HOW TO FIND HOPE IN TIMES OF CRISIS

How often over the years have we seen Palm Sunday as a day of triumph and celebration? But what was really happening? What was happening in the heart of our Lord? Palm Sunday was a time of incredible tension leading up to the ultimate moment when Jesus would be crucified.  Though it was a moment of celebration, it was also a moment of escalating crisis. John’s gospel travels over the mounting storm leading to the crucifixion. Jesus had been summoned to come to the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. There was a severe medical crisis in their lives. Jesus comes and raises Lazarus from the dead. It is a polarizing moment. Some believe, while others report the incident to the religious authorities, which spurs them on to create a plan to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

The only thing that the leaders of the nation lacked was the whereabouts of Jesus. They were asking for help in locating him. Then Jesus returns to Bethany where Mary’s act of extravagant love, by anointing Jesus by pouring perfume upon him, triggers Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

These events are now creating a response from people, which is revealing their heart condition. Our response to every incident in our lives is really a revelation of the true nature of our heart’s condition. This incident will now reveal Judas’ spiritual condition.

…Jesus’ failure to claim royal titles and prerogatives for Himself when He exercised miraculous powers may have been the underlying cause for Judas’ perfidy [betrayal of trust]. Contrary to the disciples’ expectation of an outward political coup, Jesus carefully refrained from making any pronouncements on issues of state; He talked instead to his disciples about surrendering Himself to death. Possibly Judas felt frustrated because the kingdom that he had anticipated was not about to materialize. If the kingdom were not to be immediately manifested, his relation to Jesus had put him in the position of gaining nothing and losing everything. Not only would he fail to obtain a post in a new realm, but he would, upon Jesus’ death, be put under suspicion as a rebel. If he should take the alternative of betraying Jesus, he would profit financially and would square himself with the victorious priests.[i]

So, how do we respond to crises when they come? Where do we find hope to sustain us in that time? We see that Jesus knowingly went to Jerusalem to face the greatest challenge to his life. So why did Jesus go to Jerusalem knowing that this would lead to His death? What is the real significance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday? I see three things that will help us find hope in times of crisis in our lives in that time of crisis.

THE FIRST THING THAT HELPS US FIND HOPE IN TIMES OF CRISIS IS A REVELATION OF CHRIST’S IDENTITY

How we respond in a crisis has everything to do with our understanding of who Jesus really is. The key in crisis is trusting Jesus. This moment where Jesus entered Jerusalem was another opportunity for people to understand who He was and what He came to do. In fulfilment of the Scriptures, Jesus had His disciples go and secure a colt for him to ride triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem.

The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!

Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,

‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion [another name for Jerusalem]; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’[ii]

The disciples would later understand what was now happening to Jesus. He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. John is quoting from the prophet Zechariah 9:9 about the coming king who would save his people. This is made very clear from the context of Zechariah. The very next verse reads:

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and the River to the ends of the earth.[iii]

These people knew these texts of Scripture and had longed for this great king to come and deliver them. Jesus is entering as that King who will take away their oppression and bring peace to the nations. 

Their cries of Hosanna which literally means ‘Save Now’ speaks to their understanding of the significance of this moment. The cry was for immediate deliverance. The significance of Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey is that this hour had come. Jesus is coming to bring peace in a way that they do not anticipate nor grasp. How often our expectations of what God is supposed to do is different than what He does. When that happens, we can become disillusioned. The people’s expectation was for a king making war against their enemies.  By riding on a donkey rather than a horse, Jesus was giving them a different message than what they were anticipating. However, just like the kings of old coming for their coronation, Jesus was riding on a donkey. We read of the account of King Solomon’s coronation ceremony that he came riding on a mule.

So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and put Solomon on King David’s mule and escorted him to Gihon.

Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they shouted, ‘Long live, King Solomon.’[iv]

Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. What he came to do was destroy the power behind the powers-that-be. Jesus came to destroy the power of sin and death. He came to give an abundant and unending life. Jesus came to ultimately destroy the power that was empowering the Roman Empire; a peace that came through the death of others, Jesus was coming to give peace through His own, substitutionary death. In crisis, our trust should be in what Jesus has done and will do on our behalf.

THE SECOND THING THAT HELPS US FIND HOPE IN TIMES OF CRISIS IS A DISCOVERY OF GOD’S PURPOSE

God always has a purpose in allowing crisis in our lives. What can we learn from it? How can we trust God in it? What does God want to reveal to us about both Himself and where we are at in our spiritual journey?

Actions generally speak louder than words. Talk is cheap, but when we see things being lived out, we eventually get the message.

A. The reason why Jesus needed to make this declaration.

Even His own followers were not getting the message. Later they would. They would see in Jesus’ actions the fulfilment of the Scriptures.

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.[v]

We also struggle at times to understand to understand what God is doing in our lives. When we are going through a difficult, trying time in our life, we may not hear what God is trying to communicate to us, and it is only as we pass through that time that we finally gain a proper perspective and understanding of what God is saying and doing.

As Jesus approaches the city with the people from Bethany who had witnessed this incredible miracle of the raising Lazarus from the dead, a huge crowd from the city were on their way out to meet Jesus.

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.

Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.[vi]

John now gives us insight into the thinking of the leaders.

So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’[vii]

The crowd was embracing Jesus as the Messiah and in the first century Jewish understanding this was seen as a political expression. Like Moses, Jesus would be perceived to be a deliverer that would set them from Rome, and those who were benefiting from Roman occupation would be threatened and therefore these Jewish leaders were in a state of panic. Something needed to be done as this populist movement was now threatening their own status.

B. Jesus extends their understanding of the scope of His mission.

What Jesus is about to do will move beyond the sphere of the Jewish nation. Jesus in not just the King and Savior of the Jews, He is the Savior of the world. John introduces this idea for us when some Greeks, non-Jewish people, request to see Jesus. Jesus’ mission is unlike anything the people or religious leaders understood.

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 

They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’

Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.[viii]

We never find out what their request is. Maybe they just wanted to meet Jesus. Most ancient people never saw who their leaders were. That was one reason why the monarch’s placed their image on coinage. What John is communicating to his first century readers is the expanded scope of Jesus’ mission by introducing these Gentiles, who were certainly God-fearers and had come to the Passover Feast.

What we now have is an introduction to the idea that Jesus’ death is for all humanity. Jesus now explains the purpose of what the Messiah is about to do. He is going to bring peace to all who are His followers and give us an example to follow.

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.’[ix]

What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual. Seeds only produce once they are planted, die and then reproduce more than they are. Here Jesus is about to die so others might have life. This is also a model of what He expects of us, His followers. That we will follow Him along the same path of laying down our lives for the sake of others. This may mean physical death, but more often it is simply laying aside our rights, our desires for the sake and welfare of others.

What Jesus means by the statement, ‘that the person who hates their life in this world’, means that this person does what God commands. It may be despite our own human desires at times. It is as we obey God’s way, that God will honor our lives.

C. Jesus corrects their incorrect perceptions of the event.

In his prayer for the Father to be glorified by his life’s purpose, the Father speaks from heaven.

‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 

Father, glorify your name!’

Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’

The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.[x]

Jesus was talking about being crucified. Other New Testament writers in speaking of Jesus being lifted up are talking about His exaltation, but here John clearly states that Jesus is speaking about His crucifixion and the people listening to him understood that. 

What they do not understand is how the Messiah is to be killed. Their expectation of the Messiah is different.

The crowd spoke up, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ [Messiah] will remain forever, so how can you say, The Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’[xi]

They do not understand that the Messiah must suffer. They do not see Isaiah 53, the suffering servant as a description of the Messiah and that He needed to come first to suffer for our sins, and only then would He return as the conquering King. 

D. Jesus challenges them to believe in Him.

Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.[xii]

What is Jesus asking of them? That in the hours to come when the crisis will hit and He will be crucified that they need to have put their trust in Him and continue to do so, even though they might not understand for the moment what is happening. This is certainly true in our own lives when crisis comes. The only healthy response is to trust in God, despite what we think or how we feel.

THE FINAL THING THAT HELPS US FIND HOPE IN TIMES OF CRISIS IS THE UNVEILING OF WHAT IS WITHIN US

Crisis is an indication of our trust or lack of trust in God. How will we respond? We may often wonder in light of all that Jesus did how people could continue to reject Him. To witness miracles, even the raising of someone from the dead, and still reject who He is, seems amazing. Yet, we see that in our own day, how people reject the message of the gospel. Here Jesus explains the reason why that happens.

Here we find a description of unbelief.

Here we see the deliberate rejection of Christ despite all that He said and did. 

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.[xiii]

God revealed to the prophet Isaiah that during that time, God’s people would reject the message that God was communicating through Isaiah. 

This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’’[xiv]

B. We also discover a reason for the unbelief.

For this reason, they could not believe because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts, nor turn- and I would heal them.’[xv]

Why should it surprise us that people don’t believe?

Not only did prophecy describe unbelief, it also explained it. Why should not the hearers of Jesus believe in him when the signs so unmistakably accredited his claims? John quotes Isaiah 6 to show that unbelief is the result of the rejection of light…gradually makes belief impossible.[xvi]

What is Tenney saying? That as we reject what God is saying to us, our hearts harden until even the most blatant and clear message is rejected.

C. Isaiah had an incredible insight into what was about to happen in a very profound moment in his life, in a time of national crisis.

What we need in a time of crisis is a vision of the power and majesty of God. Rather than focus on the crisis, we need to focus on God. Uzziah, had reigned for fifty-two years and brought stability, but now at the end of this long reign, transition could produce a time of instability. God by revealing himself to the prophet is communicating that He is still Sovereign and that their trust as a nation needed to be in Him.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

And they were calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’[xvii]

It is in this context that Isaiah is sent to speak to God’s people, that though they hear, they don’t understand; and though they see, they don’t perceive what’s really happening. John tells us that this encounter with God was an encounter with Christ, Himself.

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.[xviii]

What do we need in our times of crisis but a renewed vision of God on the throne! We need to see that He is in control. John tells us that though some believed, they lacked the courage to stand up for what was true and right. They were more concerned about what others thought than they were about being true to God.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.[xix]

When we hear this, we are challenged as believers to be strong and courageous in a culture that raises its voice in opposition to God. May we find strength in God and unashamedly speak with conviction the grace and mercy of God to our generation.

Everything about the waving of the palm branches, the declaration of their faith in the Messiah, the tensions between those who were threatened by Jesus and intimidating people into keeping the status quo, the rejecting of Jesus despite of all that they had heard and witnessed. Palm Sunday is more than just a moment of Jesus demonstrating His identity, declaring His purpose, and revealing the unbelief in the human heart. It is a moment of crisis. Palm Sunday is a place of crisis, not only for Christ, but also for the people. He is reaching out to them. Palm Sunday speaks to the times in our own lives when our faith is being challenged by a moment of crisis. Will we trust God when we do not understand what He is doing in our lives and our expectations are not realized? Will we trust God when He is calling us to die to our own human wants and desires in order to fulfill His will and obey His word? Will we trust God when He asks that we do the right thing for the sake of others, though that is not what we want to do in that moment? It is a call to trust. Jesus is challenging us to put our trust in the light so that we may become sons and daughters of the light.

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[i]       Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948), 183.

[ii]      John 12:12-15, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iii]     Zechariah 9:10.

[iv]      1 Kings 1:38-39.

[v]      John 12:16.

[vi]      John 12:17-18.

[vii]     John 12:19.

[viii]    John 12:20-22.

[ix]      John 12:23-26.

[x]      John 12:27-33.

[xi]      John 12:34.

[xii]     John 12:36.

[xiii]    John 12:37.

[xiv]    John 12:38.

[xv]       John 12:39-40.

[xvi]    Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, John and Acts, Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 1981), 133.

[xvii]    Isaiah 6:1-3.

[xviii]   John 12:41.

[xix]    John 12:42-43.

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