OLD TESTAMENT MEDITATION:
Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II was an amazing king. Around three thousand years ago he became the ruler of Egypt, and his rule extended for 66 years. Remarkably, he outlived his 12 oldest sons. In addition to his own building projects in Egypt, he also commissioned the restoration of the great Pyramid at Giza, which is the only one of the seven ancient wonders of the world that still stands today.
Ramses was a great and mighty king, and he also had a great and mighty EGO. As one of the so called “god kings” he was worshipped by his citizens as a deity. His citizens could honor his image at any one of the 50 huge statues of Ramses that were scattered throughout the capital city.
Ramses took every opportunity to “enhance” his reputation. He claimed the building projects of previous Pharaohs by crossing their names out and signing his own. Any defeat his army happened to suffer was commemorated as crushing victory instead. (Ben Thompson)
In the 1800’s the crumbling remains of one of Ramses’ statues was transported to London. Upon hearing about this statue, the poet Percy Shelly wrote the following poem.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
The kingdoms of men may be glorious, but they always come to an end. The kings themselves may be great, but every human being is born with a debt we all must pay. All must die.
But throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, a very different King is spoken of. One who was foretold long before He was born. One whose Kingdom is said to never end.
For our Old Testament reading today I’d like to take you on a walk through some of these prophesies.
Four thousand years ago, God spoke to Abraham. He promised him that through one of his descendants ALL THE NATIONS of the world would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
Three thousand years ago, God spoke to King David. God promised David that one of his descendants would rule over an eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:13).
Skip ahead 300 years. Through the prophet Isaiah, God revealed that the land of Galilee would see a great light. A child would be born that would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Isaiah 9:7 reads…
“7 Of the increase of his government and peaceSkip ahead 200 years. God gave the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar a vision. And God’s prophet Daniel interpreted that vision. In the vision, four kingdoms appeared. First was Babylon, then the Medo-Persian Empire, then Alexander the Great and Greece, then the Roman Empire. During the Romans Empire God said that He would establish a special Kingdom superior and different than the rest.
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7 NIV).
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44 NIV).500 years later, an angel appeared in Nazareth, in the hill country of Galilee. This angel’s name was Gabriel, and he carried a message to a young virgin named Mary. He said,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33 NIV).About 33 years later, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the King that God had long promised. Turn to John 12, verse 12.
“12The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,▬
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:12-19 NIV).
Jesus came to win a great victory and establish His Kingdom forever. But His Kingdom would not be established through arrogance and force, but through humility and self sacrifice.
You see, through the cross, Jesus opened the door for us to be part of His Kingdom. His Kingdom is God’s Kingdom. We are sinners who could not be part of that Kingdom. Our sins separate us from the holy God. But when Jesus was on that cross, the punishment for all our sins was poured out on him. He received our punishment, thus earning us forgiveness. Whenever this Good News is preached the forgiveness He earned and the Kingdom He established is extended to all who hear.
That’s what Palm Sunday is all about. Jesus is the King that God foretold. The King who establishes His Kingdom and invites us into it through the cross.
Our scope has been pretty huge up to this point. We’ve been talking about events sprinkled throughout thousands of years. But for our sermon meditations today, I’d like to really tighten up our focus.
Every Kingdom has people and every King has loyal subjects. We’ve been brought into the Kingdom of God through the message of Jesus. We are confident in His gracious and powerful rule over our hearts and lives right now.
But we are not the first. And we can learn from the Christians who came before us. In fact, the Book of Hebrews says that the Christians who came before us are like a great cloud of witnesses that cheer us on. Turn to Hebrews 12, verse 1.
“1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:1-6 NIV).
To encourage us and build up our faith today, we look at one such witness of Christ. One daughter of the Eternal Kingdom. Mary of Bethany.
John 12:1-11 (NIV)▬
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
Mary of Bethany had shown herself to be a daughter of God’s Eternal Kingdom long before this day.
Mary lived with her sister Martha in the town of Bethany. Bethany was a couple miles east of Jerusalem. Just over the mount of Olives. It took about 55 minutes to walk the distance.
One time when Jesus was passing through, Martha invited Him to stay at their house. You remember the story, right? Martha was racing around getting things prepared for supper, putting out towels for Jesus and making beds. But MARY wasn’t doing squat! She was just sitting there listening to Jesus’ conversation.
Finally, Martha was fed up, and asked Jesus to TELL MARY to help her get things ready! I mean come on, how lazy can you get! But Jesus replied by saying:
“41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).Mary listened to her King. That’s part of being His. Christians honor Jesus by listening to what He says with care. He is priority number one. We know that everything else can wait, the King comes first. Like Jesus said,
“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).▬
But it wasn’t all roses and relaxation for this daughter of the Kingdom. Mary experienced hard times too. But when she did, she called out to Jesus.
Once, Mary’s brother Lazarus got real sick. It didn’t look good. There was nothing any of the doctors could do. But Mary knew that Jesus could help. She and Martha sent a messenger to Jesus telling Him Lazarus was sick.
Psalm 50:15 says,
“15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;Mary called, and then they waited for Jesus to come. And they waited. And waited. And Lazarus slipped away. By the time Jesus came, it was too late. Lazarus had been in the ground for four days.
I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15 NIV).
Mary was devastated. Friends came from Jerusalem to comfort her, but nothing seemed to help. She trusted in God, but the grief still hung heavy around her neck.
And when Jesus came, she expressed both her grief and her trust in Him. In John 11, verse 28 we read…
“28And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.▬
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:28-33 NIV).
Mary came to her King and fell before His feet. She poured out her heart to Him, telling Him everything she was feeling. If He had only been there.
And here, Mary teaches us how to approach Jesus. With nothing hidden. With all our thoughts and troubles and anxieties held out in the open. Like it says in 1 Peter 5, verse 7…
“7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)▬
And Jesus responded with deep compassion. He stood outside the tomb of Lazarus, His dearly loved friend. And Jesus wept.
But He did more than empathize and feel. Jesus called on the power that had been His from eternity. The Son of God commanded that Lazarus live again, and Lazarus came out of the tomb – ALIVE.
And so we come to the events of our sermon reading. It was just six days before the Passover Feast. The last week before Jesus was crucified.
In Bethany, where Jesus would stay for the duration of the feast, a party was being held in honor of Jesus. We’re told that it wasn’t at the house of Mary and Martha, but at the house of a man known as “Simon the Leper”. No doubt one of the many lepers whom Jesus had healed.
Throughout the house there were many guests. Among them sat a man who had recently lay dead and moldering in Bethany’s graveyard. Lazarus was there, though now, very much alive.
All the disciples were there as well, including Martha, who, of course was busy serving.
And there lay Jesus. Reclining on his left arm at the table. In the place of honor.
We can imagine the clamor of all these people talking. Speaking about their journeys here. Talking about the city. About the Passover. About the many relatives that they would soon see in the city.
Perhaps Mary was not noticed at first. Certainly Jesus and Lazarus were on center stage on this occasion.
Mary’s King was being honored. And that was good. But Mary’s heart was moved to honor Him further still. Who knows where she had come by this precious perfume. Perhaps she was rich. Perhaps it had been a gift from a friend when Lazarus had died. It was a kind of perfume that was used on the dead. To wrap them in a sweet smell before they were laid to rest.
Mary took this perfume she had. A whole pint of the stuff, valued at a whole year’s wages, and she approached Jesus. The conversations died away as she anointed her King’s head and then His feet, wiping those calloused travelers feet with her own hair.
He deserved this honor, she thought. It didn’t matter to her what others said of this “waste”. He deserved everything she had. Jesus had given Mary her brother back, from the dead. Jesus had given her hope for her own future. Hope that would never be disappointed. He was the King that God had promised. And she would honor Him.
It also didn’t matter one bit to her that this perfume was so precious. Sure, she could have sold it and used that money. But that thought unthinkable. It was the best she had to offer. And it was no waste.
The old Proverb was right.
“9 Honor the LORD with your wealth,What a silly thought indeed that any gift to this King could be a waste. In 2 Corinthians 9, verse 7 it says…
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10 NIV).
“7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV).To say that Mary’s gift came from a “cheerful” heart sounds like a gross understatement. Mary’s gift came from a heart of faith.
And Mary’s act teach us, her fellow Christians. It teaches us that miracles are to be expected in the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t seem that Mary could have known, but her act was a prophesy of His death to come. Her act of thankful faith pointed to His death to come.
And Jesus told the murmuring crowd that they were to leave Mary alone. That this act, which they were seeing as sinful and wasteful, was instead beautiful. It could have been a waste, but not when it was given in faith, to honor the Eternal King and Suffering Savior that God had sent.
And Mary’s honoring of Jesus did one other thing. It brought her honor also. Clearly that wasn’t her intent. But you can’t be a daughter of the King and not have His honor rub off on you. Jesus said:
“9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9 NIV).By faith, we stand as Jesus’ Subjects in the Kingdom of God, right beside Mary of Bethany.
May our lives mirror hers. May we think that hearing our Savior King’s Word is priority number 1. May we always call out to Him when in need. May our prayers be a dumping out of our heart and sins before Him in faith. And we worship Him with all that we are, unconcerned with the judging thoughts of others. Unconcerned with the things of this world that we spend to His glory. Unconcerned, because with Him as King, we have more than Ozymandias. More than this world could ever offer. We have been restored to our Holy Creator.