Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A talk for Palm Sunday 2013



Many of us are driven by the pursuit for applause. We want our moment in the spot light. We want to be a star – in whatever is our chosen field. We want to know that we really matter, and that other people know we really matter.

We day dream:
I’ve run the grand prix and we’re standing on the podium
I’ve scored the winning goal in the FA cup and I’m lifting the trophy and 50000 people roar.
You’re on the cat walk – people are gasping at your beauty
You’re the leader of the party which has won the election, and at the conference the party adores you.
You’ve won the X factor, millions of people have voted for you, the glitter falls and the music swells, and it is your name that is in the headlines
You’ve become pope, and 150000 chant your new name

The astonishing thing about Jesus is that he could have had all that and more, and yet he never seeks the limelight.

When, in Mark 1:36 – because of his healings – he is told ‘everyone is looking for you!’ he simply moves on.
When he brings Jairus’ daughter back from the dead, he orders people, ‘Don’t tell anybody’.
When, in John 6:15, he has fed the 5000, and they want to make him king, he slips away to a quiet place.

His blood brothers want him to become big. They tell him, ‘Go big time. You’re doing this stuff in insignificant Galilee. Go to where it is all happening. Do it in Jerusalem.’  And then they say, ‘No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things’ [and I love the next line], ‘show yourself to the world’ (John 7:4). It is a Jeremy Clarkson moment.
The devil tells him to do that: ‘Throw yourself off the temple – then they’ll realise that you are someone not to be messed with’

And when Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do you think I am’, and Peter says, ‘You’re the Messiah; You are the one God has sent into this world to be his ruler in this world’, Jesus then commands them not to tell anybody (Mark 8:30)!

I think one of the reasons that we dream of being in the spotlight is that we want recognition. We feel we need to prove ourselves: and this is the thing that will show that I am really worth something.

Jesus did not need that.

He knew who he was.
And he knew he was deeply deeply beloved by his Father.
He knew it from a very early age: when he was in the temple, he told his parents that he was in his Father’s house.
And then there was the voice from heaven – not once, but twice. At his baptism and transfiguration: ‘You are my beloved Son’.

Jesus does not need the adulation of others to prove that he is somebody.

And yet, despite all of that, Jesus –at the very end of his ministry – takes this astonishingly public step. He allows his disciples to cheer him. He puts himself on that podium.

He asks his disciples to find a colt (it is possible he has prearranged it all with the owner), he rides it, they throw their garments in front of him, they declare that Jesus is king and they praise God.

The one who has avoided the limelight for 33 years, suddenly goes public.

It is public and it is provocative: Jesus is now openly claiming to be God’s king. He is claiming to be the Messiah.

Everyone would have known the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


And the disciples knew what Jesus was saying. When they spread their cloaks and coats on the road, they knew what they were doing. It was what the people of Israel did when Jehu came, in the Old Testament, to be anointed king (cf 2 Kings 9:13)

And their words match their actions; ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’
[There was a blessing pronounced on pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem in Ps 118:26, ‘Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord’. That chant is changed by the disciples to ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord’]
And they go on to say that Jesus is the one who has come to bring peace in heaven (the angels at Jesus’ birth declared that he is the one who would bring peace on earth) and glory to God.

Jesus followers are having a party. This is the pre-election rally. This is the coronation party. They are saying, ‘This is our man. And he is coming to reign. We welcome him as our king.’

And Jesus encourages them. When his opponents tell him to shut his followers up, Jesus tells them that if they are silent, the stones themselves will declare his praises.

There is so much here!
But I’d like to focus on three reasons why I think Jesus does this now.

1. Jesus is saying that he is coming as the King who will bring peace

It is often said that Jesus is showing that he comes as a humble king – because he is riding a donkey and not a war horse.
That may be the case; it may not be.
Certainly it is said that if a ruler was coming in peace they would not enter the city riding their war horse. I doubt, however, that they would ride on a colt – it would look extremely awkward, and could have been quite humiliating.

What I suspect is more significant is the prophecy from Zechariah 9, that we looked at a bit earlier. Verses 10-12 continue:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.


The one who comes riding on the colt is the God-appointed king who has come to bring peace. He has come to bring hope. He has come to set people free – and in particular to our enslavement by sin and satan. He has come to establish God’s kingdom.

Jesus is saying, ‘I am the king who will bring God’s reign of right-ness and peace’.

Jesus is the king who would bring peace to you and me.

He would quell our restless churning for recognition or significance or meaning; He would show us that, together with him, we are profoundly beloved. He would bring calm to troubled and guilty consciences – which, even if we deny them, still paralyse us. He would pour cool waters of forgiveness over steaming resentment and bitterness. He would subdue those desires and drives in us which lead us to destroy ourselves and others, and fill us with a love for him and for others.

He is saying, ‘I am the king who would bring peace’.

2. Jesus is saying that he is coming as a sacrifice

He rides a colt ‘which no one has ever ridden’.

In the Old Testament, an animal which has no blemish and which has not been used is destined for a sacred task. (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3)

In both of those cases, the animal was to be sacrificed.
But in this case, it is not the animal which is to be sacrificed. It is the one who rides on it.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem as its king. But he is not coming in as a conquering king. He comes knowing that he will be the king who will be rejected. He comes as the king who will be lifted up: but who will not be lifted up on a podium, but lifted up to be mocked, spat upon, crucified.
He comes as the king who will give his life for his people.

But it is his death on the cross, only a week later, which will bring peace on earth, peace in heaven and glory to God.

3. Jesus is saying that now is the time when you have to decide

This was decision time then – but it is also decision time now.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt.
He has performed the wonderful works of God.
He has shown that where he is, God’s kingdom is.
He is now claiming openly to be the Messiah, God’s chosen ruler in this world.

The disciples recognise that claim. They proclaim him as King.

In throwing their clothes at his feet, they are symbolically throwing themselves at his feet. They are saying, ‘You are not only the King. You are our king’.

But there are others who do not accept the claim. The Pharisees, who are in the crowd, but who are not disciples, cannot accept him.
They tell him to stop making a scene, to order his disciples to be silent.

On the one hand we have those who accept his claim to be God’s king; on the other, we have those who reject that claim.

Jesus knows that, although there will be some who accept him, in Jerusalem he will be rejected.
And he weeps.
Not for himself (‘they don’t like me’), but for them.

If only they had had their eyes open they would have seen God at work.
If they had received him – if they had welcomed him into their city, and into their lives – then things would have been very different.
The disaster that was going to befall Jerusalem 40 years later, would not have happened. ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes ... you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you’. (Luke 19:42)  

It was a time of decision. And when Jerusalem made that choice on Good Friday, they went with the Pharisees and not with the disciples. They rejected Jesus.

But for us, it is also a time of decision.

When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, I wonder whether he also wept for you and me.  
I wonder if he said, “Oh Malcolm, Oh Alison, Oh Mary, George, Philip - if only you had opened you eyes and ears; if only you had opened yourself to me, allowed me to be your king and ruler; if only you had received me – things could have been so different.

Instead of trying to live for yourself, trying to prove yourself, showing us that you could do it all by yourself, pushing yourself forward into the spotlight, building your own little empire and crushing other people in the process - you could begin instead to live a life of freedom, rooted in the growing awareness of the immense love of God for you, of the gift of forgiveness, of your need for his power to change, of the availability of that power for change. From being a prisoner in the waterless pit, you could become a prisoner of hope.”

And perhaps he wept over us, because he longed to draw us close to himself, but we would not.
Perhaps he wept over us because he longed that we might know him, the depth of his love and the power of his resurrection, and we would not. 

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