In church on Palm Sunday, our pastor gave another powerful sermon, with a great missionary story:
“Where are their gods? . . . Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!” [Deuteronomy 32:37-38]
Those are the words of God through Moses to the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land about the gods of the Canaanites. They reminded me of a story I once heard from a missionary who visited my church in New York. He was working somewhere in the far east, I don’t remember exactly where, when an earthquake struck. The people, of course, were very frightened and running out of their houses. But then, he said, something very strange happened. They started rushing back into their crumbling, tottering houses. He couldn’t figure out why, so he stopped one of the people and asked what was going on. And this was the answer he got: We have to save our gods. They were risking their lives to save their gods which were sitting on the shelves and altars of their collapsing homes.
What a starkly different picture we hear today and this Holy Week. The one, true God doesn’t need saving – we are the ones who need saving! And it is the one, true God who rushes into our crumbling, tottering world to save us. Not just risking His life, but giving it. Offering His life on the altar of the cross to atone for our sin, break the grip of death and the grave, and silence the accusations of the devil against us. That all who believe in Him be forgiven their sin, have the promise of a resurrection to eternal life, and need not fear the evil one. Though he is still lurking, though death still comes upon us, and though sin erupts from us and descends upon us from others, these things, these enemies cannot harm those who are in Christ Jesus. He is your protection. He is the one who rose up from heaven to come and help you, and He is the one who rose up from death to save you.
That is why we begin the church year with shouts of Hosanna! and why we begin Holy Week with the same shout: Hosanna! Lord, save! For this He was born, rushing into our collapsing world as the babe of Bethlehem, and for this He rides into Jerusalem on the donkey – to save. From His birth, through His life, to His death and resurrection, everything for one purpose only – to rescue us. And so as we will hear He does not defend Himself, He does not speak for Himself, He does not fight back. Though His death on the cross, laden with the sin of the world, is a most difficult thing to do – and so His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane – if this need be done for us, He will do it, and nothing will stop Him.
Which raises a thought: Do we sometimes think and act as if we have to save God?