March 24, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew [26:36-75] 27:1-54 [55-66]
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
Matthew [26:36-75] 27:1-54 [55-66]
Palm Sunday - March 24, 2002
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley, Preacher
St. Matthew 21:5 -- "See, your King is coming to you, humble and riding on an ass, and a colt the foal of a beast of burden."
Since September 11th, I have had the opportunity to travel by airplane to a number of locations on business trips. It has been a fascinating study in watching people's reactions to security staff: how they handle passenger "frisking", not once but twice. My friends, if you think you're home free making it through the first screening devise, think again. You may be one of the lucky one's to be called out of line to be thoroughly checked again before entering the airplane. Yes, right in front of two hundred plus fellow travelers, you will be asked to take off your shoes, stand in the "crucifixion" position while the magic wand scans your body parts, and have all your personal belongs strewed across a table for all to enjoy. A piece of advice: Think twice about what you carry aboard an airplane again. How do I know all this? It happened to me on four straight trips. I was beginning to wonder if my picture was hanging on some security wallboard. You know, I just can't recall having my picture taken from two angles nor fingerprinted!
With all that's going on today with governmental regulations and increased security, a writer noted recently, Jesus would be a wanted man. Yes, if Jesus had entered into one of our modern cities leading the "Palm Sunday" parade today, He would have been arrested immediately. The FDA would want him for turning water into wine without a license; the EPA for killing fig trees; the AMA for practicing medicine without a license; the Dept of Health for asking people to open graves, for raising the dead and for feeding five thousand people in the wilderness without a food permit; the NEA for teaching without a certificate; OSHA for walking on water without a life jacket; the SPCA for driving hogs into the sea; the National Board of Psychiatrists for giving advice on how to live a guilt free life; the National Organization of Women for not choosing a female disciple; the Abortion Rights League for saying whoever harms children, it is better that they had never been born; the Interfaith Movement for condemning all other religions; and the Zoning Dept for building mansions without a permit.
One could even turned the tables and see His entry into Jerusalem as an "Entertainment Tonight" piece: "Celebrity Jesus". John Marconi writes: "Can you imagine if Jesus had been treated like a 21st century celebrity as he rode into Jerusalem?
Wolf Blitzer might have reported on rumors that Jesus planned to disrupt temple business.
Pundits would have argued about who he "really" was.
Gail Sheehy would undoubtedly have written a psychological profile for Vanity Fair.
Some tabloid would investigate Jesus' relationship with "the woman at the well."
There would be in-depth analysis by cult specialists and modern-day Pharisees on MSNBC.
A council of church officials would be in place to study the authenticity of Jesus' feeding the multitudes and walking on water.
And, as Jesus entered the dusty city, hundreds if not thousands would have snapped their throwaway Kodaks, and pointed their videocams while Katie Couric, along with Willard Scott (making a special appearance) would stand by to offer color commentary.
Whether you think Jesus would be a wanted man today (being politically "incorrect" by offending various organizations and people) or a "celebrity", you can only imagine what this day must have been like for Him 2000 years ago. While the crowds were praising Him, the religious leaders of the day were plotting to kill Him. It was Passover .2 million people in and around Jerusalem and up until now Jesus avoided any dramatic public demonstrations. But, that all changed. Why?
For a couple of reasons: First, he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9): "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your kind comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foul of an ass."
Second, he forced the Jewish to leaders to react and respond to his public demonstration. When they saw the outpouring of love by the people, they concluded that Jesus had to be destroyed. St. John tells us (12:19): "The Pharisees then said to one another, 'You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him."
Ever wonder what the Romans must have thought about this festive demonstration? After all, who were the "real" experts at putting on official public events and parades? No Roman would have called Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as a triumphant event. When Roman generals came back to Rome after conquering the enemy, they were welcomed with an elaborate parade. War prisoners would be bound behind him while he rode in on a white horse or chariot, and more recognition would come for killing at least 5000 enemy soldiers. But, Jesus was coming home from a different mission He entered Jerusalem on a donkey returning home in glory from a peace mission to reconcile man to God. It would be a victory of another kind: love over hatred, truth over error, and life over death.
Question: who was the most important character in the story? The chanting crowd? They would cry "Crucify Him" in a few days. The two disciples? They fled and denied Him just like the others. The most important character is the DONKEY. You see, the donkey is the beast of burden. She represents the Jewish people that had long bore the yoke of the Law.
A donkey! Some would say that a donkey is nothing more than a misfit, born when all other things were out of order. Hopelessly ugly - worse than the ugly duckling: monstrous head and sickening cry, and ears like errant wings. It is the cry of every person who has ever said, "My nose is too long" "My eyes are the wrong shape" "My legs are too fat". For every person old or young, who looks into a mirror and says "Yuk!" For every teenager that has ever looked at themselves with loathing wishing they were something else - that's all of us at some time or another - here is the donkey's cry: I feel at times as though I'm unimportant, unwanted, no good. It is a cry that asks: Was I out of the room when God was handing out beauty and gifts and abilities?
It is the cry too of those who have been used, abused and misused through life. Has life been unfair? Have you had to do all the work while others seemed to skip through life with fun and laughter? Have you carried hurts and burdens far more than you feel you should? Do others have all the money, able to do all sorts of exciting things while you scrimp and save to just get by? That is the donkey's cry. He too has been seen as nothing but a beast of burden. Whenever he tries to resist he is beaten into submission. No one ever saw him as beautiful. Never is he chosen for the glamour tasks.
What secret, what insight could a donkey have for our lives? What possible "aha" could we get from this little ugly animal with a huge head and floppy ears and a voice like a chain saw? What then is the donkey's secret?
"Hello! Anyone home?" Says the donkey to us. "For one hour, one sweet hour, there were shouts about my ears and palms beneath my feet. What gives me a sense of value - -self worth? What over-rides all the mistakes of creation -- all the derision of others and the abuses of this life? It's THIS: the Living God, Jesus Christ, chose in his hour of glory; that single time when He declared his intention and purpose for all to see; when the praise and adoration of the crowd echoed around; in that one time Jesus chose me-- a donkey." For ever after - no matter what happens to him - the donkey knows, with an unshakable certainty he knows - that he is loved by God; that he is precious in the eyes of the Father. He knows there is meaning and purpose in his creation. That secret sustains him no matter what else happens. No matter how great the disaster, how prolonged the hurt, the donkey holds up his head, for he was chosen by God.
Do you look at the way your life has turned out and wish that it were all-different? Do you long for something to change that would make it all bearable? James Dobson points out that 95% of all teenagers look at their body and wish some part of it could be changed. It is too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, there is hair where there should not be and none where there should. Always something is wrong. I suspect that that feeling of wrongness stays with many adults. Think of all the "infomercials" about diet and slimming plans, enhancers or reducers, exercise equipment, etc. etc. etc.
But more important than the physical shape we are in is the way we see ourselves - our personalities and characters. Some would echo the donkey. They believe they have a personality with monstrous head and sickening cry and ears like errant wings. An American psychologist visiting New Zealand commented that as a nation we are a people with a massive inferiority complex. We have the second highest rate of teenage suicide in the world. That carries over into adult life. Most of us don't like ourselves, we are quick to criticize and slow to praise. Most of us think we should have done better with our lives. Many see the sands of time running out and realize that their dreams will never be reached.
How incredibly sad, isn't it, that so few have discovered the donkey's secret. How sad because it was what Jesus was trying so hard to teach. Jesus said that he came that the blind might see, the deaf hear and the lame walk, while the poor have good news preached to them. His words were about physical healing sure - but far more importantly he was talking about each one of us who has been crippled in our spirits. Why are so many spiritually blind: Blind to the real Jesus -- Blind to the great secret -- Blind to the overwhelming truth that will set you free. Free forever from carrying the burdens of guilt and hurt. Free to walk as you have never walked before. As Isaiah promises (Isaiah 40:31): "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
The donkey's secret? Simple. God chose him. And, God has chosen each one of us. It's an amazing truth that is so very hard for people to grasp. Yet it is so simple. You and I have meaning because God chooses us. You would not be here if you have not already, in some way, felt his hand on your life. But it is far more than that. Like all the great promises of the Bible this one is repeated over and over again. God has chosen you.
God created you. He chose you. He decided before you were born whether you would be male or female, have brown eyes or blue, be tall or short, whether you had skill in mathematics or could fashion things with your hands. You were chosen before you were born, and a role for your life has been given. If you can't sing like Pavoratti or Sills - then probably He's not calling you to be an opera singer. His gifting for you is in another direction. Do not break your heart over what he, in his wisdom, has not given you. For God made crows as well as canaries. Look at the things you can do and thank him for it.
Listen to these words from Ephesians 2:10: " For we are what God made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." . Hear that. You and I were created by God, in Jesus, to do good words that God prepared in advance for us to do. For example, picture in your mind a cake mixer: If you were making a cake mixer, you would probably design it with a bowl to hold the ingredients and a beater to mix them. In your mind you have a picture of the task you want that mixer to do. Therefore the things that mixer had would equip it to mix ingredients. It would be futile for the cake mixer to cry out "I can't chop up carrots, or I am hopeless at making milk shakes". It was not designed - prepared - to do that. " For we are what God made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." God designed us to do the tasks he prepared for us. Each one of us has been given gifts to fit the tasks God has for us. No one, not anyone, is outside the plan of God. No one is useless. No matter what others may be able to do, God created you for a purpose. In this life, it is possible that you may never know what that purpose is. But it is real just the same. For you are loved by the Living God.
Are we a long way from the donkey? No! When we discover the amazing truth that we are special to God that He not only knows about us, but also knows us and deeply loves us. When we discover the wonderful fact that Jesus loves us, then a peace will come into our lives that nothing can shake. Like the donkey, we will still have troubles. We may be ridiculed, scourged, and derided, but the donkey's secret gives us a confidence and peace to face the worst this world can bring knowing the joy and inner peace given only by our Loving God.
It is an inner peace that comes only we allow the grace of God into our lives placing total trust in Jesus Christ. His peace gives strength to face the world.
If you have believed the lie of evil one that you are unattractive, that you are useless and have few skills or talents with which to serve God and bless others; if you have lived in deception -- hear now the truth of God. He created you, He loves you, and nothing that God makes is junk!
Jesus came to set you free from these deceptions and lies. Jesus makes us whole. Come to Him and discover the full life He came to give.
This, I am certain: the one truth Jesus tried so hard to show, in those last hours of his life, was how much God loves us and how much we NEED his love.