It was darkness, and it was light. It was torment, and it was peace. It was death, and it was life. The Cross; two heavy wooden beams, shouldered by the man of sorrows. It pressed hard upon His back. A back that had already been turned into an open wound by the lashes it had received. Compared to the burden He was about to bear, it was nothing, but it brought Him to His knees.
It was His choice to do it, but it was a choice that caused Him to sweat blood as He wrestled in prayer in the garden. He had made His decision; He would drink the cup that caused Him so much dread. If this cup were visible, the sight of it would have caused our hearts to stop, our stomachs to turn, and all our strength to vanish. It was a mixture of every dark deed we, as His people, would ever commit. It also included every foul emotion, every impure motive, and every heart’s desire for evil that we were unable to fulfill. If you have ever felt the weight of sin, you know it can break your heart and darken the soul, and because our hearts are still clouded by our lusts, we have never felt it to its full degree. It is crushing.
Not only were every one of our sins in that cup, but everything they deserved as well. The cup contained distress, depression, and despair. It included desolation, disease, and death. That cup was the wrath of an all-knowing, all-powerful God of righteousness. What we saw in the bodily suffering of Jesus was only the surface, and He drank the cup until it was dry.
At that moment, life left His body. His chest stopped moving, His tongue lay still, and His eyes went cold. The enemy of death had taken Him. He was supposed to be our Savior, but He was dead. The wages of sin had taken the sinless one who was meant to set us free. They wrapped His body, laid Him in a cold tomb, and covered it with a stone. Our hope had died. He had borne the brunt of our sins, and it had killed Him.
Then something happened on the morning of the third day. Though it occurred in the dark of the tomb, a light came back into his eyes. There was a newness to His body unlike anyone else who had ever returned from the grave. His body was alive, never to die again! The stone rolled away, and He emerged. Death had not defeated Him. He bore our wrath, and it had not overcome Him. He had conquered it. The bonds of death could not hold him!
In the resurrection, we have confirmation that His redeeming work was complete. He was a hostage to our debt, and now that debt had been paid. He died for our sins and rose for our justification. Death could not hold Him because He had laid His life down of His own will; no one could demand it from Him. He could lay it down, and He could take it up again.
Since the bonds of death cannot hold Him, neither can they hold anything that belongs to Him. Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus in faith will be saved. Child of God, what is it that brings you down? Is it sin, guilt, failure, shame, condemnation, accusation, or a body that is experiencing death? Whatever it is, it will find its defeat in Jesus Christ.
He is King of Kings and Lord of Lord! He has risen, and He is alive!
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – Jesus (John 11:25-26)
I was part of a Good Friday in real-time series for our church on Facebook live. My portion was the death of Jesus and his final statement, “It is finished.” What was in the cup that Jesus so much dreaded to drink that it caused him to sweat drops of blood. The video is below.
Is Coronavirus God’s judgment on us for our wicked ways, is it something he intends for our good, is it a mixture of both, or none of the above? Scripture tells us, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). What this verse means is that God does not always tell us why he is doing what he is doing. We may do our best to try to figure it out, but, often, his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). In the end, he is always accomplishing more than we could ever think or imagine.
What do we do when we are unsure of what God is doing? How do we know how to respond when that is the case? If we do not fully know his intentions, how can we see his mercy? In the same way that the hidden things belong to the Lord, the revealed things belong to his people (Deuteronomy 29:29). There are several things that the Lord has told us in his word, and his word is the rock upon which we should build our lives. That way, when the storms come, we are not washed away (Matthew 7:24-27). He has not asked us to build our life on what he has not told us, but what he has revealed. Considering Coronavirus, we are helped when we think about in light of the following three biblical truths.
1. God is in Control
The first truth we need to bring to mind is that God is sovereign. He is the Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. He reigns on high, and who can stay his hand (Daniel 4:35)? If we do not believe that God is in control over Coronavirus, either we have a God who is too weak, or lacks the knowledge, to remedy the situation. These are our only options if we deny his sovereignty, and these options are horrific and contradict what God has revealed to us in the Bible. To think this way about God is to trade the the truth of God for a lie and lay the foundation of our lives on sinking sand, and we might as well give up hope. God is sovereign. He could end covid-19 in an instant if he desired, but he has not chosen to do so as of yet. The decision to end Coronavirus or have it continue to play out is in his hands (Isaiah 45:7), and his decisions are never hasty or without good reason.
2. The Wages of Sin is Death
The second truth we need to remember during this time is that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23). Death is what sin deserves, and that is not only physical death, it is also spiritual death. Scripture calls this “the second death.’ This involves God consigning those who reject him to the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Jesus called it “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and the apostle Paul called it “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). To be clear, this is not annihilation; we will not cease to exist. Jesus said, this is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:50). Those who go there will experience this for all eternity. An infinite punishment is the only suitable penalty for a finite being who sins against an infinite God.
Before we think God’s wrath for sin applies only to people worse than us, we need to remember that God’s word also says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). We have all transgressed the Lord of the universe. His law, since we have been created in his image, is written on our hearts, and we have violated it. Every one of us, every person living on this planet right now deserves hell for our sins. There are no exceptions, and we should never try to understand the difficulties we are facing without remembering what we deserve.
3. Everything Short of Hell is Mercy
The final truth we then need to apply flows logically from the first two. Everything short of hell is mercy. If we do not see that God is merciful to us even in this, we are operating from a false premise that says we deserve better. If we are not in hell at this moment, no matter what we are facing, God is being gracious. He is being patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). No matter how bad things could get with covid-19, it is better than we deserve. His mercy is abundant even during this pandemic.
What should we do with the mercy that he is extending to us? We should embrace it and humble ourselves before him as a nation and as individuals. We should draw near to our savior who has promised, if we do so, he will draw near to us (James 4:8).
Many have died from Covid-19, and their time has come to meet their Maker. Some of them received their just reward; the wages of their sin. As painful as that is to write, it would be unloving to conceal this truth. Others who have died from the virus had found forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and they were ushered into his glorious presence as his children. Instead of wrath, they found grace. The question is, what will happen when our time comes. There is only one way to the Father, and that is through faith in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Jesus Christ was the only person ever to live a sinless life. He is the Son of God; fully God and yet fully man. He came to do for us, what we can not do for ourselves. He is the only one who does not deserve sin’s wages, yet he went to the cross willingly to take our punishment (2 Corinthians 5:21). “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He was given over to death because of our transgressions and He was raised for the sake of our justification (Romans 4:25). This is what Good Friday and Easter are all about.
Though our sins have alienated us from him, “all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children” (John 1:2). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13). For those who believe Jesus, the wrath of God for our sins is satisfied.
Even in Coronavirus, God’s mercy is abundant. If this pandemic does not touch us, we need to remember, we will die someday. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). It will happen eventually. Come to Jesus today, he is our only hope and refuge. Not only that, it is where our true joy will be found. We were created to be in relationship with him, but we have traded his glory for corruptible things. We pursue riches, power, fame, and a host of other worldly trinkets, but he is calling us to something better. In drawing us to himself, God is calling us to the most glorious life possible, not only in heaven, but even now in the midsts of hardships.
Come drink of the living water and never thirst again (John 4:14). Come to know the friend who will stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Begin walking with your creator who will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6) and will work all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), Yes, even the fallout of Coronavirus will be for the good of his children. My prayer is that we will all draw up under the wing of our Savior where we belong.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight. In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs on it, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. – Matthew 21:17-19
Following the chronological sequence of the Evangelical narrative, an Olivet ‘memory’ of a different kind, now claims our attention. The incident has the one remarkable peculiarity, that it stands alone in the ministry of Christ as a miracle of punishment. At other times, as we follow the footsteps of our blessed Lord, and are the spectators of His mighty works, He scatters mercy on His path. By miracle and parable, by word and deed, He countersigns and endorses His own declaration, “The Son of man came not to destroy, but to save.” Here, however, though it be but on an inanimate object in outer nature, we are arrested with a strange, solitary exception.
As He is crossing from Bethany on the Monday of the Passion-week, early in the morning, before the great influx of worshipers at this festive season would throng the Temple, a fig plantation, near to the beaten pathway, attracted His eye. “The time of figs was not yet.” As a general rule, it was not yet the fig-season, except perhaps in the earlier and more favoring climate of Jericho and Gennesaret. It was therefore altogether premature and precocious at this period of the year (the end of March) for a fig-tree to be in full foliage, and especially on the comparatively elevated region of the Mount of Olives. While, however, the fig-orchard, now visible, was still destitute of leaves–or, at all events, these were only in embryo–one abnormal and exceptional member of the group is covered with foliage, giving reason to infer that the figs also were ripe and ready for gathering.
You may be aware of the peculiarity in the fig-tree, that the fruit, contrary to the ordinary order of development in the vegetable kingdom, appears before the leaves; so that the spectacle of a tree in full leaf, afforded ground to believe that fruit would be found thereon. Our blessed Lord approaches it, as if He had a right thus to expect, from its leafy appearance, that it should be covered with figs. He finds it to be a mass of pretentious foliage–nothing else; and He utters against it a withering curse. On returning by the same road, that afternoon, to His mountain home, the shades of eventide prevented the disciples noting how literally the blighting word had taken effect. But the next morning, as they are again wending their way to the city, the withered, blasted stem and drooping leaves arrest their attention–“Master,” said Peter, “behold, the fig-tree which you cursed has withered away,” (Mark 11:21.)
Undoubtedly for this strange exception to the customary tenderness of Christ’s miracles, there must be some special reason–a loving Redeemer punishing, and that, also, not a moral, responsible agent, but a dumb unconscious tree. Some peculiar reason indeed there must have been for the miracle at all. Jesus, we may be well assured, did not work it merely to give farther proof and exhibition of His omnipotence. The withering of a tree would, in itself, be comparatively a small attestation to His power, after the grandeur of Lazarus’s resurrection. What, then, meant He? We must go to Himself in the lowly spirit of the disciples, saying, ‘Declare unto us the parable and miracle of the fig-tree.’
The preceding day had been an illustrious one. In the week, it corresponded with our Sabbath, and, as we have found, was signalized by what was outwardly the most brilliant Olivet memory, the Triumphal entrance of the Redeemer into Jerusalem. It closed with an act of sovereign power–the cleansing of the Temple, and the dispersion of the traders, who, with their usurious traffic, were desecrating its sacred precincts. The blighting of the fig-tree forms the completion and complement of this series of expressive symbolic actions, relative to the doom of Jerusalem. And mark the order–the gradation rising to a terrible climax. First, The tender tears–the last pleadings of rejected love. Second, The righteous anger at the desecrated Temple courts, and the figurative dispersion of the Jewish people. Finally, and last of all, the impenitent nation, under the type and symbol of a blighted fig-tree, pining and withering away. These together, formed three acted parables–three illustrations in deed, of the dirge He had spoken in words–“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate,” (Luke 13:34, 35.)
Here, then, is the key to this (in some respects, perplexing and enigmatical) incident, in the closing scenes of the Savior’s ministry. That fig-tree is the kingdom of Israel. One thought, next to the great redemption of His Church, seemed, at that time, to occupy the mind of Jesus–it was the nation’s downfall and ruin. It drew tears from His eyes. He who wept not for Himself, wept for the despisers of His mercy and patience forbearance. The tears on the brow of Olivet passed into holy indignation and anger at the sight of the Temple sacrilege; and this again, led these lips, which loved to utter nothing but tenderness, to frame a final, irrevocable, sentence of doom. In order to teach and impress the great lesson, He invests, for the time, that dumb fig-tree with moral qualities–He makes it the expositor of a moral truth.
And observe how specially and singularly applicable the mute symbol was. The Jewish nation stood forth amid its compeers–the empires of the earth–a proud claimant to goodness and righteousness. The other Gentile kingdoms were in darkness and error. These latter had no fruit on their branches; but then, there was this distinction–they made no boastful pretension of having any. They were empty, poverty-stricken, as the Jew himself; no, a deeper blindness sealed their eyes. But, unlike the Jew, they made no vaunting boast of spiritual superiority. They felt that, in moral development, it might figuratively be said of them, “The time of figs was not yet,” they were waiting with longing earnestness for the dawning of some better day, which would give life and light to the world. The nation of Israel, on the other hand, sought to stand out in proud, self-confident pre-eminence. It was a fig-tree clothed with leaves. It had its imposing outward religion–its hallowed traditions–its boasted Temple–its mitred priests–its phylacteried Pharisees–its morning and evening sacrifices–its aromas of incense–its prophets’ sepulchers–its synagogues, and oratories, and mountain-altars–the land was studded with these outward signs and symbols of religious life.
Yes, when we think of all these, there were “leaves” enough. But beneath this ostentatious foliage, what was there? Pride–formalism–vain glory–selfishness–oppression. “How striking the image of that theocracy of solemn form, proudly displaying its ceremonials of worship, while the very heart of the nation was become dry and dead as sapless wood.” (Pressense’s Life of Christ.) This ought to have been the confession of that privileged people in the day of their merciful visitation–‘We, like that fig-tree on our sacred mountain, have had every fostering natural advantage. In a spiritual sense, ours has been the favoring climate, the congenial sunshine, the rains and dews of heaven. But we feel and acknowledge that we have perverted and abused these sacred influences. We are naked, leafless, fruitless, unproductive cumberers. All true and acceptable righteousness in us is lacking. Our ancestral law, which should have produced holiness, proclaims our deficiency–utters our condemnation. We participate in the longings of humanity, and of the holiest and best of our nation, for a better righteousness than our own. We feel our need of such a Savior as that of whom our prophets have thus spoken, This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.’
And was not that Savior in their midst? Had not all the ardent aspirations of the sainted fathers and worthies of Israel met and been fulfilled in the person of “God manifest in the flesh?” Yet, in blinded unbelief, they closed their eyes to irresistible attestations of His divine majesty and power. Though disease fled at His touch, and winds and waves were lulled at His bidding, and devils crouched at His word, and death, at His summons, gave up its reluctant prey, yet ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’ In defiant pride, the fruitless fig-tree shook its vaunting branches and foliage before the eye of the heart-searching God, and urged its boastful claim to that of which it was utterly devoid. The Incarnate Redeemer approached in divine-human majesty. He unmasked the pretentious hypocrite, and left it with a blighting doom. Like the earth, which, despite of all genial influences, brought forth only briars and thorns, it was ‘rejected–near unto cursing, whose end was to be burned.’ And as we come at this day, like the disciples of old on Mount Olivet, to gaze on this tree once planted by God’s right hand, what do we see? It is a nation scattered and stripped. The Jewish race, for eighteen hundred years, like withered leaves–carrying the tidings of their curse to the kingdoms of their dispersion.
We can understand, then, the primary meaning and intention of the Savior in this strange exceptional act among His miracles of mercy–mutilating and destroying a work of His own hands–it was, that that blighted tree of the fig-forest might take up a parable to the house of Israel. Nothing could be more impressive. There, on one of the heights or undulations of that holy Mount, like the solitary calcined pillar which once overlooked the Valley of Siddim–stood a withered thing, all the more conspicuous by contrast with the rich carpet of spring-flowers and verdure which doubtless then, as now, spread around; on its scarred stem the doom written, “O Israel, you have destroyed yourself.”
But we have not exhausted the divine purpose and meaning in this symbolic action. That stern deed was a prophecy and sermon to EVERY AGE–a solemn sermon preached for all time, alike for the Church collectively and for believers individually. The Savior’s dooming sentence on the fig-tree, is a searching word to all formalists–boasting hypocrites–who stand forth before the world in pretentious leaves, but who are utterly devoid of that which the great Seeker alone values–fruit to His glory.
Churches are involved in that doom. Since the introduction of Christianity, down to our own days, have there not been too many examples of leaf-covered, but fruitless fig-trees–churches with imposing worldly splendor; decorated aisles–splendid liturgies–venerable relics–dim religious light–gorgeous festivals–priestly and hierarchal orders boasting apostolic succession and sacramental efficacy–and yet, within all this pomp of show, this imposing ecclesiastical organization–an utter dearth and destitution of spiritual energy and life? What have all such been, and proved? deceptive leaves–outer foliage, screening and masking utter barrenness, the outward work of man attempted to be put in the place of the inner work of God–the pomp of ritual and sensuousness of ritual, having the precedence over repentance and faith–the external of the casket looked to, more than the enclosed jewel of holiness.
Is it not this ostentatious outward profession (clustering foliage without corresponding fruit) which is delineated by an inspired pen, as the attribute of the Church in its latter day of lukewarmness and apostasy? Hear the words of the apostle, “But mark this–there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,” and then, mark how the mournful catalogue is summed up–it is by telling us, that this accursed, cumbering tree–not one branch of which has a redeeming cluster of fruit–is nevertheless clothed with pretentious leaves; for it is added, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
Nor does the searching lesson terminate here. The doom of the withered fig-tree has a personal application to individual professors. Who has not seen the living counterpart in the ostentatious Christian, the flaming orthodoxy of whose creed is sadly belied by the daily life–by the manifestation of selfishness, peevishness, fretfulness, pride, frivolity, discontent, uncharitableness, censoriousness–no inward crucifixion of sin, no molding of the heart in conformity with the will of God? These are the poor, withered, scarred stems, which the leaves of profession overlap and conceal.
How Christ again and again, by word and deed, shows how He hates all facade, pretense, display, unreality. He ever dealt with tenderness to the very chief of sinners. He never spurned true penitence, however great the guilt, from His feet. But with what burning invective does He hurl His denunciations against Pharisees, “HYPOCRITES!” Fruitless professor, sad and mournful indeed is your state. There is more hope for the open sinner than for you. Yours is the mimic life of the dumb insensate mummy in the Egyptian sarcophagus. It is the hectic flush in the maiden’s cheek–the appearance of loveliness, the deceitful sign of beauty–but, in reality, the ominous symbol of inner waste and decay and death. The blight of God’s curse is upon you. “How soon is the fig-tree withered away!”
The great practical deduction from this solemn passage, may be expressed in the words which the old Preacher of the desert addressed to the thronging crowds around him–“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees–therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” This whole passage, indeed, seems to bring out “the goodness and severity” of Jesus. His goodness and tenderness towards all–but that goodness when insulted, injured, despised–passing into needful severity and doom!
We may mark, also, in these chapters, the same gradation in the case of individuals, we have already noted with reference to the Jewish nation collectively. First, There are the tears of divine human emotion; the unutterable sorrow over His rejected overtures of love, as the Redeemer still strives and pleads with the impenitent, saying, “How shall I give you up?” The next step, is when He enters the soul-temple, and sees it degraded and desecrated with works of darkness and sin–that soul, with its Godlike chambers converted into a robber-haunt of Satan, a den of thieves. Then comes the sad climax of all. The soul He has loved, wept over, borne with, entreated, becomes a doomed, blighted, withered thing, a dreadful monument of His righteous judgment and avenging wrath!
In these different ways He may be dealing with those whose eyes trace these pages. With some, it may be, in the way of tears and tenderness. Seated on the brow of the Heavenly mount, He may be bending over you in pitying love, and addressing you in words of affectionate admonition. In the case of others, He may be using sterner means, He may be entering the Temple with the whip of small cords, “driving,” with affliction’s scourge, these robber spoilers from what He would still reclaim and purify for Himself, saying, “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish.” In the case of others (may there be none such) it is the last, sad, utterance of all. Warning, and admonition, and forbearance, and patience, are terminated. The tears have wept themselves away; compassion has exhausted its treasures; and the thunder-cloud rises in its stead. He must (dreadful alternative!) curse those who will not receive His blessing–“Henceforth let no fruit grow upon you forever.” Oh what a terrible state is this, into which the doomed soul then passes! The tree–the moral, thinking, living agent, is dead. Yes, living on, a conscious existence, and yet dead while he lives!
There are two ways by which God deals with incorrigible sinners, corresponding to the two ways He dealt with the two fig-trees of the Gospels. Both were cumberers. Both were doomed. But by different methods was their doom consummated. The one was ‘cut down.’ After a three years’ patient bearing with it, (continuing to resist all efforts to make it fruitful,) the insulted Husbandman clears the grass around the stem; the axe descends; it lies prone on the ground, stripped, bared, plucked up by the roots; the place which once knew it knows it no more!
The dealing with the other is different. It still keeps its place in the plantation. But it is a naked, lonely, blighted stem, bearing upon it the curse of permanent unfruitfulness. It needs not a judgment to come. It is judged, ‘condemned already’–“I the Lord have dried up the green tree,” (Ezek. 17:24.) The dreadful doom is consummated in silence. There is no audible voice to record its fulfillment; no avenging angel descends to pour his vial on the stem of the fig-tree; no horde of devouring locusts to strip its leaves; no tempest to wrestle with its branches. Unlike the symbolical vine of Egypt, no boar out of the wood desolates it, no wild beast of the field devours it. God simply withdraws the agencies which have been so long repelled and resisted–the moistening rains and the reviving sunshine, which, in the case of others, have quickened life and fruitfulness.
Like Gilboa, on whose arid top, amid its sisterhood of mountains, the refreshing dew seems, to this day, to fall in vain–the barren tree stands in its life of death, given up by God–“Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone”–“Let no fruit henceforth grow upon you forever!” Yes! I repeat, dreadful indeed such a case as this. Abandoned! Like that picture of the abandoned vessel, so truthfully delineated by the pencil of a great modern painter, a hulk on the wide sea, abandoned to its fate, the sport of winds and waves and ruffian elements, an unwieldy log on the great waters, without mast, or sail, or helm, or crew–drifting, drifting onwards along the ocean, amid the bleak howling winds and wastes of a dark and cheerless eternity!
‘Forever,’ ‘irreversible,’ did I say? No, not so! God speaks of those who are ‘near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ “But the end is not yet”–while there is life there is hope. In the middle acted parable to which we have adverted, (the driving from the Temple,) there is an incident of blessed significance introduced. Jesus healed the diseased ones–“And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them,” (Matt. 21:14.) It was an evidence interjected in the midst of righteous retribution, that ‘in wrath He remembers mercy;’ that even now, that heart of Divine power and human love is a hoarded garner of pity and compassion, open to all who will avail themselves of its treasures.
We dare never, to one lost soul on this side the grave, shut the door of pardon. “Forever” is the fearful word for the dungeons of despair. Mercy, pardon, forgiveness, are still words for the living. There is a summer-time of grace ever near, even in the dreariest winter of spiritual desolation. God is giving us a reprieve. Every new day is such–another chance of salvation, another offer of mercy, before the knell of the soul be rung forever! Prisoners–but “Prisoners of hope.”
Yes, go stand by that stripped, speechless, silent fig-tree, on the crest of Olivet, and while you behold there a dreadful witness to the Redeemer’s wrath, look at the same time at that sister fig-tree to which He pointed, at an earlier date of His ministry, in the regions of Galilee. He came to it, as He comes to each one of us, expecting “fruit;” “I looked that it should bring forth fruit.” There was none. Is it doomed at once?–No; an all-prevailing Intercessor pleads for one other year of respite and mercy–one other year to fertilize and dig about its roots, one other blessed chance of hope and forgiveness; and then, if there be no fruit, “after that,” to cut it down.
‘After that’–who can tell how brief the duration? ‘After that’–it may be a measured, meted out, perhaps nearly-exhausted season, for some one of us! Reader, self-convicted and self-condemned, are you led in prayerful penitence to exclaim–‘Lord, I am that fig-tree; the message of this ‘memory’ is for me. That one year of gracious respite and reprieve, oh let me improve it! There may be but some weeks of it, some days of it, yet to run. A few more swings of the pendulum, and the time so graciously included in “after that,” will have fled forever, beyond the possibility of recall. Oh spare me that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more!’
And if we would add one word more, it is a closing gospel thought, suggested by the fig foliage of this parable-miracle. It was with the pretentious leaves of this same tree, that Adam and Eve, in Paradise, sought to cover their nakedness. God stripped away the leafy garments, and provided them instead, with the hides–the skins of the animals slain on the sacrificial altar. That was the earliest of the Bible’s acted parables. It was a Gospel Parable uttered in Eden, but one full of gracious comfort to the Church in every age. The fig-tree clothing of self-righteousness is utterly unavailing; the Lord who walks amid the trees of the garden strips it away–it cannot abide His righteous glance, His avenging scrutiny. But He has a blessed substitute at hand. He has woven, into a divine texture, the leaves of the Tree of life for the healing of the nations. “I will bring near,” says He, “my righteousness”–the covering, the glorious vesture provided by the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. He reveals “the righteousness of Christ, which is unto all and upon all those who believe.” Oh! dead, barren fig-tree, lift up your drooping withered leaves and live. “For whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life!”
Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey’s colt. -Zech. 9:9
It is the loveliest season in the Palestine year, when, the rain “over and gone;” the Mount of Olives is carpeted with green, and fresh foliage is clothing its varied groves. Multitudes, as we found in the preceding chapter, were congregated within Jerusalem and its suburbs, from every corner of the Hebrew territory, to keep the great national feast. Many of these, we further noted, attracted by the fame of the Prophet of Galilee, and more especially by His crowning miracle in the resurrection of Lazarus, poured in an enthusiastic stream to Bethany; some, after sunset, on the Jewish Sabbath–others early on the following morning.
Then, as now, two main roads conducted from the city to this sequestered mountain-hamlet. The one, the shorter of the two, leads straight up the hill, crossing the hollow between its two principal summits. This is the way which we have already found, in a former ‘Memory of Olivet,’ was selected by David in his flight; the one which, naturally, all foot-travelers would follow. The other, longer and more winding, but adapting itself to a similar depression on the southern slope of the Mount, was (and still is, in a more limited sense) the great public way, traversed by horsemen and caravans from Jericho and the Jordan. It continues a wild mountain track at this day. But though it must have been always steep, it has traces here and there, by the cuttings in the limestone rock, of a road formerly more befitting the great eastern approach (and the only truly grand and impressive approach) to “the city of the great King.” The Evangelical narratives leave us little room to doubt, that it was along this magnificent highway the Redeemer was to make His public and triumphal entry.
The disciples have returned from their errand to the villager of Bethphage, to the spot where the procession had paused–the crowd increasing every moment by fresh additions from Jerusalem on the one side, and from Perea and Galilee on the other. The commingled streams have met, and loud “as the noise of many waters” the air is vocal with festive song. The central object of attraction and homage in this enthusiastic crowd, is a lowly Pilgrim of Galilee; undistinguished by any outward badge of dignity. The mighty Victor over Hades, who had encountered and vanquished Death on his pale horse, was outwardly, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, an uncrowned hero–no purple dress–no warrior’s sword–no conquering chariot, as we then remarked, had He.
And, so far as He Himself was concerned, He sought none. Easily might He have converted that hour of popular acclamation into an hour of triumph–easily could He have worked on the passions of those thousands now around Him. “Master, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” was the muffled thought of many an impatient heart–a spark was all that was needed to kindle the conflagration, and the appropriate moment might seem to have arrived. Not a few in that crowd, as they stood, at the outset of the march, on the ridge overlooking the scene of wild desolation stretching down to the Jordan valley, must have remembered the trumpet-tones of one, who, by the severe sanctity of his life, had won their deepest reverence. Had not the Baptist said of this very Prophet of Nazareth, “He must increase, but I must decrease”? Might not the hour now be come for the prophetic fulfillment of “the voice crying in the wilderness”?–might not the kingdom spoken of by the faithful Herald be indeed at hand? What a favoring juncture, at least, to strike the blow! By the concurrent voices of that vast concourse–on the breath of their hosannas–how easily might the acknowledged Messiah-King have marched directly to the Palace, wrested the Roman standards from the walls of Antonia, and ascending as the Shiloh the throne of his father David, have restored to the people their lost prerogatives as a nation! He was, however, no political aspirant–no ambitious adventurer. Had He willed it, they would, before this, have “taken Him by force to make Him a king.” But He declines the offered crown–He will “save others”–not glorify or “save Himself.”
It was needful, nevertheless, at this solemn crisis, for reasons to which we shall immediately advert, to enter the metropolis, accompanied with some unmistakable badges of royalty. Though oftener He had not where to lay His head–though in a few days, stripped of robe and mantle, He was to hang naked on the cross, it behooved Him now to make a public proclamation and manifesto of His theocratic rights. The homage therefore which would, in other circumstances and on other occasions, have, been rejected, is now accepted. Suddenly, and without premeditation, Olivet is converted into a highway for a conqueror’s triumph. An ovation is improvised befitting the occasion, and the “children of Zion are joyful in their KING.”
The procession moves on. The donkey’s colt, on which He rode, was, in one sense, as we have seen, a symbol of His lowliness–meekness–humiliation–and yet, in another, it gave a traditional significance to the doings of the hour. For it was the animal that had been rode, on more than one occasion of historic interest, by kings and judges, lawgivers and prophets. In present circumstances, its employment was still further suggestive. The words of one of their old seers could scarcely fail to seize the popular mind, and stimulate the ardor of the moment–“Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey’s colt.” (Zech. 9:9.)
All strove to respond to this call from a prophetic past. Some of the more devoted threw their garmentsas saddle-cloths on the back of the colt; others spread them, as a tribute of loyalty and homage, along the rough road; others, from the groves and gardens of palm which have since perished, cut down branches of these, along with other green boughs, similar to what we found, in a previous chapter, was the used at the Feast of Tabernacles. Along this leafy carpet, composed of these symbols of rejoicing, rides Zion’s King–for once, at least, not “despised nor rejected.” Shouts of victory and welcome wake every echo of the Mount, which is so soon, alas! to listen to other and sadder exclamations from the lips of that fickle populace, before the palm branches have yet withered which they had just strewn on His path.
No traveler who has visited the actual scene, can fail to be struck with the remarkable accordance of the locality and its outer framework, with the description in the Evangelical narratives. Shortly after leaving the town of Mary and Martha, a turn in the road would bring the procession to the Valley of Bethany–at present, as has been previously noted, a wild, picturesque, and (notwithstanding its proximity to the city) a sequestered ravine; to avoid the deep depression of which, the path turns abruptly now, as it must have done then, to the right, skirting the southern slope of Olivet. At this point, before descending to the sharp and steep angle, the crowd would suddenly catch the first glimpse of Jerusalem. It would, however, be but a glimpse, as Zion alone is here visible. The intervening flank of Olivet would screen the Temple, with all the northern portions of the city, from view, and reveal no more than “the citadel” and what was once the Palace of David. But that glimpse is suggestive.
“Zion!” “Zion’s King!” “David’s Son!” It is the “Daughter of Zion” (the city of David) that is first to “rejoice,” and she therefore must intone the first strophe of the song. The very song, also, is selected from David’s minstrelsy–“for,” we read, (mark the allusions,) “when Jesus was come near even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice, and to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, Blessed be the kingdom of our father David,” (Mark 11:10.) “Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord–peace in heaven, and glory in the highest–Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest.” Nor was it merely as a Prophet–a worthy successor of the now martyred Baptist–that He is hailed with these loud acclaims. For it is deserving of note, that this was the scripture which every Jew had been taught specially to connect with the advent of Messiah. It was the verse–the note–dearest to them in the great Hallel sung at their Paschal feasts. It was the nation’s prayer for its coming King!
Full, doubtless, many a bosom is, with high-wrought expectation. As the crowd swells and the fervor every moment increases, may not the sanguine hope to which we have alluded, grow in intensity also, that the hour of emancipation has come? May they not hear in these thunder-shouts the doom of the Roman? Already may they not see in imagination the hated eagles driven from their perch in the most Holy Place–the invader and his armies dispersed and broken–“the Lord” whom they had long “sought” and longed for, suddenly “coming to His Temple,” as the avenger and emancipator of the nation, the avenger of her cruel wrongs? (Mal. 3:1.)
But let us follow still onward the jubilant multitude. Owing to the rapid descent in the road just referred to, the view of the city is, for the time, lost. The aspect would be limited by the Valley of Bethany on the one hand, and by the top of the mount, crowned by David’s old altar, on the other–which possibly also may have lent its silent voice in intensifying the ascription of the hour. Many lips, in these moments of transient enthusiasm, may have caught up, in spirit at least, the song of a more faithful worshiper. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,” (Luke 1:68, 69.)
And now, we may imagine, they have begun the ascent of the opposite side of the valley. New palm branches are cut from the groves abounding in this most sheltered hollow on the Mount, and increasing shouts are ascending–hymns from David’s Psalter, mingling with more recent angelic strains, (Luke 19:38.) The jealous Pharisees, the alone exceptions to the universal joy, ask of Christ to rebuke these mistaken acclamations. His reply is, that no voice dare be silenced; that the very stones of Olivet would resent the attempted suppression–“I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out!”
At last they have reached the height–the height which, at a future Paschal feast, was sprinkled with the tents of the Roman army. Even now, there is no such vision of any earthly city, if we may except perhaps the one famous view of Damascus from ‘The Dome of Victory.’If so impressive to travelers at this day, when they can only look across to the widowed Queen as she sits in the ashes of her desolation, what must it have been in the day of her regal splendor, enthroned on her four hills, of Acra, Moriah, Bezetha, and Zion, “a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of her God”! (Isa. 62:3.)
Not now, as in the earlier part of the procession, (the fragmental glimpse of Zion and the city of David,) but the whole metropolis–fortresses, walls, Temple, towers–rose in transcendent and surpassing loveliness, set in the blue azure Heaven–so “near” in that clear atmosphere, that, to the unpracticed eye, the existence of the intervening Kedron gorge can scarce be credited. That “Mountain of holiness” seems, from this height, like its sterner elder sister, “a mount that might be touched”–who that has ever seen the spot, can fail, in a moment, to recognize it; and identify it with the words, “And when He was come near, He beheld the city.”
Touching and impressive procession! How different from the triumph of earthly conquerors! How different from those proud ovations up the steeps of the Roman capitol, or to the Temple of Victory on the Athenian Acropolis, when the wail of the captive and the bereaved, blended with the notes of Fame’s bronze trumpets, and the wheels of the war-chariots were soiled with the blood and dust of battle! Every tongue here, has to tell only of mercy, compassion, and tenderest sympathy. The restored blind, with eyes unsealed, are there to lead the way. The restored dumb, with tongues unloosed, are there, to shout the cry of welcome. The restored cripple is there, to strip the palm-tree for his mute tribute of gratitude. The healed leper is there, to spread his now untainted garment on the road. The ‘clothed’ demoniac is there, to proclaim, “The Lord has done great things for me, whereof I am glad.” The widow and the orphan are there to tell, “He has taken off our sackcloth, and girded us with gladness.” The very children are there, with their little palm-branches, to take up the refrain, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” (Matt. 21:15) Yes, the restored dead are there–their once silenced tongues now set in glad music to the glory of their great Restorer–“The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence–but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore,” (Ps. 115:17, 18.)
Let us now proceed, in a few, sentences, to state the main object of this remarkable incident in the closing chapters of our Lord’s earthly history, and, in its outer accompaniments, the most imposing and impressive of all the “Memories” of the Mount.
We must recur for a moment to the point on which we have already incidentally touched, that is, its PUBLICITY–and this too a purposed publicity. It was a thing of Christ’s own deliberate choosing and arrangement. In this respect, we noted in the former chapter, how unlike all the other deeds of our Lord. It was prophesied regarding Him, “He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall he lift up his voice in the streets;” and all the previous incidents of His life serve only to illustrate and confirm this prophetical description. At other times, He seems to desire and to court, no, He enjoins, the utmost privacy. He goes forth all alone to the Temptation in the wilderness–no human eye witnesses that stupendous struggle. On another occasion, He charges “to tell no man.”
He retires to the northern shore of Gennesaret, when the proposal, we have already referred to, is whispered, to make Him a King. He meets again and again His disciples alone. The glories of Tabor were witnessed by no multitude. The treading of the sea was at midnight, and when His apostles were by themselves. It was after He had “put all out of the house,” and amid the hush of impressive silence, He raised the daughter of Jairus. The last rite of His dying love was instituted in the strict privacy of the “upper chamber.” He meets the disciples at early morn by the shores of Tiberias!
Why, then, this startling exception? Why on the present occasion “cry and lift up His voice”? Why, for once, contradict His own assertion, “The kingdom of God comes not with observation”?
It does not seem enough to say, that this entrance into Jerusalem was intended, as we have just been regarding it, as a manifestation of His Kingly glory–a foreshadowing of the future, when He would be hailed as King of Zion and Prince of peace, (though this doubtless was one end contemplated.) Nor, as others have held, that it was specially designed to brace and nerve His disciples for the scenes of humiliation and suffering which were at hand. Had this been all, He might, in conformity with previous instances, have given them in private and separate from the world, some such equivalent regal manifestation. A little while before, He had been in the region of Caesarea-Philippi, where first He began to discourse of His death and passion. He might there, among the sublime solitudes of Hermon, have summoned legions of angels to do Him homage; and instead of sending to borrow, from a Judean villager, two lowly animals, every lordly tenant that roamed these northern forests, “from Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountains of the leopards,” might have graced His triumph, and ten thousands of rivers of oil, as consecrated ointment, flowed at His feet. There, He might have appeared, as He did at a future time to John, with “His eyes as a flame of fire; His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.”
What then, we again ask, seems to have been the chief reason, on the present occasion, of this unprecedented publicity? We answer, It was in order to draw public attention to the great crowning act of His Incarnation–(and which in two days was to be consummated)–His death for the life of the world. It was of the greatest importance, that the eyes of the whole Jewish nation (the representative of the world’s nations) should be directed towards a crucified Savior. While, as we have seen, in other incidents of His earthly existence, He courted retirement–it was necessary to surround His death with every possible notoriety. Hence Augustine truly says, in his comment on this episode in a life of unobtrusive humility and self-abnegation, “It is not so much the triumph of a king, as the procession of a victim to the sacrifice.”
It was remarkable, (the coincidence could not be by Him undesigned,) that this jubilant day was the 10th of Nisan–a day pre-eminently sacred to the whole Jewish people, and specially to the congregated worshipers–as that upon which the Paschal Lamb was set apart. Jesus, the great Antitype, in presence of the assembled nation, and by a voluntary act, sets Himself apart, on this same day, for His own sacrifice. As a KING, claiming solitary spiritual sovereignty–He enters the Temple as His royal Palace. But He enters it, too–PRIEST and VICTIM combined–as the place of sacrifice; “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”–“Christ our Passover sacrificed for us.”
It would have been indeed sufficient, (so far as the virtue and efficaciousness of His atonement was concerned, as the surety-Savior,) had He died in solitude. There would have been even something perhaps grand and impressive, and also more in keeping with His antecedents, if, instead of the crude shouts of Calvary, and the ignominy of open crucifixion, He had closed His eyes in their death-sleep, like Moses, all alone, on the heights of another Pisgah–or, as with a still earlier type, been offered up, like Isaac, on the summit of some kindred lonely mount.
But it was needful for the Church, in all future ages, that His death be attested, without a shadow of doubt. And never could season be better selected, to attract universal attention, than when Jews and proselytes were assembled from all the neighboring countries in the Hebrew capital. This very mountain, which witnessed the procession, was itself studded over, in its green hollows, with the black and white tents of the assembled pilgrims, who, owing to the scanty room in the city, were driven to erect their temporary booths in the public Park. Doubtless, on that day, this Triumphal entrance formed the talk of Jerusalem. It would be the topic on every tongue; and, weeks after these startling events, when the Jews now assembled at the Paschal feast returned to their several distant homes, they would, more strikingly still, connect the two prophecies of Zechariah–“Behold your King comes;” and the “sword awaking” from its scabbard–the “wounds in the hands”–“wounded in the house of his friends,” (Zech. 13:6-7.)
Behold, then, in the Triumphal entry, the public presentation of the priceless Sacrifice. It was, if we might be allowed the expression, the bleating of the true Paschal Lamb; as He was led to the slaughter. It was the sounding of silver trumpets summoning to the great festival–the Sabbath-bell of the world’s long week of expectation, tolling on the heights of Olivet, to gather the multitudes around the Altar of offering. That bell rang the chimes of another Evangelical Prophet, “O Zion, that bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah–Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9.)
Although, however, we have now indicated what formed the principal object of Messiah’s public entrance, there was doubtless what was prophetic in it also. It was a foreshadowing of future glory–that Christ (soon to suffer) would one day come to reign; having His dominion, according to the words embraced in Zechariah’s prediction, “from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth”–when the Alleluia of the children of Abraham would mingle with the Hosanna of the Gentile, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
That day, at Jerusalem, was doubtless a joyful one to the disciples, when they saw their beloved Lord and Master so worthily honored. But if they had been able, in any measure, to understand the mysterious intimations which had recently fallen from His lips, there must have been also sadder thoughts intermingled with the glad acclaims. These shouts of triumph must have been marred with dark forebodings, which were only too truthfully realized! Not so, is it, regarding His second coming. No shadow of death darkens “that blessed hope”–no traitor will lurk in that triumphal path–no sorrow cloud that hour of joy.
Reader, are you ready to glorify Christ? Are you ready to strew the palm-branch on His path, and to greet Him with the Hosanna? Remember if you will not glorify Him, He will get others to do so. “If these hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” ‘Attempt not,’ He says still, as He said of old, ‘to rob me of my Hosannas. The rocks around–dumb nature–would enter her protest–the stones would become vocal, and shout my praise.’ I repeat, if we refuse to honor Christ, and to join the willing multitude who do Him homage, He will get others more loyal to take our place. His glory will not suffer–out of the mouth of babes and sucklings He will perfect praise–yes, from the mute creation, He will raise up a special seed–He will put a tongue and a song into the insensate stone.
“Tell the daughter of Zion,” so ran the prophecy, “Behold, your King comes.” This is a concluding but most solemn view of the Triumphal entrance. It was a last–a closing offer of the Redeemer to the “daughter of Zion.” This slow procession wending across Olivet, was a final, long-rejected overture of kindness–one other opportunity to hear His voice and turn at His reproof.
Christ makes His entrance, Sabbath after Sabbath, to the courts of the earthly Zion, and in the case of some, as with Jerusalem of old, with the last message of His mercy–a closing appeal–a final remonstrance–a farewell knock at the door of the heart, before His offers of love pass forever away. Let us meet Him now–meet Him joyfully as Christ the Savior; that when the advent cry shall be heard–when the world shall be startled by the summons, “Behold, your King comes!” we may be able–each with the prepared palm-branch of victory, to line the royal path–and to say, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
“Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9
It was only five days before the crucifixion. This day Jesus was the people’s idol. Was He Himself deceived by this popular outpouring and acclaim? Did He suppose that at last, after their rejection of Him for so long—they were now going to accept Him as their Messiah? No! He knew it was only the outburst of a day. He knew this was but the first stage of His last journey to the cross. As he heard the cries of the throng, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” there was an undertone ringing in His ear, and the words of the undertone were—
“Ride on, ride on in majesty, In lowly pomp—ride on to die!”
There must have been a deep spiritual meaning in the triumphal entry, since Jesus Himself planned it! It was a declaration of His Messiahship. The prophet had foretold that the Messiah would come in this very way. “Behold, your King comes unto you: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, riding upon an donkey.” In thus claiming that He was the person to whom the prophet referred, and in thus bringing about the fulfillment in Himself, Jesus clearly proclaimed to the rulers that He was the Messiah!
There was also in the manner of this triumphal entry—an announcement of the character of His kingdom. If it had been an earthly royalty that He was proclaiming, He would have come riding in a war chariot.The donkey suggested lowliness and peace. He was the king of love—not of strife. He came to fill the world with blessing—not with carnage!
As we look at the people in their enthusiasm and hear their rejoicings, we cannot forget that in five days the Passover throngs cried “Crucify Him!” and we learn how fickle worldly enthusiasm is. A picture by Tintoretto gives the scene of the Crucifixion after all was over. It is evening. The multitude has dispersed. The crown of thorns is lying near by. Then in the background an donkey is nibbling at some withered palm leaves. That tells the story of the fickleness of the world’s honor.
The Palm Sunday pageant was but a day’s spectacle. Jesus went to a cross—and not to an earthly throne. But in its deeper meaning His entry into Jerusalem was a triumph indeed. The cross was the way to His true glory. Now He is our King—and His people are with Him in His triumph.
Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed behind cried out, saying; Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!Matt. 21:9
Why is Palm Sunday important? When we celebrate the Triumphal Entry, we are celebrating a monumental occasion. As we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and allow the people to praise Him as king, there are many things that stand out. Here are three of the most significant things we should keep in mind.
1. Jesus was setting his crucifixion in motion
It is important to realize that the Triumphal Entry is the first time Jesus allowed the people to praise him as King. Every time before this he had forbidden them to do so because his time had not yet come. In allowing the people to praise him, he was bringing the wrath of both the Jewish and Roman leaders upon himself. He was not being pushed around by the principalities and powers; he was orchestrating them and setting things in motion for the passion week. He was coming to save us as prophesied by Zechariah.
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. – Zechariah 9:9
2. Jesus was being selected as the Passover lamb according to Old Testament law
Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and he does this in many ways. One fascinating detail he fulfilled has to do with Passover. Matthew Henry points out, “The Passover was on the fourteenth day of the month, and this [the triumphal entry] was the tenth.” The tenth day of the month was significant concerning Passover. We read this in Exodus 12:3,5-6
“Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house….Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.”
As Jesus was riding in and the people were crying “Hosanna in the highest,” unbeknownst to them they were selecting the paschal lamb for sacrifice; the one and only sacrifice that can take away sin and cause death to pass over us.
3. Jesus was marching to his death, and he knew it
Jesus was not merely riding into the city, but riding towards his death on the cross. He knew by the end of the week he would be spit upon, beaten, and crucified, but the thought of this torturous death was not the most grueling image he would have foreseen. It would have been thoughts of that final moment when he was to take on the sins of us who call him Lord, and his Father, whom he had obeyed perfectly, would turn his face away from his Son and pour out the justice and wrath for our sins upon him. In anguish, Jesus knew, he would cry out “Father why have you forsaken me.”
On the way to the cross, the entry must have been bittersweet. As we consider this moment, we know that nothing could have hindered him from reaching his goal because he had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. As he rode, his mind would have first and foremost been focused on glorifying his Father. Secondarily his thoughts would have been directed to those he came to save. Maybe he saw our faces, knowing that without his death, he would have to watch us die. For we were born sinners, hopeless, and condemned already. Maybe he looked at us as a man who would look into the eyes of a child as disease steals her away. Whatever he was thinking, he was not going to let anything stand between him and his children
His desire to see his Father glorified and his love for us drove him forward, and when the time of the crucifixion arrived, he had reached his destination. Upright, between two thieves, nailed to the cross, and having a spear thrust into his side, the cleansing blood and water flowed. His final cry was “It is finished.” The purchase had been made, and the powers of hell had been broken. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “No sin of the believer can now be an arrow to mortally wound him.” All of us who have faith in Jesus and have been cleansed by his precious blood have every reason to sing,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed Be the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!
There are several approaches to defending the resurrection of Jesus. One way is called the core facts approach. It involves using four core facts held by Christian and non-Christian scholars and applying them to naturalistic explanations of the resurrection. Here are the four facts.
1. Jesus was crucified and died
2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty
3. The Apostles believed they had experiences with the risen Christ.
4. Christ’s disciples were radically transformed after these experiences.
1) Jesus was crucified and died– Virtually every scholar holds to this proposition. They believe that Jesus was crucified and that He did in fact die. Rarely is this fact contested. The idea of the actual crucifixion being a conspiracy is not one that is generally held. He was nailed to the cross and died.
2) Jesus tomb was found empty– The first point that this core fact assumes is that Jesus was actually buried. William Lane Craig, in his article The Empty Tomb of Jesus, goes into great detail and gives us five points why scholars believe this. 1) There are many early sources that attest to the burial of Jesus. 2) Even skeptical scholars agree that it is unlikely that Joseph of Arimathea was a Christian invention because he was a Jewish Sanhedrist. Christians were at odds with the Sanhedrin, so why would they create a story of a Sanhedrist doing what was right in burying Jesus. 3) The story of the burial is simple and is not trying to conjure theological reflection, and it is non-apologetic. 4) It is also believed because this type of burial was the custom in dealing with the death of a Holy man. 5) Finally, this is the only burial tradition that existed, which means it would have been entirely out of character to do something different. The belief in the burial is necessary because it is needed to believe in an empty tomb. He had to be buried, and they had to know which tomb he was buried in to find it empty. Why it was found empty is where scholars differ.
3) The apostles believed they had experiences with the risen Jesus– Again most scholars will agree that the apostles had some experience which they believed was the risen Jesus, but they do not agree on what the experience was. Some say it was a hallucination; some say it was the ghost of Jesus, and others believe it was the physical resurrected body of Jesus. These issues will be covered in the arguments against the naturalistic theories about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but no one disagrees that the disciples had some kind of experience.
4) Jesus’ disciples were radically transformed after these experiences– We can look at the example of Peter, who denied Jesus three times in fear of his life during the events that lead up to the crucifixion. After these experiences with the risen Christ, he went on to be the leading spokesperson for the resurrection of Jesus. He was later crucified and would not back down even if it meant death. In fact, all of Jesus’ disciples were killed for their belief, except for John, who was dipped in boiling oil and survived.
Virtually every scholar holds the four core facts listed above. In light of these four facts, there have been three naturalistic arguments which try to explain that Jesus did not rise from the dead. They are 1) the swoon theory 2) the hallucination theory, and 3) the stolen body or conspiracy theory.
1) Arguments against the swoon theory– The swoon theory is the argument that Jesus never actually died on the cross, he merely went into a swoon, a kind of coma or unconsciousness, and later he was revived by the cool of the tomb. The first thing we notice is that this theory violates core fact #1 that Jesus was crucified and died. It also violates core fact #4; Jesus disciples were radically changed after the experiences of seeing Jesus. This raises the question, would the disciples have been radically transformed by the sight of a half-dead Jesus? The swoon theory is not a highly regarded argument because of these violations, but to not commit the bandwagon fallacy, let us look at a few other reasons why this is not possible. A) Kreeft and Tacelli in the book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, point out that Jesus’ body was completely encased in a winding sheet (we know this from the burial tradition mentioned earlier). How could a half dead man escape a virtual straightjacket? B) We know that a swooning corpse could not have overpowered the Roman guards. C) Who moved the stone? D) Kreeft and Tacelli also make a great point that the swoon theory actually turns into the conspiracy theory, because the disciples attest to a resurrected Jesus, who did not swoon. The conspiracy theory will be addressed later. E) Finally, a swooning Jesus would have had to die eventually, so where is His body?
2) Arguments against the hallucination theory– the hallucination theory is the theory that the disciples did not really see a resurrected Jesus, but merely hallucinated. This theory would explain why the disciples were radically transformed because they actually thought they saw a resurrected Jesus, but this violates core fact #2; Jesus’ tomb was found empty. If the disciples were hallucinating why didn’t the Romans take them to the grave and show them the body when the disciples began preaching. This would have stopped them in their tracks. Kreeft and Tacelli bring up some other arguments also. A) There were too many witnesses. At one point Jesus appeared to 500 people at on time. Did they all have the same hallucination? B) One of the criteria that doctors say is needed hallucinations of this type is that the people expect to see what they see. The disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus. In fact, when they did see him they still didn’t believe, which lead to Thomas touching His wounds, and hallucinations do not have material properties. C) Jesus ate. Hallucinations do not eat. At one point the disciples sat down and ate with Jesus. If this was a hallucination, then either a hallucination (Jesus) ate actual food, or the disciples ate hallucinated food. It is clear from all the details of the appearances of Jesus that they could not have been hallucinations.
3) Arguments against the stolen body or conspiracy theory– This is the idea that the disciples stole the body to make people believe Jesus had actually resurrected, but this violates core fact #4 the disciples were radically transformed. How could a group of men go from being men who feared for their lives to men who would die for their beliefs if they knew that their beliefs were a lie? Another argument is that this goes against the character of the disciples. These were honest, upright men who would have had to violate their core beliefs to pull this off.
Some might say that it was not the disciples who took the body but the Romans, but we have already shown earlier that if it were the Romans, all they would have to do to put a stop to the disciples preaching would be to produce the body. This also violates core fact #3 that the disciples believed they saw a resurrected Jesus. If the Romans had taken the body then the disciples would have had hallucinations, and we have already shown that this does not work.
Up to this point, there has not been a plausible naturalistic explanation for the resurrection of Jesus, which leaves us with the alternative that he did rise physically from the dead.