Matthew 21:6-11 – The lamb…

Matthew 21:6-11 – The lamb…

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” – Matthew 21:6-11ESV

Imagine a lamb: the soft, pristine, snowy wool; the dewy, gentle eyes; the seemingly innocent smile; the pink of new skin showing through the wool on the soft nose and inside the ears; the total vulnerability… On the Sunday before Passover, a male lamb like this was brought into the homes of the Israelites. The lamb would be cared for carefully. The children of the household would play with this lamb, showering it with love and affection. The adults would monitor it for illness or lameness or any indication it was less than perfect. It would sleep in the household with the family. And then, on the Friday of Passover…that cherished lamb was butchered for the sins of the family.

Shocked? Unless you grew up on a livestock farm, this probably is shocking to imagine. Even if you grew up raising animals for meat, you’re probably familiar with the practice of avoiding getting attached to meat animals. You know they’re going to die, so you keep them emotionally at a distance to make it easier for you and your family. You don’t even give meat animals names.

Yet God institutes the practice of the sacrificial lamb, back in Exodus on the night the angel of death came to take the firstborn and secure the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt, and He creates a situation where the family necessarily becomes close to the lamb who will be slain. I imagine the children would inevitably give the lamb a name. The adults, who have spent four solid days protecting this young animal from all harm, suddenly must give it over to death. It could not have been easy to take this animal who had come to trust you and give it over to strangers to be sacrificed without mercy. Why did God do this?

Because He wanted us to know exactly what Jesus came to endure and why.

Like the passover lamb, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover. A young man in his early thirties, above criticism and sinless before men.

Like the passover lamb, Jesus spent four days in the midst of the people, letting them know Him and proving Himself a worthy sacrifice. He criticized the evil practices of the Jewish leadership, He drove out the money changers putting a financial barrier between people and forgiveness from God, He taught about who God is and the importance of a right relationship with Him. At the end of it, even His pagan judge, Pontius Pilate, stated boldly, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” (Luke 23:4).

And like the passover lamb, Jesus was abandoned into the hands of strangers to be murdered…dying at precisely 3PM, the same hour at which the passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of Israel.

You see…Jesus came to be known by us. To be cherished and loved and looked to as an example. We can’t keep Him at arms length, a distant God to be worshiped, but not loved. He comes into our lives, into our very homes. He made it so His sacrifice brings every person to account.

And He died, bearing our failures with Him into the darkness of death.

But unlike the lambs, who every year were sacrificed but could not truly free us from sin… Jesus’ death forever carried away our failings. When His body was born into the darkness of the earth, and He descended into the pits of Hell…He took every failure with Him, forever breaking us free from the torment of our own imperfections.

But that wasn’t all… because Easter was coming… The sun would rise Sunday morning on a world that would never be the same.

Because the Son would rise.

  1. There is only one challenge this week: keep your eyes on the Son of God. Don’t let this week just be another week in your calendar. This week changed everything. This week was the week toward which all Jesus’ earthly life was focused. He walked into Jerusalem to die. He intentionally drove the Pharisees (Jewish leadership) to turn against Him, fearlessly holding back none of Himself… For you… For all of us. This week… don’t forget the footsteps of the Savior… headed straight for the cross.
Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

Matthew 6:5-13 – You can’t prove it

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.'”
– Matthew 6:5-13ESV

“You can’t beat me!” my niece proudly proclaimed to her mom, immediately taking off, arms and legs pumping. It was a bold statement, really. Ignoring the fact she was five years old and somewhere around three feet tall, my niece had more than just the limits of her leg length to compete against. Her mother was a former NCAA sprinter. Her high school state 400 meter time would have placed her eighth in the Beijing Olympics, and that wasn’t even the height of her running career. In other words, even twenty years later, my sister-in-law is not slow.

The statement is an example of how the limited experience of children makes them poor evaluators of their own skills. What is more, it had been a long time since she’d seen my husband and I. She’d grown a bit and thought we were “so fast”, so she was showing off for attention. It was cute. It was innocent. It made my husband and I laugh.

We laugh, but aren’t we still like that, even as adults? We may not come right out with such a bold “look at me” statement, particularly one so easy to disproved. But how often do we do things or buy things or say things because we want other people to think well of us? Because we want to look good? Because we want some sort of “return on investment” for our efforts? Ultimately, how often are we trying to prove something to everybody watching? Even to God?

In this passage, Jesus condemns public prayer or praying “on and on”. Yet are public prayers or long prayers the real issue He’s highlighting? I don’t think so. He’s trying to highlight a deeper heart issue. What He’s getting at is the Pharisees prayed in public to get the praises of people, to prove they were righteous enough. The “pagans” “babbled on and on” in their prayers to prove they were devoted enough for their gods to grant them their desires. Their prayers were not about being a relationship with God…they were about proving their worthiness.

Prayer isn’t about proving anything to God. God is already our Father; He says so multiple times in this passage. We don’t need to prove our devotion to Him; He already knows us fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). That leaves us free to be totally honest with Him. To hold nothing back as we speak to Him about our lives, our days, our desires, our joys, our fears, our failures…as we bare a soul already known well by our good Father. We are free to be in a relationship grounded in complete trust, knowing nothing inside us repels the God who saved us with eyes wide open.

He’s not going anywhere.

  1. Why do we often view relationships as a means to an end, rather than the end in themselves?
  2. We have a society focused on “earning what you get”. What’s the danger when we apply that concept to our relationship with God?
  3. How does trying to “prove something” to God actually impair your ability to be close to Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each day, setup a chair across from your favorite spot to sit in your house. Imagine Jesus grabbing a seat in that empty chair and dare to tell Him at least one “ugly truth” out loud, without editing to make it sound better. Then rest in the knowledge He heard it and you are still loved.
Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

Isaiah 64:6-9 – I’m doing all right

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” – Isaiah 64:6-9ESV

I was raised in the foothills of northern Colorado. Contrary to how much of it is now, when I was a child is was a quiet place. You didn’t often hear cars going by, and you could be woken up in the night by packs of coyotes running down the street. Even mountain lions would come down to terrorize peoples’ dogs and horses.

What I remember most about that part of my life was the wind. The wind can be powerful, even dangerous, in the foothills. Storms build up on the peaks, sending wind tearing down from thousands of feet, down the face of the mountains to create microbursts of wind up to 100mph. To give you an idea, it took my dad three tries to put up a flag pole strong enough to not bend in half due to the winds. We raised chickens when I was growing up, and it wasn’t uncommon to look outside and see the wind blow a chicken (upside-down) across the back yard to the fence line. We’ve had sustained winds in Colorado blowing fast enough to match even a Category 5 hurricane. We don’t joke about wind around here.

So when I read in Isaiah 64:6ESV, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away”… it gives me pause. As Christians, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants us to do. We’re very preoccupied with “living right” and “avoiding sin”. And admittedly, when our motivation is love, these are important things to pursue. Love for God and others should drive us to battle sin and live as God has called us to live. How can we, who have been so freed by God, bow to the power of sin without a fight?

But therein also lies the temptation to another sin: arrogance.

As our external messes come under management, it’s easy to acquire a sense of satisfaction in our own righteousness. I’m not even saying the kind of self-righteousness which elevates itself above others, but just the sort of self-satisfaction that says, “I’m doing all right.” In other words, we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on all the ways we have succeeded in managing our sinfulness. The danger is then, when we step before the altar to confess our sins before receiving the Lord’s body and blood at Communion…we can’t think specifically of anything to mention. And if our sin is small…so is our Savior. When we are unable to recognize how desperately we need Christ, He is inevitably diminished in our eyes… a situation ripe for Satan’s meddling.

Yet the power of our sin is compared to the wind. Wind that throws over trains, rips off roofs, and throws hikers to their deaths. Wind is what leads to the destructive power of hurricanes. Wind, over time, even wears down the very peaks of mountains. And, “like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6bNIV). Before the power of sin, we are helpless to stand. It tears at us, takes our feet out from under us…and drags us where we do not want to go. To death.

And we have no power to stop it.

But there is One who can. Who did. Who does.

Outside little Bethlehem, two thousand years ago…a teenage girl and her new husband huddled together in a cave, surrounded by animals sheltering from the cool of an early spring night…to usher the Savior into the world. Angels announced His coming. Starlight shone in brilliance to draw His witnesses. And overshadowing it all was the cross at Calvary, the place where our sins would finally be stopped by the work of Jesus Christ.

He is the bulwark against the wind. He is the only one through Whom we defeat the power of sin in our lives. It is not our doing.

It is Christ alone.

  • When was the last time you confessed your sins and truly felt you had something worth confessing?
  • Do you find it easy to feel your are “doing well” when it comes to sin management?
  • Where in your life do you think you have been dishonest with God in your struggle with sin?
  • Challenge for the Week: Pay attention for moments when you find yourself resisting sin successfully. Instead of focusing on yourself, intentionally stop and focus on praising and thanking God for the power of Christ and His forgiveness.