given on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Reflection: Man the Mission: The Passion of Jesus Christ
The Story continues today, Palm Sunday. Typically images of Palm Sunday is one of kids running up and down the aisles with palm fronds waving as though there were a parade. History has created images of a parade route lined with palms honoring Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, God promised written in the books of the prophets.
Yet the story continues and reading the scripture from Luke, we know Luke’s record of the last week of Jesus’ human life is the basis for celebrating Palm Sunday, but it also shares God’s passion for his mission that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus on the day before the Jewish feast of Passover.
God’s mission continues even through the birth, life, and death of his only son Jesus. Jesus was the incarnation of God’s passion for his creation. Jesus is God, and that means he is the man for the mission—and Jesus had chosen 12 men for his mission team. These were the men who joined him in the Upper Room for the Last Supper:
The Last Supper
. . . 14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.[a] 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
. . . 21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man[c] must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.
24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. 25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
28 “You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Imagine sitting at the table with your teacher. You have come to love him like a brother and have literally picked up and walked after him without even tying up loose ends at home. You have completely turned your life’s direction to pursue God’s mission. You were literally a handpicked member of the Jesus Team!
Consider what Jesus required of his team members. He had to have commitment, even if they had a business or a family. He asked them to come–no clothes, no material possessions. The request must have challenged these individuals, but they did choose to follow him.
Sitting in that upper room after only three years together, the words Jesus shares are filled with references to what is going to happen. At least the words seem subtle to us, yet this team knew how Jesus talked. He was teaching them in the same way the scriptures teach us—through metaphors, analogies, and parables.
Reading on through the chapters, more of the story shows the seriousness of Jesus’ final weeks for his earthly life. Even Simon Peter cannot figure out why Jesus would question his loyalty:
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”
33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”
34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?”
“No,” they replied.
36 “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! 37 For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’[d] Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.”
38 “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.”
“That’s enough,” he said.
Be loyal. Be prepared. Jesus’ handpicked mission team did not seem very prepared to take God’s mission forward without him. Simon Peter is believed to be the favored of the twelve apostles, but even Jesus knew Peter would deny him three times under the pressure from the coming days.
Loyalty. Simon Peter certainly did not think anything could shake his loyalty to Jesus, but Jesus makes one more attempt to prepare the apostles for the persecution that would be inflicted upon the earliest Christians. The reference to having swords was such a hint as to the type of problems that would be following after he was gone.
In the brief years of teaching Jesus’ followers, the emphasis had been on the peaceful methods. Heal the sick. Love one another. Care for the poor. No mention was made of planning and carrying out a military battle plan; weapons were no match for love. Still in these last few moments of preparation, Jesus tells the apostles to prepare. For Jesus to man the mission he needed commitment, loyalty, and preparedness as well as content knowledge of God’s story, the Word, and the mission.
Only a few hours remained and all the enormity of the impending arrest tired Jesus. He turned, asking his apostles to go with him, to the Mount of Olives, for a time of prayer. For the mission team, he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” And then . . .
41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.[e]
45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”
The next few days challenged each Apostle’s commitment and loyalty. Judas, of course, could not remain faithful taking a bribe to turn Jesus in to the authorities.
. . . 47 But even as Jesus said this, a crowd approached, led by Judas, one of the twelve disciples. Judas walked over to Jesus to greet him with a kiss. 48 But Jesus said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” 50 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear.
51 But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
The mission team selected and lead by Jesus was down one Apostle, but the final days were racing ahead. Three short years of teaching, healing, and serving were almost completed. Were the Apostles ready to take up the mission of God and transform the word?
Luke continues the story. Peter had not believed he could deny Jesus three times and he was one of the most trusted of the Apostles.
54 So they arrested [Jesus] and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. 55 The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. 56 A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!”
57 But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!”
Peter’s first denial, yet the night was not over:
58 After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!”
“No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted.
Luke’s story records a second denial.
59 About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.”
60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
And Peter denied knowing Jesus the third time!
61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.
63 The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. . . .
The mission of God depended on Jesus’ ministry to secure success in combatting evil. The events of the three days after Judas betrayed Jesus frightened the Apostles. The stress caused them to run and hide. They knew the passion of Christ first hand. They knew their commitment, their loyalty and their preparation—or not.
The very system that taught the young Apostles was challenged. The crowds had stopped Jesus along the side of the road to learn more about living God’s story. Are we honestly ready to join in God’s mission with passion like Jesus or go on to the next community prepared to share the story of God’s love and forgiveness?
Reflect and pray about your own world. Do not put off preparing for God’s mission. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, even Saturday are the darkest of days. The story continues showing the ridicule, the physical beating, the taunting, and even the stripping that Jesus endured before being hung on a cross, left to die slowly on the hill between two thieves.
Can you join the mission team? Can you honestly say you are committed? Are you loyal attending church regularly, joining in Bible studies, and volunteering to serve? Finally, are you prepared? Jesus will come again and we are redeemed by our faith in God. Be committed. Be loyal. Be prepared to share the story in any manner that you can and God’s mission will be successful.
Closing prayer: (UMH 281)
you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ,
to suffer death o the cross.
Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will
and in the glorious victory of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and ever. Amen