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Passion or Palm Sunday (2)
CSS PUBLISHING COMPANY, ABNER THE CLUMSY OX and OTHER BIBLE STORIES, by Wesley T. Runk
How many people here this morning wish that they were older than they are? (Wait for an answer) You do? How old would you like to be? Would you like to be ten or sixteen or twenty-one? What could you do if you were older that you can’t do now? (Get some answers and try to lead them to the kind of jobs that they would have if they were older.) I see. If you were older you could have a job, go to work, stay up late, eat the kind of food you like and wash your hands and brush your teeth whenever you wanted to. Well, I can certainly see why you want to be older than you are today.
But did you ever think of the things you might miss if you grew old too fast. Have I ever told you about Benjamin Donkey? I haven’t? Well, I certainly am glad that I came today so that I can tell you about this very famous donkey.
Benjamin was just a little donkey. As a matter of fact if you knew anything about donkeys you would say that Benjamin was a colt. Now Benjamin belonged to a boy who loved him and took very good care of him. Every day this boy got up and fed Benjamin the finest donkey food in the whole world and then after breakfast he would brush him until he had the shiniest coat of hair in the whole country. Later when the sun was just right, after the morning chill and before it got too hot, the boy would take Benjamin out for a nice walk and let him feed on the fresh grass in the pasture to his heart’s content. Most people would think that our friend Benjamin had it “made in the shade”. But not Benjamin. No sir, he was tired of being a colt. He wanted to do a really big job. If God would only hurry up and make him grow up so that he was as big as his father and mother then he could see the exciting places like the great city called Jerusalem. If he was big he could walk through the market places and listen to all of the strange noises that he heard so much about.
One day after Benjamin had come back to the house where the boy lived and was tied up, there came a couple of men looking for him. There wasn’t any doubt that they wanted him, for they came straight toward him and began untying him. The boy ran from the house and asked them where they were taking his colt. “The Master has need of him,” they said. The Master? Who is He? thought Benjamin. Well, Benjamin didn’t have to wait long. The next thing he knew he was standing in the middle of thirteen men and one of them prepared to ride him.
What a day it was. Benjamin would never forget what happened to him if he lived to be the only 100 year old donkey in history. From a place they called the Mount of Olives they went to the great city with the high wall surrounding it. This is Jerusalem. Benjamin thought. No doubt about it. And the people were so glad to see his rider. They threw their coats and scarves in his path so he hardly ever walked on a brick or a clod of dirt. They shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” The men who walked beside this Master called him Jesus. What a day this was. What a wonderful day this was, and to think that the Master Jesus had chosen him, just a little colt.
Well, now I ask you, what donkey, colt or grown up donkey, ever had a more important job than Benjamin. Little donkeys or colts can have big jobs, really important jobs if they are only patient and are willing to wait for the right time and opportunity. That’s the same way it is with boys and girls. Sometimes I hear boys and girls say that they are too little to do things for Jesus. They think that only their mothers and fathers can help Jesus but that is not right, is it? Think what a terrible day it would have been for Jesus if Benjamin had not been ready. So even if you are little, God will find some special thing for you to do to help Him tell others about the Lord Jesus. Then some day you will feel as good as Benjamin felt.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”
Since we are self-centered many times when we read Scripture, we miss this verse. What does it mean that the stones will cry out. It is a reference to the original sin of Adam and Eve. They lived in Paradise. When I was at Aberdeen Proving Ground one of the security people would welcome people in by saying “Welcome of Paradise.” He was told to stop. I would like to welcome you to Paradise this evening. Paradise is where God is. Hell is where God is not. When the first couple sinned, Paradise was lost. Not just to them but to us as well. Nature was in perfect harmony in the Garden of Eden but sin threw nature into disharmony. It is the entry of sin into the world that brought about earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. God doesn’t cause this evil, sin does.
With the crucifixion and death of Jesus, sin can now be forgiven. This process began on Palm Sunday. We read the Passion so that we can focus on what our sins caused and how Jesus suffered to forgive them. If we took advantage of all the graces of God, we could wipe sin off the face of the earth. Then nature would be restored and there would be no more volcanos etc. The fancy theological word for this is Recapitulation, the restoring of Paradise and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
We don’t know how he does it, even physically, let alone with his mind and heart. He even makes an excuse for us, unmerited. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”
Indeed, how could they? We can barely understand the events of that Friday today. How could they commit the political murder of someone who only wanted to show God’s inconsiderable love?
But maybe that’s Jesus’ hope . . .that someday we would understand it more, understand it better precisely because of the mercy God shows us in Jesus…. For with these words Jesus transforms his death and defeat into the definitive sign of reconciliation and grace.
Did his words inspire the Good Thief, as we call him now? Can his words inspire us? For what Jesus wants is not schmaltz, or sympathy, or tears of regret. Rather he wants us to see in this tragic scene the ultimate triumph of God, a triumph which he invites us to make our own by becoming agents of mercy and peace ourselves.
For the path of love and peace defeats even the extraordinary hatred and anger that Jesus bears. Indeed, someday we may understand, not with our minds but finally with our hearts. Christ bore our broken humanity to bring us to a new humanity, a new way of life, life in his kingdom.
The Father forgives. Can we accept that . . . and live it?
Passion or Palm Sunday (1)
Does anybody remember when pet rocks became a big fad in this country?
In April 1975, Gary Dahl was in a bar listening to his friends complain about their pets. This gave him the idea for the perfect “pet” — a rock. Think about it. A rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed; furthermore, pet rocks would not die, become sick, or be disobedient. He said they would be perfect as pets, and joked about it with his friends.
But Dahl later took his idea further than simply sharing it with a few of his drinking buddies. He began selling ordinary gray stones bought at a builder’s supply store as pet rocks. These rocks were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and holes to allow the pet rock to breath. He also drafted an “instruction manual” for a pet rock. It was full of puns, gags and plays on words. The rest, as they say, is history. (1)
Only in America, I suppose, could a gag like pet rocks become big business. The fad lasted about six months. Dahl, who died in 2015, sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks and became a millionaire. By the way, you can still buy a pet rock with a walking leash on Amazon for $13.99. What a great country.
I thought about pet rocks when I thought about our lesson for today.
It’s been said that true Christianity is a radical experiment that has only been tried once, by St. Francis of Assisi, who gave up everything because of his love for Christ.
In one St. Francis story, St. Francis is on a pilgrimage, and he’s singing. Someone asks him where he’s going and he says, “I’m going to God.” They ask him where he’s coming from, and he says, “I’m coming from God.”
“And why do you sing?” they ask.
“I sing to keep from losing my way,” he responds.
Says Pastor Michael D. Powell, “That’s my image of Jesus as he’s entering Jerusalem. The sun is out, the birds are singing, dogs are barking and children are laughing. It’s a beautiful day for a parade, and Jesus is happy. He knows where he’s coming from and he knows where he’s going. His eyes are fixed on God, and there’s a song in his heart.” (2)
That’s a heart-warming thought. It’s true Jesus knows where he’s coming from and where he is going, but he also knows there’s going to be a lot of pain in between.
Palm Sunday is Jesus’ coming out party. This is where he presents himself to the world as the Messiah. Every once in a while we have the opportunity to present ourselves to others–whether it is through a casual introduction, or a job interview, or a speaking engagement, or even a first date. Sometimes those presentations go well. Sometimes they don’t.
A young man goes to the boss of a company for a job interview.
“Well, well, well!” says the boss. “Just what I like to see in my company–a bright young man ready for a challenging position. And you say you’ve just gotten out of Yale. That’s my alma mater! Now, what was your name again?”
The young man replies, “Yones.” Yones who has just gotten out of Yale.
O. K., no more bad jokes for this morning. I can’t promise about next week, though.
Sometimes when we try to present ourselves to others, things go well. Sometimes they do not. Nevertheless, usually it is important to us that we make a good impression. They say it’s never too late to make a good first impression. How sweet it is when our efforts are met with success–when our efforts are appreciated and applauded.
Jesus is about to present himself to the Holy City of Jerusalem. His goal, as we noted, is to present himself as the Messiah. Up until this time, Jesus has been reluctant to make his mission official–somewhat like presidential candidates who spend so much time before the primaries dancing around whether they are candidates or not. We think of how many times Jesus has said to people up to this point something like, “Don’t tell anyone what I’ve done for you. Don’t tell anyone who I am, etc.” But now the time . . . his time . . . God’s time has come. The time of preparation is over and the time of presentation is at hand.
Jerusalem will be Jesus’ big reveal–to use a term from the modern vernacular. If you are not familiar with this term, the “reveal,” also known as “the big reveal,” is a plot device in story-telling. It refers to the moment when a previously hidden key element of the plot is exposed to the audience. It is that “ah ha!” moment when you say, “So this is where the narrative is headed.” Palm Sunday is Jesus’ big reveal.
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. He has come up from Jericho. As he approaches Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sends two of his disciples ahead, saying to 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. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Jesus’ instruction to these two disciples was to find him the colt of a donkey and bring it to him. Jesus was clearly fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah will ride a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). But what is the significance of the Messiah riding a donkey?
Just this: All of Israel was waiting for a Messiah who would be a political revolutionary. They expected the Messiah to come riding on a horse with his sword drawn prepared to overthrow the Roman oppressor. They had somehow missed Zechariah’s prophecy.
In the days of Zechariah, when a king came riding on a horse, he was announcing his intention to declare war on his enemy. However, when the king came riding on a donkey, he was announcing his intention to make peace with his enemies.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey was an announcement that he had come to usher in a kingdom of peace. Riding on a donkey was a prophetic declaration of his purpose and mission, not just for Jews but for all of humanity. He came in peace, for peace and to bring peace–a peace that without Christ the world can never know.
Jesus had prepared all his life for this day. It was a divine appointment–so much so that even the owners of the donkey responded agreeably when they were told simply, “The Lord has need of it.”
The Spirit of the Lord went ahead of the disciples and prepared the heart of the owners of the colt. There’s good news in that as well. You see, when God has a plan and a purpose, nothing can stand in His way. If God says that His kingdom is coming, it’s time for us to join the preparation committee.
E. Stanley Jones once told about a young man who was arrested for preaching the Kingdom of God. He defended himself by declaring that he was only preaching what Jesus had preached long ago. The prosecutor refuted his argument by saying, “But the Kingdom of God has not come yet.”
“It has for me,” the young man replied. And that’s the way it ought to be. The Kingdom with its message of hope is at hand to those who believe. (3)
“The Lord has need of it.” That’s all it took and the disciples threw their cloaks on the donkey, making a saddle for Jesus to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem to begin the process of bringing in his kingdom of peace.
Jesus advanced down the west side of the Mount of Olives toward the city and was indeed welcomed by the crowd as their Messiah. They threw their cloaks on the road, forming a royal carpet as a way of showing their respect. The whole crowd of believers began to joyfully praise God for all the miracles that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
This is a direct reference to Psalm 118:26. Luke is the only gospel writer who uses the words “peace” and “glory.” The other writers used the word, “Hosanna,” which Luke’s Gentile audience would not have understood.
The fact that the crowds welcomed Jesus like this troubled the Pharisees and they told Jesus to rebuke his followers. To this Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Imagine that, the stones or rocks crying out. I told you I would come back to pet rocks. If the crowds kept silent, all the pet rocks would be crying out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Nothing can stop this movement, Jesus is telling them. If the crowds were silenced, even inanimate objects would be raised up to testify that he is the Messiah. All of history was preparing for this one single event, when he would be declared as king. Luke’s narrative clearly paints the picture that this was a divinely orchestrated event. He takes us on a journey to help us understand that nothing can thwart or frustrate what God has already predestined to happen.
Later, in Revelation 6:2, Jesus will be presented as one riding on a horse. That is when the kingdom of God shall come in all its fullness–a kingdom of peace and love, where every tear will be wiped away and every wrong will be made right. That kingdom will be particularly good news for those who are oppressed and those who suffer.
Bishop Stephen Bouman tells a story that I believe reflects that kingdom. He tells about his congregation in New Jersey which, in his words “began to find [its] power as a congregation” when it threw open its doors to the poor and the homeless. He mentions one man in particular. His name was Edgar. He lived alone in a nearby welfare motel “better known for drug addicts and prostitutes than for the righteous.”
For some reason, Edgar adopted Bouman’s church. It was not always a perfect fit–which is an understatement. Edgar was rough around the edges. On occasion, he got loud and demanding and was known to interrupt the sermon if he didn’t agree with something the preacher said.
Bouman says that, if the truth be told, his heart sank on Palm Sunday when Edgar was waiting in the sanctuary for him after a full day of pastoral responsibilities. He knew that Edgar wanted something–a ride, perhaps some of his time–and Edgar would be complaining about this and that. Bouman wanted to go home. He was tired. But by the grace of God, he did not get that opportunity.
On the drive to the motel, Edgar talked his ear off. They pulled into the parking lot of a rundown motor inn near a bridge. Then, in that most dismal setting, the most wonderful thing happened. A door opened and an elderly woman emerged from the motor inn. She knocked on another door and another elderly woman emerged. They limped toward Bouman’s car. They were joined by others waiting on the edge of the parking lot.
Then, for the first time Bouman noticed that Edgar had grasped in his hands some palm branches from that morning’s church service. He had promised the folks at the motel that he would bring them some palm branches and he was delivering on that promise.
There they were–mothers and their children, addicts, prostitutes, the mentally ill. As they surrounded the car, Bouman thought of Jesus’ words, “Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you for they believed in Him.”
“Get out of the car,” said Edgar as he thrust the palms into his pastor’s hand. “Give them the palms!” And Bouman distributed the branches among those waiting. “Bless them,” Edgar demanded. And so Bouman blessed the palm branches. Then Edgar placed Bouman’s hand on each forehead and pronounced a benediction. (4)
In my opinion, that’s a beautiful picture of Christ’s coming kingdom.
Here’s what Palm Sunday says to us–nobody will be left out of God’s kingdom regardless of the challenges they’ve faced in this life. See your king, God says to us–he’s riding on a donkey. Thank God for that. Later–when it’s time, according to Revelation 6–you’ll see him on a white horse, but for now, on this occasion, it’s a donkey. The Messiah comes with peace and humility.
But here’s what’s even more beautiful. Revelation 7:9-12 mentions palm branches again. And it’s definitely about Edgar and his crowd . . . and you and me. We read, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’
“All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’”
Maybe Jesus was singing as he entered Jerusalem that day. He could see what lay ahead, yes, the cross–but beyond the cross to the resurrection . . . and his ascension to be with the Father . . . and then to Pentecost when the church would be empowered to carry out his ministry . . . and to today in 2016 when we would be gathered in worship to sing his praise . . . and then all the way to the end of time when all the saints of God will be gathered around the throne to sing God’s praise forever. And, if any pet rocks are there, they will be singing, too. After all, Christ said on that first Palm Sunday as the people shouted out his praise, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” This is of God, he is saying. And nobody can stop it. Amen.
3. L. D. Johnson, Images of Eternity, compiled by Marion Johnson (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1984), p. 57.