Discover your Place

November 20, 2011

It was a party, everyone was there, it was a celebration, the video clip you just watched was from Jesus Christ Super Star 2001 and I love the Palm Sunday scene, it captures the excitement and joy of that day.  From the excitement of the crowd to the animosity of the religious leaders and the torment of Judas.
There was a sense of anticipation and expectancy in the air, people knew that something was happening and they wanted to be a part of it.  As Jesus rode into town the crowd went wild cheering him on and laying a carpet of their coats before him.  He was the one that the prophets had spoken of and now he was riding into their town.  We read the story earlier in the service, how the people welcomed Jesus into their town, how they proclaimed his greatness and their loyalty.  And yet it was all short lived.  A week later instead of crying “Hosanna”, the crowd was yelling “Crucify him”.  Seven days after they yelled “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they hollered “We have no king but Caesar.”
A few things that we need to note as we look at what happened that day as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
First of all understand that this was planned.  Remember in the first part of the scripture that was read this morning?  Mark 11:1-3 As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it hereif anyone asks ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it. . .”.
Now we might be tempted to add a whole range of mystical application here, that maybe this was a miracle or a step of faith on Jesus behalf, you know, just do and it will happen.  Chances are that Jesus knew the man and had arranged in advance for the donkey to be there.  The words “The Lord needs it” were probably a password so the man would know that he was giving the donkey to the right people.  I mean he’d feel kind of silly had the two disciples shown up and he had to tell them, I gave the donkey to two other guys who were here about an hour ago. 
We know that Jesus had friends in Bethany, that’s where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and so it’s not that far of a reach to see that Jesus had already put steps in place for his entrance to Jerusalem.  Which would lead me to suspect that if it were alright for Jesus to do preparation and not always wait until the last minute and then call on God in panic that there might be a lesson there for us as well.
The story of the triumphant entry is told in all four of the Gospels and there are a few things that we pick up in the story at first glance; first it was a borrowed animal.  Interesting that Jesus started his life in a borrowed manger, preached from a borrowed boat, rode a borrowed donkey and was buried in a borrowed grave.  And yet have you every noticed how we hold so tight to the things which in reality are only borrowed, at the end of our life everything we have will belong to somebody else.
The second thing that jumped out at me was the donkey had never been ridden.  I spent a few years around horses and the like and if horse has never been ridden the first time is always an adventure, there is much activity and excitement and a lot of times you end up on the ground looking up with the horse looking down, and they always have either a look of contempt or pity.
They don’t call that process “Breaking a horse to the saddle” for no reason, it takes some time and some effort and yet Jesus gets on and rides away as nice as can be, and Mark doesn’t even comment on it.  Maybe because as we mentioned previously Mark was writing down Peter’s account and the silly fisherman didn’t realize how spectacular of an event this was.
But there is something else there that might not mean a whole lot to you and me but to the people of Jerusalem it meant a great deal, and while Mark didn’t mention it Matthew wants to makes sure that people don’t miss it so he reaches back into the Old Testament and pulls out a reference from the prophet Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.
Jesus knew that the religious leaders were out to get him and yet instead of slinking into the city under the cover of darkness he rides triumphantly in a manner that is bound to reveal him as Messiah. 
Those in the know would get it, they would be able to connect the dots.   Those who weren’t in the know would have their curiosity piqued and ask what was going on.  But either way Jesus was making a statement and he begins this last act with a deliberate challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet so to speak.
If that is indeed what he was trying to do he certainly succeeded.  But what about the people in the crowd that day?  We know that less than a week later they weren’t shouting hosanna, as a matter of fact some of the very people who wanted to see him crowned on Palm Sunday wanted to see him crucified on Good Friday. 
So who was in the crowd that day?  Who was it shouting to God in praise?  Who was it waving palm branches and laying their coats on the ground in front of Jesus?  Would it surprise you to hear they were the same people who make up the church today?  Very little has changed about human nature in the past 2000 years.  So who was there?
1) Judas was there.  I would suspect that we wouldn’t have to look very far in the crowd that day in order to find Judas Iscariot.  You remember Judas don’t you?  He was one of the twelve and the treasurer of the group.  Ultimately he would be remembered through history as the one who would betray Christ to the authorities.  Now at this point Judas had not even talked to the high priest about a deal. It would be another three or four days before Judas would go to the chief priests and ask what they would be willing to pay if he would betray his friend.  But do you really think that the turning point came after the triumphant entry?  Do you think that half a week could make a man turn from being a committed follower of Jesus Christ into the one who would turn his friend and teacher over to be executed? 
Whatever it was that had turned Judas heart had happened before that last week, oh something might have been said or done to trigger the incident but the wheels were already in motion.  On the day that Jesus rode into town being proclaimed Messiah Judas already knew that he had lost the first love that he had for Christ.  Judas’ true nature is revealed in a story told by John in his gospel.  Jesus has already entered into Bethany, and is attending a dinner given in his honour.  His three friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all there.  Martha is doing what Martha is always doing, preparing the food and serving it to all the guests, Lazarus is being a typical man in this situation and is doing nothing.  Understand ladies, Lazarus isn’t deliberately doing nothing, he just looks around and doesn’t see anything to do. The third sibling, Mary comes into the room with a container of perfume which she proceeds to pour over the feet of Christ and then she wipes it off with her hair.
A little bizarre but I’m sure that in that cultural and historical setting it must have been acceptable because no one jumps up and says “Wow that was kind of strange.”  But someone does object, this is what we read in  John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
And so it would appear that while Judas had all the outward trappings of one of the disciples that in here, where it counts, there had never been a transformation.  Oh people looked at him and said there is a follower of Christ, one of his disciples, he is a Christian. 
But Judas and God knew that was a lie.  When he shouted hosanna that day he didn’t mean it, he did it because it was expected of him.  And in churches all over our city today there are people who are known as Christians, who sing the songs, pray the prayers and may even be in a position of leadership.  But they know and God knows that it’s a lie. I would daresay that there is someone here today who is in that very position.  And there is a nasty word for people like that, it comes from the Greek word which meant to play a part or an actor and that word is hypocrite.
And the bible has a little advice for you in the book of James 4:8-9 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done.
Because if you don’t, you might fool Denn, and you might fool the people of the church, and you might even fool your family, but you aren’t fooling God.
2) The Religious Leaders Were There.  They weren’t shouting, they weren’t singing or waving palm branches or laying their coats down.  They weren’t in the least bit interested in being identified with Christ, I mean you have to give them credit, at least they were honest about it, they weren’t pretending.  They had their minds made up; they weren’t going to believe in him, no matter what.  It didn’t matter how many miracles they witnessed, how many times they saw lives changed, they had already made a decision to not follow Christ, and we’ll never know what it was that kept them away, pride, sin or the fear of losing control but it was something.
Not all of the religious leaders were like that, in the Gospels we read about men like Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jairus the ruler of the Synagogue.  But the majority of them, if they had a favourite hymn it would be “I will not be moved.”
And today we have people who tell us that Jesus was a great religious teacher or a good man or a prophet, but they draw the line at saying he is God.  They resist any effort that people might make to introduce them to Christ, and they’ve hardened their heart to the spirit.
There are people like that in every church, they are there because they have to be.  Their parents have drug them out, or it’s their spouse or a friend.  And they may have to be there but they’ll be darned if they are going to enjoy it.  They sit or stand with their arms folded (and if their arms aren’t actually crossed they are crossed on the inside) and never sing a word, their minds are made up and the preacher certainly won’t be the one to change it.
King David made a statement in Psalm 14:1  it was there he wrote Psalm 14:1  Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
A few years back I saw a picture, it looked something like this.  Someone had written the words “God is Dead” on a wall and then signed Frederick Nietzsche’s name to it. Under it someone had added these words “Nietzsche is dead” and signed God, hah, hah.
Listen up, just because you’ve made up your mind that there is no God or that Jesus Christ isn’t God doesn’t make it less so. Or maybe you are kind of like the person that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).
It really doesn’t matter because the Bible says in Philippians 2:10-11 that there will come a time Philippians 2:10-11 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
3) The Curious Were There Call them what you like the undecided or seekers they heard the noise and wanted to find out what it was all about.  They probably got caught up in the excitement and began to sing and shout and wave palm branches but they still weren’t a hundred percent convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  Perhaps they hadn’t heard him speak, or maybe they didn’t know anyone whose life had been changed or who had been healed.  So they were there for themselves to find out.
Most of us don’t come to know Jesus as Lord the first time we hear the message, as a matter of fact most of us don’t come the first half dozen times we hear the message.  It often takes time and multiple hearings before we come to the place that we are ready to surrender our lives to him.  For some it is fairly quick for others it takes a little longer.  The secret is that you remain open to God and to his message.
Jeremiah 29:11-13For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
We do know that less than two months later, after Jesus had been crucified, after Jesus had risen from the dead, after Jesus had taught for another forty days and ascended into heaven, after the Holy Spirit fell upon the small group of believers in Jerusalem and after Peter preached on the streets of Jerusalem, perhaps to many who had been there on Palm Sunday that this is recorded in  Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.   That would be a good day at church, one would think.
And so if you are here today, but you have never made a decision to follow Christ continue to seek him, but here is a warning, don’t take too long.  2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
Why today?  Because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow.  And friends listen up you who say “I’m almost convinced.”  90% found is still lost.  I would hate to think that any one of you might slip into eternity, by the way that’s just a pastoral way of saying kick the bucket, without having the assurance of your salvation.
4) The Committed Were There.  Along with Judas I’m sure the other eleven disciples were there, probably Mary, Martha and Lazarus were there, no doubt Mary Magdalene, maybe Zacheaus, Simon the leper and others whose lives and bodies Jesus had touched.
For many that day Jesus was not just an abstract or an ideal he had changed their lives and they were there to express their thanks and their adoration to him.  Psalm 135:1 was a reality to them and they were going to follow those words that said Psalm 135:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD! Praise him, you who serve the LORD,
I don’t think that I’d be far off in saying that most of you folks fall into that last category; Jesus is a real part of your lives.  Through his power and his grace your sins have been forgiven.  And when you come on Sunday mornings your praise is genuine, and to you I leave the words of the book of  Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.
If you are in one of the other categories today I would encourage you to move into a right relationship with God.  The scriptures tell us that he doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing him, and that means you.  Whatever it is that has been holding you back let it go. If you have never asked Christ to be Lord of your life then you need to right now, and it is as simple as acknowledging that he is God and that you are a sinner and asking him to forgive your sins and turning from them.  You say “Denn it can’t be that simple.”  Oh yes it is. Just that simple.  If you’ve made a commitment to Christ but you aren’t living for him, or if there is unforgiven sin in your life then you need to ask for forgiveness.
Let’s pause for a minute of silent prayer.  You might be thanking him for all he’s done for you, or you might be asking him to forgive you, right now only two people need to know your prayers, you and God.