“As Jesus comes into Jerusalem, riding on the tops of the trees just as He had done against the Philistines, we are told He curses the fig tree symbolizing the nation of Israel, weeps over the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and then goes on to do battle with those who would turn his Father’s house into a den of thieves. This is a King going forth to war. “
Song: The Son of God goes Forth to War
Passage: Psalm 118:19-29
Hello everyone and Welcome to episode #9 of the Anno Domini Podcast. A podcast dedicated to the supremacy of Christ over all things including our days, weeks, and months.
Join me as we explore how Christ is revealed through the cyclical life of the church calendar year. We’ll discover how this calendar once structured culture and how it can again. We’ll also discuss practical ways to observe and celebrate these holy days in our quest to glorify God and live the good life in the midst of all good He has given us.
Welcome back friends. My name is Joe Stout and my wife Elizabeth and I and our 8 children live in the wet and occasionally sunny Pacific Northwest. For those of you who may be new, this podcast, Anno Domini which literally means “In the Year of our Lord”, this podcast explores the year of the Lord as it has been traditionally marked on the Church Calendar. Our first episode started at the beginning of the Church New Year which this year fell on December 1st. Unlike our modern tradition of marking January 1st as the new beginning, the Church calendar marks the first Sunday of Advent, or the coming of Christ unto a dark world, as the perpetual new beginning. We begin by celebrating the coming of Christ in His various ways. Since the dates are different each year, this cycle was from December 1st through December 23rd. After Advent of course we celebrate Christmastide or Christmastime with Christmas Eve, and then all 12 days of Christmas. We then move into the period of Epiphany, the revealing of Christ unto a broken world which falls from January 6th through February 25th this season. Ash Wednesday, which this year fell on February 26th marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, the season in which we find ourselves now. As I remarked in the last episode, “the time of lent precedes the victory of Christ on the cross…Jesus was tempted for 40 days … was humbled to the point of death on a cross and during all of this faithfully obeyed His Father in Heaven. Because He was faithful in this, God raised Him up to glory and Christ calls us to follow the same path.”
As we enter Holy Week, the culmination of Lent, let us remember the promise of God found James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
As I pointed out in the last episode, The period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 40 days not including the Lord’s Day each week. This means that Palm Sunday is a unique holy day in that it falls within the Lenten Season but being that it is on a Sunday, any fasting would be abstained from since the Lord’s Day is meant to be celebrated with feasting and rest. Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week which is the big finale of the Lenten season and concludes on Easter morning.
Since part of the Anno Domini podcast centers around how we are to practically celebrate these holy days, I ought to give an account of the current events surrounding Palm Sunday 2020. As of the recording of this episode we are watching a local, national, and global historical event unfold. I’m of course speaking of the Chinese Virus that began in Wuhan China in December of 2019 and has spread around the globe. This virus is causing governments, gripped by fear, to self immolate entire economies, isolate people to their homes and hospital beds, and most egregious of all, forbid the gathering of people anywhere and everywhere for any reason at all. This means that for the last several weeks, showing up for the Lord’s Day service has been impossible for nearly everyone. Because technology often is a blessing when used rightly, many churches, ours included, have offered a live-stream of a Sunday morning sermon. This is nice and helps stave off feelings of isolation but a sermon is certainly not church. The gathering of a family to hear a sermon falls far short of our needed weekly gatherings. On Ash Wednesday, nearly a month before the madness began, I shared a hymn written by G.K. Chesterton that included the phrase, ”take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.” Never in my life have I seen a prayer answered on such a large scale in such a short time. As I said on Ash Wednesday, “…our rulers here on earth are faltering failures and we as a people are drifting and dying because our walls, made of gold in our prosperity, are actually entombing us. Scorn is a weapon to divide brother against brother. We are asking God not to spare His wrath or His thunder against us but instead to take away the one thing that is causing all of this mess…our pride.”
One of the many things the global pandemic fear has exposed is the frailty of our reality. We think the things we know, the things that are familiar to us will last. The good times will never end is an easy lie to believe. Our walls of gold, as enduring as a the morning mist were entombing us into the false sense of security. Now as we shelter in place at the beginning of what is likely to be an unnecessary but very large economic depression we can take joy. God has heard our prayers, instead of allowing the walls of gold to entomb us forever, He is stripping away the pride of life that has caused such rebellion in our hearts. What an exciting time to be alive. I cannot stress enough what a blessing this chastisement has the potential to accomplish. If we humble ourselves before God during this time of suffering He promises to lift us up and strengthen the hands which hang down and the feeble knees. With the unknown comes a temptation to great fear. In fact this is the natural response. Those without the blessing of Christ’s covering will respond with fear because that is the only way the natural man knows. But we are Christians and we believe that the providence of God can be waited on expectantly to provide for us our daily bread. We also can now trust God to provide for us a life stripped of those things which prevent us from trusting Him. We also can trust God during this time to send His Spirit to awaken in us a devotion to Him that often proves impossible during times of plenty. As someone amusingly said in reference to the paralyzing fear surrounding this virus, “I wasn’t quite ready to give up this much for Lent.” Of course we know that lent is not about “giving things up” it’s about begging God to do whatever it takes, to take whatever it takes, to trust, follow, and obey Him in all that He commands. So let us receive this discipline from the Lord joyfully knowing that he scourges every son He receives. So practically speaking, what can we do this Palm Sunday since we won’t be allowed to actually worship as the Body of Christ? Well the things that have been helpful for the Stout family has been to treat Sunday morning as much like a Lord’s Day morning as possible. We get up, we get dressed, we eat breakfast, and then we gather together to worship together the King of Glory. We try not to treat our Sunday morning worship too casually. This is already a temptation for modern Christians and it only gets worse when you can’t leave your home. Therefore there is no watching the sermon in pajamas just as you shouldn’t go to church in your pajamas. Our church actually provides some songs to sing “together” and we sing along heartily. We hold our kiddos to the same standards of sitting still and not talking during the sermon. This is really quite inadequate for the long haul but is better than nothing. If one had to describe the essential reason for weekly Lord’s Day worship I would argue that the sermon and praise and worship are really pointing to the pinnacle of the service which is the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to talk about this in depth for our next episode on Holy Thursday and so I will develop my argument far more there but suffice it to say that I am persuaded, and am certainly not alone, that the sermon, the singing, the confession of sin, it is all leading us toward one major event, and that event is to eat a meal of Peace with our King. We were alienated from God and were His enemies but by the death and resurrection of Christ, we have been brought near to Him. This weekly meal represents this. It represents the fact that we are no longer at war with God but that through Christ we now have peace. It tells us that we belong to the King and that we belong at the King’s table. This unfortunately cannot truly be done at home, at least not in the way it has been instituted as overseen by the elders of your local church. Because of this, let us pray that the quarantine lockdown fears end and that we can go back to the Lord’s Table where those who have been baptized and claim Christ as King, we can go back to the table where we belong.
There are several texts to chose from on Palm Sunday. We have readings from Isaiah, Psalms, Philippians, and the Gospel of John. If you are listening to this, it is likely you have heard the account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a the colt of donkey. In three of the gospel accounts, we are told that as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the colt, the people welcomed Him with praise and received Him as a King. In fact they were spreading their clothes on the ground as well as laying down branch of trees and in John’s gospel, those branches are referred to as Palms. This is Christ coming as King unto Jerusalem and for a large number of the cities inhabitants, He was rightly received as King. However, as we know, there were other forces at work in the city and the leaders of the Jews were consumed with envy and hatred of Jesus. While the Lord’s faithful were celebrating the coming of the King, others we’re biding their time and waiting for their opportunity to strike down the King of Glory. Our lectionary reading from Psalm 118:19-29 speaks of this. Let’s read the very word of God.
Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
God is the Lord,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
In this Psalm we are told that the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This verse is one of the most quoted in the New Testament. It is referenced in each of the synoptic gospels as part of the culminating meaning of the Parable of the Tenants. It was told by Jesus after He had entered Jerusalem in triumph but before He was betrayed into the hands of the Jews. If you remember, Jesus tells the story of vineyard that had been planted and the care of which was entrusted to a specific group of people. In the story these tenants are the Jews. When harvest time came, the Master sent servants to collect some of the fruit. The tenants, beat and treated shamefully all of the servants the Master of the Vineyard sends. These servants represent the way in which the Jews treated God’s chosen prophets…shamefully. At his trial prior to his death Stephan speaks these divesting words to the Jewish leaders…”Which of the prophets have not your father’s persecuted?” The answer is of course none. The Jews rejected them all. Finally, in the parable, the Master of the Vineyard decides to send His only Son thinking perhaps they will respect Him. Quite the opposite in fact happens and the tenets reach the pinnacle of their wickedness and throw the son out of the vineyard and kill Him, thinking they were securing the inheritance for themselves. But instead they planted the seed of their own ruin as the Master eventually comes and destroys those tenants and gives the vineyard to others. This speaks of the way God removed the Jews from the special status as His chosen people and grafted in the Gentiles in their place. Finally Jesus finishes by quoting Psalm 118:22 applying its meaning to the nation of Israel at that time. It was at this time that we are told the “ The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them.” The reason why this matters is that Jesus is not a safe person to be around. He is the kind of Friend that is absolutely going to get you in trouble with the people in charge. The Lion of Judah is dangerous and although He is good following Him means a choosing life of exchanging your own desires for those he gives you. Desires that will mean suffering. Jesus is a conquering King and when we follow Him we are actually following Him into battle. This battle is against the desires of the flesh, the lusts of the world, the pride of life, and against Satan himself. It is a battle that we can gladly and joyfully follow our King Jesus into knowing that it will cost us our lives.
Palm Sunday as I said earlier is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the finale of Lent and during times where gathering for worship is not outlawed there can often be services every day of the week. In Protestant Christianity there usually is at the very least a Good Friday service although even those unfortunately are becoming less frequent. During Palm Sunday often the church will be decorated with branches, sometime palm branches if they are available. In those denominations that celebrate Ash Wednesday, the branches used in worship on Palm Sunday are usually kept until the following Ash Wednesday and burned and the ashes from the Palm fronds are used to mark those penitent for the beginning of Lent. This is used to help Christians understand and realized the cyclical life of the Church and that God gives us patterns to follow faithfully.
During our section on the biblical text for Palm Sunday, the theme of warfare came up frequently. The fact that Christ comes riding on the branches of trees is not a coincidental occurrence. In fact in two places the Old Testament records an event that bears certain similarities.
In both 1 Chronicles 14 and 2 Samuel 5 we read this story.
13And the Philistines yet again made a raid in the valley. 14And when David again inquired of God, God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees. 15And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” 16And David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army from Gibeon to Gezer. 17And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the LORD brought the fear of him upon all nations.”
As Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on the tops of the trees just as He had done against the Philistines, we are told in the various gospel accounts of His actions. He curses the fig tree symbolizing the nation of Israel the curse being that they would be cut off for their unbelief and bear fruit no longer. He then weeps over Jerusalem because He knows of its coming destruction in just a few short decades. He then goes and makes war on those who would turn His Father’s house into a den of thieves. These are the actions of a King going forth to war. The only gospel that doesn’t mention this fact is the Gospel of John who chooses instead to focus on the imagery of a seed dying to bring forth a harvest. During His triumphal entry Jesus had one thing on His mind. Going to war. He was going to wage war against the domain of darkness in a way that not even Satan could have seen coming. He was going to die for the sins of His people. All of that is an entrance of sorts into the hymn we will be exploring today which was written in 1812 by Reginald Heber called the Son of God goes Forth to War. This song is a wonderful encouragement for the Church Militant, those of us in the body of Christ who are still here on earth doing battle for the King. Let’s take a look at the words.
The Son of God goes forth to war:
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar:
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.
The martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave,
Who saw his Master in the sky,
And called to Him to save:
Like Him, with pardon on his tongue,
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong:
Who follows in his train?
A glorious band, the chosen few
On whom the Spirit came,
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane,
They bowed their necks, the death to feel:
Who follows in their train?
A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
Through peril, toil, and pain:
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train.
We have in this hymn Christ setting the example by being the first to go to war and gain His crown of glory. He of course accomplished this upon the cross which is why Paul tells us that He is seated in power, reigning right now at the right hand of God. He will continue to reign Paul assures us until all enemies have been vanquished, the world has been converted to Christ and only the last enemy remains, death itself. Then Christ will return vanquish the final enemy, unite heaven and earth in glorious renewal and the dead will be raised again to glory for the final judgement. The hymn writer continually asks “Who will follow in His train?” or this is another way of asking who will follow after the King? In verse one, those who are able to follow in His train are those who are ready drink His cup of woe and to be patient and bear the cross of Christ in this temporal life.
Verse 2 tells the story of the first hero of the faith. Stephan who could see “beyond the grave” or through the temporal things that so often distract us to what really matter. Christ beckoned to Stephan as he was being stoned and Stephan like his Master asked God to forgive those who did the wrong even while he was in the pain of death. Who will follow his example?
Verse 3 tells the story of the 12 apostles who were valiant men upon whom was the Spirit of Christ. These 12 men, unlike any men before or after, were chosen by Christ and we’re given immense suffering to endure for the cross. Some were fed to lions, some slain with the sword. We are told they bowed their necks their death to feel. In other word’s they were not afraid to die nor were they going to run away from the Great Commission. They remembered that Christ had charged them with that of going into all the world and baptizing the nations. As Peter famously said with his life on the line…”We must obey God rather than men.”
Verse 4 speaks of the multitudes that have given their lives for Christ in humble and faithful obedience to Him. We are told men, boys, women, girls, anyone claimed by Christ through baptism that has gone before us and is with Him in paradise are now rejoicing around the throne of Christ in glorious garments. We are also told how they got there, through a steep climb toward eternity during their earthly life experiencing peril, toil, and pain during the journey. The hymn concludes by asking God to give us, the Church Militant, the grace to follow in their train.
With that I will play this hymn and look forward to seeing you for our next episode exploring Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. I hope that Christ fills you with encouragement as you worship Him this Lord’s Day in your homes and that we will soon find ourselves worshipping together once more in the beauty of holiness.