A Humble Entrance

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Introduction:

Last week we looked at Divine Interruptions and how it is easy to miss something that we are not looking for. I shared some of our story and how God broke into our plans to conceive children and blessed us with our wonderful daughter, Maisie, through adoption.

We looked at Jesus and how his plans were interrupted by the will of the Father as he returned to Judea to heal Lazarus and raise the dry bones.

We looked at our own lives and the potential divine interruptions happening right now.

Today is a little bit of a continuation of the idea of divine interruptions.

If there was ever a time in history that one could proclaim an interruption being a divine interruption by God it certainly would be God sending His one and only Son to this earth in human flesh picture of (Jesus with Pharisees).

You wanna talk about messing up the whole system!

The religious rulers of the day were upset because a man named Jesus from Nazareth was messing up their plans and their lives. He was messing with what they had been taught and what they believed about God.

Jesus was an interruption. He was a distraction. He was a nuisance. And the religious rulers had had enough.

When Jesus returned to Judea to raise Lazarus from the dead, He knew he was putting himself at great risk because he had just escaped being stoned in his previous visit to Jerusalem. After the ruckus Jesus caused by the raising of Lazarus, there most certainly was something coming.

Jesus knew it. Instead of shying away from it, he leaned into it and embraced God’s will for Him.

Our scripture this morning comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 versus 1-11.

Matthew 21:1-11 (NIV)

21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]

“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Movement 1:

As we move into this story, let’s begin by looking at some of the historical things happening in this passage.

It is Palm Sunday, 33 A.D. in the holy city, Jerusalem. It’s the beginning of the Passover Festival. It was one of the three feasts in Jerusalem each year which every Jewish male 20 years and older was required to attend. Pilgrims were jamming the city—it’s estimated that between 2 and 2.5 million Jewish pilgrims had traveled to Jerusalem to commemorate the great deliverance of Israel from Egypt when the Passover Lambs were sacrificed as a ransom to save the first-born of Israel.

On this Passover about 200,000 to 250,000 lambs would be sacrificed in commemoration of that first Passover, little did they know there would really be only one true lamb, Jesus, that would be sacrificed.

(Picture of hillside) Jesus and His disciples had been approaching Jerusalem from the east, from Jericho. And they had come to a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethpage, and is located about two miles away, on the eastern flank of the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives figures very prominently in the history and the future of Israel. It’s a ridge that is about 200 feet higher than Jerusalem. It’s located just to the east of Mount Zion as you can see from this photo.

It’s the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection, and according to Zechariah 14:1-4, it’s the place to which He will return from Heaven when He comes again. And it is also from the Mount of Olives where He begins His Triumphal Procession into Jerusalem.

It’s an incredibly significant moment. It is the fulfillment of the hopes of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, whose coming had been prophesied for 1500 years. It’s so important that it’s an event that is recorded in all four of the Gospels.

Up until this time Jesus was known as a prophet, perhaps the prophet prophesied by Moses, but He had not publicly presented Himself as the Messiah. But on this day, after three years of the most incredibly supernatural ministry, the world has ever seen, He comes to the capitol city of Israel, where the King should rule and reign over Israel and the world, to present Himself openly and publicly as the Messiah, the Son of David.

Today is a Sunday with cries of Hosanna. The Messiah has arrived. We traditionally celebrate it with palm leaves, choruses of celebration and experiences of adulation. Our King has arrived. It’s clean, safe and brightly colored.

“Hosanna,” we cry. “Lord, save us,” we say.

But, far too often, we forget what Christ is marching toward. We forget the depth of his mission. We forget the power and scandal in his message. We forget his invitation to follow him.

Palm Sunday, when removed of its pomp and glitter, is a stark reminder of who we are, and who we follow.

 

Movement 2:

As Jesus and his disciples rest at the Mt. of Olives, Jesus asks two of his disciples to fetch a donkey. In verse 2 he says, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

So off went two of the disciples to fetch the donkey.

As Jesus waited for their return, I wonder what he was thinking about. Overlooking the city where he had almost been stoned by the religious leaders before and now preparing for the unveiling of who He truly is. Maybe he was asking himself, “Are the people going to reject me and begin to throw stones? Or will they see me for who I am and bow down in worship?

About this time perhaps – Jesus’ thoughts are interrupted by the sound and smell of the donkey he asked for.

The donkey was a significant loan. Donkeys were means of transportation in Israel and a luxury at that. It would be like someone asking to borrow your car. And here the disciples borrow this donkey and her colt from a complete stranger.

I imagine the 2 disciples sent on this mission had their doubts. Who loans out such a valuable asset to a couple total strangers? Nonetheless, these disciples walked by faith because they trusted Jesus. And so when He told them to do something, though they could not see how it was possible, they did it, because they knew Jesus and trusted in Him.

This is the sign, the donkey, that would prove that He had come, fulfilling Zechariah 9:9. He would come riding into town with an attitude of gentleness and humility.

The parade route was set and the long-anticipated entrance was about to happen.

There has been scholarship that has suggested that Jesus, during his ride into Jerusalem, was not the only parade happening that day. As Jesus entered to the east, Pilate arrived from the west.

The imagery must have been remarkably distinctive.

(Picture of the bust of Pilate) As Pilate entered the west gate, crowds would have watched him enter on a warhorse and surrounded by countless soldiers. The ground would have trembled under their feet, their armor creaking as they walked, the sun reflecting off their helmets and spears. This would have been a moment of awe and intimidating power.

The horse and the soldiers would have reminded the crowd who they serve. It would have been an in-their-face reminder that they were a conquered people. Submit or die. This parade would have been a magnificent display of the might of Rome.

From the east, however, the crowds would have experienced a very different entry and parade route.

(Picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem) The crowds would have watched a man, surrounded only by disciples – simple, ordinary men, entering on a Donkey. There were no swords, no spears, no helmets. There was no prestige, no intimidation. It was a parade conspicuously absent of might of Rome.

The differences must have been extreme.

Movement 3:

Now, Jerusalem wasn’t a large city. Some estimate that Jerusalem was around 20,000 people during the time of Jesus, however during festivals and special feasts, it would have swelled to much larger numbers. And old Jerusalem was only about a mile long. As folks from small towns know, news traveled fast.

As Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh point out,

“The city dwellers in Jerusalem would have been able to look over the city walls to the east and see the crowd hailing Jesus as he rode along. Given the conflict between city dwellers and outsiders that characterized ancient Mediterranean society, one is not surprised by the turmoil, or the question of the Jerusalemites, “Who is this?”, “Who is this?”

This was not a good time for the Jews. Taxes were unbearable; the rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer. Injustice was commonplace. There was no greater image of that injustice than the man who entered in lavishness and drenched in military power.

It’s no wonder then, that Jesus entered to such ecstatic praise.

Jesus’s procession powerfully stood in contrast to the parade happening on the other side of the city. As Pilate entered the city, his parade was a living embodiment of the Kingdom of Rome and all she stood for; power, glory, and violence. Jesus, however, gave a flesh and blood alternative to the Kingdom Rome. It was a procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.

He came humbly and gently, loving others impartially.

As he rode towards Jerusalem, most of the crowd was overcome by this incredibly special moment when they recognized that this was the King they had longed for. They were people who had followed Him from Galilee and who had seen Him resurrect Lazarus of Bethany only days before.

And they quickly began ripping off their coats and spread it before the great King and His humble steed. And when they started to run out of coats they rushed back and picked up coats from the ground and put them back in the path of Jesus.

Those who didn’t have garments to lay down began cutting down branches, some palm fronds and spreading them in the road before the Great King. All part of the recognition of the Messiah.

And then the crowds going before Him and coming after Him we’re overcome at the excitement of the moment. They were shouting, “did you see that”!? They were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!”

Now Hosanna means, Save now. Save now. And as they put it in the context of Save Now, in the Highest, they were acknowledging that they were appealing to God in the Flesh for the very salvation and deliverance that only the Messiah/Savior/Deliverer would bring.

They were recognizing that this Jesus was the Messiah, they were proclaiming it at the top of their voices as they entered the city. And they were quoting a Messianic Psalm, Psalm 118:25-26, an indication that at least for the moment they were receiving and welcoming their Messiah, saying, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

Conclusion:

And then – just a few days later Jesus is arrested and stands trial before Pilate (picture of Jesus before Pilate). The people who followed Jesus into Jerusalem are likely the same ones who stood before Pilot crying “crucify him”. Less than a week earlier, they fell on their faces in awe of the Messiah, even stripping their garments off and laying them on the dry and dusty ground for Jesus to ride the donkey over.

Yet, they turned at the end the week proclaiming a different kingdom message. It’s a little like sports figures.  When they are catching passes and scoring touchdowns they are kings – but when they miss the game winner, lose in the grand slam, or go through public personal issues – people turn their backs.

People outside and leading into Jerusalem got caught up in the hype. They succumb to what we know as “mob psychology.” I read an article recently about a young woman who did a human art piece where she stood still for 6 hours and allowed people to do whatever they wanted to her. She gave them permission and even gave them a table of items to use.

For the first 4 hours people watched and really didn’t do very much. They changed the positions of her arms and head and body. But the last 2 hours were horrendous, escalating with each act. People did some heinous things. And it began with one person pushing the envelope and the next person going a little further, and so on – you get the picture.

The group dynamic influenced personal choices that maybe the individuals would have never done on their own.

The people making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem were caught up in the moment and then soon forgot about it – when they were caught up in another moment – the moment to have Jesus killed.

Are we going to be tossed back and forth in the waves of peer pressure, social and political change, and personal vices or will we stand strong in the power of Jesus Christ and follow Him? (picture)

Many times Christ says “follow me” in the New Testament (picture). Jesus doesn’t give people a rule book. He never said here is a rule book – read it, believe it, profess it, clean up, and then follow.

Jesus extended an invitation to follow to every single kind of person imaginable — rich people, poor people, people who were spiritual, people who weren’t spiritual. He didn’t place a bunch of conditions on His offer. He just invited them to follow.

Will we follow Him – in all that it will mean or will we shout crucify him? Will we choose the Kingdom that Christ is bringing or the kingdom of Pilate and Rome.

Like the Romans and Jews in this story, we are living in the midst of two parades. We find ourselves tempted by the magnificence of the Empire’s parade. It’s filled with music which makes us feel a part of a larger whole. It’s Filled with dramatic, powerful images. The empire parade makes us feel good to have a common enemy. To impart fear, power, and intimidation.

However, there is another parade. A parade filled with peasants, which invites us to the other side of town. We are invited to a procession of those who love their enemies and pray for those who seek our harm. A parade which leads us to forgive those who have wronged us and refuse to grasp for power. A parade which reminds us that the way to wholeness is in surrender.

However, should we choose the peasant parade, we must do so carefully and with eyes wide open, for it is not going to end as we expect. It didn’t for those who cried hosanna that day. This donkey riding Messiah is not coming as a conquering King (at least not yet). No, he first comes as a slaughtered lamb who is pierced for the transgressions of humanity.

We must ask ourselves, which parade are we attending?

Which kingdom are we a part of?

Will we follow Christ? Or will we shout crucify him?

Response:

Jesus extends an invitation to follow – being a sinner doesn’t disqualify you, being an unbeliever doesn’t disqualify you. Jesus says, “come and follow me”.

So on this Palm Sunday, Jesus calls to you and to me “come and follow me”. As we respond to the Word today, I wonder if you would be willing to respond to the call of Jesus to follow, to affirm that you desire to be a part of the Kingdom of heaven. No prescription for the future, but just to simply trust Jesus and follow.

If you do, I would like to invite you to join me in the front here for a time of prayer.

Prayer

Announcements:

In a very practical way – I invite you to follow Christ this week on His journey to the cross. Join us on Thursday between 7 and 8 for a come and go worship experience. We will have 5 worship stations set up throughout the room and it will be a self-guided time of worship and reflection.

We will also share in a Good Friday service at Ashland Christian Fellowship at Noon. And on Saturday watch The Passion of the Christ, beginning at 2 pm.

Then we return on Sunday morning for a great celebration of the resurrected King! Beginning with an Easter Brunch at 9:30 (sign up to bring something to share) and our worship gathering at 10:30 am.

Please create the space to finish the season of Lent and invite someone to come and experience the hope of Christ on Easter Sunday. Grab an invite card from the Welcome Center or out of your bulletin.

Finally, thank you to those who were able to make it yesterday for the spring cleaning day. We were able to get a lot done. We do have a few things we would like to get checked off the list this coming week so if you have time, let us know and we can provide a list of things that need to be done.

Receive Tithes and Offerings

Benediction:

 As we prepare for the benediction, I would like to have all of you that can, stick around after the service and help us rearrange the worship space for Maundy Thursday. Just hang around and we will give you instructions.

Col. 3:16-17/1 Th. 5:23-24 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept righteous. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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