What a Day

March 29, 2015

What a day!  Normally
when we think of the Sunday before Easter we focus on what is traditionally
referred to as the “Triumphant Entry”. 
You remember the story, Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a young
donkey and the crowds come out to greet him, yelling praises and waving Palm
Branches which is where the day received the name that is certainly a part of
common usage in the Church today. 
Right?  Because we all know that
today is “Palm Sunday”. 
But that was a just the beginning of the day, a day much
bigger than the parade that started the day out.  But that is really how we are in life,
focusing on the high points, on the parades and parties. 
It is interesting the Triumphant Entry is covered in all
four gospels and all of the descriptions are basically the same.  But the other events of the day are included
in some of the accounts and not included in other accounts. In some gospels
there are things recorded as happening on Sunday and in other accounts we are
told they happened the next day.   And we’ve been here before in saying that it’s
easy for the critics and skeptics to point at these accounts and to say “Look
the gospel writers can’t even agree on what happened.” 
But for me that is simply an argument for the authenticity
of the account, if all four accounts were identical it would be easy to suspect
that one account was written and then the other writers simply copied what the
first writer had put down. 
Week before last the staff were booked to go away to a
ministry conference in Moncton on March 20th.  It was an event that we had all been looking
forward to for various reasons.  The
speaker is someone who I follow online, a Canadian pastor by the name of Carey Nieuwhof,
but more than that because it was a district event we got to reconnect with
friends and colleagues. 
Here is the thing, we were all planning on going to the same
event, but we all saw it from different perspectives.  I had another meeting in Moncton so I went up
a day earlier, on Thursday the day after the storm so I was in Moncton to start
with and arrived at the event earlier than the rest of the group.  The roads were nuts, but only for me, not the
rest of the staff.  Most of the staff
came up the next day, and they saw an accident at the NB NS border, I didn’t
see that.  Ben and Bayley had Winnie with
them so things were a little different for them than for the rest of us.  Stefan and Deborah’s cul-de-sac didn’t even
get plowed out until Friday so they missed the entire event.  The rest of the staff headed back on Saturday
morning but I had an additional meeting on Saturday so I didn’t head back until
later in the day. 
And so if you asked the staff what happened last Friday they
would tell you that they attended, or almost attended a Day with Carey Niewhof,
but they would all tell it from different perspectives.  We all talked to different people, we all
remembered different things that Carey said, some of us were at some of the
events and others weren’t for various reasons. 
And so was the day that we collectively refer to as Palm
Sunday.  A lot of stuff happened that
day, more than just a parade with palm branches.  We are now in the homestretch of this part of
the Jesus story. There is barely a week left in this chapter of the book when
it would close with the bloody and brutal death of Jesus. 
So what happened on that day and the next day, and what does
it tell us about the Jesus we serve and call Lord?
Well, it did begin with a
parade.  Jesus arrives in town after
having spent six days in Bethany at the house of Lazarus and his sisters Mary
and Martha.  I spoke about Martha a few
weeks ago.  This was the Lazarus who
Jesus had raised from the dead.  John 12:9-11 When all the people heard of Jesus’
arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had
raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too,
for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and
believed in Jesus. Man that was harsh. 
But as far as we know Lazarus wasn’t killed by the leading priests, but
they thought about it and you know what they say, “It’s the thought that
counts.”
So what are the lessons we
learn?
And so we pick up the story in 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!”
Everyone See’s Jesus Through Their Own Eyes  There were all kinds of people in the
crowd that day, people who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry, perhaps they had
been healed, or had been fed as part of the crowd that experienced the miracle
of the loaves and fishes.  Or maybe their
lives had been changed by Jesus’ teachings.
They had finally discovered the
power of forgiveness in their lives, or they had embraced what it truly meant
to love God and love people.  Perhaps one
of the Parables had been an “Ah Hah” moment in their lives and because of Jesus
they had become better husbands and better wives, better parents and better
employees or employers. 
And so for these people they
were praising God for the Jesus who had impacted their life in such a
meaningful way.  Life would never be the
same for these people, they would always talk about and point to the moment in
time that they met Jesus.
And there are folks like that
here today, you are different then you were because you met Jesus.  A few weeks ago a friend of ours, the widow
of one of our Pastors in the district passed away.  And at her funeral her son spoke and he
referenced all of the nice things that people had said about his mother, and
Pauline Fancy was truly a wonderful and gracious woman of God.  And Bud said something to the affect that
many people talked about what a wonderful woman Pauline was but he said she
wasn’t born that way, she was born again that way. 
And if you have experienced the
life changing power of Christ in your life or the life of a loved one you know
exactly what Bud was talking about.
But there were others in the
crowd that day.  They were the curious,
those who had heard about Jesus but hadn’t actually met him.  Perhaps they had heard the stories of blind
men being able to see or crippled folks being able to walk.  Maybe a friend of a friend was a cousin of
the lady who had touched Jesus in the crowd and had been healed of a disease
that she had had for twelve years.
And so they had come to see the
one they had heard so much about.  And
maybe that is why you are here today, you are seeking to find out more about
God and Jesus and you heard that he was here.  
These folks participated in praising Jesus that morning but they didn’t
have a relationship with him but somewhere in their heart and soul was a
longing for more. We have been created to have a relationship with our
creator.  There is an eternal longing in
each of us to connect with God.
And I’m sure that you are here
today as well, perhaps it was when you started your family that you began to
look for that relationship, or maybe a crisis, the death of a family member, or
a relationship struggle that brought you to this point.  But you are looking for something more than
is offered by the world and a career. 
Or maybe they were curious
about where this Jesus would lead the country of Israel, was he truly the
Messiah? Could he be king?
But there were also the
apathetic there that day, perhaps they had been dragged out to see Jesus by a
spouse or a parent.  Or maybe they had
just been standing on the side of the road when Jesus rode by on the donkey,
but they really weren’t engaged.  They
might have shouted and waved a palm branch or two but it was just so they
wouldn’t stand out from the crowd, there was no significance in their actions.  Sound familiar to anyone here?  I would love to think that we are all here
today because when we got up this morning the burning desire in our hearts was
to worship God and to hear from his word. 
But I’m sure that there are those here who are here because being here
is easier than not being here. 
This Day Shows the Diversity of Who Jesus Was
A lot of things happened during
those 36 hours or so, it began with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but
if you continue to read in the four gospel accounts the day didn’t end when
Jesus got off the donkey.  Most of your
bibles include headings within chapters, listen to some that I found in my
bible that relate to those two days:  Jesus’ Triumphant Entry, Jesus Predicts His
Death, Jesus Clears the Temple, Jesus Curses the Fig Tree, The authority of
Jesus Challenged, Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem
He was a busy boy that day,
but what it shows us is how multifaceted Jesus was and how multifaceted his
ministry was.
It is so easy to fall into the
trap of developing this one dimensional image of who Jesus was.  And so we see him as the baby in the manger,
or the crucified Christ on the cross.  As
the good shepherd with the lamb across his shoulders welcoming the little
children to come to him.  Or we visualize
him as a miracle worker, walking on water performing healings, casting out
demons, feeding multitudes and commanding nature. 
But we end up being like the
blind men and the elephant.  Did you learn
the legend of the Blind Men and the Elephant when you were in school?
I remember learning the Indian
legend in school and pretty sure that Dad read me the poem when I was a kid,
today you get the Poem which was written by John
Godfrey Saxe, an American Poet,  and
is entitled Blind Men and an Elephant

It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant, And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand, And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest
man
Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

MORAL.

So oft in theologic wars,  The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!
And sometimes I’m afraid that
it’s too easy to just focus on one aspect of who Jesus was and that is all we
can see.  The all loving all accepting
Jesus, the angry Jesus who clears the temple and curses the fig tree, the
miracle working Jesus who is there to grant every wish.  But no one of those is who Jesus is. 
Have you been down at the water
front and seen the artists drawing the caricatures?  You know where they focus on a couple of the physical
characteristics of the person they are drawing and overemphasise those to make
a point?  Here is how artists have seen
the Prime Minister over the past few years. 
But that isn’t really what Stephan Harper looks like.
And
I’m afraid that often what we have is not a picture of Jesus but a caricature
of Jesus.  You understand what I mean, if
we only focus on certain areas of Christ’ ministry we don’t see the entire
picture.  And so on that day, a week
before his eventual arrest and crucifixion we see Jesus as a humble messiah
riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, fulfilling a prophecy made by Zechariah
hundreds of years before. 
And
the people are singing his praises, waving palm branches and laying down the
coats for Jesus to ride on and when the religious leaders demand that Jesus
muzzle his followers Christ replies by telling them in Luke 19:40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the
stones along the road would burst into cheers!”   If I said that you wouldn’t consider
me very humble but then I’m not God, and so it is evidence of Jesus’
self-awareness.
And then we see Jesus enter
into the temple where he sees merchants selling doves for the sacrifices and
changing the foreign currency of pilgrims who have come from away into the
appropriate coins needed in the temple. 
And really there was nothing wrong with that, but what was wrong was
that those who were doing the selling and changing were gouging those had made
a sacrifice to come and worship God.  And
most of you know the story how Jesus makes a whip out of ropes and starts
turning over the tables of the merchants and money changers and chasing them
out of the temple.   Jesus angry? 
Jesus Judgemental?  Wow, that is a
game changer for some. 
And then there is the story
told by both Matthew and Mark about how Jesus and his disciples were hungry and
they saw a fig tree full of leaves but upon closer investigation there was no
fruit on the tree, no figs.  And so Jesus
curses the tree and it withers and dies. 
And while that in itself seems a little intense Mark tells us that it
wasn’t even the season for the tree to have figs on it.  So what was with that?  I don’t know and really neither does anyone
else they are just guessing. 
Some commentators have said
that the trees around Jerusalem had fruit earlier than other parts of the
country because it was more temperate, others have suggested that the tree
didn’t even have the early buds that would eventually become fruit.  So there wasn’t even the promise of fruitfulness. 
But what we have is a little
snippet of an event without the conversation or context that went into it.  That’s another one of my “when I get to
heaven” questions.    But combined with the story of the clearing
of the temple it would indicate that Jesus isn’t necessarily all loving and all
accepting, “that’s all right at least you tried” saviour that some have
embraced.  That he has certain
expectations for how we act and how we behave. 
He expected those outside the temple to not cheat people, he expected
the fig tree to be fruitful.
But we still don’t have a
complete picture of Jesus.  Let’s add
another story from the day, Luke
19:41-42
But as they came closer to Jerusalem and
Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all
people would understand the way to peace.” 
For the past three years Jesus had taught the scriptures had
pointed people toward God, had spoken of forgiveness and peace and grace and
they just hadn’t gotten it.  And it broke
his heart. 
Parent’s when you try to teach
your kids those lessons of life and they don’t seem to get it, does it break
your heart?  I would imagine that Jesus
has wept for me and probably because of me as well. 
And so leading up to the
arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus we see this multi-dimensional image of
Jesus.  Not a caricature but a true
picture of the one we serve and love. 
His self-awareness, he knew he was God, that’s why he had told his
followers in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
And that fact that some would
still choose to ignore that reality and choose to not accept the grace and
salvation that he was offering broke his heart. 
And the fact that others would choose to flaunt their rejection of the
love and law of God made him angry.  
Which leads us to the next
point, because if we go further along in John’s account we read this note that
the Gospel writer includes:  John 12:37 But despite all the miraculous signs
Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.
The Reality is Not Everyone Will Get It We want to think that
everyone will get it, that nobody will be lost, that at some point even if it
happens on their death bed that everyone will fall in love with God and accept
Christ. 
And as much as we want that to
happen, the reality is that 2000 years ago people watched as Jesus performed
miracles, they ate the bread and fish that were formed in his hands, they saw
their loved ones healed, they heard his teaching, they saw his  tears and still most of the people did not
believe in him.
And he did not force them to.
The one with the power to command the wind and waves most certainly had the
power to break the will of the people who listened to his teachings and
witnessed his miracle 2000 years ago but he did not come to create a kingdom
using force then or now. 
There is a great promise in
God’s word, it’s found in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about
his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He
does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
But ultimately it will be your
choice and yours alone. 
Everyone one of us has a choice
to make, will you believe? Will you choose to surrender your life or not?  As much as I pray for people and weep for
people I can’t force them into a relationship with God.  I can’t and God won’t.  Are you willing to take the step
yourself?