New Life Chapel

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Sermon – Palm Sunday 2010

(Palm Sunday 2010)

“It Was His Plan All Along”

I’d like to welcome you all today to this year’s Palm Sunday celebration, the Sunday which marks the beginning of what has come to be known in the church as the Passion Week, the week prior to and including when Jesus went to the cross for all mankind.

The week when the very Son of God did what no one else in all the world – in all the universe for that matter, could do, redeem all of humanity from the death penalty of sin, to save us from what we ourselves have brought about, our own condemnation.

In other words, we messed up folks! We sinned by doing that which we knew in our hearts God didn’t want us to do. And in the instant that we did that, the very second that happened, we were guilty of sin. And of course we all know what the result of that is. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death”. So the moment we sinned, the moment we did whatever it was we knew we shouldn’t do – whether it was lying, stealing or whatever, we were as guilty as someone who commits murder.

For one who commits murder is not only guilty of the sin of murder, but they are also guilty of a felony in our civil courts and likely will – at least in our state – go to prison for the rest of their lives. In some states they might get the death penalty themselves, paying for their crime with their physical life. Either way, they will go to their own private hell on earth for the rest of the natural life. But for us, and for all sinners, we will go to a literal hell for all of eternity, unless something is done to stop that action. The Bible speaks of hell has a lake of fire, where the punishment never ends, where it’s occupants will be in agony – in torment forever.

And if God Almighty hadn’t intervened, we would all be headed to that second death. For our physical bodies will die – that’s the first death, but then our spirits will face an everlasting death in the fires of hell. But as I said, God intervened, for He was not willing to watch His creation go to hell. He loves us too much for that. So He came up with a plan. God is big on plans! He always has a plan. In His plan, He came up with a way to save us from that second death. To make possible, a future in paradise, to have a place set aside for each one of us in heaven, if we only believe. If we only believe in Him. If we only believe in what His only begotten Son, Jesus did on the cross.

Even the thief who hung next to Him, knew it…at least the one who believed. Sure, the other one, the other thief who hung on the other side of him at the end of the Passion Week, on that Good Friday had rejected him, but there were two thieves there that day, one who hung on either side of Jesus and while one rejected Him, the other believed and it was counted unto him as righteousness. No, he hadn’t been baptized. No, he hadn’t done great things for God, for he hadn’t had time to. He only believed in those final moments of his life and Jesus said to him, “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.”

For as Brother Robert reminded us just a few weeks ago, our salvation is evidenced by a life changed. One thief rejected the free gift of salvation made possible by Jesus and his life was not changed. Neither was his standing in the sight of God.

While the other accepted it, by believing it. His life was changed. His life was changed by Grace through faith – his faith in the only Son of God. But we’re getting way ahead ourselves. We need to back up a few days. For at the beginning of the week, on that Sunday, The King came to town.

Turn in your Bibles, if you would to Luke 19:28, for here we read of that triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We read of Biblical prophecy coming to pass. We read of Jesus, our Jesus, our King and Savior. Now to kind of set the stage for you, Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, having passed through Jericho. And he had just finished telling them the parable of the minas, or talents as Matthew put’s it.

It’s at this point we pick up the narrative:

Luke 19:28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” NIV

            Subterfuge – ever heard the word? I’m sure most of you have, but do you really know what it means? Many might equate it with deception or a trick, but it needn’t always be thought of with such negative connotations. For subterfuge can also be viewed in a more positive light, such as connecting it with the idea of a maneuver, a strategy or a well thought out plan, which is exactly what was going on here, as told in the opening lines of our passage.

            Beginning with verse 29, we read something that has puzzled readers for centuries. What’s going on here? Jesus waits outside of town, outside of Jerusalem on a hill just outside of what we might think of as smaller villages or suburbs called Bethphage and Bethany. Jesus waited at the hill known as the Mount of Olives. And he sent two of his disciples, into the village to get a colt. He told them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ “

And that’s what they did. And sure enough, they found it just as he had told them they would. But as they were untying the colt, its owner asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” and they replied just as Jesus had instructed them, “The Lord needs it.” And amazingly the owner just lets them have the colt.

Now, doesn’t that sound kind of odd? I mean, if someone just walked up to you out in the parking lot and hotwired your car, wouldn’t you think that kind of suspicious? And if you asked them, “What in the world do you think you’re doing?” and they said, “Oh, my Lord needs your car.” Would you just say, “Oh, sure, take it.”?  – Yeah, I bet.

Well, a colt would have been of equal value in first century Israel as your car would be to you today. So why would you or the owner of this colt just let two strangers walk off with something so valuable? Many theologians and I agree, it was subterfuge. Not a bad thing, but it was something already planned out. Arrangements had been made in advance to have this colt waiting for the disciples to come pick up. For this was the event that would set into motion all the other events of the Passion Week from which yours and my salvation would be made possible.

Now some folks don’t like the idea that this event was planned. They like the notion that this just happened to be coincidence, or that Jesus being fully God as well as fully man, would have psychically saw a colt tied there just waiting to be snatched by His disciples. But why? Why is it so hard to accept the fact that Jesus had this all planned? As I mentioned earlier, God always has a plan. Don’t you think God has a plan for all the world? Don’t you think God has a plan for your life? Well of course He does! God has always had a plan. He’s the One who came up with the “plan of salvation”! He has always had a plan for man and what unfolded that first Palm Sunday was just one small part of that plan.

The next part was to present Himself to the people, but He did so in a very specific way. That too, was part of the plan, for it was prophecy! You see, to the Jews, this wasn’t Passion Week, that had not occurred yet. It was Passover week, the beginning of the celebration of when God empowered Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Excitement was running high in the city that week, just as it always did at the time of such festivals as the Passover. But the natural excitement was heightened by this procession, this strange entourage, led by Jesus on a donkey, that wound its way toward the city gates. There at the head rode this quiet figure of a man, not as a conquering king. He would have historically been on a mighty white steed to imply that. No, Jesus came into town humbly, meekly on a donkey. All about him the crowds gathered, curious at first, but soon they were shouting and singing and turning the place upside down for him.

36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Zechariah 9:9 is the passage I referred to, when I spoke of prophecy being fulfilled. It reads, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Brett Blair writes, “As he entered the ancient city the crowds went wild with cheering. There were shouts of, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. People grabbed anything they could get their hands on. They tore palm branches from trees. They tore the clothes off their back. They threw them in his path as a king of regal carpet. The shouts of hosanna, which meant “save now,” grew louder. The green palms waved more and more frantically. Something tremendous was about to happen. Singing, shouting confidently, the crowd, swept through the city gates and finally stopped on the plaza in front of the Temple, the most sacred of shrines. There, Jesus dismounted. What a fitting and appropriate place for Jesus to make his big move.

The crowd, tense with anticipation, watched his every move now. Some of them would glanced toward heaven, looking for the sign that was sure to come. After all, was this not the Messiah, the Chosen One, for whom legends of angels would descend from heaven and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. Can we possibly even imagine the sensation that these people were feeling. We might compare it to the allied armies marching victoriously into Paris and throwing off the cruel yoke of Nazi oppression, or compare it to the 3rd Infantry Division rumbling into Baghdad.

Jesus was a one man liberation army that had marched right into the heart of Jerusalem in the midst of these poor troubled peoples groveling under the yoke of pagan Rome. This was the moment that had kept their faith alive throughout the centuries. This had been their hope. This moment had been the inspiration of their worship. They saw Jesus as the right man for the right time. Then the moment that everyone had been waiting for came. Jesus entered the temple. They crowd grew faint. Only a low murmuring now as all eyes focused upon the Nazarene. Time passed. More time passed.

An uneasy restlessness came over the crowd. What was Jesus going to do? Now, just so we can keep the record straight, I want to read to you what Jesus did as it was recorded from the Gospel of Mark,

“He went into the temple, and when he looked around at everything, since the hour was already late, he went out again,” Mark 11:11

That’s it folks. That, as they say, is it, and there ain’t no more. He went into the Temple, looked around, turned, and walked back out. He did absolutely nothing. The crowd was stunned. Perhaps no event in all of history has built up to a greater anti-climax than Palm Sunday. Then, slowly, one by one, the crowd began to melt away. All that was left was this kind of eerie silence and this empty feeling in their hearts. That was the end of their singing and shouting, the hosannas, the waving of palms. Something quite obviously had failed to come off here. It was a tremendous buildup to an equally tremendous let down.

Blair says, “In the centuries of retelling the story of Palm Sunday, it seems to me that we so often miss the point that to the people of first century

Palestine the events of that day fell like one big thud.”

And I have to agree. Most of us miss this point, but for all the pomp and circumstance by which Jesus entered Jerusalem, what happened once He arrived was nothing short of a huge let down. Had Jesus failed? Didn’t He know what to do next? Didn’t He know they wanted Him to be their conquering king? Well, no He hadn’t failed and Yes, He knew they wanted to make Him their king, but a king on earth was not what He came to be. Sure, in their eyes Jesus had failed to take advantage of this one great moment in history. And yes, many of them must have felt betrayed. But it was only because they didn’t understand! They didn’t understand that being an earthly king was not God’s plan…there’s that plan thing again!

Yes, God had a plan here! The crowds wanted the kind of winner their finite minds could conceive of, but Jesus had other plans. The people wanted an earthly conquering king, but Jesus’ plans would provide so much more. Unfortunately, at this point the people just couldn’t understand. So Jesus had to just press forward with His plan to save the world. This was His plan. And this would be His passion.

The Passion. What does it mean? Why do we call it the Passion? Well you have to go back to the old English when many of our words today held a little different meaning. This is a good example. When we hear the word “passion” we often think of romantic love or sometimes of a zeal or an enthusiasm about something. But the old meaning of the word was a little different. Centuries ago, the word meant the sufferings of a martyr. So quite simply it means the Sufferings of the Christ.

Years ago a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was “When The Cheering Stopped.” It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy. On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn’t believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man. It’s a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.

It happened that way to Jesus. When he emerged on the public scene he was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow him. The masses lined the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday, leafy palm branches were spread before him and there were shouts of Hosanna. In shouting Hosanna they were in effect saying “Save us now” Jesus. Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country. But the cheering did not last for long. There came a point when the tide began to turn against him. Oh, you didn’t notice it so much at first. People still came to see him, but the old excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they had been.

His critics now began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they had been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they began to perceive that the fickle public was turning on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they could not discredit his moral character, they began to take more desperate measures. Before it was all over a tidal wave welled up that brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross. Why did the masses so radically turn against him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday transform into the shouts of “crucify him” on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it all fell apart. Why?

Because it had to; it had to fall apart. The hope of making Jesus a political king, who would liberate them from Rome simply could not be. For Jesus came to liberate them and all the world from much more than some mere government of man. He had come to liberate them from sin and death! So here Jesus stands before this throng of people who are looking to him for leadership. They have just celebrated a kind of King’s reception with the donkey, the palm branches, throwing there robes to the ground in humble subjection to this king. And yet, He knows he must disappoint them. He knows he must walk away or they will try to follow through with the ceremonies and pronounce him king. And so begins the sufferings, or the Passion, of the Christ. The crowds will begin to turn against him because of their disappointment over this incident.

Now this sounds like a bad ending to a movie, doesn’t it? But of course we know it doesn’t end here, for this was just the first day of the Passion Week. This first day only marked the beginning of the triumph of love over hate; righteousness over unrighteousness; of life over death. It marked the victory of God in human affairs. It was the turning point for all of humanity, that first Palm Sunday. And it is our moment of triumph too, because of what God did for us in His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ.

He chose to follow His plan and ignore what the crowds wanted Him to be. He chose to give them and us the better gift, even though they could not have known that at the time. But a better gift it was, by far. For it was the gift of life – eternal life and all we have to do is believe.

No matter what we’ve done in this life, how we might have sinned, God comes into our world and welcomes us home. We may not deserve it, in fact we don’t – we don’t deserve forgiveness, we don’t deserve to be there in heaven one day, but He will welcome us there just the same. After all, that was His plan all along!

Pastor Stac

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March 29, 2010 - Posted by | Sermon

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