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Sermons

Premature Rejoicing

March 13, 2005

Bible Reading

He went on before, ascending to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say, 'The Lord needs it.'"

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"

They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop!"

He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

As he came near, and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."

(Luke 19:28-44)

Sermon

He went on before, ascending to Jerusalem. (Luke 19:28)

Introduction

"The great ways of life are always ascending ways. Duty is an ascent from aimless irresponsibility; knowledge an ascent from ignorance; goodness an ascent from evil deeds and imaginations; love an ascent from self and selfishness. Faith is an ascent from the seen to the unseen. The spiritual is always on the higher-up side of life." So wrote an able Congregational preacher several decades ago.

"The spiritual is always on the higher-up side of life."

In Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia we read something similar:

In various places in the Word "going up" and "going down"" are mentioned, as from one place to another. This is not because one place was at a higher elevation than another, but because "going up" is said of going toward more inward or higher things, and "going down" of going toward more outward or lower things. In other words, "going" up is said of going toward spiritual and heavenly things, for these are interior, and are also believed to be higher, and "going down" of going toward natural and earthly things, for these are exterior, and also appear lower. (Arcana Coelestia #5406)

He also says:

"To go up" involves being lifted up to inward things, and when it is spoken of the Lord . . . being lifted up to the Divine. (Arcana Coelestia #4578)

The Lord's Going Up to Jerusalem

We do not know how many times during his earthly life our Lord went up to Jerusalem.

We do know that he went up with his parents at age twelve. This is the first recorded evidence of his progress toward the Divine--the elevation that we call his Glorification.

The Gospel accounts are confusing as to the number of times the Lord went up to Jerusalem during the years of his public ministry. They do not even seem to agree on the length of that ministry. But our text clearly refers to the last journey up to Jerusalem. This was he journey that would result in the triumphal entry on the first Palm Sunday--but that would also bring him to the cross of Calvary.

"He went on before, ascending to Jerusalem."

The Lord's Whole Life and Ministry had Jerusalem as its Goal

Jerusalem was the heart of his peoples' religion. It symbolized the Church of that day. It was at Jerusalem most of all that falsity needed to be replaced with truth, and evil with good. It was there that the Lord's "last and fiercest strife would take place"; there that he would finally "take his power and reign."

The Lord's whole life and ministry had Jerusalem as its goal. It was there he must be acknowledged. It was there he must meet all that the hells could bring against him, even a shameful death. And it was there that his victory and our salvation must be wrought. No wonder we read in Luke 9:51, "And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem."

Jesus' life, especially the aspect of it that we call his Glorification, is an example of the ascending ways by which our regeneration may be achieved. The spiritual advances by which he glorified his human are meant to tell us something of the nature of the spiritual advances by which we may achieve true maturity. Let us consider for a few brief minutes what Palm Sunday and Holy Week have to tell us about spiritual progress.

The Spiritual Advance of Palm Sunday

I would like to suggest that Palm Sunday can symbolize to us our initial response to an advance in our spiritual development toward a breakthrough of insight or feeling.

It is like when we become aware of a new truth that seems to free us; or feelings more generous and loving come upon us; or we have reached the point of being able to make a decision that is more caring and more Christian than any we have made before.

We rejoice. We know that the Lord is really with us; that the Lord is really making us new. There is a sense of spiritual triumph. Our Savior is coming to reign in us. His kingdom is becoming real in us.

We feel as the multitude must have felt on that first Palm Sunday--or Jesus' disciples, who could so easily forget all that the Lord had said to them about the death he was to die. What was in the Lord's mind that day? We have only one clue. Immediately following his account of the triumphal entry, Luke writes, "As he came near, and saw the city, he wept over it." The Lord knew that his victory was far from complete, and that many would never share in it.

An Advance in our Spiritual Development is Usually Followed by Resistance

So was our Lord's Palm Sunday advance.

It roused the hostility of the Jewish leaders against Jesus. They were content with the status quo. Disturbances that would trouble their Roman overloads were not to their liking. Disrupting the profitable trade in money and sacrificial animals in the Temple was not to their liking. Better to eliminate this threat to their privileges and position as soon as possible. So they set out to plot Jesus' destruction without threat to themselves from those who had acclaimed him King.

Spiritual advance is followed by spiritual counterattack. Speaking of one stage of spiritual advance, or ascent, Swedenborg writes:

However well truths may have been initiated and the Church set up with a person, still memory-knowledges and false things continually rise up and attack those things that relate to the Church in the person. (Arcana Coelestia #6639)

As truth and good advance within us, and as the Lord moves forward within us, there is always something within us ready to rise up and counter-attack

This is not at all unlike what happens in human warfare. When victory seems to be close at hand, the enemy will counterattack if he possibly can. And many a counterattack in military history has been made when victory seems secure and the enemy weakened. World War II's Battle of the Bulge was such a counterattack--powerful, desperate, almost successful. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was won by a planned and well-executed counterattack.

When we are in the business of trying to be, or to become, better persons, to make a spiritual ascent, it is only realism to anticipate that there may be setbacks in our advance.

The Cross was the Lord's Last Setback

To many, even among his disciples, the Cross seemed like defeat. Two of them, walking along the road to Emmaus and feeling sad, even said of him, "We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21), but clearly they felt that their hopes were now in vain.

How high and joyous those hopes must have been only a week before as the excited throngs waved palm branches and shouted, Hosanna!

How quickly things can change.

But we now know, and as some in Israel came to know, the counter-attack of the hells at Calvary led to victory for Christ, and not to defeat. The premature joy of Palm Sunday was followed, after the cross, by the enduring joys of resurrection day. As we sing in the traditional Easter hymn of victory:

The strife is o'er, the battle done;
The triumph of the Lord is won;
O let the song of praise be sung.
Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst,
And Jesus hath his foes dispersed;
Let shouts of praise and joy outburst.
Alleluia!

On this third morn he rose again
In glorious majesty to reign;
O let us swell the joyful strain.
Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heaven's high portals fell;
Let songs of joy his triumphs tell.
Alleluia!

Conclusion

"The great ways of life are always ascending ways." Ascent rarely proceeds without resistance. But he who was victorious in his ascent can give us victory, too.

Rev. Edwin Capon