Food for Thought
By Olive Tree Staff: Molly Van Ryn
I still remember the first Lent that I was really considered old enough to give something up on my own. It was jr high, and like just about everything at that age it quickly turned into a contest. For weeks lunchtime conversations revolved around Lent: who was giving up the hardest thing, who had been successful the longest, who had fallen off the wagon and whether they were going to try again. Most people gave up some sort of food, like candy or soda. Some brave souls even went so far as to give up television, to exclamations of “No way! That’s so hard! You’ll never make it!”
I don’t remember what I gave up that year, or whether I carried it through until Easter. But I vividly recall the jockeying for position. The people who were giving up something that was perceived as more difficult exuded a sense of smug superiority, only to be replaced by people who had picked something easier and stuck with it. I learned a lot of lessons from that about setting realistic goals, but hardly any about being in relationship with God, or what the season of Lent is actually about.
Since then, my relationship with Lent has evolved. There was the year that I realized that not all Christians participate in Lent in the way that I always had. I was just beginning the long journey of understanding how many ways there are to be Christian and starting to take ownership of the path I had chosen. This was the year that I first did Lent as a conscious choice, instead of just as something that everyone did. Then there was the year I came to the conclusion that I could add a spiritual discipline to my life, such as a more dedicated time of prayer in my day, instead of picking something to give up. It was immensely freeing to have this whole other set of options I hadn’t considered before. It really helped me to focus on the idea that Lent isn’t about getting rid of bad habits, a sort of 40 days of self-help, but an opportunity to grow closer to God and focus on preparing myself for the celebration of His passion.
I look forward to Lent these days. It’s no longer about picking the most difficult thing I can think of. I don’t feel particularly comfortable anymore telling people what I’ve chosen to do for a given year, unless I want them to help keep me accountable. But there is something very meaningful to me in having those 40 days of discipline set aside each year. It is an annual reminder to evaluate my relationship with God, to dust the cobwebs out of the corners of my prayer life and be mindful of ways in which I am not prepared to receive the gift that was offered on the cross. It gives me a reason to set aside resources that I might otherwise consider indispensable to the other areas of my life, a boost to drop the excuses I surround myself with. And I know that there is a community around me, waiting and anticipating as Easter approaches.
At the end of 1998 I traveled with a small group of people into a country closed to the Gospel. We each brought a few paperback Bibles and we also brought the Bible on audio cassette. We knew that in one area we would traveling to that bringing a printed Bible wouldn’t be enough because many couldn’t read. Not only that but they didn’t have access to current technology (at the time CD’s were current technology!) which is why we brought audio cassettes.
15 years later and it’s now estimated that more people have access to a smartphone than decent sanitation. What does this mean for missionaries and the advancement of the Gospel? It means that we live in a time where the Gospel can be transmitted like never before!
As the picture above demonstrates, we can now store over 1,600 Bibles on a Micro SD card that is smaller than a penny. If you’ve ever picked up a box of books, you know how significant the idea of being able to store an entire library’s worth of books on a memory card is. That one cassette box I hid in the bottom of my bag years ago could hold enough Micro SD cards to resource thousands of pastors.
We live in a unique time and it will be exciting to see how technology continues to be utilized in the spread of the Gospel!
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey he fulfilled prophecies that had been made hundreds of years before. His entrance was greeted with the laying down of palms and shouts of ‘Hosanna’.
Hosanna was a cry of hope from an oppressed people living under Roman rule and it means ‘Oh save’ or ‘Save us now’. They had been waiting generations for the Messiah and he was finally here! Just a week later Jesus would save them, but not in the way they ever would have imagined.
He wasn’t a King like David whose rule and reign was only for a limited time. He is a King forever, and his life, death, and resurrection are just as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago.
In an age where we have continual access to the news from around the world, it only takes a moment to see that the shout of hosanna is still needed. At this moment there are people living in poverty, oppression, and hopelessness. While they may not say the word hosanna, they are certainly in need of saving and many do cry out on a daily basis for some glimmer of hope.
What do you need to be saved from?
You may or may not live in a country where you are oppressed by a ruling party like the Jews were. You probably aren’t waiting for a king or savior to come and make things right for you and your family. You may actually have all the food, shelter, and security you need. But this cry of hosanna may still be one that you can relate with. When were separate from God – our creator – we can have all the things of the world and still be as lost and hopeless as ever.
Jesus was the only one who could fulfill the cry of hosanna. His saving supersedes circumstances and physical needs and reunites us with our creator. It’s this kind of saving grace he displayed on the cross. We didn’t deserve it or earn it but he so desperately loves us that he died to save us. His was and is the only answer to the cry of hosanna.
As you remember Jesus resurrection this weekend be reminded that the saving grace of Jesus has the power to change everything!
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
- Jesus in Luke 19:10
This Sunday commemorates Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is called Palm or Passion Sunday, depending on your tradition. All four gospels record this significant and prophetic event and I highly recommend you read them for yourself. You can find them in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19. As I reread each account myself here are four things that stick out about this historic event that we still commemorate today.
Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy.
Not only was Jesus the long awaited King that the Jews had been longing for but his very entry into Jerusalem was just how it had been prophesied over 500 years earlier.
Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
I can imagine that Jewish theologians had been trying to reconcile their picture of a King (think David or Solomon) with the idea that he would ride in on a little colt, his feet barely off the ground. Yet here he was, having given his disciples an awkward command on how to get the colt, fulfilling prophecy that had been written centuries earlier. This was a plot twist that I don’t think even Hollywood could dream up.
What’s with the Palms?
The imagery of palms was a part of the Jewish culture and often reflected honor and nobility. 1 Kings chapter 6 and 7 record how Solomon had them as part of the sacred carvings of the temple. In Mark’s account of Jesus entry, people are spreading palm branches out on the ground along with their cloaks in what I imagine would be a sort of ancient red carpet that probably helped keep the dust down.
The significance of this honor paid to Jesus also foreshadows what is to come. In Revelation 7:9 there’s an incredible description of worship that – you guessed it – includes palm branches. So we see here Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah and also pointing forward to an even greater scene of worship that is to come.
The chances are pretty good that at some point you’ve sung a song at church with the word ‘Hosanna’ in it. As Jesus made his entry there was definitely some worship going on but what does Hosanna actually mean? It was a desperate cry from an oppressed people living under Roman rule that means ‘Oh save’ or ‘Save us now’. He would certainly save them but not quite how they imagined.
Where’s the Victory?
The Jews had been waiting and their King was finally here! Sure he was riding on a baby donkey and didn’t have a sword, armor, or an army but he was there none the less. As the shouts of Hosanna went out, everyone anticipated what this long awaited Kings next move would be. How would he save them? Would he be like David and his mighty men? Would he be like Solomon with wisdom and riches? “Save us now”, they cried!
One week later, many of these same people who had shouted ‘Hosanna’ would be shouting ‘Barabbas’ . They would trade their long awaited King for a thief and a murderer. He hadn’t fulfilled their image of a King or brought about their idea of salvation and so they turned on him.
But God in his sovereign grace had a plan that included a vastly different idea of what salvation was to look like, one that we’ll be celebrating this coming week. I’ll leave you with these words from Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ” Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That’s my King!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
- The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23
The very nature of joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.
- C.S. Lewis in Surprised By Joy
Are you in a spot in your life where joy seems to be missing? Maybe it’s been so long you’re not sure if you’ve actually ever experienced joy?
Where do we find joy?
The message that popular culture communicates through music, movies, television, and the internet is a message of selfishness, yet this is where so many people turn to get answers for the deep questions of longing and belonging that they have. Popular culture answers our questions with another question: What do you need, want, or desire?
So for the person asking where to find hope, the culture answers, “The hope you need is found in you.” or “Just do what makes you feel good.” If the answer to our need for hope is ourselves, is it any wonder why suicide is at an all-time high in the U.S.?
Last week we heard the story of Nick Vujicic who responded to Jesus and found the hope he so desperately needed. The type of hope Nick found isn’t in anything our culture creates because it’s only found in Jesus. If you’re looking for joy in your life, the answer is the same. It’s only found in Jesus and it only remains when our perspective in this life is firmly rooted in him.
The Apostle Paul –in Galatians 5- talks about what happens when our relationship with Jesus takes over our life and the Holy Spirit becomes the source of life we draw from. This type of life source is evident by the fruit it produces in our lives. So how do we experience joy? Where do we find it? We find and experience it when we place our faith in Jesus and make him the foundation and source for our life. And this joy is different than what the world has to offer. We don’t have joy because of our circumstances, we have joy despite them.
One of my favorite examples of this is found in Acts 16:16. Paul and Silas had just been stripped naked, beaten by a mob and put in prison – all for helping a slave girl. How did they respond? Instead of having a ‘woe is me’ attitude we see them praying and worshiping God in their prison cell in the middle of the night! How many of us have a hard time singing on Sunday because of a rough week and here are Paul and Silas – having endured incredible physical pain – keeping their perspective not on their circumstance but on their Savior.
So what about me?
The challenge is the same for us today. Despite our circumstance, if we keep our focus on Jesus, our perspective will be long-term and we can see past the pains of today to the hope of tomorrow. This is where we find joy – in the assurance that our God reigns, he’s alive with us, and we will be with him forever! So despite what you’re going through take joy and no matter what, always keep your perspective on your Savior and not your circumstance. When believers do this the world takes notice and the real answer to the question is revealed: Jesus!
There are quite a few words that you’ll only ever hear in church. For instance, you’ll often hear invitations to a ‘fellowship’ activity announced on a Sunday morning, but the chances are you won’t use the word fellowship to invite your friend over for a BBQ or to watch the Super Bowl. One word that is used today, in churches all around the world, is the word Amen. Although many people use it in the right context, some may not actually know what it means. So what does the word Amen actually mean?
Amen is an ancient Hebrew word and is primarily used in three ways in the scriptures:
At the beginning of a discourse/statement/sermon. In these cases Amen would often mean (and be translated) as verily, or truly.
- Matthew 5:18 is an example of this:
“For truly [Amen], I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
In the Old Testament it’s also used as a descriptor of the character of God being true and/or faithful.
- Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful [Amen]God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.”
See also: Isa. 49:7, 65:16.
The most common placement of Amen is at the end of a prayer, sermon, or statement - as an agreement. It could then be translated as ‘so be it’, ‘so it is’, or ‘may it be fulfilled’. These still have the similar ideas of truth, faith, or belief in.
- The Bible actually ends with this affirmation in Revelation 22:20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
So, while many people haven’t researched the Hebrew roots, chances are, most have always had a basic understanding of what Amen means and have been using it in the right context. Hopefully this helps give you a bit larger picture of the meaning and you can shout, “Amen” with more authority the next time your Pastor is preaching.
If you’re interested in doing similar word studies on your own, consider buying a Bible with Strong’s or a Bible Dictionary like Vine’s that make word study as easy as a click or tap in The Bible Study App.
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