Monday, April 10, 2017

If They Only Knew... Palm Sunday 2017

As I prepared for my sermon this week, I began pondering and imagining what Jesus was thinking on this day.  I wondered what He thought as He sent those two disciples to appropriate that donkey and colt.  I wondered if He watched them walk away to fulfill that mission and thought to Himself, “If they only knew...”

For I am sure those two disciples were excited at what Jesus had commanded them.  I am sure their hopes suddenly soared.  “Did you hear what Jesus told us to do?  Did you know the significance of His order?  He’s told us to go get Him a donkey to ride on!!  Do you remember what the prophet said?  Do you remember that the prophet said that our king, our deliverer, would come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey?  Do you remember that prophecy?  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I remember the first time I heard the Rabbis talking about how our deliverer would come.  I remember being instructed to watch eagerly for the one who would enter into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  Oh, today must be that day!!  Today must be the day that our freedom is birthed!!!  Jesus is going to enter Jerusalem on a donkey!!!”

The other disciple, perhaps also growing excited says, “Yes, we have been waiting for so long.  Since the Babylonians defeated us, we have been waiting for this day.  We have been subjected to the Greeks and to the Romans.  We have had to deal with their puppet kings.  A pox on Herod and his craziness.  A pox on Caesar.  A pox on Pilate.  Jesus has the power to overthrow them all.  Remember how He calmed the storm?  What army can stand against one who can control the forces of nature?  Remember how he cast the demon out of the man and made it enter the herd of pigs?  Can you envision Jesus making a whole legion of Roman soldiers cast themselves into the sea?  No one would even have to fight in battle.  And if we actually had to fight?  Well, remember how Jesus healed and brought the dead back to life?  Imagine an army that all wounds are suddenly healed and the dead are raised to fight again.  Invincible. That’s what we would be.  With Jesus as our king, the people of Israel will inherit the earth!!!”

“And we will be remembered as the disciples who brought Jesus His donkey!!”  Perhaps they laughed at this thought.  Perhaps they then turned their attention to the task at hand and with a bounce in their steps that could not be missed, they brought the donkey and colt to their master, and Jesus, knowing their thoughts said to Himself once more, “If they only knew...if they only knew that indeed I am their deliver.  I am indeed their Messiah.  I am indeed their King.  I am here to set them free, but it is a freedom that goes far deeper than what they think.  They dream of being free from rulers, from foreign powers, from Gentile armies, but even if I were to drive all those folks away, they would still be in bondage.  For there is a power that is so pervasive yet so subtle that it enslaves everyone.  These two disciples believe that if only I became the King of Israel and drove out Israel’s enemies, then their lives would be perfect.  Just get the right person in power, and everything will be happy and holy.  They are putting their trust in earthly kingdoms.

They have learned nothing from their own history.  No matter who has been king of Israel, people have always struggled.  My Father had to keep sending prophets to correct the people for their errors.  Putting a new king in place did little to affect the people’s hearts, for their hearts still yearned for wealth, for health, and for prosperity.  Their hearts still yearned for the comforts of this world.  They made idols out of these things and failed to yearn for my Father.  They are corrupted by the power of sin, and I must free them from that power.

For once they are free from the power of sin, then their hearts will yearn for my Father.  Their hearts will yearn to love Him.  And when their hearts yearn for God, they will no longer look to kings and armies to make their lives better.  They will no longer seek satisfaction in money or possessions.  Their hearts will no longer be governed by greed or anxiety or self-centeredness.  Their hearts will be my throne.  I will live with them and in them, and they will be free from the power of sin.  It won’t matter who sits on the throne; it won’t matter how many possessions they have; it won’t matter whether they are slave or free, male or female, they will find their freedom in me.

Yes, I will be their king, but I will not take the throne in the manner they think.  My path is not toward a palace.  I will not be clothed with expensive robes.  I will not dine on fine food and drink fine wine.  My path will be one of suffering and death.  My path will take me to the cross.  There, I will take all sin into myself–I will take the power of sin into myself, and I will defeat it.  If they only knew...”

And Jesus mounted upon the donkey and began the trek into Jerusalem.  And I pondered and imagined what He thought as the people lined the road and cheered Him on.  I pondered and imagine what He was thinking to Himself as the crowds laid palm branches in His path along with their coats.  They were laying out the proverbial red carpet for Him.  And they were shouting!! Yes, they were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Their cry was a cry of revolution.  “Praise be to the promised descendant of King David who was foretold long ago as the one who would defeat our enemies and help Israel become great once again!”  Ah, the crowd knew who Jesus was.  They too had heard of His miraculous deeds of power.  They too had heard of His powerful teaching.  They too knew He was from God, and they believed He was now here to deliver them from the hands of their enemies.  Rome stood no chance.  The puppet king Herod stood no chance.  Pilate might try to wield the might of Rome and the legions, but God had appointed His Messiah.  No one stood a chance against the Messiah.  And so they shouted!!  So they proclaimed!!  So they paid homage to Jesus!!!  Their king was coming!!!

And I cannot help but think Jesus simply thought, “If they only knew...
“For I will not be the king that they expect.  The crowd has fallen into the same trap that my disciples have fallen into.  They believe that earthly kings and rulers can make their lives change.  They believe that earthly kings and rulers can make them free.  But their hearts will still be in bondage to sin.  Their hearts will still be in chains.  And we will see just how chained they are.

In the coming days, I will teach and I will heal.  I will challenge the principalities and powers.  I will challenge their false idols, and they will hate me for it.  They will turn on me because I will refuse to become who they expect me to become.  And when I don’t give them what they want; when I refuse to live up to their expectations, their cries and shouts will change.  No longer will they yell, “Hosanna!”  Instead, they will yell, “Crucify!”  The ones shouting for my rule today will be crying for my death at the end of this week.  The power of sin will corrupt them so thoroughly that they will not even treat me as a human being–though I have done nothing wrong.  If they only knew...”

And as Jesus came into Jerusalem, I am sure He knew that the city was now on a razor’s edge.  He knew that the crowd’s actions had left the city full of tension and anxiety.  The crowds had welcomed Him like a king.  Would a revolution begin?  Could the city expect bloody battles?  Would swords be drawn and blood be spilled?  Would Jesus be the catalyst?  And those who did not know of Him were asking, “Who is this man?  Who is the one that the crowd’s welcomed in such a manner?  Who is this man who is welcomed as a Jewish Messiah?  Who is this man that rumors spread about sick being healed, demons being cast out, dead being raised, storms being stilled, and thousands being fed?  Who is this man?

“This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

And once again, I can imagine Jesus thinking, “If they only knew...yes, I am a prophet.  Yes, I am from Nazareth.  Yes, I am from Galilee.  But this world is not my home.  I am not from here.  I AM.  Yes.  I AM.”  (And for those of you who did not catch that reference, in the Old Testament of Scripture, God refers to Himself as “I AM.”) I AM God’s only begotten Son who has come into this world to free my people from the power of sin.  I AM the King of kings and Lord of lords who will set my throne in my people’s hearts.  I AM the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world and open the family of God to anyone who trusts in me and what I do.  I AM the redeemer of the world who will save my people not because of who they are because they are sinful, self-centered, and vain–I will save them because of who I am: gracious and forgiving even when people turn on me.  I Am following my Father’s will because He does not want to see anyone perish but wants all to have eternal life with Him.  I AM the light of the world who shines in the darkness and helps people see the reality of God.  I AM destined to die so that anyone who trusts in me will live.  If they only knew...”

Indeed, if we only knew...if we only knew..., but sometimes I wonder if we want to know.  I wonder if we really want to know that Jesus is who He says He is.  For if He is the Lamb of God who has come to redeem us by grace alone–through no work of our own, then we cannot boast in what we do.  We cannot become self-righteous and think that we are better than anyone else.  For God did not pour out His love because of us but in spite of us.

I wonder if we really want to know that Jesus is who He says He is because if He has died for me and granted me salvation by Grace alone, then there is nothing He cannot ask of me.  If He indeed is the King of kings and Lord of lords, if He is the King of Heaven and Earth, I owe Him my total and utter allegiance.  My life no longer belongs to me.  I have no control or charge.  I serve and honor Him alone and am bound in service to Him.

I wonder if we really want to know that Jesus is who He says He is because if He has become my Lord and my Savior, then I find my meaning, my purpose, and my identity in Him.  I lose the privileges of being male or female.  I lose the privileges of race and ethnicity.  I lose the privileges of wealth and status.  I lose the privileges of education and knowledge.  For I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live but Christ who lives within me.

I wonder if we really want to know that Jesus is who He says He is because if He is Lord of my life; I now live for God.  I no longer live for myself.  I no longer live for money, wealth, status, privilege, knowledge, power, control or anything else.  I live for God and seek His purpose and His will in everything that I do.  And that means I love what God loves.  I seek what God seeks.  I long for what God longs for, and that means care and concern for this world–for God loves the world.  And so I am called to love it.  I am called to care for it.  I am called to make sacrifices to preserve it and all that live within it.  And that means I care deeply for those created in God’s image.  I cannot wall myself off with other Christians and simply wait for Jesus’ return.  Because I love what God loves, I seek to bring other people into the family of God.  I seek to bring God’s love and God’s compassion to those in need.  I seek to feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Love of neighbor becomes the second most important thing I do in life after loving God.

I wonder if we really want to know that Jesus is who He says He is because if He is Lord of my life, I cannot keep silent about what He has done in redeeming the world.  With every breath, I long to sing His praise and worship Him at every opportunity.  With every breath I seek to tell others of God’s great love.  With every breath, I long to tell His story of redemption.  I cannot keep silent.  I cannot just go about my life with indifference.  I must strive to point to and to worship my God and my King.

Do we really know this Jesus who enters into the streets of Jerusalem this day?  Do we really know the extent of His love, His mercy, and His grace?  Is He just someone we appreciate and try to implement a teaching or two of His?  Or is He the Lord of our lives?  Are our hearts His throne?  And do we long to cry out Hosanna?  Will you raise your palm branches?  Will you put your coat down in front of Him?  Will He be your Lord and your Savior?  May our hearts respond with a resounding, “Yes!!!”  Amen.

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