Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Name of the Lord

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

                        Matthew 21.9

On Loan

It’s not by accident that five of the six definitive episodes in Jesus’s life—His birth, triumphal entry, the Last Supper, crucifixion, and resurrection (the sixth being His baptism)—involve borrowing. He’s born in a borrowed stable. He rides into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He celebrates His last Passover with the disciples at a borrowed table. He dies on a cross borrowed from us; for it is we who earned and deserve it. He rises from a borrowed grave. There are several reasons why key events in Jesus’s story entail items on loan.

The most obvious, of course, is teaching actions, not possessions, define us. A second lesson, which we tend to overlook, also comes of this, instructing us not to gauge anyone by what or how much he/she owns. Jesus borrowed out of circumstantial necessity more so than actual need. The stable, for example, is lent because Joseph and Mary are away from home. The same holds for the tomb. Had Jesus been born and died in Nazareth, neither loan would be necessary. From this we learn expediency and humility. Waiting to acquire what’s essential to do all we’re given to do is foolish if we can shelve our pride and ask kindness of others. Jesus’s borrowing reveals the power mundane things obtain by serving Christ. The stable, donkey, table, cross, and tomb are significant only because Jesus uses them. It’s the same with us. When Jesus says, “I want to use you,” our ordinary lives and talents become extraordinary by how He employs them.

Coronation Day

There’s also a very specific reason why Jesus borrows a donkey, though. He could enter Jerusalem on foot like His previous trips to the city, except today is different. It’s His moment to confirm His true identity publicly. While He’s habitually deflected intimations He’s the Messiah—a policy He maintains when questioned at trial—knowing His days are numbered, He takes the opportunity to fulfill Zechariah 9.9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.” He rides into Jerusalem to leave no doubt He is, in fact, the King, the Redeemer and Deliverer sent from God.

The masses intuitively get what’s going on. They turn Jesus’s entrance into a coronation day procession. They precede Him, paving His way with their coats and palm fronds pulled off nearby trees. They follow Him, too, swallowing Him in a sea of raucous praise reserved only for the Messiah. “Hosanna!” they shout, an acclamation meaning “Save us!”—an honor unworthy of anyone other than God’s appointed Savior. They attach two qualifiers to make their intentions clear. They call Jesus “the Son of David,” the Messiah’s chief prophetic requirement, and they cry, “Hosanna in the highest,” ascribing their shouts for salvation to the One above all others. But most telling of all is “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Power by Proxy

Praying regularly in the name of the Lord—or the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—dilutes our appreciation of what it signifies. The name of the Lord invokes divine right. When the crowd announces Jesus as “He Who comes in the name of the Lord,” it vests Him with supreme rule over everything on Earth. No one governing by any other name—whether Caesar or Herod or, in the case of the temple priests and lawyers, Aaron or Levi—supersedes Christ’s authority. This is absolutely correct of them, of course, but it’s also dangerously volatile to say the least. It pours gas on an already raging fire of institutional hatred for Christ. And, later in the week, when the crowd sees how far local rulers intend to go in putting a stop to Jesus, its heralds of salvation turn into cries for murder.

The crowd turns on Jesus and loses all privileges in His name. But we turn to Christ and receive its full entitlement and benefits. In 1 Corinthians 6.11, Paul reminds us that we once belonged to “the crowd”—we also buckled to pressures and disavowed Christ. “But you were washed,” he says, “you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The name of the Lord gives us power by proxy. We borrow it out of necessity the same way Jesus borrowed what He needed to realize God’s purpose for Him. Colossians 3.17 tells us: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” On this Palm Sunday, I encourage us to look past the praise to see the proclamation. And every day, I pray we’ll follow Christ by doing everything and going everywhere in the name of the Lord.

The palms are props. The name of the Lord is what we proclaim.

(Tomorrow: Trees and Mountains)

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