Saturday, March 27, 2010

Easy Rider

Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. (Mark 11.2)

Burdened by Foresight

For three years, Jesus and His disciples function like dozens of other rabbinical bands roaming about Palestine. Outside of holy days that summon them to Jerusalem, they follow no set itinerary. They stay free of social obligations so they’ll not be tied down in any one place too long. Overall, they do a fine job of not wearing out their welcome anywhere. They enter a new village, where Jesus speaks to the people, performs miracles, occasionally preaches in the town's synagogue, and sometimes enjoys the hospitality of local hosts. Then He and the disciples move on. Yet even those who watch from a distance observe a startling difference when Jesus comes to town. Unlike other free-range prophets, He brings out the priests and lawyers. Everything He says and does riles them. Not only is His message radical. So are His methods. Most unorthodox preachers—John the Baptist, for example—usually avoid controversy by settling in the wilderness. Not Jesus. He keeps coming back, and that makes Him a problem.

Jesus is sharply aware constant controversy is a key element of God's redemptive plan. Opposition to Him is designed to mount until the Jewish establishment and Roman government—typically at odds with each other—collude in bringing Him down. He’s burdened by foresight, and as antagonism for Him escalates, awareness of what’s to come intensifies. With Passover less than a week away, He and the disciples join thousands of Temple pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. Knowing how authority figures think, Jesus recognizes the holiday gives them prime opportunity to strike. They can destroy Him and demonstrate the fate of non-conformists in one fell swoop. Since He expects the week to end in a crushing show of religious and governmental force, Jesus decides to make use of His opportunity for a final display of righteous affirmation. To put it bluntly, He devises a plan to fulfill an ancient Messianic prophecy.

Spontaneous Coronation

Zechariah 9.9 reads, “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, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” As obviously as the time has come for His destruction, Jesus realizes it’s time for Israel to declare His salvation. In fact, prophetic tradition insists Israel must welcome its King before rejecting Him. Thus, the cross’s eternal significance hinges on a spontaneous coronation. All along, priests and lawyers have tried to trick Jesus into confirming He’s the Messiah—a heresy so grave it would call for immediate execution. But Jesus hasn’t made (and, to the end, refuses to make) any such claims, going so far as to order the disciples not to discuss the topic with anyone. (Matthew 16.20) His reason is simple: the people must crown Him King, acclaiming Him with Hosanna, high praise reserved exclusively for their Savior and Messiah. Jesus sets the stage for this to happen.

At first, this troubles us with its implication Jesus manipulates the masses (and prophecy) for His benefit. We prefer to think His riding into Jerusalem on a colt and the adulation that greets Him are miraculous coincidences that jibe with Zechariah’s promise. Yet how can that be? Jesus and the crowd are so thoroughly steeped in Messianic Scripture it’s impossible to imagine He or they act unknowingly. As Jesus and the disciples approach Jerusalem, He’s extremely conscious God’s sacrificial plan is fast falling in place. He knows what He must do as well as what the crowd will do. What’s more, He trusts everything He needs to carry out the plan will be provided. On reaching Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, Jesus instructs two disciples to travel ahead to the next village, in all probability the last stop before entering the city. “Just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” (Mark 11.2-3)

When the Time Comes

The miracle we seek—and the lesson we can take from it—comes in two parts. First, a colt matching Zechariah’s description is ready and waiting for the disciples. How is this a miracle? Of course, the colt is there because God pre-arranges it and, as Christ, Jesus already knows this. Yet it still doesn’t preclude human interference during the time it takes the disciples to reach the village. Thus, while Christ knows the colt is there, Jesus believes it will be there. He sends His disciples to retrieve it by faith. This leads to Part Two. It’s folly to expect anyone can harness an unbroken colt and safely ride it anywhere, let alone through a mob. Why not settle for trained donkey? Glancing back at Zechariah, we see why he specifies a colt: “your king comes to you… gentle, riding a donkey, a colt.” Jesus mounts the colt by faith so Christ can enter the city as promised—an Easy Rider whose gentle command of the unruly animal magnifies His lordship.

Though Christ’s foresight heightens His perception of how and when God’s plan will fall into place, He still has to rely on faith in its purpose and process. We’re no different. There are times when knowledge of God’s promises encourages us to take conscious steps toward realizing them. Yet we often resist because what we need isn’t within ready reach. By faith, we must know God will supply every requirement to finish His work. The colt will be found when the time comes. The power to ride it easily and gently will be found, too. Meanwhile, there’s no profit in answering anyone who challenges who we are or what our purpose is. When the time comes for us to gently enter Jerusalem as living testaments of Christ’s lordship, people will tell us who we are and what we’re about.

The colt will be there when the time comes.

Postscript: Trust and Obey

We often describe Lent as a journey that leads to the cross and the empty tomb. And tomorrow’s start of Holy Week brings that premise to life by launching a number of commemorative rites. Yet today affords us a chance to revisit Christ’s preparation to enter Jerusalem—to remember why trust and obedience are so vital to God's plan. “Trust and Obey” (not the traditional hymn) by Hillsong.


claire said...

Friend Tim, I follow your story till the end until I reach the Postscript.

There you talk of Lent as a journey that leads to the cross and the tomb.
For me, it is the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection.
The challenge for me is, Will I be able to follow Him into the resurrection? Will I come out of the Lenten journey a tiny bit different, a tiny bit closer to Him? Or will I still be 'dear old Claire' with her self-absorption and -centeredness?

Today, it is my dream to go through that tiny door I imagine in the cross, where free from so much of what I am and possess, I will be able to cross that liminal space, as my friend Phil would say, to come to the other side...

The tomb is Friday night, Saturday, until some time in the night of Saturday to Sunday. But comes dawn on Easter morning...

Tim said...

Ah, Claire, this is, I think, one of those tiny cultural nuances born of sectarianism. In the tradition I was raised in, "the tomb" image is always an open grave, the door leading away from Death to Life. The Easter triumph robs it of its finality and closure forever. It is no longer a resting place, but a site of transition. It was careless of me not to modify it with "empty" to emphasize this and I'll fix that pronto.

But I very much like your image of the cross as a door and Phil's "liminal space" concept--and am grateful to you both for this. I think it aligns very nicely with how I was taught to conceive "the tomb."

Strangely enough, less than an hour before writing your comment, I was speaking with my mother about this year's Lent experience. I mentioned traveling this journey with you has enriched my life, opened my mind to so much I wouldn't have discovered on my own. Then I open the comments to find another gem!

Thank you for this--and I am anxious to greet the dawn on Easter morning to see "the new Claire" and "the new Tim" (and so many others) raised in renewed power and light!

Blessings, dear friend,

claire said...

I was indeed wondering whether the tomb had another meaning than what I gave it. I love your description of an open grave, a door leading away from Death to Life.

If you talk to your Mother of me, I talk to my husband of you in similar terms :-)))