The Church: A Holy People in the Presence of a Holy God

“Holy,” applied to things, or to us, means set apart to God. But what does it mean that God is holy? Holiness is the sum of all that he is. He is God, and you and I are not. Hebrews 12:14 calls you, individually and together as the church, to strive after holiness.

Your God is a holy God. Be holy, because God is holy. God entered into covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, calling them to be his holy people. The latter part of Hebrews 12 looks back to that event. Moses summoned the whole nation of Israel to reflect God’s holiness, Leviticus 19:2. The details of doing justice, including loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) flow out of that. 1 Peter 1:15; 2:9 reflects that principle in the New Testament.

See your thrice holy God. Isaiah’s call to be a prophet (Isaiah 6) centered on his vision of the glory of the Lord filling the temple. The seraphs, fiery angelic beings, cried “Holy, Holy, Holy!” That vision of the utter majesty of God needs to control your life. You ought not to be able to read Isaiah 6 and be casual about coming into God’s presence. “To praise His name in­volves more than the mere repetition of the word qa­dosh [holy-jwm]. It includes deep meditation upon God and His attributes and the living of a life of humility in accordance with the pre­cepts laid down in His Word. It is, in other words, the life of faith in Jesus Christ, lived for the glory of God.” (Ed­ward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 1, p. 243).

Experience his cleansing fire. Isaiah realized, as must you and I, that sinners cannot abide God’s presence. Isaiah became undone, or ruined. There is no way for him or for you to remedy that situation. You cannot be good enough. You cannot do positive things to make up for failures. You are helpless and hopeless, the object of the wrath of a holy God—until he graciously acts. Only as Isaiah’s lips are purified by a burning coal from the altar can he be of any use to God. Unless you know the cleansing, forgiving, work of Christ, you stand as God’s enemy. But if he touches your lips, if he renews your heart, you can live as his people.

Make every effort to be holy. Strive for holiness. Were I to suggest that essential for seeing the Lord is holiness, the reaction might be, “that sounds like basing salvation on works.” We very properly recoil from the suggestion that our works have any meritorious role in our salvation – that was something learned afresh at the time of the Protestant Reformation. And yet Heb. 12:14 tells you: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Sanctification is sometimes reduced to simply being fruit and evidence of justification. Scripture treats sanctification as something distinct from, something in addition to, and thus decidedly more than just fruit and evidence of justification. Parallel to repentance, sanctification is never the ground or basis for your justification, but it is something that is an essential part of belonging to Christ. The author of Hebrews is no less clear than Paul that our salvation rests on nothing that we do or are, but only on Christ himself: “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” Heb. 7:27.

Pursue peace. The harvest of righteousness and peace flows from the Lord’s discipline. None of us enjoy discipline. Your discipline is evidence that you belong to the Lord’s family. Notice how Hebrews guards his language. You are responsible for making every effort to live at peace–you do not necessarily control the result. Some people resist peace. This is not peace at any price. Your first commitment is to the Lord. Thus you need to pursue holiness as you pursue peace.

Be a holy people. Notice how the theme of being God’s people runs through the whole book of Hebrews. Like Israel, you are a pilgrim people, looking forward to your eternal rest in the new heavens and earth. The pursuit of holiness is both an individual and a corporate responsibility. You need to focus on your own means of grace. But don’t forget that Christ has called you to be his body, his temple, his people. We need one another to make progress in the Christian life. And the more we grow in sanctification, the holier the church becomes. “Sanctification has es­pecial regard to God. Even though the whole world blazes with war, we must not let go of sanctification because it is the chain which binds us in union with God. . . . No one can see God without sancti­fication since we shall only see God with eyes that have been re­newed according to his image.” (John Calvin, Com­mentary on Hebrews, at 12:14).

See the Lord! The Lord is working in you. Certainly your sanctification, your holiness, is motivated by gratitude. Hebrews has just pointed you to the perfect Redeemer, Hebrews 12:2. But if you see justification as God’s work and sanctification simply as your inadequate response, you have missed the point that Hebrews is making. Yes, you are active in sanctification, you pursue holiness. But you do so because God is working in you. Christ renews us by his Spirit. Because holiness is essential to seeing the Lord, the Holy Spirit works in the Christian, shaping him to his glory. Neither works nor even faith are the basis of salvation – the basis is always the perfect obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer. Because holiness is essential to seeing the Lord, Hebrews summons you to strive for it, admonishing you to seek something that God is working in you. And thus both the Scriptures and the Confession can rejoice in the Spirit-wrought good works which are the fruit of sanctification. Perhaps we fail to delight as readily as we should when we see in the lives of God’s people the growth in holiness which flows out of union with Christ. We have a Scriptural imperative to stir one another (and ourselves) up to good works (Heb. 10:24).

Worship in the splendor of his holiness. As you see God’s holiness, as you strive for holiness, what do you end up doing? Worshiping God! Hebrews 12 contrasts your situation with that of Israel at Sinai. God’s revelation of himself on that mountain was awe inspiring. But you have something far better, far more majestic. Notice that Hebrews does not hold out heavenly worship as a future, distant reality. It is something in which you participate now as you gather in God’s presence! Understanding that changes the whole worship experience. Why did you come to church this morning? For fellowship with God’s people? To grow in understanding his Word? Both are good reasons, but they fall far short of the most important one. You are here to worship God. You are here to join the angelic beings and the saints who have gone before you in calling God holy! You are a holy people in the presence of a holy God! “Those who are called to be partakers of God’s holi­ness must be holy them­selves; this is the recurring theme of the Pentateuchal law of holiness, echoed again in the New Testa­ment: ‘Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy’ (Lev. 11:45, etc.; cf. 1 Pet. 1: 15.). To see the Lord is the highest and most glori­ous blessing that morals can enjoy, but the beatific vision is reserved for those who are holy in heart and life.” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT, pp. 364-365).

See Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. In the glorious scene of the assembly in the Jerusalem above, central is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Hebrews has focused on Jesus throughout his book. Now he calls you to be united with him by faith. Where that faith is found, God not only justifies, he also sanctifies his people. All of your salvation is his work. To him be the glory. Where that kind of changed life takes place, people notice. When automatic anger is replace with self-control, not only is Christ honored, but your neighbors see something of his peace-making work in your life. When you stop being the kind of husband or wife who assumes the world revolves around your expectations and instead focuses on serving your spouse and your children, you are seeing the Savior molding you into being part of the cleansed, perfected bride that his church is becoming. Your sanctification, your holiness, is his work in your life.

The believer’s future, perfect sanctification flows out of the Spirit-wrought process of growing in holiness during this life. Already in your daily life you are connected with what will be true in eternity, or to put it more exactly, what is already true of you in Christ. Holiness characterizes the Christian both now (in a true and wonderful way) and in eternity (perfectly) – because Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior. To him be the glory forever!

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: A Holy People in the Presence of a Holy God

The Church: Feeding on the Living Bread

What is special about dinner today, Mother’s Day? What is special about the meal we celebrate at the end of the service this morning? How important is that meal in the life of the church? Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11:23–32, but you also need the background of Exodus 12 and the whole Old Testament.

You are feeding on Christ. Don’t sin against the body and blood of the Lord. The Corinthian love feast had degenerated into chaos. The feast started out as a fellowship meal, but slipped into a combination of hunger and drunkenness. This church (which receives no praise from Paul on this account, v.17) treated the Lord’s Supper as an ordinary meal. The problems here grew out of the party spirit evident earlier in the book. Don’t treat the Lord’s Supper as something superstitious or magical. The doctrine of transubstantiation led to veneration of the elements, which became a form of idolatry. Do not treat the sacrament casually, as Corinthian church did. This is not just an ordinary meal. Do not come merely out of habit or custom. Do not come if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a proclamation of the Lord’s death. In coming you express your trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. If you do not yet trust, wait until you do before you come. If your life contradicts your profession, make getting that straightened out your priority. God does not take lightly the misuse or profaning of his ordinances. The elements, which were intended as a blessing, become symbols of judgment, and involve God’s actual judgment. The church at Corinth had experienced illness, and even the death of some of its members, because of its abuse of the Lord’s Table, verse 30. God intends for you take his warning very seriously.

Positively, recognize the body of the Lord. Those who abused the sacrament in Corinth failed to discern the Lord’s body, verse 29. “Discern” or “recognize” means to distinguish, to identify something as what it really is. They failed to appreciate the significance of the meal and its elements, which represent the crucified Savior. They missed what Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, that the one loaf means that we are all part of the same body. You need to recognize yourself as part of Christ’s body. That still involves an understanding of his saving work and its significance for his people—that you, and all other believers, are part of the church because he died and rose for you. Appreciate what Christ did in dying and rising for you. Examining yourself does not mean looking for some special level of spirituality. Rather, the Lord’s Supper calls you to keep short accounts, to deal with sin promptly by repenting and seeking forgiveness, both from the Lord and from others.

Proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Understand the background of the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason that Christ chose the last Passover he observed with his disciples as the setting for instituting the Lord’s Supper. The original Passover began the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The symbolism in the sacrifice of the lamb, the protection offered by its blood, and then eating that meal to be prepared for the journey ahead was rich. Even as the initial instructions are given, God makes clear that his people are to continue to celebrate this meal annually. It was not just a commemoration of an important event (like celebrating July 4), but was a renewal of being God’s redeemed people. As the Passover was celebrated the participants shared in the “bread of affliction” that had marked their slavery. They were now living as those set free. The Exodus, with its Passover, became the major redemptive event in the Old Testament.

Partake worthily. Perhaps it sounds strange to suggest that you partake worthily. Are any of us worthy to come to the Lord? No! That is the attitude of the Pharisee, rather than that of the tax collector. It is precisely the humble heart that is aware of its own sinfulness and unworthiness that is invited to come to the Lord’s Table. Christ did not institute the meal for those who might be perfect, but for sinners. As you partake, you truly feed upon Christ. The focus is not on what the bread and wine are (as if they somehow change), but on God feeding us with the Living Bread (see John 6). “Now, that sacred partaking of his flesh and blood, by which Christ pours his life into us, as if it penetrated into our bones and marrow, he also testifies and seals in the Supper—not by presenting a vain and empty sign, but by manifesting there the effectiveness of his Spirit to fulfill what he promises. And truly he offers and shows the reality there signified to all who sit at that spiritual banquet, although it is received with benefit by believers alone, who accept such great generosity with true faith and gratefulness of heart.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.10).

Look back, at the present, and forward! Look back at the completed work of Christ, entrusting yourself to him, feeding upon him. Right now recognize that you are in fellowship with other believers precisely because of your union with your Lord who gave his body and blood to redeem you. “The Lord’s Supper is a visible sermon in which Christ’s death is vividly proclaimed. This is only possible because of the union and communion with Christ that the Supper entails…. In 1 Corinthians 11…, [Paul] reveals that our participation in the Supper cannot be disconnected from our communion with other believers in the body of Christ. He also emphasizes that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death of Christ—a message that is at the very heart of the gospel.” (Kieth A. Mathison, Given for You, pages 233, 235). And look forward in time. You proclaim the Lord’s death, but you do so until he comes. This is not just a memorial feast. It is an anticipation of the great heavenly banquet in the new heavens and earth. Every true Passover feast, every true celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of that magnificent banquet!

So, do examine yourself. Do recognize that you are part of Christ’s body—and come to the Table where his both the host and the meal. Feed on Christ and live as his people.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: Feeding on the Living Bread

The Church: Baptized into Christ and His Body

What does your baptism mean? What does baptism mean for the church? The command to baptize is part of Christ’s Great Commission to his church just before he ascends to heaven. Romans 6:1–14, against the background of Genesis 17, helps you understand how important your baptism is.

Your baptism means that you belong to Christ and his body. God marked Abraham and his descendants as belonging to him. God had made his covenant promises to Abraham earlier in Genesis. Now he give circumcision as the sign and seal of that covenant. This is not just a sign of national identity. It speaks to God’s relationship with his people. They are commanded to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 44). A non-Israelite could become one of God’s people, and that involved receiving this sign. At the heart of the covenant is God promising to be a God to his people. The covenant is a relationship, one that is important enough that in both the Old and New Testaments, God himself ordains a sign and seal of that covenant.

In the New Testament baptism distinguishes the body of Christ. As Acts, Galatians, and Romans make clear, in the New Testament, God’s people no longer need to receive that sign. Instead, baptism, as commanded by Jesus—in the name of the triune God—is administered to those who believe. In Romans 6, as Paul points out how contradictory it is to what you are in Christ, he points to your baptism. That baptism marks you as belonging to Christ. In Galatians he says that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Your baptism is a sign and seal of belonging to Christ. Roman Christians were aware of the importance of baptism–Paul can assume they know its meaning and what it seals. (The sacrament is not unimportant or a mere formality.) You are united with Christ. Baptism involves the concept of union. The people of Israel were baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1,2), and Paul rejects the notion that the Corinthians had been baptized into Paul (1 Cor. 1:13)! You are united with the triune God, Mt. 28:19. Don’t separate the work of the three Persons.

Baptism involves God marking you as his. Neither the Old Testament sacrament nor the New Testament one are first of all the believer saying something to God. Sometimes the sign and seal follows a conscious expression of faith, as was the case with Abraham (see Romans 4:11—it is a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith before he received the sign). But other times it was administered, at God’s command, long before the person had conscious faith. Isaac was eight days old when he received the sign. And the New Testament sign is for believers and their children, Acts 2:38–39. On its most basic level, baptism is God saying, this person belongs to me. Don’t water down the force of that just because there are some who receive the sign who ultimately perish. “The first thing that baptism points to and validates is God’s gospel. To the person being baptized, and to all who witness or experience the event, or to all who even consider the symbol, baptism testifies to tot he truth of an enduring promise which God himself made, which he continues to proclaim, and which he continues to honour: it is the promise of redemption for all who trust in Christ alone for their righteousness.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 366).

Your baptism means that you have died. You have died to the curse and punishment for sin. In Romans 6 Paul makes the point that you must not sin because your baptism says that you died with Christ and were buried with him. Christ’s perfect life of obedience, but particularly his death on the cross as your substitute means that you who are united with him are set free from both the guilt of your sin and its punishment. In Romans 5 Paul made the point that Christ died as the second Adam, as the representative for his people. Appropriately, the New Testament sign involves water (setting aside the amount and the mode of administration for now) with its cleansing properties.

You have died to the enslaving power of sin. Your Lord Jesus Christ died. He died to death, v. 9. Death is past, unrepeatable for him. Christ died to sin, v. 10. Not that Christ ever sinned, but rather that he is no longer in sin’s domain. You too died to sin. Like a prisoner in the Gulag, your only escape from the enslaving power of sin is through death. And that is what happened as you were buried with Jesus in his death. We usually think of sanctification as the process of becoming more holy. While that is biblical, this passage treats sanctification as a definitive act. You died to sin. You are no longer under its power and control. Paul says that is true of you who have been baptized into Christ. You can make progress in your daily growth in grace. You don’t have to go on sinning. As a Christian you can’t say “can’t”! 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Pay attention to the warnings involved in baptism. The Old Testament sign clearly had a warning aspect. It involved cutting with a knife or a sharp piece of flint. But before the cutting in the sacrament in Genesis 17 comes the cutting of the animals in Genesis 15, where the Lord symbolically takes the curse of the covenant upon himself. Only because of God’s faithfulness can Abraham live in covenant fellowship with God. The New Testament sacrament is not bloody, but water does have a judgment aspect. In 1 Peter 3 the apostle ties baptism with the judgment water of the flood. Christ sufferings were his baptism (Mark 10:38), and because he went through that, you can be his people. Appreciate the blessing of your baptism, but remember that it is a warning as well, summoning you to faithfulness to your Lord.

Your baptism means that you have been raised with Christ. You are a new creation! You live a new life. You will live, v.8, and you do live, v.11. Your former way of life must be put off, v.12. Your baptism means that you have put on Christ. You are united with him in his resurrection.

You have been set free to serve your Lord. Christ was raised through the glory of the Father. His glory is his majesty, the sum of his perfections. This is brought to bear in raising up Christ. The Father’s raising of the Son vindicates him. You share in that glorious vindication as you are united to Christ. The Lord, with whom you are united, sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. You belong to him. You are part of his body. Your baptism reminds you that it is true. “As surely as Christ rose from the dead so surely shall we walk in newness of life.” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, p. 216).

Take hold of the blessings of your baptism! Your baptism tells you that you belong to God. Remember that when you are tempted. Take hold of it when you are discouraged. God gave you the seal to assure you that he is your God and that he is utterly faithful. Children, you may not remember when you were baptized, but your baptism calls you to live as someone who belongs to Christ, trusting yourself to him and him alone, living to serve and glorify him. Focus on the heart of what baptism is. It may be helpful, as you go through trials and temptations, to remember that you have entrusted yourself to God, that you believe in him. But it is a far greater thing to remember that it is not first of all you speaking, but rather God saying, “You belong to me. I am with you. I care for you. I have made you part of the body of my Son, and because of him, you are precious to me. “Baptism is most basically and universally—just as circumcision was—about the works and the righteousness of Another, and not about the righteousness of ourselves. The enduring importance of baptism rests in what it always says about God and his gospel, and not what it sometimes says about the person who is baptized.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith, p. 367).

Your baptism tells you that when Jesus died, you died with him. You no longer belong under the power and domination of sin. Your baptism tells you that when Jesus was raised, you were raised with him to a new life. It challenges you to live this week as someone who is really alive in Christ.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: Baptized into Christ and His Body

The Church of the Risen Savior

Early on a Sunday morning faithful, grieving women went to a tomb outside Jerusalem to serve their rabbi in a final act of respect and reverence by anointing his body with spices. You know the story, the true story, that they found the tomb empty and angelic messengers proclaiming the good news that he was not there, but was risen, as he had said. The Gospels tell you of the resurrection, but the theme runs throughout Scripture. Paul’s letters emphasize what Christ’s resurrection means for him and what it means for you, his church, as you see in Colossians 3:1–4. You are the church of the risen Savior.

What does Christ’s resurrection mean for him? Jesus emerged triumphant from the grave. Over the centuries the church has grown in understanding what the death of Christ means. He died, not simply as an example, not as a martyr, but as the substitute for his people. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed forward to him. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter, the One on whom our iniquities were laid in Isaiah 53. But, as important as the death of Christ is, it is secondary to his resurrection. Don’t overlook that note of triumph at the end of Isaiah 53. He is alive. He sees his offspring. As the Victor he is given the spoil. The resurrection is his triumph. “The death of Christ is not an end in itself. It is subordinate to a great purpose that can be achieved only through resurrection. . . . To be a Saviour, Christ had to pass through resurrection. It was an integral part of the experience and task assigned to him in the economy of redemption. The resurrection power exercised by the Father in the raising of Jesus, and the resurrection power with which, in virtue of that fact, Jesus is endowed are necessary facts in the plan of salvation. But if so, there needed to be death. For without death resurrection has neither existence nor meaning.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, p. 88).

Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. No only has Christ been raised, he has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. His exaltation is the triumphal reward the Father bestows on the Son who has done his Father’s will. The exaltation of Christ gives hope and confidence to his body here on earth—his church. That church may suffer and be persecuted, but she is united with her exalted Lord. She will not perish. As the risen Lord, about to ascend to his Father, he claims all authority in heaven and earth and commands his church to go into all the world with the good news. His exaltation gives hope and confidence to individual believers. Where do you get the strength to put to death the sins that cling to you? How can you do the difficult work of growing in grace, of being conformed to Christ? Only because you are united with your risen, exalted Lord.

What does Christ’s resurrection mean for you, his church? You died with Christ. Look at Colossians 2:12. Christ’s death means that as you trust in him, you died with him. Paul is dealing with the grand indicatives of the Christian life. The penalty for your sin has been paid. The curse against you has been borne by him. Christ died as a substitute in your place. He died for your sins. His death was vicarious. See Romans 4:25; 5:6–8. Your death with him means that you have been set free from the enslaving power of sin. But Christ’s death with nothing to follow is not good news.

You are united with Christ in his resurrection. There is no fact more basic for the church or for you as one who trusts in him. Note how the resurrection forms the core of apostolic preaching (Acts 2:24,32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:32–37; 17:31; 26:23). Read Paul’s letters, and note the frequent references to the resurrection. Join in celebrating his resurrection each Lord’s Day! The resurrection does more than prove that Jesus is truly God. In his resurrection, no less than in his death, Jesus Christ is the second Adam. You are untied with him and are raised with him. “The resurrection of Jesus is just as thoroughly messianic and adamic as are his sufferings and death. His resurrection is as equally representative and vicarious as his death. Believers no longer live to themselves but to the Christ, ‘who for their sake died and was raised’ II Cor. 5:15.” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection, p. 66). When is your resurrection? In the past? Yes, you were raised with Christ. In the future? Yes, your bodily resurrection will be completed at the last day. You live today as one who has been raised with Christ.

Your life is hidden with Christ in God. You really belong in heaven, where the exalted Christ dwells, Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:6. Focus on the heavenly things. This is where your life really is, since you are united to your risen, ascended Lord (even though God still calls you to walk here below). The things which belong to heaven ought to be your concern. Your priorities are different from what they were before you came to Christ. Your life no longer focuses on you. Paul’s indicatives imply imperatives. There is bound to be tension in your life. You, who belong above, you, who are focusing your thoughts on the things above, are called to live in a sin-cursed world. Paul will list specifics which must be removed from your life. They must be put to death. See verses 5–11. He also describes characteristics to put on, verses12–14. These are very practical ways of celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

Look forward to glory! Christ’s appearing is your goal, for his appearing is also yours. For Paul, Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming (which includes your bodily resurrection) form one complex of events, one great event taking place in different time installments. You do not know the day of Christ’s coming, but you must live in the light of that day. Then, at his appearing, you will enter the eternal celebration of Christ’s triumphant work! How rich your joy and praise as you look at Christ’s completed work, at the union with him in his resurrection of all of those for whom he died.

What is the church? The most basic thing you can say about the church is that she is belongs to the risen, ascended, and returning Lord. Live that way this week.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church of the Risen Savior

The Church of the Donkey-Riding King

What makes the church what it is? According to Luke 19:28–40, at the heart of what the church’s origin is King whose steed in his triumphal entry is a donkey. You are the church of the donkey-riding King!

Your King is coming! Your King comes riding a donkey. The great journey to Jerusalem began in Luke 9:51. Now Jesus enters the city as King. He claims kingly authority. Requisitioning the colt which had never been ridden expressed that authority. The young donkey was an animal of peace (that is part of the point of the prophecy in Zechariah 9), but don’t despise the steed. Newly anointed King Solomon had entered the same city on his father, David’s mule. The disciples recognize the royal claim as they lay their outer garments on the colt for a saddle and spread their cloaks for a carpet to pave the royal way. Jesus accepts this treatment, as well as the adulation of the crowd of disciples. “He knew that the time had come when He was to die for sinners on the cross. His work as the great Prophet, so far as His earthly ministry was concerned, was almost finished and completed. His work as the sacrifice for sin and substitute for sinners, remained to be accomplished. Before giving Himself up as a sacrifice, He desired to draw the attention of the whole Jewish nation to Himself. The Lamb of God was about to be slain. The great sin-offering was about to be killed. It was meet that the eyes of all Israel should be fixed on Him.” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, pages 309–310). Jesus is showing you, not only that he is King, but also what kind of King he is. He knows all things. Before reaching the next village he pauses, sends two disciples ahead, and tells them to bring the colt to him. He knows that they will be questioned. He instructs them how to reply. He knows that the colt will be given for his use. Luke is describing your King who knows all the details of your life. That is profoundly comforting as you face a world that seems to be increasingly uncertain. Are you worried about your job? Your health? Your future? Your King knows all the details of your life, and he is active in your behalf.

King Jesus initiates this event. Earlier Jesus had avoided crowds (Luke 5:14-16) and had forbidden people to speak about him (Luke 8:56). Now he is encouraging the crowd. In the preceding context he had spoken about the kingdom, correcting a mistaken notion of its immediacy, but emphasizing his kingship. He sends for the donkey, and the public requisition of the animal draws attention, not just to Jesus as a person, but to his authority as well. Jesus is forcing the hand and the timetable of the leaders of Israel, who desire his death, but not during the Passover, while the city was full of pilgrims. Not only is Jesus claiming to be King, but he is forcing the hand of his enemies. The King forces you to chose whether to submit and trust in him or to oppose him. The Pharisees object to the cries of royal welcome and ask Jesus to silence his disciples. But Jesus responds that if the people were to be silent, the very stones would cry out. Think of the piles of stones in Judges, stones that stood as silent witnesses to Israel, calling them to faithfulness, and reminding them of their God. Now, in the presence of the King, if need be, if there are no other cries of praise, the stones will sound the praise of their maker. And they will shortly utter their voice when the shouts have changed to “Crucify,” then the earth will quake. “Whether men praise Christ or no he will, and shall, and must be praised (v. 40): If these should hold their peace, and not speak the praises of the Messiah’s kingdom, the stones would immediately cry out, rather than that Christ should not be praised. This was, in effect, literally fulfilled, when, upon men’s reviling Christ upon the cross, instead of praising him, and his own disciples’ sinking into a profound silence, the earth did quake and the rocks rent.” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, at Matthew 19:40).

Bless your King! Listen to the crowd praise Jesus. They use language from the Hallel, language which is messianic, v. 38, see Psalm 118:26. (Luke, writing to a Gentile audience, does not use the word, Hosanna, which would likely not have been understood by them. But he does make it clear that this is the messianic King coming in the name of the Lord.) Jesus is acknowledged as king. And he does nothing to discourage or dissuade the shouts of the people. He accepts garments as saddle and carpet. He refuses to silence the cries of the people. The shouts of the people in v. 38 echo, probably unintentionally, the song of the angels in Luke 2. Notice the omission, however. The angels recognized that the coming of the Messiah means peace on earth. The cries of the crowd show no awareness of that need. But Jesus knows, as he has repeatedly made clear to his disciples, that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and to rise again. The shallowness of the crowd’s understanding of Jesus’ kingship is one reason that, less than a week later, the cries will have changed to “Crucify him!”

Bless Jesus as your King. Luke’s Gospel confronts you with your King. The King who entered the city on an unused donkey would, within the week be placed in an unused tomb. But from that he would rise again. Luke writes so that you recognize the King as your Lord. Join in blessing the King. Borrow the words of the crowd–they are fine words, as far as they go–but understand what they really mean. Remember the sacrificial death of your king. Focus on the glory of his resurrection. Don’t only cry blessings to your king–live as those who belong to him because he has triumphed and purchased you for himself. You cannot go back in history and join the crowd that day. But you, as you trust in him, can and will join in blessing your King. Revelation 7:9-12 gives you another picture of this King, picking up the royal imagery of Psalm 118 and of the Triumphal Entry. You are part of that uncountable host.

Recognize your King and, from the bottom of your heart and with all your life, bless and serve him.

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church of the Donkey-Riding King