If you missed your favorite TV show, there’s a good chance you don’t have to wait for re-runs to see the latest episode. Most major network websites now have a way to watch the show for free on the internet. But what if it is a show that hasn’t been on for years or even decades? You’re in luck! Let’s say you miss watching the Partridge family? Get on any one of many streaming websites or services and you can see it again. The Dick Van Dyke show? You’re just a few clicks away from returning to days gone by. Hill Street Blues? Knight Rider? Doogie Howser M.D.? Alfred Hitchcock presents? They’re all available.
This is just the next evolution in a media frenzy to help people recapture their past. You can get on satellite radio, and there are entire music channels that will help you relive the ‘50’s,’60’s, ‘70’s and even beyond and before. The cable tv channel VH1 has used countless hours on shows like “I love the ‘70’s”, “I love the ‘80’s”, “I love the ’80’s strikes back”, “I love the ‘80’s 3-D”…you get the idea.
But here’s my question: why are these so wildly popular? Why do we like the things from our past so much? Psychologists say these things act similarly to comfort food (you know, Grandma’s apple pie, or for me, Spaghettios – yes, I know…). They remind us of simpler times; a time when all seemed right with the world, or at least (with the help of distance and perspective) the things that were wrong with the world are now seen as less important, less than what we may have made them out to be.
But there is a problem: unlike these TV and movie outlets that help us escape into the past with a click, there are things: memories, senses, feelings, that our mind replays over and over for us, that we don’t click, and sometimes wish we could click out of. We tend to play the negative, hurtful events in our lives back over and over again and just when we think we’ve gotten over them, something (or someone) will click and drag us back into them.
We can even get stuck in a repetitive loop of past successes: resting on our laurels as it were.
Here is where we find Jesus on Palm Sunday in Matthew 21: he borrowed two work animals (donkey and colt), and all the people were told was “the LORD has need of them.” It is possible that Jesus had some serious clout in that area, that someone would let him borrow these essential animals just based on his esteem in that community.
Next, the disciples take their cloaks off, and put them on the colt, exposing themselves to the elements for the comfort of Jesus. Then, he rode through the streets of the city, and people saw him and would pave the way for him with their own cloaks and with branches symbolizing victory. And as Jesus rode through, he saw many faces of those he had ministered to before: there is the blind man, who now sees, laying his cloak down; shimmying up a tree to cut a palm branch is the man who was crippled and lying on a mat when he was brought to Jesus; there is the little girl who was healed of her fever; the woman who was bent over for all that time is now bending over again, but this time to pay homage to him.
Jesus could have stopped right there, and like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” he could have been called “the richest man in town.”
But here’s the thing: Jesus knew he wasn’t finished yet. He knew he hadn’t come to lead a rag-tag band of under-educated fishermen and hated tax attorneys into a feudal war to claim a minor city in the Middle East. He had come for much more. He knew he came to be the Savior of the WORLD. And he wasn’t finished.
He knew all these past successes and accolades and shouts of “Hosanna” would soon be drowned out by the voices crying out to “Crucify him!” Why? Because fame is a fickle mistress. Jesus knew that his past had a purpose: to fulfill prophecy and convince people that he truly was the Son of God. It began at his birth and continued until that moment.
He also knew his present had a purpose: to demonstrate the dual nature of humanity: in which we can give blessings and curses out of the same mouth; we can say one thing and do another; we can bless with the right, and slay with the left; in which we can cry “Hosanna” on Sunday, and “Crucify Him” on Friday.
But Jesus was resolute, even knowing what His immediate future held, for he knew that his future had purpose as well; an ETERNAL purpose: that this journey through the city was exactly that: entering the gates at one end, triumphantly, and that he would leave in just a few short days through the other gate, the one that led to the Hill of the Skull. And that purpose was to provide the sacrifice for our sins, an atonement once and for all. And that he would then, again, take his rightful place next to the father in heaven, once he had rescued the souls of men.
So how does this relate to us?
First, it tells us that our past has a purpose – all our hurts, habits, and hang-ups of the past do indeed have a purpose: first, to demonstrate our need for a Savior. Even our successes have a purpose: to demonstrate that of God which is in each of us but to also remind us that we are so susceptible to failure.
But, in order to live our lives in the present, we must move past those voices (whether they are blessings or curses) so that we can get on to the present purpose God is revealing to us. We must not let our past impede us from our present. We need to surrender our past to the feet of Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for us as sufficient redemption. And when we have done that, we are equipped to give that word of encouragement; to say “I’ve been there too”; to be His witness, to demonstrate His love; to be an instrument of His grace, and an example of His redeeming power.
And when we receive the truth that our past has a redeeming purpose, that our present is to be lived ON purpose, we also gain a sense of the third thing: a future of ETERNAL purpose.
For God has purposed us not just to scratch through these 80 or so years on earth, but to live for eternity with Him. He sent his son Jesus so that he could remove the barrier of sin and open the way for us to eternity. He has purposed us for eternal life.
Jesus, in teaching His disciples, promised them, “I go and prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place, do you not know that I will also return to you and take you with me? So, that you also may be where I AM.”
So, let us throw off those voices that may hinder us; let us receive the grace of Christ: the grace that redeems our past, that lets us live our lives ON purpose, and let us live in that ETERNAL purpose that comes only through Christ’s victory.
-Rev. Carl Palmer