Two Parades

Peanut-Thanksgiving-Macys-Parade-November-MACYSPARADE1117I’m not a parade person.  I don’t like crowds.  Kansas parade season is October-March which is usually cold.  Finally, watching a bunch of children run toward a bunch of moving vehicles chasing candy seems like a recipe for disaster.  Many others love parades.  North Topekan’s love parades.  By my last count, North Topeka has at least 5 parades between October and December and my friends love them all.  One thing is for certain, parades attract a crowd.  When a parade wanders by, heads pop out of windows, people stop and stare, and people crowd to the doors.  The same is true regardless of what century you lived in.  Every parade draws a crowd but every parade is essentially the same.  Animals, tiny cars, marching bands, clowns, floats, and candy.  But the two parades at the end of Luke couldn’t be more different.

The first one took place on Sunday; the other on Friday.  The first, came down the country road from Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19.28); the other began in the city and wound its way through the crowded streets to just outside the city.

They juxtapose each other.  The first being the idea of carried.  Jesus sent 2 disciples ahead of him to get a donkey colt for him to ride on.  Near as I can tell, this was the only time that Jesus rode.  But it was to fulfill prophecy:

See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9.9)

Zechariah is talking about how the King will ride in on a donkey, carried into the city on a colt.  That was the significance of the palm leaves that we often wave in church on Palm Sunday.  It was a sign of victory and this Parade is a celebration of the King.  In the second parade, Jesus is carrying his cross.  The soldiers pull a man from the crowd and make him carry the cross.  The greek word “made carry” [pheroo] is the same word that Mark uses in chapter 11 when they “brought” the colt to Jesus to ride.  In the first, the colt is bearing Jesus; the second, Jesus is bearing the cross.

The second parade is full of mourning and wailing (23.27); the first, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God…” (19.37)  The second parade chanted: “Crucify him!  Crucify him!; the first, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21.9)  The irony is palpable.  The second cried out: “Kill him” while the first shouted “he saves!”  These crowds are as opposite as you could come up with.   They are as opposite as the direction they are heading and the purpose they serve.  The first parade was a victory parade with palm leaves, worthy of a King’s inauguration, the second was a death march with the condemned leading the way.

They each have a scripture, but they are at odds with one another. The first parade, the one of victory, quotes Psalm 118.26: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The verse that follows in Psalms reads: “The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”  The crowd is relishing their connection with Scripture, interacting with and taking part in God’s word.  This day the Lord has saved those one thought to be rejected…and its worth a celebration.  The second crowd wasn’t shouting their scripture but heard Jesus quote it.  The weeping, wailing, and shouting of the second parade was met with this quote from Hosea: “they will say to the mountains, ‘fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘cover us!'” (Hosea 10.8)  It’s taken from a section of scripture where Hosea is laying out the sins of Israel and the punishment that is coming.  Jesus sees this future as well.  One is a celebration of the future, the other is a dreading of the future.

So many differences in the two parades that happened just under a week apart.

But one thing was the same.  This was festival time for the nation of Israel.  It was a week long festival where people would come to the city and stay.  What was the same?  The same voices who shouted “victory” on Sunday would be the one shouting “crucify” on Friday.  The same ones waving palm leaves the first day of the week would be holding hammers and nails by the 6th.  The same ones embracing Jesus as King on Sunday would be crucifying Jesus as criminal by Friday.

We want to judge those in the easily influenced and simple minded crowd until we realize the transition in my life doesn’t always take 5 days…it can happen in seconds.

Down the Road

100_6520_0010 On the road is where people mingle, meet, and interact.

He introduced himself as Santa Clause in the middle of the Frankfurt, Germany terminal.  It was 2-in-the-morning-ish but you couldn’t tell from his demeanor.  He had a banjo.  He was was a missionary headed to India to spread the gospel by banjo-ing.  It was 2011.

A few years later, wandering down a  crowded walkway at the International Conference of Missions, I bump into a portly man sporting a grey beard and a familiar banjo.  It was Santa Claus.  He says “I remember you!”   It was odd because of the two of us, I figured I would be the one more easily forgettable.  Had I not gone out on the road, I never would meet such interesting people.

The same can be said for Jesus.  Luke 9.51 reads:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

The NIV renders the phrase ‘resolutely set out’ translating a greek idiom.  The greek literally reads: he “established his face toward Jerusalem”.  The idea is that he would not be deterred from making his way to Jerusalem.  This verse begins a section of Luke that would be called the Travel Narrative by scholars.  The reason is that Jesus is continually traveling up to Jerusalem.  Along the way he keeps meeting people.  Also of note is that the material contained in Luke 9-19, the Travel Narrative, is largely unique to Luke and not found in other Gospels.  What fascinates me is what these people who meet Jesus leave with.

Some left with teaching.  “As they walked along the road…” (10.57), “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and loks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'” (10.62) They learn the cost of following Jesus.  He teaches them about prayer, the how and the why (11) and on worry (12.22ff).  As he “went through towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem…”(13.22), “he said to them, ‘make every effort to enter through the narrow door…” (13.23ff), teaching them the difficulty of salvation.  “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (14.25,27,33)  He touched on eternal life (10.25; 18.18); hypocrisy (12.1); and the Sabbath (13.15).  Some meet Jesus on the road and need some wisdom.  His message is clear, “here’s how to be a disciple!” which is the perfect message given that the stage is a road, where discipleship is shown.

Some left with healing.  There were some that shown up on this road with some physical baggage that needed to be handled.  There was the man who had the demon (11.14); a crippled woman (13.11); a man with swelling (14.2); and the Ten Lepers (17.11).  He was on his way to Jerusalem, but it was never beyond his time to show mercy and compassion to these people.  Healing would always have a place and time on this road.  These people knew that meeting Jesus would change their lives.  That is why the last healing, the blind beggar in Jericho, was one that was instigated by a man shouting out Jesus name and causing a scene.  When all you have known your entire life is blindness and begging, Jesus is your only viable option and you would do what you could to get to him. (18.35)

Some left with a story.  This travel narrative is full of stories.  Jesus is constantly telling these short stories that make a point.  Jesus knew that stories stick with people so he uses this method to change people.  The stories are the ones that everyone grew up with…

  • “There was a man who had two sons…” (Luke 15)
  • “A certain man was preparing a great banquet…” (Luke 14)
  • “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed…” (Luke 13)
  • “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them…” (Luke 15)
  • “Two men went up to the temple to pray…” (Luke 18)

And there are others on the road.  A parable is a simple story with a deeper significance.  Each of these stories were meant to teach a truth to the person(s) there.  The prodigal son puts the love of God and the pride of righteousness on display.  The great banquet is a meal open to anyone who will respond.  The mustard seed is 12 men who changed the world.  The lost sheep is the persistent love of God.  The Pharisee and Tax collector offer insight into pride and hubris.  I’m going to borrow a term from Aristotle to describe the literary device that Jesus employs.   The term is anagnorisis which means “discovery”.  Nearly every story begins by our identification with the hero of the story, the good son or the Pharisee, but by the end of the story, we realize that we have problems.  In an instant, we discover that maybe we don’t have it all together.

So there he is on the road.  Wandering back and forth between the countryside and Jerusalem.  He is meeting and walking with any who would take the time to come to him.  What is it that you need to meet Jesus on this road about?  Do you need teaching?  A reminder concerning worry, prayer, discipleship?  Maybe it’s healing?  Do you need his power to overcome depression or addiction?  Maybe it’s a story?  Perhaps you just need to meet him to get a good story?

Its time we get out and meet him on the road.


Isaiah 53: Luke’s Reordering

“Moment of Impact”
Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

Sports have a way of handing out the life lesson of humility over and over until it gets learned.  Rodeo has been doing this for years.  When Solomon writes in Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 26.18), it was prescient of the sport of Rodeo.  Its easy to start thinking to highly of accomplishments, be it in ministry, work, rodeo, sports, or economics; sometimes a re-ordering is needed

Luke used a quote from Isaiah 53 to re-order his disciples before his arrest.

Luke isn’t the only one who uses this quote.  In the textual variant in Mark 15, found in verse 28, Mark quotes Isaiah 53.12 as well.  It is there in a fitting context and honestly it makes more sense than where Luke places his quotation.  Mark has Jesus hanging on the cross when he writes: “They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left, [and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘He was counted with the lawless ones”. (Mark 15.27-28)  The conversation surrounding this verse will have to wait, however, Mark’s placement of Isaiah 53 makes far greater sense than where Luke uses the same quote.

Luke quotes Isaiah 53.12 not at the cross but at the dinner table.  Luke 22 records the Last supper that Jesus would have with his disciples.  The arrest is coming soon.  But for now, Jesus shares a final meal with them, followed by some interesting conversation.  The topics of the conversation: betrayal (22.20-23); who’s the greatest? (22.24-30); and Peter’s denial (31-34).  Three topics with one thing in common: the ignorance of the disciples.  Each topic brought division, denial, argument, or dismissal.  If I were Jesus, I would have ripped my hair out by now.

Jesus turns his attention from the last interaction, predicting Peter’s denial that seemed to be fairly private, to the rest of the disciples.  He brings up their first experiences in ministry.  Luke 9 says that Jesus called them together, gave them power and authority, and challenged them to preach the kingdom of God! (9.1-2) Then he said this: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic…”(3) Apparently they were successful.  I mean, no one died and everyone came home!  Too many years in youth ministry has lowered my definition of success when it comes to church trips.

So, the last trip went well and Jesus points that out.  They “didn’t lack anything” despite taking nothing with them.  Then Jesus begins his words in verse 36 with “But now…”   Apparently things have changed.  The first journey, Luke 9, Herod, the man in charge, was “perplexed” by the things going on.  Jesus gets a different feeling about this time they will go out.  First off, they wont have Jesus to come back to.  Secondly, the world will begin to view the disciples differently.  Now they need money and swords.

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.  Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Luke 22.37)

The biggest question I had about this quote, when realizing the vast difference in the contexts in which Mark and Luke used it, was the identity of the transgressors?

Jesus is surrounded by his disciples on the night of his arrest and he is being counted with the transgressors.  I said that right, Jesus is “being numbered” with transgressors.  I thought the transgressors were the criminals that he hung with according to Mark.  Here, however, I believe that instead of waiting until the cross to hang with criminals, now Jesus and the disciples are considered the criminals.  I believe this for a few reasons.

  1. Who carries swords?  In scripture (and in all of Luke’s writings) it’s the government and rebels.  The disciples had no need for swords.  Now they are being told to go buy one.  Jesus knows that the stakes are getting higher and they themselves will become those on the wrong side of the government.
  2. The change in location.  They are at supper when these conversations are taking place.  Verse 39 says: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place…”  The change in geography would signal a change in players, conversation, and point.  There aren’t any more natural breaks in the text from this point in the Garden to the burial of Jesus.  I would argue that the quote of Isaiah 53 takes place in the previous section.
  3. The characters in Luke.  Dr. Luke, a Gentile, was introduced to Jesus and his life was forever changed.  But he was on the outside.  It took quite sometime for Jews and Gentiles to be able to worship together without issue.  So Luke always had an eye out for the out cast.  Every walk of life, economic status, race, ethnicity, and gender makes significant contribution to Luke’s gospel (Out Cast Characters in Luke).  This is the Gospel where a rebellious son can walk away and then return (Luke 15) and a criminal on the cross can find salvation (Luke 23).  The disciples had always been the ones witnessing the women, the leprous, the lawless, and the outcasts, come to Jesus.  Now, in the quotation of Isaiah, they have become the outcasts, the lawless in the eyes of the government.
  4. Finally, Jesus shows great restraint to keep the focus of the movement.  They are a rebellion, for they meet all the classic signs of an ancient rebellion.  They met in the wilderness, with a charismatic leader, with a new message.  But unlike any other rebellion, this one is not an arms race.  If they need to go buy a sword, common sense says buy as many as you can.  But Jesus answer when they realize they have two swords: “that’s enough.”  As Paul reminds us: “we do not fight with weapons of this world” (2 Cor. 10.4) Jesus tells them that they will fight for the Kingdom of God in an unconventional way.

So if we are to understand, and I think we should, the identity of the transgressors in Luke to be the disciples that Jesus is being arrested amongst, how then should we understand Luke’s use of Isaiah 53?  

Luke uses Isaiah 53 as a re-ordering of the disciples understanding of themselves.  They had been divisive (who will betray him?).  They were arrogant (who is the greatest?).  They were over-assured of their commitment to Jesus (Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.)  Then in one quotation of Isaiah, Jesus tells them that they will soon be the outcasts, the prey, and the hunted.  He was among the transgressors…just as we occasionally need the reminder….or should I say reorder?


For more see: Ministry Handout–The Untouchables

A Look at the Cross: Luke

Refracted from the cross, as Luke tells it, is a warm glow of home.  Orange would call it the red of home.  Others would say it would be the smell of warm pancakes wafting up the stair case of their childhood home; the familiarity of a small town, or the back corner of a coffee shop.  Everyone has a place where they just “feel at home”.  If Luke had one message as displayed through the cross, it is this: it’s never too late and you are never too far gone to come home.

It is conveyed in his biography.  Luke, the Gentile doctor, has always been outsider.  His life was a life of exclusion.  Then he started traveling with Paul. And things just got worse.  Paul was trained as a Pharisee, so he held honor in whatever town he went into, especially a Hellenistic Jewish community.  But the trips to Synagogue, his stop in Jerusalem at the temple, and his meals with Jewish families, ended up with Luke again reminded that because of his race, he was too far gone.  Still it is Luke that records Simeon’s words at Jesus’ dedication at the temple: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of ALL people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (2.32)  It is also easy to see why Cornelius, the centurion and first gentile convert, played such a huge role in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts.  This was a chance for Luke to come home.

It is conveyed by his hero’s.  The first people to spread the word about the arrival of Jesus were lowly shepherds who found themselves on the list of the Rabbi’s unclean professions.  Matthew brings wise men with gifts; Luke brings dirty old shepherds.  When he heals 10 lepers, the only one to return and thank him was the mixed-race Samaritan (17.11ff.).  Salvation came to the house of Zacheuss the tax-collector, a traitors man (19) and a widow found her offering praised (21).  Everyone in the book of Luke (and Acts for that matter) seems to come with some baggage, an “as-is” sticker as John Ortberg put it.  But these people who are broken and crippled and shattered were never too far gone and never too late to go home.

It is conveyed by his parables.  Luke has the famous lost chapter of Luke 15 where a sheep, a coin, and two sons need to find their way home.  Though the courage of the shepherd, the persistence of a woman, and the mercy and grace of a Father, do they eventually find their way home.  Each story builds with it the anxiety and wonder if the characters are going to make it back.  “How long will it take?”; “Do they make it?”; “Will the searcher give up?”  He also tells the story of a Samaritan man who has mercy on a traveler.  The story really begins with the question of “what is the law really about?” (10.25)  Jesus asked the question and the the expert of the law answered it correctly.  In an effort to skirt the application, the teacher of the law wanted to know “who is my neighbor?”  When we start excluding people, it makes loving people easier.   Jesus replied with the story.  The reason for the story was to show the man how to live; translation: how to get home.  A Smaritan made it home, where as a priest and a Levite, missed it.

It is conveyed in the moments before his death.  Bursting onto the scene at the crucifixion, a minor character in the story takes on a major role.  We know nothing of this man directly.  Luke calls him a “criminal” [gk. kakarugos].  Luke uses the word 3 times from Luke 23.32-23.39 and the only other time in scripture that it is used is by Paul in 2 Timothy 2.9, where he recounts that he was chained like a “criminal”.  Some things can be found in parallel passages.  Matthew calls him a “robber” [lestes] (Mt. 27.38) but he also uses the same word when Jesus asks the crowd that is arresting him: “Am I leading a rebellion?”  So the word most likely should be rendered “insurrectionist” or “bandit” if you are the fan of the Old West.  Needless to say, this “criminal” was a revolutionary or outlaw.  Chances are good that he was probably supposed to die that day beside his leader, Barabbas, whose cross Jesus now occupies.  The day began with him hurling insults at Jesus (as recorded by Matthew) but if there is a theme to Luke’s gospel it is: you are never too far gone and its never too late to come home.  His fellow criminal is mocking Jesus until he steps in.  This is for another time, but there seems to be a connection between these two and the two sons in Luke 15.  One is “coming to his senses” and the other is dying in his self righteousness.  Needless to say, this is how Luke records the event:

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us?’

But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since youa re under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for wear are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.’

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23.39-43)

Moments before his death…this man finds home.  The gospel about being lost and separate, about homecomings and forgiveness, shows this criminal finding his way home.  What brought him home?  I can’t say for certain, but as Mark Scott once reminded me: “In the cross, you can see a lot of love in just a few hours.”  Was that what brought this man home?  Was it Jesus statement, also only found in Luke, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23.34) that brought this criminal home?  I can’t be certain.  Probably a little of both.

It is comforting that it is never to late and that we are never so lost that we can’t come home.