Ash Wednesday: Entering Into The Belly of the Religious Beast.

This is post #3 of a series entitled RELIGION OR RELATIONSHIP: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. We hope you’ll enjoy this series of 27 podcasts and blogs that focuses a bit deeper on the first five days of what we now call Holy Week. Using the Gospel text found in Matthew 21 through 25, we explore the major differences between organized religion and true relationship with Christ. Practical sessions that give us Jesus’ view of spirituality as compared to the religiousness found in so many people today. Here’s the homepage for the entire series.

Click here to listen to the podcast version of this blog!

Today’s Lectio Divina: When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to Me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you. This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet: Tell Zion’s daughter, “Look, your King’s on His way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal.” The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving Him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is He who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!” As He made His entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.” Matthew 21: 1-11 (MsgB)

I know, I know. Today is Ash Wednesday.

But if our Lenten study of Matthew 21-25 is to cover it correctly, we really must start with the text in Matthew 21 that we call Palm Sunday.

At least, that’s the proper name we church-folks call it.

In our minds, it’s a quaint little Easter parade. Jesus is riding on a humble donkey. Side-saddle, of course. His disciples are walking alongside Him, acknowledging the crowd that has gathered for this Sunday afternoon celebration in Jerusalem. Palm branches are waving in the breeze. People are removing their outer cloaks and throwing them on the ground as a symbol of their adoration for this young rabbi who is stirring the whole nation, rallying the people for what’s to come. Here comes Messiah, blessing God’s people with healing, deliverance, and wholeness.

The appreciative crowd is ecstatic. Their high expectations are evident as they chant and cheer with one voice…

Hosanna to David’s son!

Blessed is He who comes in God’s name!

Hosanna in highest heaven!

The Sunday before Passover. 33 AD. God’s Holy City.

This day is a day of happiness and joy. The sun is shining. The stars are aligning. And for once in a long lifetime, this city, which has seen so many sad days in its long history, is enjoying one brief moment of God’s pleasure.

No one, but possibly Jesus, senses the ugly underbelly of the religious beast that is also evident in the city on this beautiful day in Israel.

But make no mistake. It’s certainly there.

You see, this is the first of five consecutive days that will set religion on its ear. Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God, has gone and done it. He’s stepped right into the middle of the religious order and He’s about to shake things up like no one has ever done before or ever will again.

This is the first blow in a five-round boxing match between Religion and Relationship. And while it looks like Jesus has won this first round, being surrounded by his admirers, one doesn’t need to look very far to see His skeptics standing off to the side, scowling under their breath, just waiting to take down this young whipper-snapper who is riding into town, stirring the common folk to such high expectations.

Over in Luke’s Gospel, we find these critics being a bit more vocal than they are in Matthew’s story, jawing with Jesus even in the midst of all the Hosannas and Hallelujahs.

“Teacher, get Your disciples under control!” the Pharisees proclaim.

But Jesus, ready for their backbiting and critical nature, responds, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.” (see Luke 19: 39-40)

Keep in mind that the Pharisees are not the only critics in the crowd. Far below the surface of this human dismay, the demons of hell look at this parade and are also angry. Very angry, indeed.

In truth, every eye in the universe is turned toward Jerusalem at this unique moment in time. From every perspective, whether it be angels in heaven or demons in hell, this entrance by Jesus and His associates into the heart of Jerusalem is no small affair. This, my friends, is an act of war. Holy war.

And what looks to us as being a peaceful parade with joyous celebration into the center of God’s city is actually just the opposite. To use terms from World War II, this is June 6th, 1944. This is the great invasion of the Good King, landing His troops on the bloody beaches of Normandy. This is a hard slap directly in the face of God’s enemies. An aggressive act of warfare, landing the good guys right in the middle of the enemy’s turf.

But make no mistake. There will be hell to pay for this outlandish act of aggression against Satan, his demonic forces, and all the human pride and arrogance sided with him. Yes, Jesus and His friends are whooping it up today, but by Friday, this joyous celebration will become a funeral procession where weeping and wailing prevails. Just wait and see.

But Jesus, knowing what is waiting for Him in this upcoming week, turns His attention to this present moment. He takes it all in. And even when the Pharisees tell Him to turn the music down, He ignores their critical spirit and reminds them that no one, including Satan himself, can throw water on a God-party. When God says celebrate. We celebrate. And even if some of God’s people don’t show up for the party, heck…no problem. Since God made all of us out of the dirt and rock in the first place, He can cook up a few worshippers for Himself by just letting those same stones shout out His high praises.

This, my friends, is Religion vs. Relationship. The war has begun. And in God’s mind, there will ultimately be only One Victor. And that is Jesus of Nazareth. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Hosanna to the everlasting Son…the Defender of God’s Freedom!


My Prayer: Jesus, it’s obvious that Your Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of what would become five days of holy battle between the well-established religious order of the day and your grassroots call for freedom. The battle is on, and sadly, it seems that even today that same war rages around us. Help me, Holy Spirit, to always stand with Jesus, God’s Defender of Freedom, where relationship wins over rules, regulations, and religion. For Your Name’s sake. Amen.

My Questions to Ponder: How have I taken the religious freedoms extended to us by Christ and turned them into laws, rules, and regulations? Am I guilty of being like the Pharisees on Palm Sunday who demanded the voices of freedom to quiet down, keeping a rule of order that’s designed by man’s need to control others, silencing those who think or believe differently than me? What will Christ-centered religious freedom look like in my generation, and how might I freely participate with it?

So, what are you hearing from Jesus as we take this journey into the first 5 Days of Holy Week?

Religion or Relationship: Five Days that Define Our Call in Christ. 

A 27-session Lenten blog series from Matthew’s Holy Week Gospel.

Throughout the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), you and I will take a deeper look at Matthew 21-25. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use.

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to go onto the next session in this series…

1 thought on “Ash Wednesday: Entering Into The Belly of the Religious Beast.

  1. Pingback: Session 2: A Stern Pre-Warning From The Master. | The Contemplative Activist

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