Things are ramping up! In the church calendar, last Sunday marked the fifth Sunday of Lent. Which means we are reaching a pivotal point in the Lenten season as we celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to complete the purpose for which the Father sent him. This Sunday is Palm Sunday and in our worship we will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. On this Sunday everything pivots for Jesus in the narrative of his life. Within a short period of time, Jesus goes from “cheers to tears,” from “Palm branches to pierced palms.”
Although biblical scholars often point to Luke 9:51 as the turning point in Jesus’ ministry when he turns his face from Jericho “and set his face towards Jerusalem,” this has never really made sense to me. This moment happened 10 chapters ago in Luke’s Gospel and he continued his ministry in 37 different locations from Luke 9 to 19. You could make a strong argument from the narrative that the rising action is still ascending, which is a parallel to Jesus’ geographical journey as he moves toward Jerusalem.
When the Gospels say “Jesus was going up to Jerusalem” the authors meant it in a literal sense. Jericho was located farther north than Jerusalem and as Jesus traveled to the south he was going down. (I encourage you to look at a map and see what I am talking about). However, with the topography of the land, Jesus is actually walking uphill. The 17 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem rise from a -850ft below sea level, near the Dead Sea, to an elevation of +2,100 to 2,525ft above sea level in Jerusalem.
On this road to Jerusalem Jesus is “moving south while rising up” or, in other words, “descending while ascending.” In a sense, this motion is the heart of the Gospel and the life and ministry of Jesus.
The New Testament reading for this Sunday comes from Philippians 2, which unfortunately I will not have much time to discuss in my sermon but does make an important point about descending.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything,” Philippians 2:6-9 MSG
As we begin Holy Week with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, my encouragement to you is to take the approach Jesus took: descend in order ascend. Serve someone this week. Do something sacrificial in order for someone else’s benefit. Give up an hour of your time to pray for others. Serve the church by volunteering. Descend in order to ascend. Become last in order to be first. Live as Kierkegaard challenged others to live by “descending into greatness.”