Today is celebrated as Palm Sunday in traditional Churches. BBF (www.bangalorebiblefellowship.in )is not a traditional Church, and hence we do not specifically celebrate Palm Sunday. Most of us know what happens during Palm Sunday. The celebration is to remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a donkey. The people welcomed Him with palm leaves. Palm leaves are considered to be a symbol of triumph and victory in Jewish custom (Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9) The Pam Sunday is celebrated in many ways, one of the common rituals being the small crosses made of palm leaves and the procession around the church. Of course in the more conventional churches the palm crosses are blessed and the left over palm crosses are burned for getting ash for the next years Ash Wednesday. There are some of them who retain the crosses as a sacrament till the next year and then burn it before the Ash Wednesday to get ashes.
A 6 year old boy had to stay back at home because of a sore throat, on a Palm Sunday. His parents went to church and came back with palm branches in their hands. The boy asked about this and was told by the mother “ They held it over the head of Jesus when he walked by”. The disappointed boy said. “Oh brother. One Sunday I stay away from Church and he chooses to show up on that day”
Traditionally preachers use Palm Sunday to help people think about the strength of their commitment and faith. So let me ask you about faith today.
Thinking of faith, there is this story told by none other than Narayan Murthy, the Chief mentor of Infosys. An airline company decided to do an experiment with the CEOs of software companies. They invited the CEOs to what they called as a “flight of technology”. The CEOs came in , and were seated inside the plane one by one. After all of them seated, it was announced that the flight is a “crew less flight” and the entire flight will be done without any pilots in the cockpit. Parellaly, each CEO was privately also told that the software that drives the plane was developed by his own company. Slowly, one by one, each of the CEOs started finding one excuse or another to get off the plane. After a little while , only one CEO was left and the organizers of the event were very impressed with him and they went to congratulate him on the faith that he has on his employees. He smiled and said to them. “ Yes, I have nothing to worry. I am confident that if my engineers designed the software, the plane will never even take off”
Fortunately for us, our faith is not like that. Our faith is based on the life, death and resurrection of a man who walked the earth 2000 years ago. And the beauty is that he walked the earth just like you and me, fully human. This has always been an area of great interest for me, why did Jesus have to live life like a man, like you and me. It is easy for me to comprehend the 100% divine nature of Jesus. He was God, and he was with God even before the creation of the earth. So fi he chose to come down to earth it is no big deal. But why the 100% human nature? Why did he have to go through the life like any human being? Why could he not live life like the Krishna Avatar that our Hindus are used to? Why did he have to experience hunger , thirst, tiredness, pain, tears, joy etc just like you and me? Especially during the holy week when we specifically remember Jesus’ arrest, trial, journey to the cross and the crucifixion, it is appropriate that we ponder over this question a little bit.
The book of Hebrews provides some interesting answers to these questions.
The book of Hebrews was written to an audience who were struggling with faith, people who were Judaic Christians struggling with doubts about the relevance of Christianity, struggling to see if Christianity was in any way “better” than the Judaism that they were following. After all, Jews were a nation chosen by God. The most hunted and the most hurt people on earth (A well known Jewish writer went to extent of asking “God, I know we are the chosen people, but why did you not choose some one else?” ) So what is different about Christianity that they should follow this Jesus of Nazareth? What is different about him that they should take that plunge? None of us are Jews here, but we may be faced with similar questions, either within ourselves, or from our friends, or neighbors, or families. Ravi Zacharia in his book, “Jesus among other gods” says “Philosophically, you can believe anything, so long as you do not claim it to be true, Morally, you can practice anything, so long as you do not claim it to be a ’better’ way. Religiously, you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it. How does one, to a mood such as this, communicate the message of Jesus Christ, in which Truth and absoluteness are not only assumed, but sustained?"
The book of Hebrews goes in depth in establishing how Jesus is greater than all other creations, prophets, angels etc… 1:1-4 (angels), 3: 3-6 (Moses), 7:15-25 (Aaron and all other priests) , In line of Melchizedek (Priest and King in one, priest forever) 7:1-10. The author of Hebrews clearly establishes the superiority of Jesus, as He is God himself.
Most importantly, the Book of Hebrews gives us answers to the question of Jesus’ humanity
Why Jesus had to come down to earth as fully man?
Four reasons are stressed here in Hebrews,
1) 2:14-17, so that in dying he could free us from the power of death
2) 5:7-10, in becoming the final sacrifice for sin, he could reconcile us to God. Satan faced rejection and alienation from God, due to the fall, and hence he is bent upon making every effort to prevent us from having that intimate fellowship with God , that God desires. He did the very same thing with Adam and Eve, he encouraged and manipulated an series of events that spoilt the perfect fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God. He continues to do that even today and only Jesus has won the battle permanently to give that fellowship back to us.
3) 2:18, So that in experiencing temptation, he can better help us with our own temptation
4) So that he can complete the task of purification and salvation for us, some thing which no one else could ever do. We know that Jesus finished the work because he sat down after the task, Vs 10: 11-12, an act that no priest was ever allowed to do.
For the Jews it was the old testament priest who did the purification through repeated sprinkling of blood Vs 9:18-22, without blood there was no forgiveness. However Jesus did this by his own blood Vs 9: 12-14, and tore down the curtain that separated man from accessing God.
What is the relevance of this in non Judaic society ? You take any other faith, access to god is still controlled affair, Take the Hindu temples for example, take the mosques for example, take the Tabernacle for example, there is always a separation between common people like you and me and God, and that exactly is what Jesus shattered through his blood. Krishna or Buddha or Mohammed did not come to do this, and they could not make the access to God freely available as it is through Jesus Christ.
But there is a bigger question in front of us today. Why was it necessary for Jesus to die as a man?
There is this beautiful explanation in Hebrews 9 :16-17. If I have a rich uncle and he writes all his wealth to me through a will, the will is of no use until my uncle dies, and till the time he dies , he has the power and authority to change the name in the will and give it away to any one else. A will comes into effect only when the author of the will dies, and the death is established. Now consider this, what did God will us? The abundant Grace, and how could we inherit that except through the death of the author? The death on the cross freed up the inheritance for all of us who were sinners. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
Judaic or otherwise, which other faith, which other “god” offers this freedom through the death of one self?
So our faith is based on a man who walked the earth like you and me 2000 years ago, the big difference was that he was God himself. And he sacrificed himself as a man for our sins on the cross.
Faith is defined as “Being sure that we will get what we hope for. And certain of what we do not see”
The book of Hebrews promises us that we can have faith for being made perfect through Jesus Christ, some thing which all the other faithfuls described in Chapter 11 of the book could not get, though they were all commended for their faith. Vs 9: 39-40. This is the faith that we have been asked to share, this is the faith that organisations like yours strive to spread. This is the faith that all of us have in serving Him.
There is this beautiful exhortation at the end of Hebrews Chapter 10. Starting from verse 35 (NIV)
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
"He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him."
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
One commentator draws an analogy to the mountaineer’s dilemma when faced with a steep wall in front of him. When you are climbing a mountain and reach a place where these is a steep wall in front of you, with no footholds or anything else to hold , the mountaineer is forced to take a decision. One decision that he can take is to abandon the journey and return back to base camp. The other decision is to use the pendulum method to get across and continue the journey. The pendulum method is exactly what is sounds like, You attach a strong hook to the highest point that you can reach and then pass a rope that is attached to your body through the loop, go down a little bit, hang into empty space, with your foot placed against the wall, and then swing like a pendulum to the other side of the steep wall, where you could get a foot hold, once you , and your team, get your foot on the other side you pull out the rope from the loop and then you have lost all connection with the previous place you were in. The hook that you used is firmly out of reach for you, and there is only one way to go; up!! There is no going back, the only thing you can do is to keep going ahead. This is risky and requires a lot of courage. For many people , who are good, who are well off, who are successful, a decision to follow Jesus, is like this. At some point in time of their faith walk , they reach this position where they have to take a call, to return to the old faith or to take that plunge and keep going in the new faith, with no return. I am sure all of us are familiar with the song “ I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning Back, No turning Back”.
Let our faith, fuelled by the knowledge that Jesus is the perfect saviour drive us to do greater things for His Kingdom.
Let us pray
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.