The King is Coming
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
Rev. Steven B. Miller, Apr 9, 2017
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, "The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Let us pray:
Our Father and our God, come near to us as we celebrate your royal arrival to the holy city on Palm Sunday. Let the good Word come with power and grace that we might be people who desire to be committed to you rather than just people in the crowd. Bind any voice that may be a distraction to what you desire to say to us in this moment. Thank you Lord for the blessing that you bring, for it is in the name of Jesus our Savior that we pray, Amen.
Have you ever been in a place where there is a buzz of excitement because there is a famous person near by, but you have not seen them yet? Maybe it was a rock concert or a book signing or a political rally or just happenstance of being at the right spot at the right time. Do you remember the excitement and anticipation of that moment?
My wife Mende and I had the opportunity to be near an elementary school that was going to be visited by President Bill Clinton while we were living in Fresno some years ago. I asked Mende if she wanted to go and she said OK, so I got the free tickets and we went to the school - two hours in advance of the arrival of president Bill Clinton. I have to tell you that it was very boring for the first hour and 50 minutes. And then it happened. The black SUVs pulled up with the Secret Service suits arrived along with the full local police brigade. There was a helicopter flying overhead, and yes there was quite a buzz.
Then I heard the voices around us saying: "Is that the president?" "Is he here?" "I don't see him." or "Its time he is here." I have to tell you, I am not a big fan nor did I vote for our former president Bill Clinton, but I have to tell you I got sucked into the moment; I was like a little kid craning my neck to see the leader of the free world. Maybe I was just on the verge of sunstroke, I am not sure. But, as I stood in the middle of the crowd, I finally got the glimpse that I had waited close to two hours in the baking sun to receive.
There he was less than 40 yards from me in the flesh. The crowd was cheering while the music played in the background, let me tell you it was an exciting moment for me to be in the presence of the person who was one of the most powerful humans on the planet. I was there in the crowd that special day. Hold that thought of that energy and excitement for a moment as we shift 2000 years in history.
Let's go back the Mount of Olives and imagine the scene with Jesus heading back to the old city. The Mount of Olives is about 1/2 of a mile from the old city walls of Jerusalem as the crow flies and maybe a mile by a curving road across the Kidron Valley. Jesus is riding down hill on a road that sweeps to the left as he approaches the city. At the bottom of the hill Jesus passes by the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of betrayal, which we will visit upon at the end of the week, but in this moment in time, there are crowds of pilgrims who are also on their way to Jerusalem because the Jewish Passover Feast is coming. The roads were full of pilgrims going toward Jerusalem, and it has been estimated that perhaps an extra one or two million Jewish followers would arrive for the Passover feast during that time in history.
At this point in Jesus' arrival, the whisper of the crowd grew on the road as the story of healing of Martha's brother Lazarus is shared among the locals who knew of the power of Jesus to heal. Soon, the palm branches are being pulled from the trees and then waved in the air as shouts of "Hosanna" (which means "Save Now") were being voiced with greater and greater strength as the victory celebration continued down the road with Jesus. Those who knew of the healing of Lazarus realized that Jesus is not just a good teacher; he is the one who was to be the next leader of Israel. The Old Testament prophecy was happening in this moment. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. The voice of the crowd grew as the shouts and praises rose in intensity. The Messiah is the one who is riding on the young donkey in just the way it was prophesied in the book of Zachariah.
If you had been on that road would you have been swept up in the moment? Would you know the importance of Jesus at that moment? The text from John tells us that not even the disciples figured out the fullness of what was happening in that moment. But, today we see with amazing clarity the meaning of the Triumphal Entry for Jesus - and for us. But the main question now is - so what? How does this event change my life here in this place and time?
I would say there are two major options for how we can respond the reality of the Triumphal Entry and the events of the healing of Lazarus that confirmed the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah. We can be a voice in the crowd who cheers but has no connection or desire for relationship, or we can surrender as one of the committed knowing that Jesus is the one who has come from God to lead us into a new kingdom.
This is the choice we must make - to be a crowd member or a committed follower. If we choose to just be in the crowd and only cheer for Jesus we will never know the King. But if we choose to surrender and commit to the fullness of Jesus' kingdom, then we receive the benefit relationship with king. The scriptures give us some indication of what that means in this passage, but the full adventure of a relationship with Jesus takes a lifetime.
Often the stories of our relationship with Christ are ordinary but they are not irrelevant to those around our lives. People notice that followers of the King are different even when they are not active to make themselves known as believers.
This part of the message gets us to the "so what" application of our text for today. What does Jesus want from me after I cheer him on toward the throne that he has been sent to sit upon his whole life on Palm Sunday? What would Jesus desire from me? The answer is simple - commitment. Jesus wants us to have that commitment in our relationship with him that takes us well beyond the parade of his triumphant arrival. I believe Jesus wants to know if we are "all in," to coin a poker term. Will you follow him through the whole passion of the next week as we head to the day of resurrection? It will get harder before it gets better; I am very clear about that. This commitment through the next week of Jesus' life is really a micro history metaphor of the reality of what it will take to follow the rest of our lives. This next week for Jesus is a very messy one. There is betrayal, blessing, abandonment, celebration, death, passion, healing, sadness, desperation, anger, and sin and yes there is greater love than we can even understand. All this happens in one week's time. We know what happens next Sunday but between here and there we will see how frail people really are. The story of Jesus still changes lives - so the story must be told.
The challenge for us in this place and time is to live for the king rather than something less!
There are roughly 2.2 billion plus people alive today about, 31% of the worlds population, who believe that Jesus is who he said he was! Most of those people came to know Jesus because one person told another person about who Jesus really is and were not afraid to live their faith in front of everyone else! Are you convinced and committed enough to invite a friend or neighbor to church on Easter Sunday in 7 days? The statistics are that one in four people would go to a church service if someone would just invite them. So, I challenge you to invite 4 people to church next Sunday morning. Nothing is more effective than a personal invitation to church!
Today we have placed Holy Week and Easter service cards in the pew backs to assist you with your personal invitations. We are going to pray in a minute to ask the Lord whom you could invite to Easter Sunday morning. This is how the kingdom of God grows, when one person shares how important Jesus is to them, by inviting a friend to church.
And then after you have invited them, pray for them as the week moves forward so that stuff does not happen that would keep them from coming! Today and this week is your opportunity to introduce new friends to the King - seize the day.
Will you join me in prayer?
Lord we must remind ourselves that your invitation to the celebration of the King is not just for us, but also for all our friends, family, and neighbors. God we ask for a heart that loves those around us with the kind of love that pushes aside barriers and invites others who seek meaning and purpose in life. There are many people who could use an invitation that could make an eternal difference. Lord, speak to us a name to invite to your church. God I ask for a blessing on your people as they do the work of your kingdom. Lord, guide our path to those needing the good news of the King. For we pray this in Jesus name, Amen
Westminster Presbyterian Church