Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:19-23 (NIV)

As the disciples were waiting for Christ to appear to them after His resurrection, they locked themselves in a room, held their breath, and wondered what all of this could mean. Their lives had changed so quickly. Jesus had died, and He had resurrected. But the disciples were shocked. What they had thought Christ would do was not what He did. 

Now, they were in a wilderness of despair and emotional confusion, and fear guarded the door of the room they were in. Jesus does not wait for them to emerge, however. He goes to the house, appearing in their midst, and announces to them: Peace!

Jesus also walks up on us while we are locked up in fear. Fear can twist us up until we lock ourselves in emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Then we let life pass us by, and the opportunities that we have been gifted escape our grasp. Fear taunts us about all of life’s “what-ifs,” and it makes us justify our inactivity and low ambition. We fail to let what God has done infuse us and urge us on to the next level. Fear makes us forget the positive, and we focus on the negative. But Christ meets and ministers to us in our locked places of fear.

The world wants to keep us locked in and scared. Then, we won’t act boldly, even though that is the natural inclination of anyone who has received power in the name of Jesus Christ. However, faith in Jesus makes us pay attention to the things that can be so that we are not a prisoner to the things that cannot.

For us, what is next is not the thirst for success or the desire to flee from failure, instead it is to deepen our belief in Jesus Christ. We know that by deepening our faith in Jesus, “No eyes have seen nor ears have heard… what God has in store.” So, we can accept that our faith gives us room to try, if nothing else.

When we build the ark, we don’t need to know if it floats, and when we step out onto the water, we don’t need to know that we can stand. The moment we start to apply our faith, we have already succeeded. Our faith grants access to Christ, and in Christ we know that fear is nothing. What can we fear when He has already faced and conquered death? We may not get to the end of what we may call success, but we truly succeed when we apply our faith and do something that we thought we could never do.

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Luke 19:28-40 (NIV)

Going up to Jerusalem, Jesus does not stumble or hesitate, despite knowing the suffering and darkness that are coming. Jesus’ obedience is calling for the highest sacrifice, the surrender of Jesus’ life for humanity’s future.

The two disciples are given simple instructions and meticulously obey, bringing the donkey and laying their cloaks on him and bringing Jesus into the city on the donkey. At the same time, Pilate returns to the city as well, adorned like a King.

As Jesus entered the city, the crowds waved palm branches and shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

When the Pharisees tell Jesus to “rebuke [his] disciples,” they are making it clear that the king coming into the city today is Pilate, not Jesus.

But Jesus says to them, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

If we analyze this, Jesus doesn’t say who He is. He implies it. Jesus makes it clear that He is more than a king, but the Son of God. Truly only one king was entering the city that day and it was Christ, not Pilate.

The Pharisees knew that this adoration would lead up to a clash between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate had come into the city for the precise purpose of attending Passover to prevent uprisings against Rome. While Pilate would have a seat of honor at the Passover feast, Jesus was contrasting this by entering into the city on a donkey and ministering to the poor of Jerusalem.

This moment is a perfect juxtaposition between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. When Jesus enters in such a fashion, He sets the stage for Friday and his public execution. But at the moment where Jesus tells the pharisees that the stones will cry out, He makes it clear that there will always be a testimony regarding Jesus’ majesty.

Angels sang at Christ’s birth, and now crowds shout at his entry into Jerusalem. If humans ever grew silent, a chorus of praise would break out from the very rocks.

Similarly, if we do not want to give praise to His glory, our chairs would sing out in praise. No matter the stages of our lives, there are none in which our expression of God’s goodness is not still appropriate. From the crucifixion to the resurrection, Jesus is still to be adored.

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21 (NIV)

In this passage, Isaiah is inspired by God to announce to the nation of Israel that they are to turn back to God and that means that, in response, God will restore the nation. However, when Israel hears this proclamation, they don’t rejoice. They fear that Babylon may be too strong. But, regardless of how strong Babylon may appear to be, they are absolutely no threat to God.

God is so grace giving that He tells Isaiah to prophesy to the Israelites that He is not only going to set them free, but He is going to redeem their time of captivity. This dry season will be appreciated for what it helped establish in Israel along with the lessons and truths that it taught them.

For us, it is often similar. We may feel as though we are walking through a desolate wilderness where there are no clear pathways. In this place our positive thoughts are constantly ambushed by negative ones until we feel emotionally dehydrated. While we may not have chosen to walk through a dry season, inevitably a dry season will choose each one of us.

This text even teaches us that God purposes dry seasons for spiritual development. The struggle that comes with a dry season will purge, prune, and grow us in ways that easy pathways could never have. Our attention would not be as sharp if we never had to do time in the dry season. When we go through dry seasons, God grabs our attention and gets us to offer to Him areas of our life that fresh, consistent waterways and cleared-out paths never gave us access to.

These seasons, whether we like it or not, may mandate that money gets tight, isolation occurs, and stagnation and restlessness set in. Why? Because all of these challenge our faith, and faith is not faith unless it is challenged.

We hope that these dry seasons won’t last, and we try to encourage ourselves that there must be a path through this wilderness. What Isaiah prophesied shows us that there is an end. As we journey through dry seasons, the journey produces “water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

When we see the road in the wilderness and some water in the desert, we know that our dry season is coming to an end. God will bring the impossible into our situations and change the things that we thought were permanent. This only comes about when we stand in the gap with surrender and recognize the changeless, divine power of God.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 15:1-8 (NIV)

When you consider the emphasis that we have in this text on intentionally searching for those that have lost their way, we see that one of the priorities of God’s kingdom is finding lost souls. The tension in these verses is: What spirit does God want us to have as imperfect people interacting with other imperfect people? This chapter teaches us what God’s expectations are.

The stewards of the religious practice can sometimes be judgmentally critical, particularly of the kinds of people that Jesus is embracing and fellowshipping with. The Pharisees did not view those who were sinners to be fit for the kingdom of God. Of course, that begs the question “Who could possibly get in?” Ultimately, the Pharisees believed that only the people they deemed worthy were fit for the kingdom of God, and anyone unlike them was disqualified. Of course, we see from the passage above that this thinking is flawed.  Jesus proclaims that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

The indictment that the Pharisees have of Jesus is that He is welcoming of people categorized as sinners. Despite these ‘sinners’ being denied entrance to the synagogue, Jesus invites them to sit with Him and enjoy a meal. By eating with and welcoming sinners, Jesus highlighted the sin in the hospitality of the Pharisees.

“The Parable of the Lost Coin” and “the Parable of the Lost Son” follow the parable above in Luke 15.  Each of these parables deal with loss, repentance and reclamation. Through these parables Jesus teaches us that we ought to exhibit a welcoming spirit. It is not easy for someone to open the door of their hearts and lives to us, especially when they feel they have lived their lives in a way that is contrary to what you may believe. When those we interact with have a desire to in some way be made whole, they must be able to sense the compassion of the Lord through our interactions with them. 

By welcoming imperfect people, we do more than just tolerate them and survive encounters. Instead, we gladly accept those who God has placed in our lives, so that we can be a light and a bridge that points the way to Christ.

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

Luke 13:6-9 (NIV)

Here, Jesus is teaching a group of people that just learned that Pilate allowed his militia to enter the synagogue and kill a group of Galileans who were offering sacrifices to God. This tragedy highlights the depravity of the human condition, shown in Pilate’s dispassionate permission of this act. It also highlights the providence of God in allowing this to happen.

This forces Christians to ask, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Jesus tells this parable to direct the attention of this tragedy away from Pilate’s cruel leadership and turn it instead to God’s desire that in spite of fault or crime, God is always after human repentance.

When God allows things to happen, He does it to inspire us to become better and lead more faithful, purposeful lives. Jesus illustrates this by showing the slow, spiritual pace of people who should have grown far more than their lives have shown and, He shows how we can be judged if our lives do not bear fruit.

Jesus shows that the same principles of the vineyard are to be transferred and applied to the human experience. Jesus teaches that our God is a patient God. God does not just cut us off when it is warranted. Instead, He overrules His own judgement and patiently waits in grace. God takes great efforts to take what is fruitless and help it to grow, even if it means to give it special attention. God is willing to do all of this to develop fruitful lives.

Every one of us is a beneficiary of a God who decided not to cut us off in our fruitlessness. Jesus is using the gardener in the parable to teach us the need to repent. Every one of us sits with Jesus under a fruitless tree, the unfulfilled ambition in our lives. We tell Jesus in our embarrassment, “Just cut it down. There are plenty of other trees that have grown.”

However, Jesus tells us, don’t give up on things in your life that are not yet producing fruit. When you offer Him faith, hope, and repentance, Jesus will help the fruitless parts of your life produce. Then, we will receive what God has for our lives in due season.