|PRIDE AND THE PALM BEARERS
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 16, 2000
The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem is a very familiar scene for us. Many of us have heard the account of Jesus coming into Jerusalem since we were in Sunday School. As we do each Palm Sunday - we’ve waved palm branches - watched the children sing Hosanna - we’ve been singing special Palm Sunday hymns.
One of the great concerns that we should have - when events in the Bible do become so “familiar” to us - is that we do not lose sight of their implications for our lives. That was the danger for those in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago - and its the same danger we face today - assuming that we know what God is doing - and so we completely miss what God desires to do in us and through us.
This is where we want to focus this morning - being open to what God wants to do in us and through us.
What we call Palm Sunday - in the Hebrew calendar - was the Feast of Tabernacles and the Passover Festival - a religious gathering of the Hebrew nation into Jerusalem. Imagine about 3 million plus pilgrims all crammed into an area about the size of Golden Gate Park. Jerusalem was chaos.
Into this confusion comes Jesus riding on a donkey. As Jesus moves into Jerusalem from the town of Bethany - most of the people who are with Him lay their outer garments on the path - they cut branches from the trees and put them on the path. Pilgrims come out to the Eastern Gate of the city to meet Him. The crowd welcoming Him grows into a euphoric mob.
Reading the account of Palm Sunday - its very evident that the vast majority of people in that chaotic crowd - shouting and cheering - had no idea what was really going on - what God was doing.. Each had their own self-centered reasons for being there that blinded them to God’s work.
They cheered because Jesus was a miracle worker - the blind saw - the lame walked - thousands had been fed with a few loaves of bread and a two fish. Two miles away in Bethany - Jesus had called into a tomb, “Lazarus, come forth” and Lazarus - dead for 4 days - had walked from the tomb alive. They cheered a miracle worker - looking for miracles - perhaps miracles in their own lives.
They cheered because of their spiritual expectations. The prophet Zechariah had written: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
These are not religiously ignorant people. They knew their religious history. Now they were seeing Jesus fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy before their eyes. They had expectations that Jesus would bring religious reform.
They crowd cheered because they expected deliverance - freedom from the oppressive laws and taxation of Rome - freedom from the false leaders of Israel. They shouted Hosanna! - which comes from the Hallel - the Psalms of ascent. Literally they’re crying out, “We beg thee - O Lord - Save us now! Give us victory and prosperity now! This is the time Jesus. Do it!”
The crowd is cheering - Jesus has challenged the Roman authorities - the religious authorities - challenged and triumphed over them. Jesus is coming to Jerusalem. Jesus the champion of the people.
They’re cheering - each for their own selfish reasons - cheering because of what they expect Jesus to do for them. Sadly, there’s no way for this crowd to receive what God is really offering to them because they’re focused on themselves.
That’s crucial for us to understand. There are times when we are so focused on ourselves - on what we’ve accomplished - on what we’re doing - on what we assume God will do - that we can completely miss what God wants to do in our lives.
We all struggle with this. Today - in churches all over the world - people follow Jesus because He offers a better moral - ethical - intellectual way of life. People come to Jesus because they want some hope that when they die they’ll live in Heaven. Some come because culturally its the thing to do. Some come because the church offers social and business opportunities. Others come, because serving gives them a feeling of belonging - a sense of purpose - perhaps recognition.
Why have we come this morning to wave olive branches and sing Hosanna? Is our focus on ourselves - our assumptions about God - our gain - or are we open to what God wants to do in us and through us?
In contrast to all of this self-centeredness - this pride - Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem - humbly sitting on a donkey - coming to Jerusalem to die. At Passover - to present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb that takes away the sins of mankind. (Romans 5:6)
To be where we need to be - with hearts open to what God wants to do in us and through us - we need to follow the example of Jesus - not the crowd. Jesus is in tune with what God is doing. His attitude should be our attitude.
I encourage you to turn with me to Philippians 2:5-8. We want to look at this passage which speaks to the type of heart attitude we need if we’re to be open to what God wants to do in us and through us. Philippians 2:5-8 - if you’re there - let’s read these verses together - out loud.
Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The Apostle Paul writes: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus.” Five characteristics of His attitude.
First: JESUS DID NOT HOLD ONTO HIS PRIVILEGE AS GOD
Verse 6: “Although He existed in the form of God, - Jesus - did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Jesus is God. But Jesus did not “grasp” - or hang on to - His rights and privileges as God - to be worshipped as God - to exercise His power as God.
In Colossians 1 - the Apostle Paul describes Jesus this way: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16,17)
But, Jesus set all this aside. He had the right to. But, He did not insist on His preeminence. He became a man - without any advantage over us. He faced life counting on His Heavenly Father, just as we do.
Second: JESUS EMPTIED HIMSELF
Verse 7: Jesus - “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant”
Jesus became a servant - literally “a slave.” Slaves were the possessions of their masters. In the Roman world they were looked on with the same regard as a shovel or pick - a tool to be used. Jesus should have been worshipped - adored by people - angels - animals - by all of creation - yet He willingly became a slave.
Third: JESUS BECAME IN THE LIKENESS OF MEN
Again verse 7: “And being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man....”
Having become a man - Jesus did not come as a king - a ruler or rich person - someone insulated from the worst parts of our human condition. He became the son of a common family - in a conquered nation - born in the humility and filth of a cave used as a stable. He came and embraced us a brothers and sisters - going through what we go through.
Fourth - verse 8: JESUS BECAME OBEDIENT TO THE POINT OF DEATH
Jesus didn’t have to die. He isn’t born - as we are - with the terminal illness of sin. Jesus loved us so much that He volunteered - chose - to receive the death sentence that is really ours.
Fifth characteristic - verse 8: JESUS CHOSE DEATH ON A CROSS
Jesus could have chosen to die quickly - painlessly - surrounded by His family and friends. But, He chose to die on a cross - in pain and agony - rejected and despised - executed as common criminal - in shame and disgrace. Deserted by everyone - including His Heavenly Father - He died finally - because He was unable to breathe.
Paul writes that Jesus - God - freely and lovingly chose to become a human being - to humble Himself as a servant - dying on a cross in our place - for our sins.
That’s the Jesus who came riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. That’s the Jesus - who’s attitude of humility we are to imitate if we’re to be open to what God wants to do in us and through us.
Let me put this in a more practical way. If you would - turn with me to Matthew 18:2-4.
One time when Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee - Jesus had been teaching about His coming betrayal, death, and resurrection. In the context of this discussion - the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Self-centered - they completely missed the point of what Jesus was talking about and what God was about to do.
Here’s how Jesus answered the disciples. Matthew 18:2 And He - Jesus - called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
When I was in college I took a rock climbing class. One of the skills they taught us was how to belay our rock climbing partner. In other words - when you’re climbing you have this rope attached to you that’s held at the other end by your partner. The theory is that, while climbing, if you ever lose your grip you won’t fall - very far - because your partner will be holding you up with this rope. As you might imagine -its very important to have confidence in the person holding the rope.
One of the exercises we did - to practice our climbing skills - was to climb Sutherland Hall. Sutherland Hall was a large building in the center of the school - about 1½ stories tall - that had protruding bricks which made it easy to climb up the outside wall.
One day - while we were climbing the walls of Sutherland Hall - we were told that we were going to practice falling. As we got to the top of the wall - 1½ stories up - without giving advance warning to our climbing partner - who we hoped was hanging on to the other end of the rope - we were suppose to let go of the wall and fall.
That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. To consciously let go of a secure wall and put my life in someone else's hands.
As children we did that all the time. We didn’t know anything different. We knew that our parents would hang on to the rope - we’d be safe. As adults we know different. Humility is a choice. Letting go and trusting God is a choice.
Each Palm Sunday we have an opportunity to ask ourselves important questions about our lives - about the way we act and think and live. Are we hanging on - trusting our understanding of things - or are we trusting God - open to what God wants to do in us and through us?
I hope you’ll enjoy this season as a
family - to do all the
things - to eat - to be with your children. But, also -
we need to take
time to think about these things. If you’re not a
Christian and wish to
become one - or you are a Christian whose whose heart
attitude is not
humble and open to God - trust Him. He will never let go
of the rope -
and He will do in you and through you - what you never
imagined or accomplished on your own.