A friend of mine said today that the preaching resource he is looking at has at its theme for this Sunday, “sacrifice,” and then it admonishes us to have Jesus be our model of sacrifice. He said he was suspicious of this, and I think he is quite right to be suspicious of sacrifice (at least ours) in this passage.
Because Jesus’ vocation is utterly unique. Yes, it will end in an atoning sacrifice that is nothing less than an obedient and holy act of the Triune God, but that is his calling and can’t be ours in quite the same way. So no matter how important our own sacrifices are for Christian faith (and they are), they must not obscure for us the critical fact that Jesus is not merely the apotheosis of human sacrifice, rather he is “doing a new thing.” And he knows this must take place in Jerusalem, as the final culmination of the ancient promises, about which we get a glimpse with Abram in the OT lesson in Genesis 15: 1-18.
And, contrary to some commentators, I don’t see the Pharisees as particularly Jesus’ friends here. I see their warning more like, “Galilee is Herod’s turf, he’s the big kahuna around here, so you’d better lay low, or bad things will happen to you.”
So Jesus goes on the lam in the countryside to carry out his ministry until it is his time to go to Jerusalem, not because he is afraid of Herod, but because he doesn’t want his plans thwarted before they are completed.
And the obvious foreshadowing of the Palm Sunday triumphal entry this early in Lent should keep our eyes fixed on the larger narrative, which is that Jesus will indeed in his own good time travel to Jerusalem, and he will die an atoning sacrificial death, that among other things, will replace the sacrifices of the temple, which is in part why it must take place here.
So Jesus isn’t afraid, but disciples ancient and modern are fearful for him, even those of us who know how the story turns out.
Psalm 27 asks, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” It is a good question. And then the Psalmist proceeds to list quite a few things to fear. And there are always quite a few things to fear in our world. Faith always takes place among those fears, and, as in Psalm 27, it is often hard to know whether faith or fear will get the upper hand, the final word.
So we are all fearful disciples, and one of the things we are fearful of is the full import of Jesus’ vocation and death and its implications. Yet in Psalm 27 the Psalmist finishes with hope that he will live to see the promise fulfilled. And more and more, as I get older, I think our faith is properly understood best eschatologically or it risks dissolving into moralism. We don’t get to see it all. We see“ through a glass darkly.”
Yet though we must wait to see the promises fulfilled “in the land of the living,” we do see enough in Jesus Christ to proceed in faith, which in many ways, is the opposite of our myriad fears.
(Photo by R.L. Floyd. Snowfall at Dawn. This morning)