A single microscopic germ stripped away everything from her. Work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all gone. For two weeks journalist Brooke Baldwin fought the coronavirus [covid-19]. Her body gorged on 12 hours of sleep each day. Cold sweats soaked bed sheets. Dull aches throbbed. Leaving bed took all her strength. Appetite vanished— and when it did show up, no taste. Stubborn independence quickly gave way to cries for dependence. The virus broke her down piece-by-piece, leaving her without a sense of purpose.
In that stillness, Baldwin could focus on important matters in life; she gained clarity. In her reflection she writes:
In our normal lives, we're faced with a barrage of distractions— events on a calendar, expectations of ourselves. But during this time of Covid-induced isolation— whether you're sick or just socially distancing in your home— we've been forced to sit still [without] distraction.…
When I was sick and my body came to a screeching halt… I found myself thinking about joy… about my work [goals]… about my mother… and about the beautiful interdependence of my marriage. …In the quiet of my quarantine, I was able to more purely isolate my gratitude and my values. (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/19/health/coronavirus-diary-sickness-brooke-baldwin/index.html)
This morning God peels away earthly distraction so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of an event longer-lasting than covid-19. An event carving out a deeper impact. An event that has changed the course of your life for all time. Easter prepares you for eternal glory! A priceless Life made you different. A priceless Life gives you hope. So, Live Your Life as a Stranger Here.
Listen to our reading from 1 Peter chapter one, starting with verse 17: Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. That describes you, doesn’t it? You call on God by name. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, breaking down the barrier once separating you (and me) from God. The Holy Spirit gives you access to approach God confidently just like a child fearlessly approaches her father.
Even though God is our tender Father, he is also Judge. That means, God is not some unconcerned grandfather who sits idly by as his little grand-brats trounce all over his word. God enforces his commands; he judges each heart individually— and he does not cut deals.
That’s why he says: live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. You (and I) live on planet earth, and lots of objects are in it: money, tech toys, outdoor toys, play-toys, houses, cars, clothes— all these material items society considers valuable. You (and I) also hear many voices in this world with their many opinions. That you should put your needs first. That you should live in whatever way makes you happy. That everyone— husband, wife, child, boss, neighbor— should respect you. This worldly way of living starts pushing God’s desires out of your heart so that you no longer live under his care, but live for your self-interests.
God does not want his children to fall under judgment. So, he reminds you (and me): ‘You call [me] Father’— because you are his child; you belong to him. That makes you different.
God’s Word peels away worldly distractions so that we see this truth more clearly. If you’re like me, that paring down is painful. Painful— because the heart can attach to the world. We burn with anger over seemingly-needless government restrictions or seemingly-needless protesting because ‘those people’ take worldly treasures away from me. We get upset about losing vacation because we set our hopes in finding peace and rest in luxury. We gripe and complain that a child cannot be recognized for achievements because we over-emphasize (and over-exalt) status. Trembling at the sight mortality means we lost sight of our triumphant Lord, who— as you heard two weeks ago— conquered death.
The pleasures and challenges in this world can blind us from our identity as children of God— children not investing in the passing pleasures of the world, but children who see God at the center of everything in life. If it feels as though you have suffered a loss of purpose, then today is the day to revisit what God has done for you.
God has not set you in this world to latch onto this world. He has redeemed you. He has paid the price to make you different. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. That puts worldly ambition into proper perspective, doesn’t it? God does not love you because you raised your kids to work hard, respect others, and stay out of jail. God does pardon guilt because you sit in a church building and put money in the offering plate and attend Bible class and volunteer. You will not go to heaven because you tried your hardest to live a good life, be a good person, and help others. Gold and silver are valuable, kindness is treasured, but it all stands empty before God. That way of living cannot buy forgiveness because forgiveness costs astronomically more.
God brushes every single distraction aside so that you (and I) can see the most priceless object in the history of universe: Jesus. What makes him so valuable is his unblemished life. Picture that for a moment. Not one trace of greed. Not one inkling of self-righteous pride. Not one harsh word or lustful thought. No unwillingness or doubt. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for 33-years Jesus lives absolutely flawless! That is the life God wants.
Jesus does not hoard what he has. He transfers that priceless life in your (and my) spiritually bankrupt account. Hearts blemished with a carnal love for stuff are covered over with Jesus’ unblemished blood. Every spot of pride washed away. His blood fills you up to stand spiritual rich before God.
This is who you are. Now. In this world. A priceless Life made you different. Life’s ultimate goal is not to store up worldly achievements. It is not to find peace in those achievements. You (and I) are different because A priceless Life gives you hope.
[Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Do you know what ‘hope’ is? If you think ‘hope’ means ‘something that might happen,’ then you are wrong. God does not use the word ‘hope’ to suggest an event that may or may not happen. Instead, ‘hope’ means ‘expecting fulfillment with confidence,’ as in, ‘trusting a future event that will occur.’
You know, checking over my calendar, no one has a birthday today— but one specific day does celebrate your birth. That special day might not be today, it’s off in the future— but it is coming. No doubt about it. Every year you fully expect with confidence to celebrate. Easter makes your future certain. God raised Jesus from the dead. For forty days, Jesus appeared to well over 500-believers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). What do you think he talked about? How to manage your 401K? How to unleash fuller joy in a broken world? Of course not! Making earth into heaven was never the purpose for Jesus to come. Instead, Jesus rises to bring you the most awesome news ever: Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). Your future is changed. Your attention is lifted up. A priceless life gives you hope— absolute certainty of life with God forever.
What makes this coronavirus unsettling is that it shoves death in your face. Either (1) a real threat of death hovered over your head (because you stand ‘at-risk’) or (2) you wrestled with the awful thought, ‘Maybe I’m not so invincible. Maybe this virus does gets me (or a family member).’ And you might not have been ready to deal with ‘death.’ Maybe you never thought this day would actually come. The simple fact that death even crept into focus will leave a mark. You will not return to a point in time when these events did not occur. From here you can only go forward. The question is: How will your life be different?
This pandemic has allowed much time for self-reflection. Fear preaches (quite loudly) that all the creature comforts of home cannot fill you with the peace you want. You might have scrounged for facemasks not out of caution, but because you were scared. You learned that death still frightens you. That you still have room to grow. Yes, you know you’re going to heaven, but maybe you do well to take God’s Word more to heart. You can cast all your anxieties at any time on God (1 Peter 5:7). You can read your Bible (or devotion) and know that God does not make empty promises, but rather gives guarantees, a solid rock on which to stand (Numbers 23:19).
Rest from the onslaught of weekend sports and school schedules and endless graduation festivities and work obligations demonstrates that you can still live without these events— and so can your family. There is more to life than worldly achievements. How you and your family are responding to these unsettling times can reveal where you might grow closer to God.
You (and I) can recapture our role as [grand]parents and connect our [grand]children closer to the promises of God. Faith in Jesus as Savior is the most priceless object in the world— and sharing that truth is the greatest investment you can ever make. Do not squander the time given now. Do not hope that your child might stumble into church one day. Do not think it is up to the Pastor alone to preach Jesus. Today is another day where you can take what is seen and heard and remind yourself (and others): You are a stranger here. Life does not depend on what you own. Life rests and finds peace in God’s forgiveness. That forgiveness comes through Jesus. A priceless Life gives you that hope.
God-willing, we will have another chance to return to our work and work responsibilities, appointments and meetings, errands and exercise, outings and dinner dates— all these fabulous blessings. You heard that right: blessings.
God peels away earthly distractions so that you gain clarity. He does not want you to lose sight of Easter. The priceless Life of Jesus made you different. Jesus is the only Way into heaven—and you benefit from that life. He exalted you into the family of God. As a result, His priceless Life gives you hope. When your world shakes and trembles, when so much seems lost, remember: You have lost nothing—because your hope is not anchored to this life. You are a Stranger Here, and a full-fledged citizen of God’s kingdom.
The elevator doors whoosh open. Stephanie looks out, but this is not her floor. She steps back in and scoots off to the side as this droopy-faced, wrinkly seventy-something-year-old man enters. The doors slide shut and up they go.
The man looked a little strange. His obviously-dyed-black hair reached his shirt collar. (Not really the haircut for older men.) Speaking of which, a flashy sport coat covered a plain black t-shirt. His slim-cut jeans made his legs look like wrapped sausages. This man visibly carried decades life experience. Soon, those elevator doors opened again. Stephanie reached her floor and stepped out. Elevator doors shut and up went that man.
A co-worker watched Stephanie step out. Eyes bugged. Mouth gaping open. ‘Do you know who was in the elevator with you?’ ‘No.’ ‘That was Mick Jagger! You rode the elevator alone with Mick Jagger!’
Stephanie had no idea she stood right beside Mick Jagger. He wore nothing to suggest that he was the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. No paparazzi crowded the elevator, no one even took pictures with the guy! In fact, he was not even with his manager or inner circle. Just him alone tending to some business. Stephanie missed out on an awesome opportunity to know him better. She did not see the man behind the appearance.
Today is Palm Sunday, which means, we are tracing the final days leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem and spends all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the temple, and if not there, then at the house of his friends, Mary and Martha (Mark 11:11). He uses these final hours teaching his disciples, increasing their knowledge of his saving plan, and bolstering confidence as they take the Word to heart. Because the week ahead will be tough. You may feel emotionally (and physically) drained from all this commotion about a virus. The disciples will feel even worse. Maundy Thursday will come, and after celebrating the Passover, an armed mob will snatch Jesus away. By Friday, they will either see their naked friend dying on a cross or they will hear of his demise. So, today, Palm Sunday, prepares them and us for what lies ahead. Do not lose of sight of your Savior—who he is and what he comes to do. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
The gospel of Matthew records the events of that triumphant day. Starting at chapter 21, verse one, it reads: As [Jesus and his disciples] approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
Jesus gives instructions, yes, but do you see what he just did? He plainly tells the disciples what lies ahead! Understand, Jesus had not traveled on ahead, cased the place, and now returns with a report. He gives a glimpse of his divine power. Remember, Jesus is not merely a man; he is also true God. As God, he holds the power to heal, control nature, read hearts, and reveal thoughts and the future. Simply put, as God, Jesus knows all things happening in all places at all times. Giving instructions like he does, provides a reminder of who he truly is. The One preparing to enter Jerusalem is God himself! (Keep that in mind as you hear Matthew continue his account.)
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet [Zechariah]: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
Is that how you picture the majestic grandeur of kingly procession? Stand on main street— and here comes Queen Elizabeth. Hunched over on a grayish, fuzzy-haired, short donkey, hooves clippity-cloppiting down Hamburger Hill. No jeweled crown or royal gown. Some dash out the front doors and huddle around her; others zip by her running errands, driving home. Would you expect this kind of royal arrival? Of course not! Queen Elizabeth plans a trip to Clare, Michigan, and you have long lines of glistening motorcades and swarming security. Crowds pack the streets; helicopters hover overhead. If you even get to see the queen, gems and gold twinkle off her manicured appearance.
That’s what you expect: dominance, power, grandeur. But this? Gentle? Humble? Riding a donkey? Him approaching you, not you approaching him? What king acts like this? ...Honestly? The King we need.
Remember, Jesus prods the heart with a reminder: He is God. As God, he knows all things. That means, he knows that you (and I) do not always take his Word so seriously.
Oh yes, we might try to cover that fact up, but Jesus sees right through the charade. He knows how the heart places high value on status. When you seek self-praise because of your [grand]child’s achievements. When you feel powerful because of the number attached to your bank account. When you gloat, thinking your own might keeps you safe. He knows the pleasures your heart secretly craves. The passionate thrills of intimately confiding in someone not your spouse. The bloodthirsty revenge that seeks to humiliate others and exalt yourself. The never-ending greed that thinks this one object will finally satisfy to the point of never needing ever again! Jesus knows when and where and how often the heart throws rocks at his commands, plugs its ears to his Word, and spits at his place in your life (and mine).
It’s a wonder Jesus that does not storm into Jerusalem as the King he truly is. That he does not roar down main street riding a thunderstorm as his chariot. That legions of angels do not blast their trumpets and a gilded throne does not thump down. If Jesus arrives as God Almighty, then who can stand?!
Instead, Your King Comes to You. Catch that? You make appointments to meet with the queen or the President, but Jesus comes to you.
What sight to behold! Jesus enters Jerusalem not as mighty warrior-King, but a King going to work. A donkey is a beast of burden, a work-animal. Jesus does not even ride a grown animal, he rides its young, never-before worked child. He rides something lower than a low-class work-animal. He does not arrive to thump down divine authority. Your King comes to go to work. He shoulders the commandments of God we are to keep. Never once griping that he deserves better honor and respect. Never once grabbing at gold and crowns. Never once considering about destroying the arrogant leaders. He sets himself under God’s plan to be our Savior. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace so that he can bring deliverance
Matthew continues telling the day’s events. The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
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!”
‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘save us, please!’ That choral song comes from Psalm 118:25-26: O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Lord has delivered us, hasn’t he? Jesus fully knows what to expect in Jerusalem. In fact, three times he reveals the future [again] for his disciples: We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus knows Jerusalem’s powerful religious leaders approved his arrest (John 11:57). He knows many want him dead. He knows these cheering crowds will soon embrace a new chant: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Matthew 27:22-23) Still, Jesus rides towards the cross, knowing full well that instrument of torture will tear his life away— but not without his permission first.
Mark this well: Jesus rides into the hands of death; he puts himself there. He never loses control. The One who comes from King David’s family tree is the One God appointed to establish an eternal kingdom. Jesus has every intention doing just that.
When we lived separated from Jesus, stuck in a kingdom that only led to death, Jesus saved us. With his spiritually rich life, he marches into death. He set down his perfect obedience to every commandment in our spiritual column. He scrubs away our rebellious attitudes. He trims away the passing pleasures of this life. He covers over filth with royal robes. When he rises from death, he sets a crown on your head, marking you as a citizen of his kingdom. Hosanna! Save us, please! And Jesus has. Behold, Your King Comes to You to bring deliverance.
Your King Still Comes to You, still bringing deliverance. Not that you ever lost it, but that he reminds of your membership in his kingdom. He reminds you that you have been delivered from death, from the results of sin, from the power of the devil. This is where you now stand: in a column marked: ‘Delivered.’
To drive that point home we sing those words: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Our hymnal puts those words to song and we sing them right before receiving the Lord’s Supper.
The King sets you at his royal table. There, he gives you his body and blood together with the bread and wine. He make a royal announcement: ‘My life given and shed to benefit your life.’ He repeats the end of hostilities between us and God. He lets us depart with a word of peace: ‘Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God.’ Your King Comes to You, still, in the Lord’s Supper, bringing his deliverance.
How that impacts life! Jesus still knows all things. He knows our secret regrets. He knows the gnawing shame. He knows the feelings of unworthiness. He knows how desperately we want the past to remain hidden from. him. He knows how we scramble to find something good in ourselves. Still, Your King Comes to You with a word of peace: ‘That’s forgiven. I see it all, I know it all, it’s forgiven!’ The next time we join in singing those words, envision Your King Come to You, bringing his deliverance.
Do not lose of sight of your Savior— who he is and what he comes to do. Do not let the world’s troubles cloud out the majesty your Jesus holds. Do not let sin shame you into despair.
Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.