A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on March 28, 2010.
Out of all the things that Jesus did, this one puzzles me the most. Riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in such an attention-getting way was so uncharacteristic of him.
This itinerant Galilean preacher shied away from any semblance of pomp and circumstance. There was nothing regal about him, nor did it appear he ever wanted there to be. Repeatedly, he instructed the people that he helped to tell no one about their encounter. When Peter confessed Jesus as Messiah, he and the disciples were ordered to tell no one (Luke 9:20-21).
Obviously, all of that changed on Palm Sunday. According to Luke, Jesus choreographed this grand entry into the city, which was certain to draw attention and suspicion from those trying to keep the peace in a crowded and always uneasy environment. How do you explain this?
Was Jesus unaware that the religious authorities wanted to kill him, especially after he raised Lazarus from the dead? Oh no, he was fully aware that he had provoked them. Then why did he arrange for his disciples to fetch a donkey so he could ride boldly into the eye of a storm, which would inevitably set up a confrontation with the religious leaders, whom he characterized as greedy, selfish, arrogant, insensitive, unapproachable and hypocritical?
I pondered this for a long time last week. There are those who would argue that Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets and doing what the people expected the Messiah to do.
I see some merit in this argument. After all, Luke made seven references to the prophets in this text. Connecting Jesus to the prophets was certainly on his mind as he wrote his passion narrative. However, I am not completely at peace with this line of thought.
I have no doubt that Jesus was heavily influenced by the prophets, but I don’t think he was merely living a script they wrote for him. With his Father’s help, he wrote his own script, just like all of us must do.
Besides, rarely did Jesus fulfill others’ expectations of him. He was not going to be manipulated and coerced by the Pharisees or his admirers. It was obvious from our text that this man of peace wasn’t going to be a Military Messiah and run the Romans out of Jerusalem, which most of his countrymen wanted. No one controlled him with selfish desires, fear or guilt.
So, why did he ride that donkey into Jerusalem on what we refer to as Palm Sunday? I think he was making some prophetic statements to his admirers and his enemies.
The time for secrecy was over. The time to speak truth to power and expose the hypocrisy of the religious leaders had arrived. The time to speak for the powerless and describe their plight to those oppressing them was long overdue. The time to offer an alternative voice and way of living was at hand.
Most of all, it appears to me that the lesson he wanted to communicate to his disciples that day was this. The way to face your challenges and struggles is head on. You don’t run from them. You don’t pawn them off on others. You don’t fret and worry until you are sick. You don’t gripe and complain. With God’s help and the support of family and friends, you get on your donkey and ride into the eye of the storm. You don’t let fear control you; you allow your faith to empower you!
This lesson was reinforced all week long. Where did he go when he arrived in the Holy City? He went straight to the temple, which was crowded with worshipers. What did he do? He cleansed the temple by running out the money changers and announcing that this was to be a place of prayer, not a den for thieves.
Luke follows this episode by telling his readers that Jesus returned to the temple everyday to teach, in spite of the fact that the religious leaders wanted to kill him. When they confronted him with difficult questions or questioned his authority, he never backed down. He spoke clearly and firmly about his beliefs and his mission. Figuratively speaking, he rode that donkey all week long into the eye of a growing storm.
No where do we see Jesus’ courage, and quite frankly his compassion, anymore than in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took the initiative to confront his accusers, which shocked them so much that some of them actually fell down. He rebuked Peter for trying to defend him and cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He healed this man and then offered no resistance when being arrested.
Who was in control here? You know. It was the man who rode into Jerusalem on that donkey on Palm Sunday. All week long he sent a message to his followers that the way you handle your challenges and struggles is head on. You don’t let fear control you; you allow your faith to empower you!
What is the stiffest challenge you are facing right now? Is it a family problem or a financial one? Is it a problem at school or at work? Are you wrestling with an addiction or health issues? Are you burdened by the plight of so many people around the world who are struggling to survive?
How long have you struggled? What toll has it taken on you? What do you need to do about it? Is it time to get on your donkey and ride into the eye of the storm?
Where do you get this kind of courage? Where did Jesus get it? I think he got it from his faith, his family and his friends.
Don’t forget that a donkey played a significant role in his life. His dear mother, Mary, rode on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem just days before he was born. With Joseph’s help, she then rode that donkey from Bethlehem to Egypt, carefully carrying Jesus to safety.
How many times had Jesus asked her about the events surrounding his birth? Where did you and Joseph get that kind of courage? I can hear him ask.
I suspect Jesus recalled those conversations when he arranged for a colt to be ready for his grand and dangerous entry into Jerusalem.
His friends also played a vital role in helping him face his challenges. Do you recall what happened just hours before his Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem? Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume while he dined in her home with the disciples and her sister and brother, Martha and Lazarus. Leave her alone, Jesus said to Judas, after Judas blasted her for wasting this expensive perfume. No doubt, Jesus smelled the sweet scent of encouragement and courage.
Courage comes from within and without. It comes from our faith in one who was courageous and walks with us along our journey. It comes from those who walk alongside us offering support and guidance.
This church is one place where you find this kind of faith and these kinds of friends. I invite you to come and find both.