Sunday, March 28, 2010
Traditionalist or Truth-seeker?
All over the world today believers and nonbelievers alike are celebrating Palm Sunday. Yes, I said "nonbelievers," because not much has changed since the original event. The world loves to embrace tradition without embracing truth, and the millions who wave palm branches today will be shaking their fist at God by tomorrow morning. The tradition produces a sense of involvement in something greater than simple, everyday life. But the practicality of the truth behind the tradition is not something that anyone wants to embrace.
Let me explain.
After Israel returned to the Promised Land through the leadership of Moses and then the military cunning and faith of Joshua, the people settled into a cyclical routine of walking in faith, falling into sin, God giving them over to a foreign nation to get their attention, their crying out for salvation, God raising up a judge to bring them victory over the occupying force, and walking in faith again, only to repeat the cycle over and over again. This is all recorded in the book of Judges. After doing this over and over, the people finally demanded of God a king to rule. Though God told them they didn't need a king - they had Him, they still wanted that figurehead. So after reigning through judges, God provided kings.
Enter Saul, the people's wrong choice, then David, followed by Solomon. Then it got interesting. There was a civil war in Israel and the tiny nation of God became two nations. Good kings and bad kings served intermittently until finally both nations were conquered and taken into captivity.
By the time Christ showed up on the scene, Rome was occupying Israel and not only providing the leadership but still oppressing the people as well. The Jewish kings were a thing of the past. Four hundred years of silence from God was broken with the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness to make way for the Lord. Then Jesus arrived and for three years He began to speak with such authority and power that the people gathered en mass to hear the Word of the Lord. In essence, their memories were sparked and once again God had sent a prophet, perhaps even a judge or a king who would lead them out of their oppression from evil Rome. God had done this in their past and finally, once again, God had heard their cries and was sending them salvation in the form of a prophet, a judge or a king.
Technically He was all three.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that foal of a donkey, Matthew 21:4,5 tells us that He did it to fulfill prophecy: "Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden..." The people were nearly in a frenzied state, because their king was coming to save them from their oppression. Their cries of "Hosanna!" were heard for miles. "Hosanna," by the way, means "Save us!" Jesus was their Savior. After hundreds of years of silence, God had once again moved in Israel and provided salvation.
But Jesus wasn't quite what they had expected. He didn't rally the troops and storm the palace. He cleansed the temple, which was the least of Israel's concerns. He cursed a fig tree and confronted the religious leadership - all of this after they had given Him a king's welcome. Jesus was a disappointment to the oppressed people and within days they were shouting for His death rather than His salvation.
What they didn't understand was that Jesus definitely came to save them, just not from their oppressors. He came to save them from themselves. He came to restore a path of relationship with His Father. Once that was completed, He would return to save them from the world, but first things first - He had to offer Himself as a propitiation for their sins. A replacement. And when immediate, physical, social relief didn't flow from His being, the people turned on Him.
Now don't stress out. It's all good. It was a part of the plan. But the tradition of following a voice of God to deliverance was placed above the truth of the situation. Jesus was the Messiah, but He didn't fit the Old Testament mold of salvation.
Today, on Palm Sunday, children will sing and wave palm branches and their parent's hearts will warm to the scene. But when the service is done, most will return home and the truth of Jesus' offer of salvation will not change the home's dynamics. Selfishness will rule the hearts of the inhabitants and they will continue to buy into the lie that God's Word is not truth, that it is not sufficient to change lives, that it's teaching is cultural and outdated, and that most of the stories are fairy tales meant to teach symbolic lessons. Therefore, it is discarded.
For most, the scriptures are disappointing. It is not what people want. It doesn't fit their mold of the role God should play in man's life. Therefore, if the scriptures are disappointing, so is the God of the scriptures. So they "celebrate" Palm Sunday, but they reject its significance when they refuse to accept (or even read) His Word.
It doesn't have to be that way. The truth of God's Word and the truth of Jesus' sacrifice can change your family, it can envelop your life and it can reign in your heart. But you have to break from tradition. You have to stop doing things simply because it's on a calendar or it's a habit. You have to stop and recognize the truth of the Word, believe it and act on it.
James exhorted believers to be doers of the Word, not hearers only and that includes worship. As you think through the account of Palm Sunday, and the historical events of this week, ask yourself, "How does the truth of these events affect my day-to-day life?" and "Am I a traditionalist or am I a truth-seeker?"
May I encourage you this week to compare your expectations of God with His Word and embrace the truth of what the cross means for believers. Don't gather with the crowd and join in on the frenzy for the sake of tradition. Make it personal and make it real. If you do, you will dwell in a place called humility and gratitude, as you thank the Lord for His truth - the truth of Who He is and the truth of who you are, plus the truth of what He accomplished on the cross.