, it is a surrender of the rule of your life to Jesus. It is a recognition that your life is not your own. The key words of the Christian faith are, "You are not your own, you are bought with a price," (1 Corinthians 19b-20a). Actually, you never were your own. That is an illusion that the world is perpetrating upon us through the media. They tell us that we belong to ourselves, that we have a right to ourselves. That is a lie. It's not true. It never was. "You are not your own; you are bought with a price."
This is the beginning of true life: To recognize that fact, to surrender your claim to yourself, to give up your right to run your own affairs, and to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, to do what he says, and to stop what he says to stop. That hurts. It cancels out your own plans. It confounds your ambitions at times. It feels like death. It is death; it's a form of dying.
It also means to daily follow up on that decision. Keep doing what is right. Stop doing what is wrong, and do it all in the strength of Jesus' love and companionship! The result is that you will truly begin to live. New power will come, to do what is right. New joy will be yours, an inner peace that nothing can take away, a new ability to love even those you could not love before, because a new life is yours. You have found a new Lordship and a new life.
Our Lord uses this symbol of a grain of wheat not only of himself but of everyone who follows him. Have you ever heard a grain of wheat talking to itself? I'm going to stretch your imagination a little and ask you to imagine a grain of wheat looking at itself, admiring itself. So round, so brown, so fully packed, and saying to itself, "This philosophy I hear asks me to fall into that dark, cold ground and lose myself. I don't want to do that. I like myself. I want to stay what I am. I want to hang on to myself, I want to be myself."
Does that sound familiar? If the grain of wheat wants to remain the same, it has that right. But, according to the word of Jesus, it will never change. Three thousand-year-old grains of wheat found in the tombs of the Pharaohs were found to be absolutely the same as any grain of wheat today. In fact, when they were planted they began to grow. They were totally unchanged for 3,000 years or more.
But supposing the grain of wheat said, "Well, I'm told there is more to come, a lot more than I'm experiencing, and the only way I can have it is to fall into that dark ground and die. So I guess I'll do it." And it does so. It falls into the ground and is covered up. It's dark and unpleasant there. The grain of wheat begins to think, "What a fool I was! Why did I ever listen to that idea? Look what's happened to me! I don't like this at all." But then it begins to feel a tickle on its back. It turns around and sees a white sprout coming out. It says, "What is this that's happening? I didn't anticipate this at all. I've got to hold a committee meeting with myself and decide what to do about this. I'm in charge. I've got to determine whether that thing is going to go sideways, up or down, or whatever."
While it's trying to determine that, it discovers there is a hidden lordship which began to take over the moment it fell into the ground. This lordship directs the process quite apart from what the grain of wheat may feel, directing that a certain part goes down, while another part goes up and soon breaks through into the sunlight. Then the grain begins to say, "Oh, this is better. I'm beginning to enjoy this. It's not as bad as I thought." The sprout comes, then the blade, then the stalk, and finally the head. The grain of wheat says, "I feel fulfilled." (Filled full, is the idea.) Then those grains in the head fall into the ground and they go through the process again and again until at last a great, shimmering field of wheat is growing, beautiful, rippling and golden in the sun. The grain of wheat says, "Ah, this is life as it was intended to be." Fruitful -- that is what the end of the gospel is.
If you belong to Jesus, every day will have its cross, every day will have something you ought to do but you don't feel like doing. That is your cross. "He who follows me must take up his cross daily and follow me," Luke 9:23). Every day has its bit of death in order that it might bring forth life. The end result is a life so glorious, so complete, so obviously what we were made for that I can hardly find the words to describe it. But the testimony of millions is that it's all true. Life comes only out of death.
You will find this thought everywhere in Scripture. It doesn't make any difference whether it's the Old Testament or the New Testament. But you will find this only in the Bible! No other book on earth will tell you that this is the way to life; only the Bible, only the words of Jesus. But his word is true, as he has demonstrated, and as the testimony of almost 2,000 years bear witness, he brings life through death. This is the choice that lies before us. If we choose to die with Him, then we shall live. "Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
When Stones Cry Out
Two weeks ago I was in Israel and, in company with my companions, was driving from the little village of Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, down across the Kidron valley, and on up into the temple area of Jerusalem. We were, in effect, retracing the path our Lord took in the so-called "triumphal entry," when he mounted the colt of an ass in Bethany and rode down across the face of the mountain, through the Kidron valley, and up into the city. He was preceded by a crowd who threw palm branches into his pathway, praising God. I was thinking of that episode as we drove along, and an incident from the account in Luke's gospel came into my mind. Luke says,
As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." (Luke 19:37-40 RSV)
The scene has changed since those days. There are many buildings around Jerusalem now which were not there then. The Mount of Olives is still there, and a large part of the Garden of Gethsemene, but many other things have changed. As we rode along that road I thought of this scene, and I was sure there were some other things which had not yet changed. I wondered if perhaps among them were the very stones to which Jesus made reference in this passage. Stones do not get around much! And I was thinking of how Jesus said that if the disciples should remain silent, the very stones would cry out.
Stones are not made for crying out. Therefore, if they make a sound, it must be a garbled or a less articulate sound than a human voice can make.
I wondered what Jesus meant by this statement. One thing is clear. This was an occasion which called for praise. This was a very singular moment in the history of Israel. I do not know if you are aware of this, but when our Lord was riding down that mountain into the city of Jerusalem, it was an historic event, in fulfillment of several prophecies of the Old Testament.
The prophet Daniel, hundreds of years earlier, had been given by God a certain calendar of time which was marked off precisely to determine the date when the Messiah would present himself to the nation Israel. And according to the reckoning of Sir Robert Anderson, former head of Scotland Yard, an English layman with a great knowledge of the Bible, the precise date on which Daniel's prophecy was to be fulfilled was this day.
According to the actual time which had elapsed, if Israel had been aware of it, this was the predicted hour, to the very second, in which our Lord was to present himself as King to Israel.
Zechariah had predicted that Israel would see their King coming to them, "humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass," (Zechariah 9:9). That prediction also was being fulfilled in this moment. Here was an hour toward which the prophets had looked, and which they had longed to see. It was a strategic time in Israel's history, and Jesus, as he came over the hill, wept over the city, saying,
"Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:42-44 RSV)
This was a prediction of the fall of the city under the Romans, a terrible time of judgment. So this is a time of crisis when this incident takes place. And as the disciples come over the hill they feel singularly moved by the Holy Spirit to begin to praise God for the mighty works he has done in this nation, which they have seen at the hand of Jesus, and to bless God and cry out, "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." The hour called for that kind of proclamation. As Jesus makes very clear, it was necessary to do this. So if the disciples had not done it, the stones would have cried out.
I think this is one of those strange parables-in-action you find frequently in the life of our Lord -- times when he said things which had symbolic meaning. I do not think we need to miss the fact that this is a parable of something which is happening today, a parable of universal application, beyond this scene of the "triumphal entry."
In other words, what our Lord is saying here is that there are truths which God wants his children to proclaim, because they are the ones best fitted to do it. They understand the mighty works of God. They know who it is who is behind these things. They understand the meaning of these events. They are the ones set apart by God to proclaim these great truths and to help the world see God's mighty works and understand what he is doing.
But what if they will not? "Well then," says Jesus, "the stones will cry out." That is, that which is not designed for this purpose, which is not particularly prepared for it, will begin to utter these truths. I believe that in a very real way this is what we are seeing happening in our own day, and what has happened many times in the past. There are truths which God desires to be uttered. There are forces at work in humanity which need to be explained. And only the church has the explanation.
But if the church will not say what God wants it to say in the hour of crisis, then that which is not equipped or prepared or able properly to do it will begin to utter sounds. In other words, the world, secular thought, will begin to examine these things. Men and women, oftentimes intelligent and educated, but blinded, unable to see reality, unable to see truth as it is in its total perspective, who do not approach life from the standpoint of divine revelation but approach it from the limited, narrow view of man, will begin to examine these same forces at work and will try to explain them. But the explanation will be dulled and distorted and twisted, and so will affect humanity adversely. Yet the fault is with the church, because it did not, or would not, proclaim the truths made available to it. This is always happening whenever Christians neglect the revelation of God. In our day, as in the days of the past, we are neglecting truth which we ought to be heralding abroad.
I picked up a book not long ago by Dr. John R. W. Stott, the famous pastor of an Anglican Church in London, a great communicator of Christian truth. Many of you have heard him speak, or know of him. The title of this book is Our Guilty Silence. It is a development of this theme, focusing on the idea that the church has withheld the gospel from the world. We have not proclaimed the great, marvelous, delivering, liberating truth which is inherent in the good news of Jesus Christ. Because we have failed to evangelize, in this sense, we are guilty. Our silence has condemned men to death and misery and darkness. Stott is perfectly right about this. The church at large has not properly spoken in these terms, and we need to hear that voice.
But as I read the title of that book, I thought of it as applicable in a larger, even wider sense. Not only the delivering truths of the gospel, but also truth in general needs to be proclaimed. Aspects and viewpoints of life which do not necessarily touch directly upon salvation, as such, still are contained in the Word of God. I would like to share with you certain areas where I feel this applies. I urge you, as I am urging myself these days, to be more alert to opportunities to speak of these great, mighty works of God, to explain them in terms of the Scriptures, and to make clear their provision for solving the problems of human life. And do this not only in church, but out wherever you work -- at school, at the shop, at the office, in your home. This is God's desire for his people today -- to proclaim, in the midst of life, the mighty works of God, and to give an explanation of the forces at work, so that the world might understand what is happening to them...
One of the philosophers -- I think it was Kant -- describes humanity as like a drunk going down a narrow alleyway. He lurches from side to side, bouncing off one wall and then the other. This is a vivid way of portraying what is happening in human life. Many have noted how we tend to swing from extreme to extreme. There is a pendulum-like movement in history. The pendulum swings so far in one direction, then goes back as far in the other direction, back and forth. This strange, sweeping movement between extremes is the course which history describes humanity as taking throughout all its long centuries. Why? Because oftentimes the church, the people of God who have the truth about these forces, is silent, or says little about them. Therefore, people do not know how to interpret these things and are unable to understand.
Sex is certainly one such area. We swing from Victorian prudishness -- trying to pretend sex does not exist, even to a degree of squeamishness in which people would call the legs of a piano "limbs" -- to the other extreme of excessive permissiveness, wherein sex saturates everything we do -- it is thrown at us in our advertising, and in everything around us; the beauty of marriage is broken down and marriage is made to appear as though it is merely a convenient way for people to live together, but has no importance in itself. This happens because the church has not spoken out on the subject.
Now, by church I do not necessarily mean only this congregation here. I believe, under God, that we have made some really valiant and helpful efforts to speak out in these areas recently. And we have already seen some wonderful results. But I am speaking in terms of the church at large, the church of our day. As I travel around, I see some of the terrible results of the failure of the people of God to declare the mighty works of God right where they are.
Take, for instance, the whole realm of the knowledge which Scripture reveals about Satan and the dark forces which are at work in this world to govern and to regulate human events. It is given unto us to declare this, to explain why humanity seems periodically to be gripped by anarchist revolutionary movements, with the resultant blood and lust and war and crimes mounting up to frightening levels. Why is this? As long as we deal only with the symptoms of this, as the world would do, we are not very helpful. We need again to talk freely and openly about what the Lord Jesus, and all the apostles, and all the prophets of the Old Testament revealed to be true -- that there are spiritual forces in high places, wickedness entrenched, and that these manipulate the minds of men and implant demonic ideas and philosophies which are picked up by the writers of today, spread through the media, and widely believed.
We ought to speak up about these matters, and help people to see the truth about them. Otherwise, we will find the world again falling into two extremes -- either wild occultism, with people thinking that life is operated by the influence of the stars, and going in for seances, horoscopes, spiritism, black magic, and the worship of demons; or excessive intellectualism, in which people try to rationalize everything and make of life a kind of super-psychology, thinking that there are certain hidden forces latent in the human spirit, in the subconscious or superconscious, which control us and which must be brought to light and developed, and that life can be explained only in those terms, without reference to the age-long battle and conflict going on between the Spirit of God and the spirit of evil. You see, it is up to us to speak the truth, not merely here at church but out where we live.
Take the realm of nature. We are now seeing the extreme of natural pollution in our day. We are battling with this terrible ecological upset and disaster which is threatening our planet -- pollution of our streams and air, the depletion of our natural resources, etc. We are seeing the other extreme of a return to the worship of nature, manifesting itself in all kinds of food fads and in a love of primitive living in which people want to return to nature entirely.
What is the reason for this? It is because the church has been almost totally silent about what the Bible has to say about nature, the world and the universe in which we live, how it operates and why it operates the way it does, and how it is designed to reveal that which is going on in the spiritual realm -- the natural reflecting that which is occurring in the realm of the spirit.
It is up to us to declare that. No other persons can. Without that knowledge, man tends to exalt science to such a height that it becomes almost a form of worship, even though the scientific method, though it has validity in many areas, cannot operate in certain realms of life. For instance, science has nothing to say about purpose in living. Yet purpose is one of the ingredients we must have or we cannot live. We must have a sense of meaning. Science does not give us that. Science reduces us to tiny, insignificant atoms, crawling around on a small planet in the midst of the vastness of space. It takes away all sense of meaning and purpose and significance from life. But that is a violation of the laws of nature.
On the other hand, while man must be given a sense of meaning and significance it must not be to the extent that it results, as we have seen happening in our day, in an exaltation of man, in a new humanism, a spirit which says that man is the master of all things, is in control of all of life, and can run all things. The reason these two extremes exist and govern so widely in human thought is that the church has not said what man is, who he is, and what nature is.
One of the most penetrating examinations I have ever seen in the realm of natural knowledge is found in the book of Job, Chapters 38 and 39. I suggest you read them and see if you can pass that examination. How much do you know about nature, about what makes it work, and how it operates? Job was put to the test. And there are questions in that passage which no scientist can answer today. Man's knowledge is too limited.
Then, in the realm of authority, the Bible speaks volumes. But we do not speak much at all. As a result there has arisen this whole idea of nationalism, whereby the nation-state is made supreme. We are seeing a revival of this in our day. Not long ago the church was so ignorant in this area that the church itself was swept by a wave of supernationalism and tried to identify the gospel of Jesus Christ with American patriotism. Those two concepts do not belong together. One impinges upon the other, it is true, but they are not the same thing. That kind of distortion in the church is but a reflection of the distortion of the world.
We can go on in many areas along this line. I have become so aware of the terrible weakness which prevails in the church because we have been ignorant of the whole matter of the impartation of spiritual gifts. Everywhere I go I find leaders, pastors, theologians, and others who never seem to have realized that the Spirit of God is ready to equip, and has been equipping, his people with gifts which enable them to function in a ministry of their own. They treat these passages as though they were to be relegated to the 1st century only, or were in no way pertinent to our day.
In Spain I spoke to a group of pastors who were bug-eyed in amazement at the idea that we would take seriously the teaching about the gifts of the Spirit found in First Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. But when they began to see that this is God's intent for the church in any age, they began to come alive with a new excitement, realizing that they could now discover what God has already given them in terms of resources in their own congregations. Many of them went back to their congregations with a new hope, and a new light in their eyes, because they had found out truth which had been hidden in the church for decades and decades.
The greatest truth which God has to impart to man, I am convinced from my study of the Scriptures, is what the Bible calls "the New Covenant," the new arrangement for living which God has made possible to his people. We are not merely to try to do our best to serve Christ, to mobilize all our human resources, and put them at his disposal. The believer's dedication to God is not the primary call of the Spirit. Rather, the New Covenant is the understanding that God himself is pleased to live in us and to work through us. He is ready to do everything he demands of us, and to utilize us in the process. Our wills and minds are involved in it. We still make the choices, but he does the work. The power comes from him. And there is no demand made upon us in the Word of God which we are not capable of meeting -- if our reliance is not upon ourselves but upon God, who is ready and able to give to us power to do it, if we are ready and willing to step out, and start doing it. This great truth is able to transform people, to transform congregations, and to turn the church into a powerful army, "... bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners" (Song 6:10b RSV), able to accomplish tremendous things. But the New Covenant has been relegated to silence in so many parts of the church.
What I am saying is that it is necessary for us to learn again to speak out about these things. How can you be what God wants you to be, and utter the truth he wants you to declare, if you do not know the Scriptures yourself? This is why it is so incumbent upon you that you learn, really learn, the Word. Paul writes to the Corinthians,
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1 RSV)
The "mysteries of God" are those sacred secrets that human life needs in order to operate properly, which are given to us in the pages of the Word, which will save life from boredom and dullness, and transform it into excitement and electric adventure in Christ. This is what we need again to display before the world. Paul wrote to Timothy, "I write these things so that you might know how you ought to behave yourself in the church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV).Did you ever think of the church that way? The church is the pillar, the support, and the ground, the foundation, of truth in the world. It is as the church declares these great, unshakable facts of life that the world begins to obtain light in its thinking, and is able to handle properly some of the knowledge it discovers as it investigates various aspects of life. This is what Jesus surely meant when he said, "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world," (Matthew 5:13a, 5:14a RSV). And if the world is in darkness, it is because these truths lie hidden, not only in the church, but, oftentimes, to the church. We need to discover them again and begin to proclaim them -- again I stress, not only here but out where you live!
A man told me this morning about attending a sales meeting in the Midwest. It was not a Christian meeting at all. In fact, as far as he knew, the speaker was not a Christian. It was a meeting designed to stir up salesmen and to promote the selling of a product. But the lecturer had evidently been exposed to spiritual truth, and in the course of the meeting he kept bringing it out, but not labeling it as Christian. He said, "One of the things you must remember is that if you are going to affect people and lead them in the way you want them to go, you must be their servant. You must serve them, meet their need." This Christian man listening nudged another Christian sitting close by, and said, "That's the teaching of Jesus! Where did he learn that?"
I do not know where he learned it, but there is where it ought to be taught! It is in places like this that we again can show people how men are to operate. And as they learn more and more of that, they will see more and more the wisdom of the Word of God, which says that the natural mind can never encompass God. The searching of man will never discover God. The wisdom of man is foolishness with God. Only that marvelous truth encompassed in the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, ultimately, is able to make sense out of life.
There is where the church stands in the world today. I call to your mind again, as I call it to my own mind, that as our Lord looks at his church, his body, his people in this world today, what is he saying? "If these hold their peace, the stones will cry out."
Revelation Chapter 19
The Coming Triumphal Re-Entry of Jesus
Chapter 19 of Revelation brings us to the climax of this great book -- the Second Coming of Jesus, the glorious appearing of our Lord. It is fitting that we should consider this on Palm Sunday, when we celebrate the Lord's so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. He would not have called it a triumphal entry for he wept as he came down the mountainside. But this Second Coming described in the book of Revelation is the true Triumphal Entry. Last week we ended our study in the midst of a great Hallelujah Chorus in heaven. I mentioned at the time that this is the first appearance of the word "Hallelujah" in Revelation. But even more remarkably, this is the first appearance of the word "Hallelujah" in the whole New Testament! There are many Hallelujahs in the Psalms, and indeed in much of the Old Testament, but it is rather striking that there is no mention of anyone in the New Testament singing "Hallelujah" until this remarkable scene in Revelation 19. Here, at last, heaven breaks into praise and rejoicing over the judgment of Mystery Babylon the Great, the harlot church which claimed to be the queen, the true wife of the Lamb of God. She is destroyed by God himself just before the appearance of Christ. Now this great chorus comes to a crescendo to announce the true bride of Christ.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear."
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:6-8 NIV)
We have now come to the wedding of the Lamb, where he claims his Bride for himself. We will see this bride again in Chapters 21 and 22, under the figure of a great city which is called "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." It is here, however, that the wedding of Jesus and his bride takes place. Most of the commentators identify the bride as the church, because the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 says that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless," (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV). Though the term "bride" is not employed there it seems to be descriptive of our Lord's bridegroom relationship with the church. Other Scriptures lead me to believe that the bride includes the church but, beyond that, it includes all the glorified and redeemed saints of all ages. Jesus speaks of this wedding supper of the Lamb when, in Matthew 8:11, he says: "many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast [the wedding feast] with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." Thus, Old Testament saints are part of the bride as well. In Chapters 21 and 22, when the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, comes down from God out of heaven, "prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2 NIV), and labeled the "bride of the Lamb," it will have twelve gates named for the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve foundations named for the twelve apostles. So there is a blending of Old Testament and New Testament saints in the bride of the Lamb.
When it says in Verse 7 that the "bride has made herself ready," this seems to infer that the judgment seat of Christ is now over. There are passages in Paul's letters where he speaks of this judgment seat. In Second Corinthians 5:10 he says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad," (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV). This is a time of evaluation. It is not to settle destiny but to determine the degree of reward. It is a time when our service for the Lord during these days on earth is evaluated, and we are shown what was done in reliance on the Spirit and what was done in the energy of the flesh. According to the apostle, those deeds done for self-glorification or in the energy of the flesh for selfish purposes are all "burned with fire," and all that is left are the "righteous deeds of the saints." That is what we have here. We are told "fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear," and, "the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints." So here the bride has made herself ready by means of the judgment seat of Christ. Even her righteous deeds are washed in the blood of the Lamb so that the garments she wears are bright and clean white linen. The importance of this occasion is seen in Verses 9 and 10:
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God."
At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:9-10 NIV)
It is a great honor to be invited to this wedding feast. That invitation is the gospel which goes out to all men and women everywhere, in every age, inviting them to the wedding feast of the Lamb to be part of the bride of Christ. This links with the parable told by our Lord in Matthew 22. A great king, said Jesus, made a wedding banquet for his son. He sent invitations out to certain ones but they refused to come. This seems to refer to the nation Israel. When Jesus presented himself to the nation at the Triumphal Entry, riding down the Mount of Olives on a donkey as Zechariah had predicted, ["Behold your king comes unto you, meek and lowly, and riding on a donkey," (Zechariah 9:9)] the people received him but the leadership of the nation rejected him and thus refused to come into the banquet hall. Then the king sent his messengers out into all the highways and byways, and he appealed to anyone, good or bad, to come to the wedding feast, (Matthew 22:2-14). When many came he gave them wedding garments that they might be suitably clothed for the feast. This is clearly a picture of the great event we have before us here.
The Spirit of God has been calling men and women throughout the Christian centuries, and before that in Old Testament times, and now even through the tribulation period, inviting them to come and join this wonderful scene of the wedding supper of the Lamb. What a privilege it will be to see the great Bridegroom himself, and to be a part of his beloved bride, to share in the intimacy of fellowship with the Lord Jesus! Each individual member of that bride will be able to feel that the Lord himself is their peculiar possession. I often think of the words of Samuel Rutherford, that great Scottish saint who wrote in the 17th century,
The Bride eyes not her garments,
But her dear Bridegroom's face.
And I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of Grace.
Not at the crown he giveth,
But on his pierced hands,
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel's land.
It is almost impossible to describe adequately the beauty of this scene and to make it real to our hearts. What a wonderful, blessed thing it is to be invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! So incredible is it that the angel adds, "These are the true words of God." John is so moved by this that he falls down to worship the angel and is immediately rebuked. The angel says, "No, do not do that. I am merely another servant of the King. I am like you, one of those who bear the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" And how do you do that? The very spirit of prophecy itself tells us how, for the angel adds, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." All prophecy points only to Jesus. It is not designed to give us a calendar of the last days, though some read it like that. No, the spirit, the essence, of prophecy is to bear witness to Jesus. He is the central figure of all Scripture. It is not events which we are to focus on, but the One who brings them to pass, the Lord Jesus himself. Thus we are instructed here by the angel to focus our attention upon him.
In Verses 11-16 we come to the great climax of all history. This is the once far-off divine event toward which all human events since the beginning of time have moved -- the unveiling of the presence of Jesus in power and great glory. It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. Three different times in this book, at the end of each of the series of judgments -- the opening of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath -- we have been brought to the very edge of this event, and each time the Spirit of Truth has brought us back again to see in more intensified form what God is doing in the world of that day. But now at last we come to the event itself.
This is what Paul calls, in Second Thessalonians, "the splendor of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV), or literally, in the actual Greek, "the outshining of his presence." Jesus came as a thief for his church at the beginning of the last week. He took them away unexpectedly, suddenly, as a thief takes treasure out of a house. Since then he has been, as we have seen, invisibly present with the church behind the scenes throughout the whole seven-year period, directing its events. From time to time the book has shown him to us -- meeting with the 144,000 on Mount Zion and directing various activities that take place upon the earth. But now his invisible presence is made visible, as he himself described it in the great Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30 NIV)
The first chapter of Revelation also refers to that,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him. (Revelation 1:7 NIV)
Now we read of this actual coming in Verse 11 and following:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns[diadems]. He has a name written on him that no one but he himself knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16 NIV)
This is not the Lone Ranger on Silver, though that fiction may be based on this theme. This Rider on a White Horse is identified for us by four different names: The first is found in Verse 11: There he is called "Faithful and True." It is in that capacity that he comes "to judge and to make war" but all in perfect justice. There are just causes for the correction of evil and the punishment of evildoers despite the campaign against capital punishment today. Our Lord comes to execute perfect justice in judging and making war. At last, as Scripture has long promised, all the wrongs done on earth will be made right; all the cheats and scams that we are familiar with today will be exposed and corrected; all drugs that blow the minds of people will be eliminated; all crime will be brought to an end; all hatred among mankind will cease, for Jesus comes to judge the earth and to right all matters.
Another name is found in Verse 12: "His eyes are like blazing fire and on his head are many crowns, and he has a name written on him that no one knows but himself." That unknown name is linked to the blazing eyes and the many diadems on his head. "Blazing eyes" speak of full discernment, penetrating knowledge. "Many diadems" speak of full authority. The two together picture omniscience and omnipotence, but each vested in a man. That is the point of this text. The wonder of Jesus is that it is as man that he manifests all the fullness of God, for he is both God and man. His name, his unknown name, reveals that. What this suggests is that no one knows the full extent of that mysterious union of God and man. All that is meant by that marvelous revelation, that there is vested in a man the full authority, power, omniscience and omnipotence of God, is something that no one fully knows. We shall be discovering new aspects of that throughout eternity. That is why heaven seems to be constantly breaking out with new praises and new wonders at what our Lord is like.
In Verse 13 there is still another name: "He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God." That Word of God is associated with the robe dipped in blood and with the armies of heaven following him, as well as with the sharp sword that comes out of his mouth. Some commentators refer to the "robe dipped in blood" as descriptive of the cross, of the sacrifice of Jesus. I do not take it that way. I think it refers to a remarkable dialogue found in the 63rd chapter of Isaiah, a dialog between the prophet and the Warrior-Messiah. As Isaiah is shown the coming of Christ, it is as though he is standing in Jerusalem looking toward the south, toward Edom, and he sees a great warrior coming with garments stained red. He asks the question:
Who is this coming from Edom,
from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendor,
striding forward in the greatness of his strength? (Isaiah 63:1a NIV)
The warrior answers,
"It is I, speaking in righteousness,
mighty to save." (Isaiah 63:1b NIB)
The prophet asks again:
Why are your garments red,
like those of one treading the winepress? (Isaiah 63:2 NIV)
The warrior replies,
"I have trodden the winepress alone;
from the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
and trod them down in my wrath;
their blood spattered my garments,
and I stained all my clothing.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year of my redemption has come." (Isaiah 63:3-4 NIV)
The sharp sword which the prophet sees here in the mouth of Jesus is the Word of God. In the opening vision of this book John saw the Lord Jesus with a double-edged sword proceeding out of his mouth. It is a symbol, of course, of the power of the Word, and here it portrays power to smite the nations -- to destroy them if necessary.
Have you ever been smitten by the Word of God? Some of us have had that experience. Some word from the Bible has caught our attention and awakened our conscience, and we are suddenly aware that God sees deeper into us than we thought he ever could. We become aware of how guilty we are. On the day of Pentecost the Jews who were listening to Peter's great message, at the end "were cut to the heart," (Acts 2:37 NIV). They were smitten by the Word of God. I think also of that scene in Acts when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. When Peter, speaking by the Spirit, exposed their lies, they both dropped dead instantly. So, here, there are those who will be killed by the sword which comes from the Lord's mouth.
Accompanying our Lord are armies of saints and angels. The book of Jude quotes Enoch, the prophet, as saying, "I saw the Lord coming with tens of thousands of his saints," (Jude 1:14 KJV). We have already seen in 17:14 the promise that "his called, chosen, and faithful followers," will accompany him when he comes. This describes the church returning with the Lord when he appears in glory. But also armies of angels will accompany him. Several passages speak of the hosts of angels, the multiplied millions, who will return with the Lord. They too will be using the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Verse 16 gives us the rider's fourth name: "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." This is linked with his ruling with an iron scepter. When our Lord comes he will rule over the nations. First he will destroy their evil ones, and then he will rule over the rest. The word "rule" is really "shepherd" -- "He will shepherd the nations with a rod, or a staff, of iron." You will recognize these words taken from Psalm 2. For the third time in Revelation there is reference to the promise of this Psalm:
"I will set my king upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6 KJV)
"You will rule them with an iron scepter,
you will dash them to pieces like pottery." (Psalm 2:8b NIV)
That "rod of iron" is a symbol of tough justice, of unbending, unwavering righteousness. It is the standard of God's morality which he cannot lessen or diminish in any way. This is descriptive of the millennial years when righteousness will reign in all the earth. There will be sin and sinners present, but they cannot upset things; their evil will be immediately brought to justice. This characterizes that millennial day. The effect of our Lord's appearance upon the antichristian enemies we have been observing is given in Verses 17 on. Here we will learn what is meant by the phrase "he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." First, there is a call to a great slaughter.
I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great." (Revelation 19:17-18 NIV)
This is another description of the great campaign that is called the Battle of Armageddon. We have already seen that 200,000,000 soldiers from all the armies of the earth will gather into the land of Palestine. There are other descriptions of this in the prophets. Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe it in detail. Also, Joel 2, Daniel 11 and Isaiah 24 give us the development of this as the king of the north comes down into the land and is met by the king of the south, i.e., the armies of Egypt, coming against Israel. The conflict is settled only by the sudden destruction which comes from the appearance of Jesus himself. The fate of these antichristian powers is given in these closing verses from 19 on:
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. (Revelation 19:19-21 NIV)
It is almost incredible, is it not, that when Jesus reveals himself, and every eye sees him, that these leaders of the nations actually attempt to assault and attack the Lord himself: "They gather to make war against the Lord and his armies." But it is an unequal contest. The beast and the prophet are immediately captured and thrown into the lake of fire, which in Chapters 21 and 22 is called "the second death." It is a terrible symbol of eternal torment, a fire, an inward torment that burns on and on and never ends.
And the rest, we are told, are killed by the Word of God -- not by a physical weapon but by the simple word spoken. When our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:2-6), as the soldiers approached him, he asked them, "Who is it you want?" They said, "Jesus of Nazareth." The Lord said, "I am he," literally, "I AM". It is recorded that they all fell backwards to the ground at that word. That is the power of the word. Our Lord could have walked out of the garden a free man had he chosen to do so. But he gave himself into their hands. He sacrificed himself, through the eternal Spirit. So, here, when he comes, one word from his lips takes care of the enemies of God. Martin Luther's great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, has a line that says that when the Lord confronts the devil, "one little word shall fell him."
We have not yet seen the fate of the great dragon, Satan, this archenemy of God who has for centuries afflicted and tormented the peoples of earth. There is an unfortunate chapter break at this point for actually the account goes right on to tell us what happens next. We will see Satan bound and the millennial kingdom set up. All comes as an immediate result of the appearance of the Lord Jesus. But we will take this up in our next study. I remind you again, as we come to the close of this message, that the essential purpose of prophecy is to testify of Jesus. He is the central figure of all life. We hear many religious ideas being spread abroad today. From Eastern religions to New Age philosophy to the cults, all of them are claiming to tell us how the universe is set up, how life properly operates, and what to do in order to relate to whatever God there may be.
But the test of all such faiths, and the question that every individual on earth has to answer, is, "What do you do with Jesus? What place in your religious view is there for Jesus?" Because he was here. The record of his life is unassailable. He came, he lived, he taught, he died, he rose again. All this has been established with unanswerable evidence. It is a fact. Therefore, any faith that offers to help man must deal with that fact. How does Jesus fit into your scheme? This is the question the Bible confronts us with. Jesus is the great issue of life. All life finds meaning only in him, and all hope for this broken world flows from the fact of his coming again into the world.
Notes on Matthew
Beginning in the New Testament we move from the realm of shadow, type, and prophecy, into the full sunshine of the presentation of the Son of God. The Old Testament speaks of him on every page, but speaks in shadows, in types, in symbols, and in prophecies -- all looking forward to the coming of Someone. You cannot read the Old Testament without being aware of that constant promise running through every page -- Someone is coming! Someone is coming!
Now, when we open the Gospels, that Someone steps forth in the fullness of his glory. As John says, "We have beheld his glory...as of the only Son from the Father," (John 1:14 (RSV). I love the Gospels. They are to me one of the most perennially fascinating sections of the Bible. There you see Christ as he is. Remember that what he was is what he is; and what he is is what you have, if you are a Christian. All the fullness of his character and being and life is available to us, and we only learn what those resources are as we see him as he was and is. That is why the Gospel records are so important to us.
People often wonder why we have four Gospels. There is a very good reason for this. It is interesting to note that each of these Gospels is a development of an exclamatory statement that is found in the Old Testament. Four different times -- and only four times -- in the Old Testament there was an exclamatory statement made concerning the Messiah, introduced always by the word behold. In one of the prophets we read, "Behold thy king, O Israel!" In another place we read, "Behold the man!" In a third place we read, "Behold my servant!" In still a fourth place we read, "Behold thy God!" These four statements are amplified and developed in the four Gospels -- Matthew, the Gospel of the King; Mark, the Gospel of the Servant; Luke, the Gospel of the Son of man; and John, the Gospel of God, the presentation of the Son of God.
These four Gospels give us four aspects of our Lord's character and person. They are not, strictly speaking, biographies. They are really sketches about the Person of Christ -- eyewitness accounts by those who knew him personally, or those immediately associated with them. Therefore, they have the ring of authenticity, and they carry to our hearts that first and marvelous impression that our Lord made upon his own disciples, and then upon the multitudes that followed him. No more amazing character has ever walked among men. As you read the Gospel accounts, I hope something of this fascination breaks upon your own heart as you see him stepping forth from these pages, revealed to you by the Spirit, when you see him as he is.
The first book of the New Testament is Matthew, and this is the place where most people start reading the Bible. I think more people begin reading in the New Testament than the Old, therefore, that would make Matthew the most widely read book in all the world. In fact, Renan, the French skeptic, said of this book, "This is the most important book of all Christendom." He also said, "The most important book that has ever been written is the Gospel of Matthew." But it has its critics, too. There are those who claim that this book contains nothing but the early legends of the church which grew up around Jesus, that these accounts are not historical, and that this book was not actually written until the fourth century A.D. Therefore, they say, we are uncertain as to how much is really true. Other critics make the claim that this is only one of many gospels that were circulated...
As you know, this Gospel was written by Matthew, otherwise known as Levi. He was a publican, and publicans were those men who took the taxes from the people. His name means "the gift of God," and to call a tax collector by that name obviously indicates that he was converted. It was perhaps our Lord himself who designated him Matthew, just as he changed Simon's name to Peter, and perhaps the names of others of the disciples as well. Tradition tells us that Matthew lived and taught in Palestine for 15 years after the crucifixion, and then he began to travel as a missionary, first to Ethiopia and then to Macedonia, Syria, and Persia. Finally he died a natural death in either Ethiopia or Macedonia, but this is not certain. It is one of the legends or traditions that have come down to us about Matthew.
The book obviously dates from a very early day. The idea that it was written in the fourth century is pure poppycock because there is much evidence that dates it in the early part of the first century. It is quoted, for instance, in the well-known Didache, which is the teaching of the twelve apostles which dates from early in the second century, so it obviously precedes that. Papias, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, says "Matthew composed his Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interprets it as he is able." This was confirmed by Irenaeus and Origen, two of the early church fathers, all of whom were well acquainted with the Gospel of Matthew.
Even in the first century itself we have Jewish voices that prove the existence of Matthew. Two Jewish people, Gamaliel the Second, who was a prominent rabbi, and his sister, Immashalom (which, incidentally, means "woman of peace," though she was far from that) pronounced a curse upon the Christians in these terms: "A curse upon the readers of the evangelistic Scriptures of the New Testament."
Now, the only evangelistic Scriptures of the New Testament that were extant in their day (about 45 or 50 A.D.) were the Gospel of Matthew and, perhaps, the Gospel of Mark, so that the date of writing of this Gospel is about 45 or 50 A.D. It was probably first written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek.
There are many who think that the Gospel of Matthew is one of the most difficult books of the New Testament to outline, but I would like to challenge that. I think there is no book in the Bible that lends itself more easily to outlining than the Gospel of Matthew. The reason is that the Holy Spirit himself has given the outline within the book. This occurs in several of the books of Scripture, and if you are observant, you can see these marks.
The major divisions of Matthew are given to us by the repetition of a particular phrase that appears twice and divides the book into three sections. First of all, there is an introductory section which takes us to chapter four, where we have the first occurrence of this phrase. It says (verse 17):
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17 RSV)
That marks a major turning point in the argument and presentation of this book. Then you find a similar phrase occurring in chapter 16, introducing the third section. We read (verse 21):
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21 RSV)
That is the first mention of the crucifixion in Matthew. From here on it is the aim and point of development of this book.
Now, there are subdivisions given to us in the same way by another kind of phrase. You will find the subdivisions marked for you by a verse which appears five different times. The first occasion is in chapter seven, at the close of the Sermon on the Mount. We read (verses 28, 29):
And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29 RSV)
In chapter 11. verse 1, you find another subdivision indicated:
And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. (Matthew 11:1 RSV)
Look at chapter 13, verses 53, 54 where you have another subdivision indicated:
And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?" (Matthew 13:53-54 RSV)
In chapter 19, we read (verses 1, 2):
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan, and large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. (Matthew 19:1-2 RSV)
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified."
You notice that each one of these introduces a complete change of direction -- a new subject. These mark the divisions of this book.
The first division is all about the preparation of the King for his ministry. "Lo, your king comes to you;" the prophet Zechariah has said, "humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass," (Zechariah 9:9b RSV). Matthew, then, is the Gospel of the King, and that prophecy was fulfilled in the triumphal entry when our Lord entered the city of Jerusalem in exactly that manner. It is Matthew's task to present him as the King. The book opens, therefore, with the genealogy of the King. Every king has to have a genealogy. The ancestry of a king is the most important thing about him. He has to go back to someone; he has to be in the royal line. Therefore, Matthew opens with that exhaustive and somewhat exhausting genealogy that traces from Abraham on down to Joseph, his stepfather, who was called the husband of Mary. Joseph was in the royal line of David. It is from Joseph that our Lord gets his royal right to the throne, because he was the heir of Joseph. It is through Mary, who was also of the royal line of David, that he gets his genealogical right to the throne. His legal right comes through Joseph; his hereditary right through Mary. Joseph, of course, was not really his father, but Mary was really his mother.
The first chapter also recounts his birth. The second chapter describes events which ensued, including the flight into Egypt. In the third chapter we read of the baptism of our Lord. The first two chapters thus relate him to earth. His genealogy ties him to the earthly royal line of David. But his baptism relates him to heaven and gives his heavenly credentials -- his heavenly authority -- for the heavens opened, and in an amazing way, the Father's voice spoke from heaven and said, "This is my beloved Son." There the royal line is declared according to the heavenly standard.
In the fourth chapter you have the testing of the King. This is his experience of temptation in the wilderness, where he is related to all the powers of darkness; where hell is loosed upon him. Now, the testing of our Lord is the key to the Gospel of Matthew. He is tested as a representative man. He goes into the wilderness as the Son of man, and is tested as to whether he can fulfill God's intention for man. Man is made up of three divisions -- body, soul, and spirit, and it was on these three levels that our Lord was tested.
You will notice, first of all, that he was tested on the level of the body's demands. The dominant passion of the body is self-preservation. Our Lord's first temptation came on that level. Would he continue to be God's man, even when he was faced by an extreme challenge on the level of self-preservation? For 40 days and nights he had not eaten, and then the temptation came subtly to him: "Change these stones into bread, if you are the Son of God. Preserve your life." But he insisted upon walking in the will of God despite the intensity of this pressure. What would you have done after 40 days of fasting if someone offered you bread?
Then he was tested on the level of the soul -- that is, through the dominant passion of the soul, which is self-expression. On this level, we all want desperately to reveal ourselves; to show what we can do, or as we put it, to express ourselves. This is the drive that is the primary function of the human soul. Remember, it was during this testing that our Lord was taken up to the top of the temple, and given the opportunity to cast himself down and thus capture the acclaim of Israel. Such temptation plays upon the urge for status, for manifesting the pride of life. But he proved himself true to God despite the pressure that came to him in that way.
Finally, he was tested in the deepest, most essential part of his humanity -- the spirit. The dominant passion of the spirit is to worship. The spirit is always looking for something to worship. That is why man is everywhere essentially a religious being, because the spirit in him is craving, crying out, for an idol, someone to follow, a hero, something to worship. It was on this level that the Devil came to him and said, "All these kingdoms of the world will be yours if you will fall down and worship me," Matthew 4:9b RSV). Our Lord's answer was, "... it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,'" (Matthew 4:10b RSV) So he passed the test. He revealed himself fully and adequately to be man as God intended man to be.
Then, in the Sermon on the Mount, he begins to put this same test to the nation Israel. Israel had been chosen of God through the centuries to be his channel of communication with humanity, and they had regarded themselves as his favored people. Now the nation is to be put to the test, in the Gospel of Matthew, as to whether they can pass the same test our Lord did. This is the essential story of Matthew. He is tracing how the Son of God -- God's King -- came into the world, and offered himself to be King of Israel, first on the level of the physical, then on the level of the soul. When he was rejected on both these levels, he passed into the realm of the mystery of the human spirit. In the darkness and mystery of the cross, he accomplished the redeeming work that would capture man again for God, body, soul, and spirit.
Redemption, therefore, begins with the spirit. That's why the work of Christ in our own hearts -- though we may be attracted to him on the level of the body. for the supply of physical need; or on the level of the soul, for the need of self-expression and improvement in our lives -- will never really change us until it has reached the level of the spirit, the place of basic worship, wherein we have committed ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, unto him. Then the change begins to show.
Now you see this worked out in the Gospel of Matthew, with the nation Israel as the recipient. The first ministry begins, as we saw, in chapter four, with the mark, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,'" (Matthew 4:17 RSV). Then follows the Sermon on the Mount, where we have the presentation of the King and the laws of the kingdom. This covers the rest of chapters four, and five through seven. In these rules of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount there is an obvious emphasis on the physical life. Notice this as you read through it the next time.
This is one of the most penetrating, most incisive messages ever set before human beings, but it approaches us on the level of our ordinary, physical, material life. There are two physical sins dealt with -- murder and adultery. The life of God is illustrated for us in the realm of giving alms and of fasting -- physical acts. God is offered to us as One who so cares for us that we do not need to think of tomorrow -- how to be fed, how to be clothed -- the worries that come to us on the physical level. Our Lord is saying, "If you discover me and receive me as your King, you will discover that I am the answer to all your physical needs." He is offering himself to the nation, and to us, on this level.
Then this is followed by a section on miracles, and in chapters eight through twelve you have the miracles of the kingdom. These are illustrations of the benefits that our Lord can bestow on the level of the physical. There is no spectacular display here, but a representation of our Lord's power over everything affecting the body -- disease, demons and death. His authority in this realm is that of King.
This, in turn, is followed by a section of parables of the kingdom, where the rejection of the kingdom is declared in a mystery form. It is apparent even before this time that the nation is going to reject our Lord's offer of himself as king on this physical level, and so a new word appears. In chapter 11 he begins to utter the word "woe" -- "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! Woe to those who have not believed!" (Matthew 11:21 ff RSV). He pronounces judgment upon the nation on this level. The mysteries of the kingdom are in chapter 13, where the parables are given with truth hidden beneath a type of symbol. Then we have a section that is simply instruction to individuals -- to those among them who will believe, who will receive him on this level.
All of this section, by the way, beginning with chapter 13, verse 54 through chapter 16, verse 20, has to do with bread. There is the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 14; the questions on what defiles a man in chapter 15; and then the incident of the woman who came and asked for crumbs from his table, and he said, "The bread belongs to the sons of the kingdom..." (see Matthew 15:22-28). Then there is the feeding of the 4,000 in chapter 15; the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees in chapter 16, and finally, the revelation of our Lord's person to Peter in that wonderful time when Peter was given the first insight that here, indeed, was one who would go beyond the level of the physical and even of the soulish, into the depths of man's spirit.
Beginning with chapter 16, verse 21 (we have already noted this major division), we have the second ministry of our Lord to the nation, this time on the level of the soul. He is offering himself on this level. His first revelation is to the disciples only, for they are the nucleus of the coming church, and this takes us up to chapter 18, verse 35. Here is the transfiguration and the first intimation of his death. This is followed (as in the first section) by parables of the King. These are addressed first to the disciples, and then to the nation. All are parables presenting him as the King who has the right to command and to determine the character of individuals. Nothing is said now about their physical lives, but rather, their soulish lives. Are they willing to follow him; are they willing to let him mold and shape their lives and characters?
Soon we have the triumphal entry into Jerusalem which becomes the judicial entry, when our Lord judges the nation, passes into the temple, stops the offerings, and drives out the money changers. Once again you hear the word "woe" coming in. In chapter 23, verse 13, he says, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees..." (Matthew 23:13a RSV) In verse 16, "Woe to you, blind guides..." (Matthew 23:16a RSV). "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Matthew 23:23a RSV). All through the chapter, like the knell of death, this word "woe" rings out again and again.
This is followed by a section in chapters 24 and 25, where we have instructions to individuals again. This is what we call the Olivet discourse -- instructions to the believing remnant on what to do until he comes again. It reveals how world history is going to shape up; what will happen in the intervening years; what forces will be loosed upon the earth; how the forces of darkness are going to take God's own people and test them, try them, and shake their foundations. He declares that they can only stand as they learn to reckon upon the inner strengthening of the Holy Spirit.
Finally we arrive at the last section, where we have the betrayal, the trial of the Lord Jesus, the agony, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, when our Lord, in the mystery of darkness, passes out into the blackness of death. There, alone, forsaken by his friends, he entered into a death grapple with the powers of darkness. In the mystery of the cross, he laid hold of the forces that have mastered the human spirit and he broke them there. In the wonder of the cross, he vanquished the powers that have been against mankind. As Paul puts it later, he mastered them and made an open show of them, triumphing over them, and leading them behind him as a conqueror would lead a train of captives in open display before the people.
In the crucifixion story you see him standing as a lone prisoner before Pilate in judgment, and then passing into the darkness of the garden, from there to the whipping post, and then to the cross where he was nailed up to die. In the anguish and haze of that awful six hours, he grappled with these forces of darkness and vanquished them. Thus, the only crown he ever had as an earthly king was a crown of thorns; the only throne he ever mounted was a bloody cross; the only scepter he ever wielded was a broken reed.
But this is followed by the resurrection, when he broke through into the realm of the human spirit. Up to that time, in effect, God had never been able to move into the spirit of man -- on the ground of faith he could -- but now the way into the very center of man's being is opened wide. As we come to know the Lord in our spirit, we discover that the worship of our hearts is given to him there. The spirit is the key to the mastery of the whole man. When you get a man's spirit, you have all that he is. By means of the cross and the resurrection, our Lord has made it possible to pass into the very holy of holies of man, and to dwell within him.
The great message of the Gospel, then, is that God is not up yonder on some throne; he is not waiting in some distant judgment hall to pass judgment upon us. He is ready and waiting to pass into the center of a hungry, thirsting person's heart, and there to minister the blessing of his own life, his own character, his own being, pouring them out for us. When the King is enthroned in the life, the kingdom of God is present. That is the message of Matthew -- "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heaven does not mean some place out in space; it means the realm of the invisibilities, where God reigns in the spirit. That kingdom is at hand in the presentation of the King.
The great question to which Matthew demands an answer is, "Is Jesus Christ King of your life?" Have you received him only as Savior of the body or Savior of the soul? Then he is not yet King. The question that Matthew brings before us is, "Has he become King? Has he penetrated to the spirit? Has he mastered your heart? Has he laid hold of your worship as an individual, so that he is the one single most important person in all the universe to you?" That is when he becomes King. That is the fulfillment of the first commandment. "You shall have no other gods before me, for you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your strength, and all your mind." The result will be that you will love your neighbor as yourself...
March 31, 2019
April 28, 2019