A Palm or a Cloak April 05/09
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 John’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. 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.
And this wasn’t just something that happened, a parade didn’t just suddenly break out I know that in the scripture that was read this morning it said John 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it. But listen to what Luke says about the donkey
Luke 19:29-31 As hy 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 Peaces.
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.
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 they 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 sacrice 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 five 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 the other day 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 five dollars a week per family isn’t valid, for that matter even if every family in our church gave twenty dollars a week 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 black 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.