Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 20, 2016
Does anyone remember what happened five years ago this month in 2011 - on March 11th? 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Sendai, Japan. Short video to jog our memories.
(VIDEO: Sendai Tsunami 03.11.11)
The earthquake - which was about 45 miles off the coast - really didn’t cause a whole lot of major damage. Where Karen’s brother lives - about 12 miles inland on the north side of Sendai - there wasn’t a whole of damage. It was the tsunami that had waves of 30 feet. It was the tsunami that cause the vast majority of the destruction.
This is kind of like watching a disaster movie except this real people in real time. About 22,000 people died as a result of the earthquake, tsunami, and related health issues. Ultimately there was about $300 billion in damage. The Fukushima nuclear reactor suffered explosions and a meltdown that released radioactive material similar to what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. What is still an ongoing problem.
History is full of disasters. Yes? Some of us have been experienced some of that first hand. How do people process what is beyond processing? Did you see the people on the balcony taking pictures. People are dying and it’s a photo op.
And this question - which is huge - how would their religion answer the question: “How could God let this happen?” Have you ever ask that question? Even just for stuff going on in your own life?
We all face stuff - disasters - tragedies - in our lives - which seem huge to us. And some are very huge. Maybe not “tsunami” huge. But huge enough. The death of a child - the death of someone we love - abuse - divorce - loosing a job - loosing a house - illness. What we wrestle with deep inside. Then there’s stuff going on around us. In the Middle East. The election. Uncertainties. On and on. There is hard stuff in life.
How we answer that question is really huge. Isn’t it? “How could God let this happen?” “Where was God?” “Why didn’t God prevent this?”
Listen to a few of the answers posted on CNN. Sam Harris - author of “The End of Faith” - “Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or He doesn’t care to, or He doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary… The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to innocent people.”
The Rev. Tesshu Shaku - chief priest of a temple in Ikeda City, Japan: “Buddhism is called a religion with no god. So we don’t think God caused this... Japanese are more focused on relationships as opposed to faith, feeling the pain of others.”
Thick Nhat Hanh - a Buddhist priest echoed that perspective: “The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind... An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive.”
Dr. Sayyid Syeed - National Director of the Islamic Society of North America - “Muslims believe that God tests those He loves... These kinds of calamities should push us in positive ways. They should strengthen our faith in God and in His goodness... These times of suffering give us an opportunity to demonstrate patience and faith, and therefore, become closer to God.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner - “Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God. God cares about the well-being of good people... Where is God in Japan today? In the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy.”
Interesting answers. Yes? Quite a range. From God doesn’t exist and wouldn’t care even if He did - to all this is impersonal - to God is testing us. This is an opportunity to care about others and for us to work at becoming closer to God. Where is God? God has given us each other so stop whining and try harder.
Processing that as a Christian - if that’s the best we can come up with - if our answer to the question is that somehow we’re suppose to suck it up and muddle through on our own power and cleverness then Christianity is just another sugar coated religion.
Which begs another question: “How would God answer the question?”
Last answer - from the same CNN blog - Rev. James Martin - a Jesuit priest - see if you think he might just be in touch with God’s answer to the question. “For the believer, there is no satisfactory answer for why we suffer... The Christian believes that God became human and that God underwent all the things we do... Christians do not have an impersonal God, but a God who understands what it means to suffer... Where is God? God is right there with the people who are grieving and sorrowful...”
“How could God let this happen?” “God where were you?”
God’s answer is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Please join me at Zechariah chapter 9. If you need a Bible there’s one under a chair someplace in front of you. Or, hopefully you pick up the Message Notes on your way in. Zechariah 9:9 is at the top. Zechariah is 2 books before the end of the Old Testament. Just before the great Italian prophet Malachi.
Let’s read verse 9 together: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Some backfill so we can grab where this verse fits in what was going on with God’s people.
In the beginning of the 6th century BC - Nebuchadnezzar - remember him? Book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had sacked the smaller towns of Judah. Finally Neb laid siege to Jerusalem - destroyed the city - burned the temple that Solomon had built - left it a burned out shell of its former glory - hauled God’s people off into exile - mostly to Babylon.
The year is 586 B.C. It was a sad - depressing - time for God’s people. They were beaten and beaten down. A “Where is God?” moment.
In 536 BC - 50 years later after Neb got through sacking the place - Cyrus - the Persian Emperor - who had conquered Babylon - so now Cyrus is in charge of all these exiled Jews - Cyrus issued a decree that allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. We’re together?
It is totally a God moment. A huge moment in the history of God’s people. And God’s people responded - mostly by staying in Babylon.
In 70 years of exile they’d set up businesses - bought houses - gotten pretty comfortable - living the good life by the banks of the Euphrates - partay. “Hey, God is on the move.” (Yawn)
Only about 50,000 went back. Out of 24 priestly orders only 4 went back. Only a handful of Levites and temple servants went back. Which would have made it really hard to run the temple when and if it was restored. Pretty self-defeating. What’s the point of restoring the temple if you don’t have enough priests to run the place?
Meaning that before they even start back all that could have been really really discouraging.
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua - different Joshua than THE conquered the Promised Land Joshua - Zerubbabel and different Joshua and this die hard group of Jews makes it back to Jerusalem and starts work on the burned out shell of God’s temple.
As they’re building the cost in materials keeps going higher - the resources dwindled - the opposition from the people around them grew stronger - the reality of the task began to weigh them down. Economically - politically - spiritually - as things started to get more difficult - their initial enthusiasm began to wane. As they’re working the people who’d seen the old temple kept saying, “This will never be as good as the old one.” They’re discouraged.
As time goes by God’s people shift their focus from building the temple - which has become way too hard - they shift to upgrading their homes - filling their lives with stuff and doing what floats their boat. They’re in stall mode - distracted - discouraged.
“This is just way too hard. It’s God’s temple. He’s God. Let Him build it Why did we ever leave Babylon and come to this backwater sand trap anyway? Where is God in all this?”
Coming to Zechariah. God’s message through Zechariah is to these discouraged people. God’s message through Zechariah is to get back to work. Why? Because God has a glorious future ahead for His people. Don’t be discouraged. Keep trusting God. Keep focused on God and what God is about to do.
Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
“Shout aloud” translates a Hebrew word that means “sound an alarm.” “Make some noise.” “Shout for joy!” “Shout in triumph.” Not discouragement. Why?
“Behold” - the word in Hebrew that has the idea of “Wake up! Pay attention! Something really really significant is happening here.”
Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Who’s coming? Your King. Who? “Your king.”
Zechariah 9:9 sounds familiar. Yes? Matthew and John - describing Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem - Palm Sunday - Matthew and John use these verses from Zechariah to explain that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy - that God is fulfilling this promise to His people in Jesus. (Matthew 21:4,5; John 12:12-16)
We need to make sure we’re grabbing the significance of that fulfillment. What we’re celebrating today.
Palm Sunday - in the Hebrew calendar - was the time of the great Passover Festival - a religious gathering of the Hebrew nation. Jews from all over the Diaspora - from all over wherever there was to be from - Jews from all over made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The population of Jerusalem - normally about 90,000 - during Passover swelled to maybe 2 million plus people.
During that time they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. What commemorated what came after the Passover - the Hebrew’s wandering in the wilderness. Emphasis on God’s preserving His people.
During the celebrations - people waved willow branches - symbols of sorrow. And, myrtle branches - symbols of God’s goodness. And, palm branches - symbols of prosperity and victory.
Palm branches symbolize what? Prosperity and victory. God taking His people out of the sorrow - willow branches. God - who is good - myrtle branches - and God’s bringing prosperity to the righteous - God’s people - not the despised - dreaded - Gentile - Romans. And victory - the victory of God’s people - over their oppressors - the dreaded - Gentile - Romans.
For their entire history God’s people have been on this little teeny tiny piece of land that everybody else wants to control. It’s like Palestine has this sign on the gate that says, “Conquer here.” Since Zechariah wrote this prophecy the Greeks have marched through conquering - with their years of subjugation - hard years of oppression. Then the Romans came through - more subjugation - more oppression.
Grab this. To God’s people under the yoke of Rome - this is more than just a religious celebration. This is a celebration of nationalism - stirring up the people’s passions - their desires for national - political - and social deliverance.
On Palm Sunday - with the people’s passion revved to the max - as Jesus enters Jerusalem the crowd cries out: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Hosanna means “save” - as in “Save us from the Romans!”
Along with “Hosanna” the crowd quotes from Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” To which the crowd adds - meaning this wasn’t originally in the Psalm but it shows us where people’s passion is at - the crowd adds - “Even the King of Israel.”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” (Mark 11:10)
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 19:38)
Point being that the crowd is ready to crown Jesus - their savior from the dreaded - Gentile - Romans - ready to crown Jesus - politically - the King of Israel. God’s people taking matters into their own hands - rather than trusting a God who may or not be there - and if He is there He isn’t doing anything about our situation any way. Hail King Jesus.
Sound familiar? How could God let this happen to His people? Where is God in the hardship of Palestine? Or in the midst of a Roman occupation? Or a tsunami in Japan? Or the stuff we go through here in Merced? We’re on our own. Suck it up.
God’s answer? Rejoice greatly! Shout in Triumph! Behold! Your king is coming to you!
Who’s coming? Your King. It’s an answer that both Matthew and John - that the gospel writers - that God wants us to understand. Not the people’s answer. But God’s answer.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6 - verses 15 and 16: He - Jesus - who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
Jesus - in contrast to all other kings - Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords - now - today - and forever. Jesus reigns with absolute authority - absolute dominion - absolute power over His creation and over the affairs of men.
Paul writes that Jesus alone has immortality. Some translations translate that as Jesus alone “possesses immortality.” Meaning only Jesus owns immortality. Meaning it’s His to possess and to give away. He alone has conquered death and can give eternal life to all those who will come to Him as their Savior.
Jesus “dwells in unapproachable light” - radiant blinding holiness - not darkened by sin as we are. We can’t even begin to imagine that kind of purity.
Jesus is God “whom no one has ever seen or can see.”
Meaning we see Jesus in the flesh and blood of our humanity. But we need to keep in the forefront of our thinking that Jesus is THE one and THE only God. Impossible for mortal man in our sinful humanity to be in the presence of.
In Colossians 1 - Paul describes Jesus this way: “For by Him all things were created, in heaven an don earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones of dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16,17)
Jesus is the source of creation. The material universe: stars, galaxies, planets, solar systems - trees, grass, mountains and seas. And not just the visible - but the invisible: Jesus created electricity - radiation - magnetism - the atoms and the basic stuff that holds everything together.
And not just forces and things - Jesus created concepts and attitudes: grace, mercy, truth, love and essence of life itself. The source of it all is Jesus.
Jesus is the goal of creation - Colossians 1:16 says that creation is “for Him.” All of this operates for Jesus. The whole purpose of whatever exists - the reason for any of this - the whole purpose is to honor and glorify Jesus.
Paul writes that Jesus is the sustainer - the preserver - of creation. Jesus is the one who holds all things together.
Finally - back in 1 Timothy 6 - verse 16 - Paul exclaims, “To Him - Jesus - be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
No one deserves greater respect - honor - worship. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Hold on to that. Who’s coming? “Your King.” God - Almighty - Sovereign - Jesus.
Where is He coming? To You. Where? “To you.” Share this with the person next to you. “Your King has come to you.”
For six days - prior to Palm Sunday - for six days Jesus has been hanging out in Bethany - a small town about 2 miles south of Jerusalem - hanging out at the home of His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus - same Lazarus Jesus had raised from the dead. Hanging out with His friends and His disciples.
On the sixth night they have dinner together. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a very expensive perfume - an act of devotion and humility. Which shows us Mary’s heart. Judas Iscariot - the treasurer - goes off - complaining at the waste of resources. Which gives us a glimpse of where Judas’ heart is at. All of which foreshadows what’s coming. The hearts of the people - great devotion and great betrayal.
The next day - Jesus - along with His disciples - Jesus begins His entrance into Jerusalem by making the 2 mile or so trip from Bethany to Jerusalem.
Somewhere in all that Jesus had made arrangements to borrow the animals - a donkey and its colt. That is hugely significant.
Before the horse was used, kings rode on donkeys. Saul rode on a donkey because they didn’t have any horses in Israel. Absalom - David’s son - Absalom rode on a donkey because even in David’s day they didn’t have horses. But Solomon imported horses from Egypt. So Solomon rode on a horse - an upgrade - a mode of transportation more befitting a king.
Can you imagine Jesus - the King of kings and Lord of lords - riding into Jerusalem on a donkey - with His feet dragging on the ground - riding this somber faced little donkey - with its big floppy ears.
How does Jesus come to us? He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on the foal of a donkey.”
Back in ancient times - when a king wanted to approach a city in peace he’d ride up to the gates in humility - riding on a donkey instead of a war horse. The donkey is symbolic of Davidic royalty. Symbolic of humility. Symbolic of the peace Jesus brings.
Paul - in Philippians 2 - familiar passage - Paul writes about Jesus’ humility. In verse 6 - Paul writes that Jesus - “...did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped - literally stolen from God - grabbing God’s stuff - why? Because it’s already His. Jesus is God - King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus isn’t going to steal what He already possesses.
Like swiping our credit card. Why are we going to do that? It’s already ours.
“...but - Jesus - made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
“made Himself nothing” translates the Greek word “kenosis” - meaning “emptied”. Which is incredibly essential to our faith - crucial to understand. Say it with me “kenosis.” Kenosis is the description of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In carne - in carnate - Jesus - God in human flesh.
When Jesus enters into our humanity - Jesus chooses to set aside all of what He possesses being THE God - to set aside His prerogative to use His divine attributes. All those “Omni's” - omnipresence - omnipotence - omniscience - all those impossible things to understand that make God uniquely God - Jesus chooses to set all those aside. He emptied Himself of all those. Became nothing.
We need to be careful. God does not cease to be God. At His incarnation Jesus is fully God - with all the rights and prerogatives of God. They’re still His. But by choice - in His humanity - He’s nothing. He holds on to - grasps - none of that in His humanity.
Then Paul writes - verse 7, when Jesus emptied Himself He took on the form of a servant - took on all the inner stuff that makes a servant a servant - “being born in the likeness of men.”
“Being born” has the idea of… being born. Putting on what it means to be human at Bethlehem. Flesh and blood and the stuff of humanity. “Likeness” means similar but not quite the same.
Meaning that - at the same time Jesus was taking off His Godly prerogatives - He was putting on humanity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus took on all of what makes us human - but with a eternity changing - qualifies Him to be the Savior - crucial difference. At His incarnation - at birth - Jesus does not have the same sin guilt - the condemnation and death penalty for sin hanging over His head - that we do - inheriting all that as descendant of Adam. He’s free of all that.
Paul’s describes Jesus choosing become nothing - emptying Himself - as the Almighty God becoming a servant - a slave. In the Roman world slaves were the possessions of their masters - a tool - a thing to be used, abused, even crucified at the whim of their master.
Then Paul writes that Jesus “humbled Himself.” The Greek word is “tapeinos.” It has the idea of lying down level with the ground. The form of the verb is in the active voice. Three voices. Passive meaning it’s done to us. Middle meaning we participate in what’s done. Active meaning Jesus did it to Himself.
Jesus chose. Voluntarily placed Himself in a position low enough to be used - even as the ground beneath our feet - to be trampled on by humanity - even crucifixion.
Jesus - the King - should have been worshiped - adored by people - angels - animals - served by all of creation. Yet, Jesus set all that aside to serve.
Having become a man - Jesus didn’t come as a king - a ruler or a rich person - someone insulated from the worst parts of our human condition. The ongoing disasters of our lives. He became the son of a common family - in a Rome conquered nation. In humility He came and embraced us as brothers and sisters - without any advantage over us - facing life as we face life.
If all that is a little hard for us to get our minds around we’re in good company. How does the eternal Creator God take on His creation’s humanity? Only God knows. But grab the bottom line: He did. Praise God. Your King has come to you.
This is Dr. Samuel Weinstein - who is the chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery for Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. In May of 2006 Dr. Weinstein traveled to El Salvador with Heart Care International in order to provide life-saving operations for needy children.
One surgery stands out among many. Dr. Weinstein and his team began operating on eight year old Francisco Calderon Anthony Fernandez's heart shortly before noon. Twelve hours later the procedure took a deadly turn.
Dr. Weinstein said this: “The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn’t have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding. After a while, they said they couldn’t give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type.”
In fact, Francisco’s blood type was B-negative, which I understand only about 2% of people have.
As it was, the only other person in the room with B-negative blood was Dr. Weinstein. Knowing what he had to do, he stepped down from the operating table. As his colleagues continue their precision work, Dr. Weinstein set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, and began washing his hands and forearm. Then, in the corner of the unfamiliar operating room, this prestigious doctor from one of the most advanced hospitals in the world sat down to give away his own blood.
When he had given a pint, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water - ate a Pop-Tart - then - 20 minutes after stepping away from the table - he rejoined his colleagues. After watching his own blood begin circulating into the boy’s small veins, Dr. Weinstein completed the operation that saved Francisco’s heart - and his life. (1)
Matthew and John - describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem - bring us back to Zechariah and God fulfilling His promise to His people. Jesus intentionally chooses to ride the donkey - the colt - a young donkey that had never been ridden on - never used but set apart for Jesus. Jesus intentionally fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy.
Point being that the crowd - and maybe even the disciples - the crowd is thinking politically: palm branches - king on a donkey - procession. It’s a coronation. But Jesus - is entering Jerusalem to die - is offering God’s people a very different deliverance. Are we together?
Jesus is offering God’s people victory over sin and death - real eternal salvation. Jesus is offering true prosperity - the abundance of life lived in relationship the living God - of being heirs of the riches of God’s kingdom. All of which - is lost on the crowd.
Jesus - in humility - offering Himself for us. Rejoice greatly! Shout in Triumph!
That isn’t some kind of sugar coated - God helps those who help themselves - religious mumbo jumbo. Where is God in the worst disasters? Even the little disasters? Even in the crud of our own sin and the disasters we make of our own lives? Our King has come to us.
That’s huge. Isn’t it? Say this to yourself. “My King has come to me.”
Not too many years back when I was going through some really hard stuff someone shared with me the words of Isaiah 26:3. Which says this: “You - God - You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3 TNLT)
Peace isn’t just the absence of conflict. Peace is being settled deep within ourselves - even in the midst of conflict - or disaster - the worst that this world can throw at us. That peace can only come from God.
As we head out of here into what’s out there - let me share one thought of encouragement that all of us need to hang on to - in whatever we’re struggling with. Keep your thoughts fixed on Jesus. Stay focused on Him. In prayer. In the Word. In worship. In service. Don’t let anything distract you from Him. Do whatever it takes to keep your eyes on Him.
Your King has come to you. He understands. He won’t let you go. He’s right there with you.
1. LiveScience.com (5.26.06)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.