My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, April 2, 2012

“With an Eye on the Prize” - (04/01/12)

Palm Sunday 2012 
April 1, 2012
            Back in 2004 Mel Gibson’s box office hit, “The Passion of the Christ” took the country by storm.  People swarmed to the theaters to see a movie about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.  While many of us were gratified to see this interest in Jesus, most of us Christians also felt somewhat frustrated to observe that the average moviegoer was far more interested in His pain than in His person.  That’s because unbelievers typically see the crucifixion as the tragic culmination of His life, which they believe ended in failure, rather than recognizing that the cross was the purpose for which He came and the prize for which He lived.  It was not a failure, but rather, the capstone of everything He taught as well as the proof of His legitimacy as Messiah.

            The fact is that Jesus set out on the road to the cross long before most people imagine.  In fact, He put His feet to that road even before the world was formed, for the Bible says that our salvation was mapped out in the mind of God “even before the foundation of the world.”  Clear back in the Book of Genesis chapter 3 God promised a Savior who would crush the head of Satan and set men free from their slavery to sin and death.
            The solution was for the Son of God to come from Heaven to earth as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  John chapter 1 says that God, the eternal WORD, became flesh and dwelt among us in order to reveal God’s glory.  In Christian theology Jesus is God in the flesh, the God-Man, if you will.  The scoffers and skeptics of Christianity have choked on that for centuries, yet it remains the heart and soul of New Testament theology. 
If Jesus was merely a man, a teacher, a prophet, then He was no more a Savior than Gandhi, Buddha, or David Koresh.  Either He was all He claimed to be or He was a completely deluded fraud and deserves to be ignored.  There is no middle ground.  Jesus didn’t leave any middle ground where people can build a theological fence to sit on.
            The details of His death were carefully enumerated by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  The angel Gabriel told Mary to name Him Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins.”  His Hebrew name, Yeshua, means “Jehovah is Salvation.”  It is clear that from the very beginning Jesus knew that He was here for a divine purpose.  In Luke 2 we read about young Jesus in the Temple and His word to Mary and Joseph when they noticed that He was missing.  They went back to the Temple and found Him sitting in the midst of the Jewish teachers and He said to His parents, “Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s business?”
            Yes, from the very beginning Jesus knew that every step He took carried Him one step nearer the cross, yet He did not shy away from His mission.  He came to be the Savior, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world.  Like a runner in a marathon race, He fixed His eyes on Mount Calvary, for that was His goal.  He lived with an eye always fixed on the prize of accomplishing the mission He came to complete.
The Gospel of Luke is where we are going to focus our attention today, as we examine a number of texts that clearly show that Jesus was constantly aware that He was on the long road toward Calvary.  That road finally led Him to Jerusalem on that day long ago when people lined the road waving their palm branches to declare Him to be the rightful King of the Jews.  He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt and the people chanted, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  [It means, “Save now!”]  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!”  Their voices raised in jubilation, they welcomed Him as their Messiah.  A week later another huge crowd shouted His name saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  But even that turning tide of public opinion could not keep Him from accomplishing what He had come to do.
            Many people see the death of Jesus as merely a terrible travesty of justice and the tragic end to a good man.  They fail to understand that Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, but rather, that He laid it down willingly so that you and I might be saved.  Let’s look at some of these passages that support this premise that Jesus knew exactly what He was doing.  Come, take a stroll with me through the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus gave His disciples many clear explanations of what would happen to Him in Jerusalem.  However, for the most part these statements went right over their heads.  They could not wrap their minds around the idea that their beloved Master was going to die on a Roman cross, and much less that He would be raised from the dead on the third day, although He explained it to them several times.  Their own personal views of who He was and what they expected Him to do blinded them to the reason for which He left Heaven to come and walk among us.  It was not until after the Resurrection that the pieces began to drop into place for them and they finally saw the big picture.

Luke 9:18-23 
Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  20 “But what about you?”  He asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”  21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.  22 And He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  23 Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:28-31  
About eight days after Jesus said [these things], He took Peter, John, and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.  29 As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about His departure [lit. exodus], which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
[cf. II Peter 1:13-15 Peter talks about his own “departure” death.]

Luke 9:43-45 
And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to His disciples, 44Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  45 But they did not understand what this meant.  It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it.

Luke 9:51-53  
51 As the time approached for Him to be taken up to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  52 And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; 53 but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem.

Luke 13:22  
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 

Luke 13:31-35  
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”  32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’  33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem!”  34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  35 Look, your house is left to you desolate.  I tell you, you will not see Me again until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [Note: here He clearly makes a double-reference, first to the upcoming Palm Sunday events that were just days away, but also to a future day when He would return as the glorious King of Israel.]

Luke 17:11-19  
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  12 As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him.  They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  14 When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.  15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan.  17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  19 Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 18:28-34  
28 Peter said to Him, “We have left all we had to follow You!”  29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”  31 Jesus took The Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.  32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles.  They will mock Him, insult Him, spit on Him, flog Him, and kill Him.  33 On the third day He will rise again.”  34 The disciples did not understand any of this.  Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what He was talking about.

Luke 19:9-11  
9 Jesus said to [Zacchaeus], “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  11 While they were listening to this, He went on to tell them a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

What happened next is familiar to most of us but for those who may not know the story of what we refer to as “Palm Sunday” let’s review it.  Christ’s so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospel accounts but let’s stay here in Luke.  I’m reading Luke 19:28-44. 
28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here.  31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’”  32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them.  33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”  34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.”  35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it.  36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road.  37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting:  “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; 
Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!”   39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”  41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!  But now they have been hidden from your eyes.  43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” 

            Today marks the beginning of what Christians have long called, “Passion Week.”  But let me tell you, the Passion of the Christ lasted much longer than a mere seven days.  In fact, the Bible says that since the foundation of the world God, the Architect of Salvation, has always been passionate about saving sinners.  The Bible tells us that’s because He “desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  The Word of God clearly says, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  In fact, the most well-known verse in the Bible declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Jesus left Heaven’s glory and the Father’s Throne to come and be your Savior.  That long road led Him to the cross.  Today, if you want to receive the gift of eternal life you will have to meet Him there at the cross.  You must call on Him, believe in Him as your own Savior and Lord, confess your sins to Him, and by faith receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
            Jesus lived out His life always with an eye on the prize, always looking ahead to accomplish the will of the Father for which He had been sent.  His race was not easy!  It would have been much easier to simply quit and let us all go to hell, but He continued to the very end so that you and I could be with Him in Heaven for eternity.  The writer of Hebrews sums up His life beautifully in Hebrews 12:1-3 and uses Christ’s example to show how we should also live our lives.  I like how it reads in the New Living Translation: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” 
            One more thing in closing… Three times in the verses we read today we come across the phrase saying that what Jesus was doing was “hidden from the eyes” of people; in Luke 9:45 and 18:34 speaking about the Twelve, and in 19:42 with reference to the population of Israel and Jerusalem in particular.
How is it possible that Jesus’ plan to go to the cross to be the Savior of the world was hidden from the people closest to Him?  He certainly didn’t hide the facts from them.  He didn’t blind their eyes.  So what did?
            The greatest spiritual blinder is UNBELIEF.  It will blind you to the truth of God’s Word and to the plans and purposes of God, and it will keep you from seeing Christ for who He really is.  Is He hidden from you today?  He’s offering you salvation right now.  Can you see it?  Can you see Him?  I beg of you, don’t leave here today without crying out to Him for salvation.  He’s ready and able to save you if you’ll just trust Him.  Ask Christ into your life today, right now.  Let Him cure your blindness.  Paul tells us in II Cor. 3:15-16 that sin forms a veil over the heart of the unbeliever, but then he says, “But whenever a man turns to the LORD, the veil is taken away.”  Trust Him today.  Let Him rip off that veil that keeps you blind.  God’s Word says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!”  Put Him to the test today.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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