In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”  They say that about March (although the past two years are proving them wrong),  but consider it in the context of Jesus for a moment.  Jesus enters Jerusalem right before the feast of the passover, and the city treats him like a king:

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  John 12:12-13

Jesus here is treated like we assume he should be.  He is treated as an equal (at least) of the Roman emperor, and praised for coming in the name of the Lord.  He is lauded as the King of Israel.  For many people in the crowd, this wasn’t just some emotional parade; for them, Jesus represented an end to the exile they had been living in for their entire lives.  He was the return of the true King.

Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Lion of Judah, the successor to David and the one who would bring God’s presence back to the temple.  He is hope incarnate.

Of course, I don’t need to tell the rest of the story.  Within days, the crowds would yelling something else.  They would not see him as hope, but as a criminal.  He was not David, and would not defeat Israel’s enemies.

We see it a bit differently.  We see Jesus entering a city full of people who (relatively speaking) had no idea what he was about to do.  Many thought he was there to throw off the shackles of Rome, but Jesus had a much larger mission.  In other words, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a lion, but would leave a sacrificial lamb.

Maundy Thursday

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”   (John 13:3-10)

Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ humiliation is quite similar to what my own would have been.  No, Lord, you can’t do this; you can’t lower yourself that much.  How could the one we all understand to be the King of Israel act as if he were a servant?  Please, stand up.  Frankly, you’re embarrassing us.

And yet we can all clearly see (with enough hindsight, of course) that every step Jesus took expressed his humility.  Every time he faced a group of religious leaders who ridiculed him or escaped from an angry crowd, Jesus was “lowering” himself.  The one who created everything was forced to live as a man; the prince had become a pauper.

Here, Jesus is doing exactly what Paul described in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

At this time of year, it is easy for us to think about Jesus is purely individualistic terms.  This season is about Jesus dying for us, for our sins.  And yet on this day we are forced to consider another aspect of our Lord’s ministry.  Following his example, we “lower” ourselves, doing things many may consider beneath us.  We feed the hungry and minister to the poor.  We take the Gospel to places others refuse to even think about.  We become servants to all, putting others ahead of our own needs.  Just like Jesus did.

Holy Wednesday

“Is it I, Lord?”

This is the question the disciples asked Jesus when he announced someone would betray him.  What an incredibly insightful question; they each knew, or at least feared, they had the capacity to betray their Lord.  They had been following him for a while, they had seen every miracle and listened to every teaching, yet there seems to be a fear that they would be the ones to turn against Jesus.

Even though Peter would disagree, saying he would follow Jesus anywhere, each of these men would abandon Him in due time.  They would all run away, fearing for their lives.  Soon they would learn that, while they weren’t the ones to betray him, they did not have the strength to face their enemies.

Of course it would be easy to be hard on the disciples, as if we wouldn’t do the same exact thing.  As if I wouldn’t have run away long ago, even before there was a fear of death.  As if I wouldn’t have been the one to betray him.

This is a hard lesson to learn: that we have the capacity within us to both follow and betray our Lord.  That we are constantly living out the same scenario, at once following and rejecting Jesus.  We pray “Is it I, Lord?” hoping the answer is no, yet knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that our time will come.  Thirty pieces of silver?  Has it ever been that much?

And yet the context of this gives us hope.  The disciples are sitting around the table, receiving the bread and blood from Jesus.  He gave the bread of life to Judas, knowing what would follow.  He gave the wine to Peter, knowing he would deny even knowing him.  He served the rest, knowing they would run in fear.

The hope we see in this is almost unimaginable.  Those who have the capacity to betray him are invited to his table.  Those he knows will turn their backs on him and run away are given his body.