Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Dress Rehearsal
In junior high, high school, and college I was very involved in drama. I did a lot of acting and also behind the scenes work in props and stage-managing. I remember one particular production in college that was performed in the round. I was stage manager and the production was complicated given the placement of the actors and sets in the middle of the audience. Dress rehearsal was a nightmare. At one point the director himself stopped the rehearsal and gave us all a scolding I?ll never forget. I thought all was lost; that my first experience as a stage manager was going to be my last. But oddly enough, the first real performance, and every one after that, went very smoothly. There is, in fact, an old theater saying that a poor dress rehearsal makes for a good performance.
In a way, when Jesus and His friends arrived on the scene at Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it became a sort of dress rehearsal?one that didn?t go well according to some in the audience and maybe even amongst the crew. You can read it in Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11, 1-12, Luke 19:28-44 and John 12:12-14 (where we see the palm branches).
Jesus? men had to hijack a young donkey, which Jesus rode into town. The crowds got all excited, waving palm branches, and putting their clothes down on the road. It was a royal welcome for a king.
What didn?t go right was 1) the reaction of the religious leaders and 2) the outcome of the event for Jesus? friends. The crowds and Jesus? friends thought this was the fulfillment of the long anticipated prophecy of the coming king found in Zechariah 9:9-10.
Zechariah 9:9 ?Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.?
They thought this was a takeover and the start of Jesus? rule over Israel. From some of their comments (Matthew 20 with James and John?s mom asking for her boys to sit at Jesus? right and left, and Luke 9:46 when they argued over who was the greatest among them) they were thinking that Jesus was going to march into Jerusalem with a hostile takeover and throw both the religious rulers and Rome out of the place. They would then get corner offices and positions of power in a new restored Israel.
The religious leaders feared that a new king in town would boot them out of power or bring the Roman government down on them all. In John 12:19 the leaders reacted to all the people going after Jesus saying: ?You see? You?ve accomplished nothing. Look?the world has gone after Him!? They were right to be worried and in fact they would be thrown out and Rome would come down on them, but not now, not yet.
As it turns out they and Jesus? friends were both wrong about the timing and purpose of Jesus? arrival at Jerusalem that Sunday.
Jesus wasn?t coming to place Himself on the throne, but on a cross to die for our sins. He wasn?t trying to dethrone the religious leaders?He was after a much bigger tyrant: Satan, the real person in in authority over humanity.
As Paul the Apostle would later write:
Ephesians 6:12 ?For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.?
The spiritual forces of evil have kept humanity in the chains of enslavement to sin ever since the Garden of Eden. Jesus came as a warrior, a redeemer, a rescuer?to fight a much larger battle than arguments over the Law of Moses or even whether Rome had the right to rule over Israel.
Had Jesus taken His rightful place on the throne as King of Kings before the cross, He would have had a kingdom, but of just one person: Himself. That?s because Jesus was not stained with a sin nature at birth?his mother was human but His Father was God. He was born pure and lived a pure life, never having sinned even once. The rest of us, however, are stained and cannot be a part of God?s kingdom on our own.
A few days later Jesus would voluntarily allow the same religious leaders who scoffed on Palm Sunday to condemn Him to death on Good Friday. He would then allow the same Roman leaders who watched what happened on Palm Sunday from the fringes to take center stage and walk Jesus to Golgotha and put Him up on a cross.
Make no mistake, however, no one took Jesus? life from Him.
John 10:17 ?This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.?
When Jesus laid down His life, it was in payment for all the sin of humanity. He endured God?s wrath, His justified wrath, for all the things we did that were not like God. Three days later the Father resurrected Jesus, proving that His sacrifice was enough.
Now those who become part of His kingdom?not only an earthly kingdom but one that lasts forever in God?s dimension?will be part of a life of unutterable joy and peace?one free from sin and evil.
How do you become a member of this kingdom?
Peter, one of Jesus? friends, told a crowd that gathered in Jerusalem some weeks later:
Acts 2:38 ?Repent,? Peter said to them, ?and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.?
It is God?s Holy Spirit that gives us this new life. But first we have to change our minds about all the things we?ve done in this life that are not what God would do, think, or say. We decide we want to be like God, and then ask God to forgive our sins by placing our trust in Jesus.
Paul later wrote:
Rom. 10:9 ?If you confess with your mouth, ?Jesus is Lord,? and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.?
?Jesus is Lord? is the earliest creed of the church. He is Lord of our lives, but He is also Lord of the universe.
Phil. 2:10 ??so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow?of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth?
That brings us back to the dress rehearsal. Palm Sunday is essentially a dress rehearsal for another procession into Jerusalem. When Jesus returns to earth the second time He will touch down at the Mount of Olives and stride into Jerusalem as its King and the King of the universe.
Remember that prophecy in Zechariah, about the King riding in on a donkey? It meant He came in peace. But later in Zechariah there is another prophecy about when this King comes not in peace but to wage war against the forces on earth that would keep Him from a literal takeover:
Zechariah 14:3 ?Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south. 5 You will flee by My mountain valley, for the valley of the mountains will extend to Azal. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come and all the holy ones with Him.
6 On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. 7 It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening.
8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea, in summer and winter alike. 9 On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth?Yahweh alone, and His name alone.?
Revelation 7:9-10 talks about another throng waving palm branches saying ?Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!? Those in that crowd will be members of His kingdom (Revelation 19:14 and Jude 14).
Though the dress rehearsal might not have gone according to plan for Jesus? friends or the religious leaders, the second Palm Sunday, the real performance if you will, will go off without a hitch and will finally usher in true goodness, justice, and selfless love on earth.
Which side of that battle do you want to be on?
One of the other things I think was interesting about Palm Sunday being a dress rehearsal for the second coming is that, in a way, our lives now as Christians are like a dress rehearsal. We who love Jesus and are trying to follow Him often fail. Maybe you feel like I did on that dress rehearsal before the play?that nothing seems to be going right and sometimes the director has to come out and stop the show and correct something in your life. You feel like you will never get it right and should just quit the play.
Let me say that it is going to be okay. We are being trained to be saints. Training involves making mistakes and learning by them to get better at sometime. We don?t earn God?s favor by the effort but Paul says ?work out your own salvation? which means put energy into what God is doing in you.
You are trained by:
- Learning from mature believers (Ephesians 4:11-12 ?for the training of the saints?)
- By focusing on the truth of the gospel (1 Timothy 4:7) rather than the lies of the world.
- Letting the Word soak into you (2 Timothy 3:16)
- Allowing God to train your senses as to what is good and what is not (Hebrews 5:14)