A Palm or a Cloak

April 13, 2014

Electricity filled the
air as the people of Jerusalem pushed against one another to see the man that
everyone was talking about.  Some said he
was a god and others said he was a demon. 
Some claimed he performed miracles while others proclaimed him a fraud a
charlatan or worse.  For better or for
worse everyone had an opinion, even if they didn’t agree. 
We are all familiar
with the scene, the account from Luke’s Gospel was read for us earlier.  Sometimes we talk about Palm Sunday, in the
Bible it’s often referred to as “The Triumphant Entry”  But it was the beginning of the end of Jesus’
earthly ministry.  In one short week
Jesus would be dead and the crowds would be silent.
So you probably know
the story but let’s look at the high points. 
The background is laid down in the book of John.  In Chapter 11 of John you may remember that
Jesus had been called to the town of Bethany where his good friend Lazarus was
sick, before Jesus was able to get there Lazarus had died and so Jesus raised
him from the dead.  Jesus became the talk
of the town and the news eventually spread to Jerusalem where the Jewish High
Priest, a man named Caiaphas heard the news. 
Now you might think that the High Priest would be excited to hear that
Jesus, the one who claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah had the power
to give life to the dead.  You know if
Caiaphas had been wondering if Jesus was truly who he claimed to be than this
might be the assurance he needed.  Help
him decide which horse to back, so to speak. 
But that was not the case.
 John 11:47-48 Then the
leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we
going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many
miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will
believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and
our nation.”  Kind of interesting where their priorities were
isn’t it?  There are churches and people
in churches that still feel that way today, they are more interested in
protecting their traditions than in reaching people.  But that is a topic for another time.
And so the story continues:  John
11:53-54 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.
As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left
Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim,
and stayed there with his disciples.  Jesus had become a wanted man, perhaps it was a
reward that had been placed on his head that Judas collected, it was at that
point that Jesus must have decided that discretion was the better part of
valour and went to Ephraim, a small town outside of Jerusalem. 
There was a plan, a time and a place for the events to happen and while
Jerusalem was the place this obvious wasn’t the time yet.  Perhaps this was a time for Christ to reflect
on what was going to happen and to prepare himself emotionally and spiritually
for what would happen in the days ahead.  
Or maybe it was simply
a matter of a better time. The spiritual impact of Christ’s sacrifice happening
at Passover would have been exponential over just two weeks previous.  We don’t know.   As a matter of fact we don’t know anything
about the time he spent in Ephraim and it really is incidental to the story
other than a stopping point, because we read in John 12:1 Six days
before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of
Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. 
So if we pull up our trusty
map here is Jerusalem and here is Ephraim and here is Bethany, and it was at
the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha that Jesus crashed for the
night.  John 12:12 The next
day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city.
Let’s go back to the
scripture that was read earlier,  Luke 19:29-31 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and
Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that
village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young
donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If
anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ 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, remember 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.
From this account we
are told that the young donkey had never been ridden before, that the colt
wasn’t even green broken. 
We had horses when I
was a kid and I’m not nearly as amazed by the fact there was a donkey waiting
there for Jesus as I am that he got on the back of an untrained animal that had
never been ridden before and stayed on. 
My experience with horses was been that they aren’t overly impressed the
first time a person climbs on their back. 
Another one of those miracle things. 
Now the entire
donkey and colt thing may not mean a whole lot to you and me but to the people
of Jerusalem it meant a great deal, and just in case they missed it Matthew
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.
It’s interesting that
while we see a donkey as kind of a second rate horse for the people of Israel
it was very symbolic because traditionally and culturally a donkey was what a
king rode when he came in peace.  Perhaps
a suitable mount for the Prince of Peace.
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.  William Barclay
who wrote the Daily Study Bible Commentaries made this statement “Jesus entered Jerusalem in a way that deliberately set
himself in the centre of the stage and deliberately riveted every eye upon
himself.  All through his last days there
is in his every action a kind of magnificent and sublime defiance; and here he
begins the last act with a flinging down of the gauntlet, a deliberate
challenge to the authorities to do their worst.”
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. 
Now at this point you
might be thinking, cool,  Denn has
forgotten it’s Stewardship month and he’s not going to talk about giving.  Not a chance. 
This is week two of Money Month.  If you are visiting or new to Cornerstone
each year we take the month of April to teach the theology of giving.   Almost a dozen years ago I decided that
instead of simply preaching in response to any given financial crisis in the church
that I would take the time to teach those who call Cornerstone their church
home why giving is a proper response to the love and Grace of God.  You understand, God doesn’t need you to give
for His sake. God is God, the entire universe is his.  So if he doesn’t need us to give for his sake
than it must be that he wants us to give for our sake.   Our giving shapes our response to God. 

And there is a great example of that in this story.

You see as Jesus rode
into Jerusalem on that Sunday so many years ago people responded in a variety
of different ways to his presence and the responses were demonstrated in very
tangible ways.  As a matter of fact the
way they responded is the way people still respond to Jesus today.
Some Gave Nothing.  There
are a few different sub groups that we find here.  First there were those who were hostile to
the claims of Christ.  They were the ones
who tried to trap him, who called him a demon and accused him of blaspheming
against God.  Couldn’t really expect them
to give.  Maybe you fit into that
category, you are only here because it’s easier than listening to your spouse
or parents nag you about coming. 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).

And then there were the uninterested. 
It wasn’t that they were negative to Christ they just didn’t care one
way or another; they saw a bunch of people and joined in to see what all the
commotion was about.  Kind of what P. T. Barnum
said “Nothing
draws a crowd like a crowd.”  

They stood on sidelines looking in, maybe they yelled the occasional Hosanna
so they didn’t look out of place but they hadn’t bought into the entire Jesus
thing. They were just there for the show and you couldn’t really expect them to
give either. 

But there were those
who were interested in what Jesus was saying, they were looking for him to make
a difference in their lives, perhaps to heal them or feed them or they truly
meant what they said when the called out Hosanna, which means “Lord save us.”  But they weren’t really looking to give
anything back.   
And there are people
just like that in our churches today, they want what the church can provide,
they want to have a service on Sunday morning that they enjoy and they want
their children to be taught about God is a safe clean environment and they want
a place and a person to perform weddings and funerals,  but they really want others to pay for
it.   When it comes to giving to the church some
people will stop at nothing. 
The reason we call the
Triumphant Entry “Palm Sunday” comes from John 12:12-13 The
next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the
city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the
road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in
the name of the Lord! Hail to the
King of Israel!”  Some
Gave A Little:
It really is a
neat picture. And you’ve see it in paintings and drawings and movies.  Here comes Jesus riding on the donkey the
people waving palm branches and yelling Hosanna.   These were excited people; they saw something
in Jesus that they liked, maybe something they wanted to emulate.
It was an impressive
scene, some people are waving the palm branches and we are told in the other
Gospel accounts that some of the people laid the palm branches on the road to
form a carpet for Jesus to ride over. 
Kind of cool but
really, there was a little effort.  I
mean here there would be an effort in finding a palm branch.  In Israel you would just have to turn around
and rip one off a tree, and if they were anything like the palm trees we had on
our property in Australia you just have to stoop over and pick one up.  The real sacrifice didn’t come from the
people nearly as much as it did from the tree.
But is a gift a gift
if it doesn’t cost something? 
And it is the same
with the church.  There are those whose
giving to the church is little more than a tip of the hat.  Oh they might mouth the words and talk about
giving but it’s a twenty dollar bill dropped in the box every once in a while.   And to be frank the church cannot survive
with Palm Wavers.  Marilyn and I were
talking a while back and she reminded me of a statement that one of our
professors at Bible College made.   And I
am in no way trying to imply that Marilyn and I are in any way close to the
same age.  She obviously began college
very, very young.
But I digress.  Marilyn reminded me that Dr. Kanzelmar said
that the way to see if an idea was valid was to see if it could be transferred
to everyone in the church.  So obviously
giving twenty dollars a week per family isn’t valid, with twenty dollars a week
per family we would just barely be able to pay our mortgage.
So Cornerstone would
have a really nice building with no heat no power and no staff.  Is that the Church that you want?
And so church is like
everything else how much you value it is really indicated by how much you are
willing to pay for it.  Jesus tells us in
Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the
desires of your heart will also be.  Jesus was telling people “If you want to see
what is important to you, look to where you spend your money.”  I’ve said before if you want to see where
your priorities are than look into the two most important books in your
life.  Your chequebook and your date
book.  Where do you give your money and
where do you give your time.
Angela’s father told
me that once he was in Virginia on a Navy Ship years ago and went to a church
for service one Sunday and when it came time for the offering the preacher
admonished the people to give out of their means not their meanness.  What do you give out of? Your means or your meanness?
Mark 11:8 Many in the crowd spread
their garments on the road ahead of him . . .
Some Gave a Lot:  So
perhaps you are sitting there thinking “So what’s the big deal?  They laid their coats down.”  Well those in the know tell us that 2000
years ago in Palestine that the vast majority of people didn’t have a closet
full of coats or for that matter a few coats or even a couple of coats.  Instead we are told that most people would
have only owned one outer garment.
So there you are with
only the coat on your back and here comes Jesus, some are waving and chanting
and some are breaking off palm leaves and laying those down for Jesus to ride
on and you really want to demonstrate your love for the one they call the
Messiah.  Would you literally give him
the shirt off your back?  Apparently some
would. This is a garment that was used as outerwear during the day and a
blanket at night.  It was so important
that it was actually protected by Jewish law.
We are told in Deuteronomy 24:12-13 If your neighbor is poor and gives you his cloak as
security for a loan, do not keep the cloak overnight. Return the cloak to its
owner by sunset so he can stay warm through the night and bless you, and the Lord your God will count you as
righteous.
And there were some
there that day that were willing to allow a donkey to walk on their cloaks and
possibly do whatever else a donkey might do on their cloaks. Why? Out of their
love and devotion for Jesus.   And again Jesus said Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart
will also be.  In a very real way they were willing to lay
down what was important to them to worship Christ. 
The bible gives us
clear direction on what God expects. 
It’s called a tithe and it means a tenth.  It is mentioned in Genesis, the first book of
the Bible.  It is mentioned in Malachi
the last book of the Old Testament and it is mentioned in Matthew in the New Testament
as well as in the book of Luke and Hebrews in the New Testament.  As a matter of fact those in the know tell us
that the Bible speaks more about money than it does about prayer and that Jesus
spoke more about our money, how we make it and how we spend it than he did
about heaven and hell combined.  Because
he knew how important the subject was.
And many of you give a
lot to God’s work at Cornerstone as a part of your worship.  And it cost you something, there are other
things that you could use that money for but you have chosen not to.  Thank you, you have laid your coat down for
Jesus to use. 
Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and
sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done
for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find
acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Some Gave Everything: There were many in the crowd that day who would
never set eyes on Jesus again, and those who never gave his words or their
encounter with Jesus a second thought. 
But there were those there that day that their encounter with Jesus was
a life changing event.
It defined who there were, it shaped how they lived and it may even have
determined how they would die.  And I
don’t just mean those who gave their lives in the persecution that accompanied
the early church, the martyrs.  I’ve said
before that I am sure that Jesus would agree:  “The problem isn’t getting people to die for
you it’s getting people to live for you.”
For many on 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, and that didn’t end on Palm Sunday. And so when we have
committed ourselves to him our giving isn’t an issue because all we are is his
and all we have is his.
This morning my challenge to you isn’t how much money are you prepared
to give to God it’s how much “You” are you prepared to give to God?  And remember in the end our commitment will
not be measured in our words nearly as much as it will be measured in our
actions.