Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Lord Has Need of It

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
April 5, 2009
Mark 11:1-10

We have reached Holy Week. There is no time like Holy Week. It is an intense observance of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. Many of the images of Holy Week come readily to our mind: Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Him clearing out the temple, the Last Supper, praying and being arrested in Gethsemane, being crucified, buried, and of course the Resurrection.

But there a lot of little details. Things we might never think about unless we took out our magnifying glasses and examined some of the words used in the Scriptures. The main thing is the cross and the empty tomb. But there’s a lot that Jesus accomplished in the little details, that led up to the cross and the empty tomb.

There’s, for example, a donkey. A donkey doesn’t seem like such a big deal. A donkey doesn’t seem like a major part of the plan of salvation of God. But a donkey is important to Jesus. He tells the disciples to go get a specific donkey and that if they encounter questions about taking it that they should say, “The Lord has need of it.” Not just any animal would do. It had to be this one. And it was needed by Jesus.

This from the God who has everything. The God who created the cattle on a thousand hills and all the animals on land and in the sea. The God who created the sea and the land and the incomprehensible number of galaxies that span the universe. This from the God who is going to take on the sins of the world. He needs a donkey.

But it’s not so different, what Jesus is doing here at the end of His incarnation in the flesh, living on the earth for thirty years as a man. God doesn’t need anything, He has created and owns all things. But He makes use of His creation. When He came out of the womb He needed a feeding trough so that He could sleep. When He made His way back home to Nazareth He needed a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear to go to school. When He began His Ministry He needed water so that He could be Baptized. When He gave sight to a certain blind man He needed mud to rub on the man’s eyes. He needed bread and wine to institute His Holy Supper on the night when He was betrayed.

It’s not that He couldn’t do without these things or couldn’t accomplish salvation except through them. It’s that He makes use of His creation. And He often does it through the ordinary things of His creation. A feeding trough, water, bread, wine, a donkey. He had need of that donkey, so He sent His disciples to go get it. They would understand later that He was making use of it in order to accomplish salvation. Just as He would make use of one of the most excruciating instruments of torture ever invented, a cross.

The God who doesn’t need anything makes use of the things in our lives to meet our needs. What we want is often more than what we need. What we want is often at the expense of what we need. God has everything, He wants to meet our needs. Whereas He makes use of the things of His creation, we’re inclined to use the things of His creation to meet our wants, rather than being content with Him meeting our needs.

You can see this just by the way you often talk about things. Do you say you really need something when in fact it’s really just what you want? Do you say that your needs aren’t met when in fact they are met but you’re not content with that? Do you find yourself longing for all the wants you have that aren’t met? You’d rather have a nice car instead of being grateful that you simply have a car. You’re discontent because you don’t eat fine cuisine when you should give thanks that you have enough to eat every day. You’re weary of the strife you endure between your spouse or your children or your siblings, when you should be at peace knowing that you have the opportunity to love and cherish them and reconcile when needed.

Jesus didn’t head to Jerusalem thinking about what He wanted. He had everything. He did go into Jerusalem thinking about what He needed. And that happened to be a donkey. Because Jesus doesn’t need anything except to make use of things for us, not for Himself. When we think about what we need we too often slip into what we want. God in His grace even gives provision for that, praying for what we want according to the third petition, “Thy will be done.” Unfortunately, we’re often so self-absorbed that our petitions meld into “My will be done.”

Not Jesus. He went into Jerusalem praying, “Thy will be done.” Father, you want Me riding in humbly and mounted on a donkey?, then that’s what I want; then that’s what I need to do. Father, You want Me beaten and mocked and crucified?, Thy will be done.

I guess it would have been cool for Jesus to drive into Jerusalem in a limo. It would have been awesome for Him to stand on the highest point in Jerusalem and proclaim to the world that salvation is in Him. God could easily have arranged for Jesus the infant to be born in a palace. He didn’t have to use mud to give sight to that blind guy. A spectacular display would have made a much greater impression.

But Jesus came to save the world of sin. He didn’t come for what He wanted or needed—He doesn’t want or need anything. What He does is love everyone. What He does is come for everyone. What He does is die on the cross for the sin of the world.

He is the all-powerful God of creation who humbles Himself to be part of His creation. To make use of it so that we who are part of His creation may be part of His Kingdom of eternal glory. He makes use of His creation to rescue us from a world that is fallen, that is deteriorating from the effects of sin. He uses the things of this world to save us from our sin in which we often use the things of this world not for His glory but for our own selfish wants.

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem only to find Himself a few days later standing before the high priest. He had allowed mock witnesses to make the case against Jesus. But when Jesus declared Himself to be the Messiah, the high priest victoriously rose up with the cry: “What further witnesses do we need?” (Mark 14:63 ESV) Notice the contrast between what Jesus was doing there and what the high priest wanted. Jesus needed the donkey to get Him into Jerusalem to die for Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Him. Caiaphas used whatever means at his disposal that he could in order to bring Jesus down.

Thank God Jesus submitted to this. The Lord had need of that donkey to bring Him into the place where He died for the sins of the world. The same Lord continues to have need of things in our lives to deliver His salvation to us: the water of our Baptism, the words spoken and preached of Absolution and proclamation, the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. The Lord has need of these things to give you Himself. The Lord has need of these things to bring you into His eternal Kingdom.

You live in this world. It’s the world your Lord came to in order to save you. You deal with the things of this world on a daily basis. What Jesus did on Palm Sunday was very practical. By having need of that donkey, you have new life. You are in the world but not of it. You may make use of the things of this world but don’t have to be slaves to them. The Apostle Paul has this very practical advice for Christians when it comes to their needs: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28 ESV) What this means for you is that your life is not about you and what you want. It is about your needs and what your Lord has done to meet your needs. He has accomplished salvation for you, meeting your greatest and eternal needs. He blesses you in this life with the things of this life, including others who help you. Including you helping others.

Just when you think that there’s not much to your life in Christ, think about that donkey. He has need of it, because He had His sights set on you—saving you, giving you new life, setting you on a new path to serving Him by serving others. It’s done with the things of this life, not the pie in the sky notions of your wants. He takes ordinary things in this life and uses them as the means by which He forgives you. During this Holy Week, and throughout your life, remember that. Your needs are met in the cross and the empty tomb. The God who needs nothing brings His mercy and forgiveness to you by His Word and in His Holy Supper.

Just when you think there’s not much to those words on the page in your Bible, remember, the Lord has need of it. Daily devotions, studying the Word of God, your Lord has need of it to strengthen you. Just when your Baptism seems not all that relevant in your life, remember, the Lord has need of that water He washed you with, using it to wash away your sins. When you approach the altar and receive a small piece of bread and a small drink of wine, remember, the Lord has need of it. Just as He made use of a feeding trough, some mud, and a donkey to bring you Himself, He makes use of bread and wine to do so today and often. It’s what you need, and that’s why He has need of it. Amen.



Jeff Caithamer said...

I see this is a good place to sit around and talk theology. I will do so by replying to this post. However, my first topic will be concerned with practice, which is intimately connected to theology.

Paul, do you use the white paraments for Maundy/Holy Thursday, per the rubrics for the day when celebrating communion? I have never seen that done and do not myself use them. Wanted to hear your take on that. I am considering using the white paraments tomorrow night.

Let me know what you think and if there is a different way to get a topic going without replying to one of your posts. Or, do I have to start my own blog??!

rev.will said...

Indeed it is. Thanks for hanging out and talking theology with me, Dude. As to getting a topic going around here, I hadn't thought about it--maybe after Holy Week I'll have to look into that. I definitely need to get more topics going myself. And if you do decide to start your own blog, I'll be sure to hop over to it now and then to talk some theology over there as well.

As to your practical, and yes theological, topic, I don't use white for Maundy Thursday. I don't because it doesn't make sense to me. I know that's not a good reason, and I do in fact understand the reason for using white. But there are certain things I do that go against the rubrics, because it makes more sense to me theologically. I use purple because it's Holy Week. I think it fits in very well with the other days of Holy Week and we can still celebrate the Gift of the Lord's Supper given on this day.

If you do decide to go with white I guess you would be more right than I. Or perhaps just right. Now that you brought up never having seen white used, I'm trying to think if I myself have ever seen it. Anyway, either way you go in my opinion will be just fine.