Finish Strong

Jesus Triumphal Entry by William Collins

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.

There is a traditional sort of Palm Sunday sermon that I want to preach.  It's the one where I challenge my listeners to ponder the fact that the same people who cheered Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover were shouting "Crucify!" the following Friday.

And then I would say, "We are no different, you and I.  We cheer Jesus when we think he's going to fit our little mold, when we think he's going to solve all our problems and give us what we want.  But when we see that Jesus isn't the kind of Messiah we want, we turn on him."

That is a good sermon.  I can't ignore the presence of that message in the narratives of the Triumphal Entry.  Take a look at the painting above, for instance.  What do you see that is unusual about it?  It looks as though Jesus is entering into a cathedral, doesn't it?  I love this painting. It reminds us that we still try place Jesus into our church-shaped boxes.

And he doesn't fit them.

I think there is something else going on in this passage, though.  Maybe this video will help:

How awesome is that?  And by awesome, I mean not awesome.

Jesus knew that to enter into Jerusalem meant that he might very well be arrested and executed.  The threats had been made, the potential was there.  One of Jesus' disciples named Thomas, when he heard they were going to Jerusalem, told his mates, "Well, we may as well go and die with him."

But when he came into the city, there was a party.  People hailed him as a Savior.  They thought he was the kind of Savior that was going to deliver them from the oppression they experienced under Rome, under their government and even under their religious leaders.  There was such hope and joy in this first Palm Sunday celebration.

Do you ever wonder if Jesus was tempted just to stay in the "Hosanna!" moment and avoid the shouts of "Crucify!" a few days later?  He didn't, by the way.  He kept going past the accolades, and then--according to some of the accounts--he got off the donkey he was riding and went into the temple where he confronted the money changers and faith-exploiters.

And kicked them out.

And shortly thereafter he was arrested, beaten almost to death and then crucified shamefully.

In Isaiah 50 there is a passage that Christians believe foreshadows everything that happened to Jesus and the resolve that it took for him to ride on through the celebration to what lay ahead.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
       and I have not been rebellious;
       I have not drawn back.
 I offered my back to those who beat me,
       my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
       I did not hide my face
       from mocking and spitting.
 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
       I will not be disgraced.
       Therefore have I set my face like flint,
       and I know I will not be put to shame.
"I have set my face like flint..."  In the ancient world this was another way of saying,  "I will not be moved." or "I am determined."  or "I am Stoneface."  Well, probably not the last bit.  You get the idea.

I like Sundays.

Most of the time on Sundays I get to stand at the door while people leave the worship service and listen to how much they enjoyed church.  Sometimes they tell me that I preached a good sermon, or tell me how glad they are that I am their pastor.  It's good to feel those warm wishes.  They are like little shoulder rubs from God to me.

But not every day is like that... 

Today as I have been working on this, I got a very nasty phone call from a parishoner.  When you add that to the hundred other unpleasant things that occurred this week, I'm starting to feel like I would rather spend my time standing at the door on Sunday morning listening to the accolades and affirmations.

Maybe you feel that way, too.  Maybe things are just too hard right now for you.  You might be tempted to just find a gentle spot in the path of life and hang out there for a while.

What kind of resolve did it take for Jesus to keep riding?  I can't imagine--knowing what he knew about where he was going.   Once Jesus told his disciples, "No one who puts their hand to the plow and then looks back is worthy of the kingdom of God."

How long have you been looking back?  I've been looking back a lot lately.  I'm feeling this season of Lent and its reminders of how I am frail and broken and... not worthy.

I thought about how I might be able to set my own face like flint and keep my resolve to follow Christ before me.  First, I need to know where I stand.  Am I with the fickle crowd?  With the faith-less disciples? Or am I standing next to Christ with my face set in stone, immovable and fixed on going with Jesus wherever he might be leading me, and whatever the cost.  Second, I do need to know where I am going--to die to myself and to be raised into newness of life.  Knowing what must be done is one thing--heading toward it without fear for myself is another.  Third, I need to know who I am with when I am afraid.  Jesus told his followers, "I will never leave nor forsake you...  I am with you always."

How often do we settle for what is easy instead of striving for what is perfect?  I know this is a question that I struggle to answer because the answer condemns me. 

Isn't it time to leave that gentle clearing and head into the twisted path through the mountains?  The climb might be hard, but the view from the top is unbelievable.


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