Palm Sunday: A King Declared

As I watched young children leaving the church grounds with their construction paper palm branches last Sunday, I was reminded of one of my absolute favorite prophecies of the Old Testament; a prediction concerning the coming Messiah, the Anointed One, the King of Kings.

To get there is a bit of circuitous path.  It’s a longer post than typical.  It requires close attention.  But stick with me here.  The payoff will be a blessing to you.  Let’s dive in.

In the life of Christ, the week between His riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and His resurrection from the dead seven days later is often referred to as the passion week of Christ.  Somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of each gospel is dedicated to this one week.  It is the emphasis and climax of the gospel message.

One of the fascinating things about Christ’s passion week is the incredible number of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus in that week.  In fact, in one day alone, the day of His crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled at least 29 prophecies regarding the promised Messiah.

The passion week begins with one of the most obscure and powerful predictions about the coming King being fulfilled on Palm Sunday.  If you recall the story, on that day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (that in itself is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation.  Humble, and mounted on a donkey.”)

But the King on a donkey is not the obscure and powerful prophecy that I wish to highlight so continue with me.  When Jesus rode into town, a large crowd assembled around Him.  They laid their garments in the road before Him.  They cut branches from trees and spread them in the rode as well.  Then the crowd proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”  The crowd proclaimed that Jesus is their King.

The Pharisees however, having rejected Jesus as King, instructed Jesus to silence the crowd.  Jesus rebuffed their command with this answer, “I tell you that even if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Lk 19:40).  I believe the “stones will cry out” message reveals that the proclamation of Jesus as King was destined for this very day.

I believe April 6, AD 32 (traditional date for the first Palm Sunday) was in fact a special day on the prophetic calendar where the proclamation of Jesus as King was actually necessary; was actually required.  Follow me through the timeline.

In Daniel chapter 9, over 500 years before Christ, God revealed to Daniel an overarching prophetic timeline.  “490 years are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy” (Dan 9:24).

God then moves on to specifics that are mind blowing looking backward in time.  God reveals to Daniel that the prophetic clock will start at the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  “Know and understand this:  From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the Ruler, comes, there will be 483 years.” (Dan 9:25).

(Aside:  As explained later in Daniel 9, the final seven years of the 490 refer to the future tribulation period after which all of the “end of sin” and “everlasting righteousness” prophecies will come true.)

Now the closest we can tell, the decree to rebuild Jerusalem was given and the prophetic clock counting down to the announcement of the Messiah’s arrival started on March 14, 445 BC.  So can you see where I am going?  When we do the math of converting from the prophetic Jewish calendar to the Julian calendar and accounting for leap years etc, it is not a stretch to conclude that 483 years later is April 6, AD 32.  I believe that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 9, the prophecy of the coming Anointed One, to the very day.

The first Palm Sunday was destined to be the day of the proclamation of the coming King such that if the crowd had not proclaimed it, the stones themselves would have cried out.  What an amazing fulfillment of a prophecy that was announced over 500 years earlier.

We believe the gospel message by faith.  But the gospel message, the message of Christ, is rooted in history.  It is rooted in a reality that we believe actually happened.  It is rooted in historical evidence all around us.  Fulfilled prophecy is one type of evidence that God uses to bring us to faith and to strengthen our faith.

And to me personally, this particular prophecy is incredible.  Over five centuries before Christ, with the prophet Daniel in a state of prayer, God let Daniel in on a secret.  God revealed the timeline for the coming of the Messiah.  And because Daniel wrote it down, we were let in on the secret as well.

God has given us many evidences of Jesus as the Promised One.  The star at His birth, God’s voice at His baptism, the miracles of Jesus, and the ultimate attesting miracle; Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  The proclamation of Jesus as King on Palm Sunday April 6 AD 32 – 483 years in the making – is another powerful piece of the evidence picture.

Happy Palm Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the King!

Christ Our Substitute in Death … and in Life

Could we have cleaned up our sin on our own?  No, No, No!  We need and needed Jesus!  The idea of Christ being our substitute is at the heart of the gospel message.  As my friend Dave Gibson often explained, “If you do not grasp the idea of substitution, you are not understanding the gospel.”  The Bible clearly states that Christ died in our place.

“And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).

The certificate of debt, the debt of guilt that we owed because of our sin, “the decrees against us”; that debt, Paul wrote, “He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”  Our sin, our guilt, our shame, our punishment – all taken away at the cross.  What a beautiful word picture.  And all of this was accomplished by Christ’s death in our place.

Another reference to this substitute idea is I Peter 2:24.  “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…”  You can’t get a clearer picture of substitution than “bore our sins in His body”.

But in an incredible next step, look how Peter continues this verse.  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”  (I Pet 2:24).

Christ’s death as our substitute bought our justification.  It put us in right standing with God.  It declared us righteous.  But it did so much more.  It also set us free from, not only the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin as well.  It set us free from sin’s mastery (“die to sin”) and fully energized us to “live to righteousness”.

Just as Christ is our substitute in death, taking on our punishment, He is also our substitute in life; in living the Christian life.  We can live in righteous ways, making righteous choices because Christ is living His life in us and through us.

This is what all this has been leading up to with our study of Christ indwelling us, not as some kind of a place keeper until we die and finally find our freedom in heaven, but literally living His life through us as Galatians 2:20 so clearly articulates.  Life now, right now, this very minute, is changed by His presence!

This is our reality as a Christ follower.  And this reality can only be fully experienced by faith; by believing all that Christ promised about a life set free.  As you dwell on this promise, ask yourself this pointed question, “Am I walking in the reality of His presence today?  The beautiful answer is, “You can!”

“The Son of God Who Loved Me”

Returning to our next phrase in Galatians 2:20, “… the Son of God who loved me…”  We can never overemphasize or overadvertize the love of God.  It is the essence of God’s off-the-charts character.  It is a love of overwhelming depth, compassion, and power.  It is literally who God is, as the Scripture simply but boldly says, “God is love” (I Jn 4:8).

So how does the “Son of God who loved me” intersect with living by faith?  When I dwell on the depth of God’s love, I am energized to live the life of faith that I wrote about last time.  Realizing that God rescued me totally on the basis of His great love – not on anything I have done – frees me to live by faith; not by self effort, or self saving, or self made rules that prove my worthiness to Him.

When we underestimate God’s love, we sense a need to work for His approval and acceptance.  We sense a debt that we need to repay.  We live in fear of whether or not we have done enough.  We might call it living by faith, but we are really living by fear; striving to hit a moving target of God’s approval.

But God’s love erases all fear.  His love strengthens my faith in this way.  Because I know how deeply God loves me, I know that He would never lie to me.  I know that all of His promises are true.  I know he would never send harm to me.  I know He would only have my good in His mind and plan.

Do you see how understanding the depth of God’s love strengthens your faith in Him?  It energizes your faith to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will keep His promises; not just because God is not a liar, but also because He loves you.  And one of those promises is that Christ has come to live inside you and me.

“… and delivered Himself up for me.”  As we come to the last line of Galatians 2:20, we find that God’s love is what sent Jesus to rescue us.  Christ delivered us by giving Himself in our place.  He is our substitute.  Christ, our substitute, is what the atonement is all about.

Christ dying in our place, “bearing our sins in His body on the cross” (I Pet 2:24), put us in right standing with God.  His death in our place justified us and we have been declared righteous.  But did you know that this concept of Christ our substitute extends beyond our justification?  It is a radical concept that we will discuss next time.

The Life I Now Live

Continuing in Galatians 2:20, “… and the life which I now live in the flesh…”  That is, the life I am living on the “outside” which includes not just my look, but my personality, will, mind, and emotions also.  It is the life that you are “seeing” when you look at me.  This life “… I live by faith in the Son of God…”  I am now living the life you see by faith in the Son of God.  Why “by faith”?

The Bible teaches us that Christ is living His resurrection life inside us.  The original version of us – still visible if you are only looking at the “outside” – has been replaced by a righteous version, a version infused with Christ’s resurrection power.  But I only experience this co-resurrection life with Christ by faith.

The short answer to why this life is lived by faith is because it reflects something spectacular that is happening on the “inside”.  I don’t always feel it.  It doesn’t always inform my experience.  And I definitely cannot see it.  I can’t measure this inner life.  I can’t weigh it or analyze it by any other physical means.  I can only experience it by faith.

God has designed this world with both tangible and intangible realities.  Or another way to say it is concrete and abstract realities.  Concrete or tangible realities are what I can see, hear, smell, and touch.  If you are wearing a white shirt, you can tell how soft it is by the feel.  You can tell how clean it is by the smell.  And of course, you know it is white by your sight.  It is a tangible reality.

But we also live in a world of intangible reality.  Things that are just as true and real, but we cannot experience them with our senses.  If you are a believer, there beats inside you – under that white shirt – a new heart; a righteous heart.  A heart of flesh that has replaced your old heart of stone.

Now this new heart is such an abstract reality, that even if a surgeon opened up your chest, he still could not find it.  But it exists; it is a reality just as sure as something tangible because God said it.  Yes, the reason I believe the abstract reality of my new heart and Christ in me and every one of the promises about my new identity is because God said it.

This is why our faith is so critical.  We are believing something we cannot feel based on believing the promises of God.  And the beauty of all this is that the longer I believe it, the more I live into it as if it were true, and the more I make choices in keeping with my new righteous nature; the more I actually do “see” it, “feel” it, and “experience” it.  This is the life of faith.

And this faith is “… in the Son of God…”  It is not faith in faith itself.  It is faith in a person.  Faith in Jesus, the Son of God.  Faith in the Christ who lives in you.

Well, we will stop here with still more Galatians 2:20 to go.

If It Is No Longer I, Then Who?

Let’s begin our journey from the theological to the practical regarding “Christ in you” with a stop in Galatians chapter 2.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

“I have been crucified with Christ…”  Since you are standing here alive, not dead, what part of you was crucified with Christ?  Who died?  The original version of you.  The sin-controlled version of you.  The old self lost in sin.  The old man living under the debt, the obligation, the power of sin.  “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6).

“… and it is no longer I who live…”  How can that be?  Who or what is the “I” that is no longer living in this body?  This still looks like me, both inside and out.  I have the same hair color and the same personality quirks as before.  So how can this be “no longer I who live” here?

Short answer and speaking personally, the original version of Jay no longer lives in this body.  As we saw above, the original Jay was crucified with Christ.  So it begs the question, if the original Jay is no longer here, who is?

“… but Christ lives in me…”  Ah, we are back to the “Christ in you” theme.  Let’s allow this to sink into our heads, and to drive deep into our hearts, and to literally saturate our being.  It is no longer the original “I” living inside, but Christ Himself has taken up residence in me.  And this is not just a piece or remnant of Christ living in us.  No, it is the full experience.

In Colossians chapter 1, Paul explains that Christ is the “fullness of deity” (Col 1:19); fully and completely God.  Paul follows this triumphant worship and identification of Christ as God with the truth that this “fullness of deity” lives in you (Col 1:27).  Does that make you a god?  No!  God is off the charts in His deity, His sovereignty, His power, His omniscience, and His holiness.  What it does make us is a vessel, a container, a repository of God’s righteous nature.  This is the Christ that “lives in me”.

We are halfway through Galatians 2:20 and ready for the next step; “… the life which I now live…”  We will see what that life looks like next time.