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The Great Outpouring

Easter 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  30:06
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Holy Week is a visual sermon answering the question of Matthew 21:10, "who is this?"

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I was listening to a podcast last week where the speaker was describing just how much he was looking forward to the Holy Week and Easter events. He was looking forward to the familiar words and images, the movement from one event to the next that so marks this week.
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But it is that sense of ;the familiar, the known, the pattern repeated over the years that robs us. Like watching our favorite old movie, we don’t look for the new or expect to see something startling in the middle of the familiar. The Jesus that for us is so predictable and familiar was radical and revolutionary to his first followers. For them, it was like everything they ever learned about God had been the old black and white film, and Jesus bursts on the scene and they’re now looking at 3-D ultra definition in theater seats. For them, Jesus wasn’t a teaching or a doctrine, but Jesus was a person who did unexpected things. Holy week was the ultimate string of the unexpected events. Taken together, they believed that everything past and future had changed in a single week.
They wrote about what they saw and what it meant. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at some of the hymns and poem the first followers of Jesus wrote about him. We’re starting with the most well known of the early Christian hymns about Jesus found in . This passage asks us to look at what Jesus did, his actions; from those actions we will be can answer the question people always ask about Jesus: “who is this?” While the hymn in Philippians isn’t talking specifically about Holy Week, it happen that Holy Week is like the Cliff’s Notes version of Jesus life. The events of this week map to the events that the hymn suggests are so informative.
Holy weeks starts with Palm Sunday, when we think about Jesus entry into Jersualem and about the people who gathered around him and lined his pathway with palm branches and with their outer garments. They shout “hosanna” as Jesus come into the city as we heard in our gospel reading this morning:
Matthew 21:9–10 ESV
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?”
One Palm Sunday, a boy was too sick to come to church so he stayed home with his mom while the rest of the family went to church. When his little sister came home, she excitedly told him about the palm branches and the journey of Jesus. “Great” said the little boy said in a frustrated voice, “I miss one Sunday and Jesus decides to show up.” Let me ask a question: who was it that showed up on Palm Sunday? The crowds are shouting a word that we only use once a year in church: Hosanna! They think that Jesus is a political figure, someone who will gather Israel into rebellion against Rome. They’re really excited about the idea of a Jewish leader leading a Jewish revolt. In that moment, words from the Old Testament come to mind. You see, the word Hosanna is just a transliterated Hebrew word, used often in the Old Testament. It’s the word save or rescue. What they’re saying is “Save Us!”, “Rescue Us!”
88 times in the Old Testament, God saves people or people ask God to save them. Its used a handful of times for men like David and the prophets. But the vast majority of the uses are for God to do the saving. The crowd on Palm Sunday gathers around and from their lips comes this cry: Hosanna, Save Us! What they didn’t realize, and what we too often miss, is that they were exactly right. Jesus was God, not a prophet or a great man or a king. No, Jesus was God in the flesh and their cry was literally, really true: God was about to save them.
It is the point at which the hymn starts. Before Jesus is anything else, Jesus is God:
Philippians 2:6 NRSV
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
Philippians 2:6 NRSV
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
Philippians 2:6 NRSV
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
To be in the “form of God” means to give outward expression of being God. Jesus does that when he heals people and forgives their sin. Only God can do that, and when Jesus does those things he is “in the form of God.” In the Old Testament, we know God is present when God’s “glory” is present. Jesus has this “glory” in places like the transfiguration. Jesus is in the “form” of God; what he does is consistent with the idea that he is in fact the physical expression of God. But it says that Jesus “didn’t think equality with God as something to be exploited.” In the garden of Eden, the man and the woman are made in “the image of God.” Part of what they did wrong was to try to exploit or to grasp that connection to God and turn it into something else:
Genesis 3:4–5 NRSV
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
In the garden, the man and the woman reach for more, not content with being made in God’s image. Jesus is perfectly content. On Palm Sunday, we see this perfectly content Jesus, this one who is God coming to claim the throne of God’s people.
The Philippian hymn doesn’t stop with Jesus is God. Holy week doesn’t stop on Palm Sunday. Look at verse 7:
Philippians 2:7 NRSV
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
The hymn says that this one who was God “pours himself out” or empties himself. Jesus takes upon himself the limitations you and I live with. The omnipresent God takes physical form and steps into time and space. The omnipotent God now is subject to Herod and Pilate, to the weather and to the mind of the crowds among which he moved. The omniscient God comes to know the bitterness of betrayal and the enormity of loneliness.
Palm Sunday gives way to Maundy Thursday. Here Jesus the teacher tries to cram in just a few more lessons before the end comes. Here Jesus the leader shows them through his actions what real leadership looks like. We often think of Jesus as the “upside down” one. He is usually paradoxical when he teaches. The poor are where you will find God, the persecuted are really the blessed. Leading is about serving. Power is manifest in humility and meekness. But in his great emptying, in God taking on human nature, human form, he shows us what it means to be truly human. We are the ones who have things upside down, and Jesus shows us what it means to live our lives in accordance with God’s design.
Palm Sunday: Jesus is God. Maundy Thursday: Jesus is man. Good Friday. Look at :
Philippians 2:8 NRSV
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
A Roman Cross was everything that is wrong with humanity distilled into a single object. The Romans were brilliant engineers, but their instrument of execution was a thousand year old implement of torture. The Romans were above all civilized, and they hung opponents on crosses by the thousands with regularity but then never talked about it. There is something horrible about anyone meeting their end in such an orgy violence and brutality. God pours himself out to become human, then the human pours himself out in obedience on the cross. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Israel was introduced to a suffering servent, one who would suffer for the transgressing and misdeeds of everyone:
Isaiah 53:3–5 NRSV
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
Isaiah’s vision didn’t make sense to Israel. They asked a question we’ve heard before, “who is this?” What they didn’t see, what no one saw or expected is what Holy Week shows us: the God who becomes King, the King who becomes a servant, the servant who becomes a sacrifice. Ultimately this goes beyond what we can understand. The Philippian hymn encourage us simply to look at what Jesus does because what he does points to who he is. Holy week isn’t about ritual or tradition or about continuity. Its about looking intently into what Jesus does so that we can understand God and ourselves.
I want to encourage you this week to break out of your normal pattern. To slow down, to look at familiar stories with new eyes. Specifically, I’m going to ask you to do two things this week. First, we will gather for worship on Thursday and Friday evening at 7 oclock. I know you’re week is full and asking for two night is a lot. But, if we’re ever going to understand who Jesus is and what he means in our lives and our world, we’re going to need to set aside some extra time and effort and look closely at him. If you can’t join us, then let me encourage you this week to set aside some time daily and read through the events of holy week. On the church web site, we’ve listed the readings for Holy Week. Set aside some time to look. Secondly, there are people who would love to be a part of this week with us, but cannot. Jean Page and Joan Watson and Nan Bouchard, John Fields, the Holmes, the Groves. I can’t tell you how much it would mean to them to have people write a card, make a phone call, or pay a visit.
Just outside the Alamo in San Antonio, there is a memorial wall with pictures of some of the people who died defending the Alamo. One picture is unusual: that of Major James Butler Bonham. Rather than a middle age man, the picture is of a young man just entering adulthood. Underneath the picture is a small note explaining that the picture is actually the nephew of Major Bonham because no picture of the major exists. We only know of him through what he did and those who came after him. We have no physical picture of Jesus, but we do have what he did and we do have the writings of those who came after him. If we are going to answer the question “who is he” then we must draw our answer from what he does. Who is he to you?
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