Spiritual Blindness

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
April 13, 2014, Lent VI – Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11

From the Prophet Isaiah:
For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Today is Palm Sunday: the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Five days before the Passover, Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem. People had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and were looking for Jesus: both because of His great works and teaching and because they had heard of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus.

Since it was Passover, there were probably about 2 million people in and around Jerusalem. This was the only time in His ministry that Jesus actually planned and promoted a public demonstration. Up to this time, He had cautioned people not to tell who He was, and He had deliberately avoided public scenes. Why was this? It was because He was on God’s timetable; God’s schedule. If Jesus had started His ministry by proclaiming that He was the Messiah, the Son of God and performing one miracle after another; His ministry on earth would have been a short one. But His earthly ministry was in fact coming to the end, so it was time to put things in motion.

Why did Jesus plan this demonstration? For one thing, He was obeying the Word and fulfilling the prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The donkey has a normal mundane existence to live. It’s not particularly special. And yet Jesus knows it is in the village, and calls the disciples to fetch it. Even the donkey gets to be used by God.

This prophecy could apply only to Jesus Christ, for He is the only One with credentials that prove He is Israel’s King. We usually do not associate the lowly donkey with kingship, but this was the royal animal of Jewish monarchs (1 Kings 2:32ff). There were actually two animals involved, the mother and the colt. Jesus sat on the colt with the mother walking beside.
This colt had never been ridden (Mark 11:2), yet he meekly bore his burden. The presence of the mother helped, of course. But keep in mind that his rider was the King who has “dominion” over…all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field (Ps. 8:6-7). The fact that Jesus rode this beast and kept him in control is another evidence of His kingship. The laying of garments on the animals and on the road and the waving and spreading of branches were all part of a traditional Jewish reception for royalty.
This verse is really the center-piece of the text. The Daughter of Zion is another way of talking about Jerusalem. There’s a comforting word of hope here. “See! Your king comes to you.” Matthew is proclaiming that Jesus is this King in the prophecy. Indeed, Israel doesn’t have to go searching for its own salvation, but this salvation is coming to it in the form of a king. But even the prophecy from Zechariah turns this notion on its head by describing the king as gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Again, if you’re thinking that Jesus is the Messiah, which many did, then that means that He is going to conquer Rome. But this would hardly be the image of a conquering king. We would expect a war-horse, a mighty steed, a great sword to boot! But there is no weapon at all, because this king is gentle. And instead of a war-horse, we have a simple donkey. Jesus did not come to this world to conquer the Romans, he came to conquer death and sin and win the hearts, and minds and souls of the people.
There was a second reason for this public presentation: It forced the Jewish leaders to act. When they saw the spontaneous demonstration of the people, they concluded that Jesus had to be destroyed. The prophetic Scriptures required that the Lamb of God be crucified on Passover.
The people acclaimed Jesus as their King both by their words and their deeds. They shouted Hosanna which means, “Save now!” They were quoting from Psalm 118:25-26: “Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” And this psalm is definitely messianic in character. Later that week, Jesus Himself would refer to this psalm and apply it to Himself.
Finally, we come to this destination point. “And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying. ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.’” The city is now face-to-face with its Messiah, and yet it asks the question: “Who is this?”
Some responded that He is a prophet. Surely He is a prophet, but He is so much more. He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He has authority over heaven and earth. So the crowd doesn’t quite understand who it is that is coming into town, riding on a donkey and people are shouting “Hosanna is the highest!” They are caught up in the excitement, but unfortunately they don’t see who He is – Spiritual Blindness.
We need to go back to the question that the city had, which is a question we should ask ourselves: “Who is this?” Who is Jesus? Isn’t it interesting that such a gentle man, a peaceful king could shake and stir an entire city like Jerusalem? Now, I am sure that all of us have a general idea of who God is. We have the advantage of knowing the end of the story; that God has revealed Himself in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know that Jesus Christ IS the Messiah! That Jesus came into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it. He is the Passover Lamb; that is why He needed to be sacrificed on the Passover; to take away the sins of the whole world.
Keep in mind that this Passover crowd was composed of at least three groups: the Jews who lived in Jerusalem, the crowd from Galilee, and the people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18). Sharing the news of this miracle undoubtedly helped to draw such a large crowd. The people wanted to see this miracle-worker for themselves.
But the Jews still did not recognize Jesus as their King. What caused Israel’s spiritual blindness? For one thing, their religious leaders had robbed them of the truth of their own Word and had substituted man-made traditions (Luke 11:52). The leaders were not interested in truth; they were concerned only with protecting their own interests (John 11:47-53). “We have no king but Caesar!” was their confession of willful blindness. Even our Lord’s miracles did not convince them. And the longer they resisted the truth, the blinder they became (John 12:35ff).
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king: the Word of God made flesh. We are called to behold Him not simply as the one who came to us once riding on a colt, but as the One who is always present in us.
Palm Sunday summons us to accept both the rule and the kingdom of God as the goal and content of our Christian life. We draw our identity from Christ and His kingdom. The kingdom of Christ – His indescribable power, boundless mercy and incomprehensible abundance given freely to man. The kingdom does not lie at some point or place in the distant future. The kingdom is a present reality as well as a future realization (Matt. 6:10).

The kingdom of God is the life of the Holy Trinity in the world. It is the kingdom of holiness, goodness, truth, beauty, love, peace and joy. These qualities are not works of the human spirit. They proceed from the life of God and reveal God. Christ Himself is the kingdom. He is the God-Man, who brought God down to earth (John 1:1, 14).
Palm Sunday summons us to behold our king – the Suffering Servant. We cannot understand Jesus’ kingdom apart from the Passion. Filled with infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, and for creation, in His inexpressible humility Jesus accepted the infinite sacrifice of the Cross. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions and made Himself an offering for sin (Isa. 53).
As a servant of God, Jesus submitted His mind to the Lord God so that He could learn His work and His will (Isa. 50:4). Everything Jesus said and did was taught to Him by His Father (John 5:19, 30). He prayed to the Father for guidance and meditated on the Word. What God taught the Servant, the Servant shared with those who needed help and encouragement.
The Servant’s will was also yielded to the Lord God. The people to whom the Prophet Isaiah ministered to were neither “willing” nor “obedient” (Isa. 1:19), but the Servant did gladly the will of the Lord God. This was not easy, for it meant yielding His body to wicked men who mocked Him, whipped Him, spat on Him, and then nailed Him to a cross (Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30).
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, He entered into a permanent union with humanity from which there could be no escape. He willingly humbled Himself that He might lift us up! Jesus did not pretend to be a servant; He was not an actor playing a role. He actually was a servant! This was the true expression of His innermost nature. He was the God-Man, Deity and humanity united in one.
The person with the submissive mind does not avoid sacrifice. He lives for the glory of God and the good of others; and if paying a price will honor Christ and help others, he is willing to do it. This was St. Paul’s attitude and Timothy’s as well. Sacrifice and service go together if service is to be true Christian ministry.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who have seen Him have seen the Father. And so when you see this man, you see who God truly is. God is the gentle King, the One who loved us so much that he will lay His own life down for us, so that we might be raised up with Him. My dear friends: that is the Good news that we celebrate today. May our eyes be opened to understand who Jesus is. That we thirst on His Word. That there be no spiritual blindness to His true identity.
Jesus not only shows us what true royalty looks like, and what true power is, but reveals the Father to be this way. So let us celebrate Christ as He comes into our cities, our neighborhoods, and our workplace. Let us lend Him our donkeys, indeed our very lives for His service. Let us even be like the donkey, so that we might be untied and put into His service. The triumphal entry of Jesus is the triumph of humility and meekness of God.
This coming Thursday, we will be administering the Office of Tenebrae. In the Upper Room, when His disciples refused to minister to each other, Jesus arose, laid aside His outer garments, put on the long linen towel, and washed their feet! (John 13). He took the place of a menial slave.
The next day He accepted His fate. He took our place and suffered on a cross for the remission of our sins; for our salvation. He was the Passover Lamb, sacrificed for us. Then He rose from the grave as King Eternal! May we join in the chorus and never falter: “Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!”

Let us pray:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Resurrection Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
April 6, 2014, Lent V

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

From the Prophet Ezekiel:
“And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land, then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead was not our Lord’s last miracle before the Cross, but it was certainly His greatest and the one that aroused the most response both from His friends and His enemies. The Apostle John selected this miracle as the seventh in the series recorded in his book because it was really the climatic miracle of our Lord’s earthly ministry. He had raised others from the dead, but Lazarus had been in the grave four days. It was a miracle that could not be denied or avoided by the Jewish leaders.

The emphasis in the 11th Chapter of John is on faith; you find some form of the word believe at least eight times in this chapter. Another theme is “the glory of God” (John 11:4, 40). Jesus sought to strengthen the faith of three groups of people: The disciples, the Sisters (Mary and Martha), and the Jews or spectators.

We sometimes think of the disciples as “super saints,” but such was not the case. They often failed their Lord, and He was constantly seeking to increase their faith. After all, one day He would leave them and they would have the responsibility of carrying on the ministry. If their faith was weak, their work could never be strong.

Jesus was at Bethabara, about twenty miles from Bethany (John 1:28; 10:40). One day, a messenger arrived with the sad news that our Lord’s dear friend Lazarus was sick. If the man had traveled quickly, without delay, he could have made the trip in one day. Jesus sent him back the next day with the encouraging message: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” (John 11:4) Then Jesus waited two more days before He left for Bethany; and by the time He and His disciples arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. This means that Lazarus had died the very day the messenger left to contact Jesus!

When the messenger arrived back home, he would find Lazarus already dead. What would his message convey to the grieving sisters now that their brother was already dead and buried? Jesus was urging them to believe His word no matter how discouraging the circumstances might appear.

No doubt the disciples were perplexed about several matters. First of all, if Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He permit him to get sick? Even more, why did He delay to go to the sisters? For that matter, could He not have healed Lazarus at a distance, as He did the nobleman’s son? (John 4:43-54). The scriptures make it clear that there was a strong love relationship between Jesus and this family (John 11:3, 5, 36); yet our Lord’s behavior seems to contradict this love.

God’s love for His own, is not a pampering love; it is a perfecting love. The fact that He loves us, and we love Him is no guarantee that we will be sheltered from the problems and pain of life. After all, the Father loves His Son; and yet the Father permitted His beloved Son to drink the cup of sorrow and experience the shame and pain of the Cross. We must never think that love and suffering are incompatible. Certainly they unite in Jesus Christ.

Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ sickness or even healed it from where He was; but He chose not to. He saw in this sickness an opportunity to glorify the Father. It is not important that we Christians are comfortable, but it is important that we glorify God in all that we do.

Our Lord’s message to the sisters did not say their brother would not die. It promised only that death would not be the ultimate result, for the ultimate result would be the glory of God. He wanted them to lay hold of this message when she balked at having the tomb opened (John 11:40).

When we find ourselves confronted by disease, disappointment, delay, and even death, our only encouragement is the Word of God. We must live by faith and not by sight. Their situation seemed hopeless, yet the sisters knew that Jesus was the Master of every situation.

When our Lord announced that He was returning to Judea, His disciples were alarmed, because they knew how dangerous it would be. Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. But Jesus was willing to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). He knew that His return to Judea and the miracle of raising Lazarus would precipitate His own arrest and death.

The Lord calmed their fears by reminding them that He was on the Father’s schedule, and that nothing could harm them. But the disciples not only misunderstood the schedule, they also misunderstood the reason for the visit. They thought that, if Lazarus was sleeping, he was getting better! It was another example of their inability to grasp spiritual truth.

Then He told them openly that Lazarus was dead. He did not say He was glad that His friend died, but that He could reveal to His disciples His mighty power. The result would be glory to God and the strengthening of their faith.

Jesus was concerned not only about the faith of His own disciples, but also about the faith of His dear friends Mary and Martha. Each experience of suffering and trial ought to increase our faith, but this kind of spiritual growth is not automatic. We must respond positively to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit of God. Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters, and now He would discover how they had received it.

The scriptures make it clear that Mary and Martha were quite different in their personalities. Martha was the worker, the active one, while Mary was the contemplative one who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His Word.

We would expect Martha to rush out to meet Jesus while Mary sat in the house, weeping with her friends. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” While there was a tinge of disappointment in her statement, there was also evidence of faith.

Martha was quick to affirm her faith in Jesus Christ, and Jesus responded to that faith by promising her that her brother would rise again. He was talking of the immediate raising of Lazarus, but she interpreted His words to mean the future resurrection in the last day (Dan. 12:2-3; John 5:28-29).

By His teaching, His miracles, and His own resurrection, Jesus clearly taught the resurrection of the human body. He has declared once for all that death is real, that there is life after death, and that the body will one day be raised by the power of God.

Perhaps the greatest transformation Jesus performed was to move the doctrine of the resurrection out of the future and into the present. Martha was looking to the future, knowing that Lazarus would rise again and she would see him. But Jesus tried to center her attention on the present: whenever He is, God’s resurrection power is available now.

Martha did not hesitate to affirm her faith. She used three different titles for Jesus: Lord, Christ (Messiah), and Son of God. She spoke the words, “I believe,” which are in the perfect tense, indicating a fixed and settled faith.

Our Lord dealt with Martha’s faith, now He had to help Mary. Mary went out to Jesus. She did not say much because she was overcome with sorrow and was weeping. Jesus also was overcome with sorrow, because the scriptures say: “Jesus wept.” Our Lord’s weeping reveals the humanity of the Saviour. His tears also assure us of His sympathy; He is indeed “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

The third group that needed their faith strengthened was the Jews or spectators: the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha. The time had come for the sake of the unbelieving spectators that they might know that God had sent Him. Jesus called Lazarus and raised him from the dead. It was an unquestioned miracle that even the most hostile spectator could not deny.

The experience of Lazarus is a good illustration of what happens to a sinner when he trusts the Saviour (Eph. 2:1-10). Lazarus was dead, and all sinners are dead. He was decayed, because death and decay go together. All lost people are spiritually dead, but some are more “decayed” than others.

We read in Romans: “But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.” The unsaved person is alive physically, but dead spiritually. The inner man is dead toward God and does not respond to the things of the Spirit. He may be moral, and even religious; but he lacks spiritual life.

Even though the body is destined to die because of sin, the Spirit gives life to that body today so that we may serve God. If we should die, the body will one day be raised from the dead, because the Holy Spirit has sealed each believer (Eph. 1:13-14). When the Holy Spirit lives within, you experience new life, and even your physical faculties take on a new dimension of experience.

Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all who trust Christ have been given new life and lifted out of the graveyard of sin. Lazarus was set free from the grave clothes and given new liberty. You find him seated with Christ at the table, and all believers are “seated with Christ” in heavenly places, enjoying spiritual food and fellowship.

Just as we, believers in Christ, come to this most Sacred Table of our Lord Jesus Christ. A Table spread before you, in remembrance of His death and passion; that we may be partakers of His most blessed body and blood; willingly sacrificed for us; that we may obtain a resurrection faith, that gives witness to the love and grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †