Sunday, March 20, 2016


Today is Palm Sunday. Today, we celebrate the beginning of the climax of Jesus’ life. Jesus goes to Jerusalem one last time. This trip and the week that follows has been the goal of His whole life. Finally, it’s here. What I’d like to do this morning is look at what happened through the lens of two questions: ‘What did Jesus accomplish by coming to Jerusalem?’ and ‘How did He accomplish it?’

Let’s begin by reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entrance.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front 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, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21.1-9

So, Jesus rides into Jerusalem surrounded by cheering crowds. What’s all the fuss about? Why is everybody excited? Jesus comes as a king. Or actually better, He comes in order to be made a king. That’s what the crowds are excited about. That’s why they cheer Jesus as the Son of David. That title isn’t about who His ancestor was. It’s about how Jesus has come to be a great king like David was. And Matthew wants to makes sure we get that. So, he quotes the prophet Zechariah who wrote,

Behold, your king is coming to you …

Jesus has entered Jerusalem to be crowned as king.

The crowds are right in their excitement, but they’re off when it comes to what they are expecting. They are thinking about a new king of Israel who will get rid of the Romans and re-establish the homeland to what it once was back in David’s days of glory. But their thinking is far too small. Jesus has come to be much more than that. John paints a great picture. Listen.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Jesus has come to be crowned with many diadems, many crowns, symbols of His rule over many nations. And His name confirms that, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’. Jesus comes to be crowned not just as king of Israel. He has come to be crowned as king over the universe.

So, you see, Palm Sunday is another day to celebrate the Lordship of Jesus over all things. He has come to rule, to be king, over heaven and earth. The crowds had every reason to be excited and to shout their praises for King Jesus. How much more do we who understand better what His rule is about?

So much for that first question about what Jesus accomplished by coming to Jerusalem. He came to be crowned as king. Now we’re ready for the second question. How did He accomplish that? And you know the answer. He accomplished it by the Cross and all that went with it. What king ascends to his throne in such a way? But this is the way that Jesus did it.

So, consider the route to Jesus’ coronation. He was an innocent man lynched by the power brokers and the mobs that followed them. He was mocked by the religious leaders. He was tortured by His jailers and deserted by His friends. And worst of all, He was abandoned by His Father. That’s how Jesus became king. His route to the glories of becoming royalty was the path of suffering. And it’s not like He could have followed some other route. This was the only way.

This pattern of suffering before glory is not unique to Jesus. God has had others follow the same course. Consider Joseph and what he suffered before he became a great ruler in Egypt. Then, there is David who became a famed King of Israel but only after he ran for his life from the jealous and evil Saul. And how long did barren Hannah have to suffer the barbs of her rival Peninnah and shame in the eyes of her neighbors before she was blessed to give birth to Samuel. And Mary, Jesus’ mother, had a lifetime of whispers and shame as an immoral woman though now she is honored by all who have heard of her submissive faith. Jesus’ route to kingship was not unique. Before there is glory there will always be suffering. That is how God has always run His creation. And it holds true down to today.

We Christians have been promised great things. A renewed body and a renewed soul enjoying a renewed creation. And when that promise is fulfilled we will rule with Jesus. Our future is magnificent beyond imagination. We are destined to become royalty. Glory awaits. However, the route to that glory is the path of suffering. I’ll talk more about that glory next week. Today, I’d like to talk about the suffering.

Unfortunately, ‘suffering’ has become a church word, relegated to some ‘religious’ meaning. Let’s translate it. Let’s not talk about suffering. Let’s talk about pain. The path to glory includes pain. This pain will take different forms. Some examples. There is what I’ll call emotional pain. Here I’m talking about things like weariness. Following Jesus is hard. Sin - our own sin and the sin that has twisted everything around us - makes it hard. That’s the context for our walk as disciples. And we work at it and work at it. As a result, there are those times when we’re just tired of working at it. We feel the weariness of it all.

There will also be frustration; not anger, but frustration. There are so many goals, good goals, that we yearn to achieve, goals that would make life work so much better. A more disciplined life. Not driven; not lazy. Things like getting enough sleep, using free time for things that are more satisfying, decent habits when it comes to eating and prayer and exercise. These are good goals, and we desire them. But because of sin all too often we don’t reach them. Sometimes it feels as if we’ll never reach them.

Then there are all those disappointments. This proverb captures what’s going on here.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Emotional pain.

There will also be the pain associated with relationships. Having friends is hard. There are those walls that divide us from others, keeping us from enjoying deep and satisfying friendships. And sometimes it’s not the other person putting up the wall but ourselves. And then, there are the times when that really good friendship just disappears. It’s there one moment, and then something happens and it’s gone. And we have no clue what went wrong. There are also those times when friends are stolen from us, stolen by death. And for some there just aren’t any friends. These sorts of things hurt. They can be very painful.

Emotional pain and relational pain are just a sampling of the kinds of pain we face as we work our way to the glory that awaits.

It is important to remember the other side of the coin. There are many good gifts sent to us from the Father, good gifts for us to enjoy. There are friends and we do enjoy the fruit of good habits and all the rest. These are precious gifts, and we should enjoy them to the full, being grateful to the Father who has given them to us. But the fact of the matter is that not a one of us hasn’t been touched by pain. It’s good to be reminded that those experiences of pain are not some odd things that weren’t supposed to happen. We are destined for awesome things. But the route to our enjoyment of those awesome things is the path of pain. Just like Jesus.

Why am I talking about all of this? It’s because I want you all to live well, to live according to what is real and not according to the myths of the world. The consensus these days is that we are to avoid as much pain as possible. That, we are told, is the way to enjoy a good life. But that won’t work. Jesus could have done that. He had some good friends, a job as a preacher that He loved and the opportunity for a full and enjoyable life on into old age. Life for Him could have been all of that and more. But while He was grateful to the Father for all the good things He enjoyed, He was not satisfied with those things. He was made for something better. He was made to become royalty. And that’s what He chose to pursue, pain and all. You are made to become royalty. And that’s what He calls you to pursue, pain and all.

So, what should you do? Here are some things. First, life here can be quite good. But it will never fully satisfy. So, don’t settle. Enjoy the good gifts that God gives now. But don’t settle. You were made for something better.

Second, expect pain. It’s how the Father takes lowly nobodies like us and makes them into kings and queens in the new Garden of Eden. So, when it happens, when pain strikes, don’t ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ You know why it’s happening to you. It’s part of the Father’s plan of crowning you as royalty. It’s part of following Jesus.

Third - and this is how you’ll know that this is making sense to you - give thanks for the pain that the Father is sending your way. Being grateful won’t make the pain go away. In fact, there may well be certain kinds of pain that will stay with you the rest of your days here. But being grateful for the pain you experience will put it into a context that will help you make sense of it. Christians who do this will be known for their contentment and peaceful demeanor. They have made the connection between the pain and the glory. They understand that accepting the one will lead to the other. Christians who do this will make Jesus look good.

Last thing: pray. Nothing works without prayer because nothing works without the power of the Spirit that He gives us in response to our prayers. Pray for things like the ability not to settle and to give thanks. Pray that you will be able to endure to the end like Jesus told us to. And pray for a clear sense of the glories that await. Grasping something of what that’s about will help you to accept the pain of getting there.

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