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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Leaving Our Pre-Conceived Messiahs (Luke 19.28-44)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 20, 2016
Text: Luke 19:28-44; Psalm 118:24-29

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: Piano Meditations, Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: Prepare the Way (Evnas/Nuzum)
Song of Praise: Hosanna/Praise is Rising (Brown/Baloche)
The Word in Music (Choir): Ain't No Rock Gonn Shout for Me (Williams/Larson)
Offering of Music: Hymn Medley (Bobby White, piano; Linda Jenkins, organ)
Our Song of Praise: The Doxology
Hymn of Sending: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (ST. THEODULPH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today is the beginning of what the Christian Church calls “Holy Week.” With the events described in today’s text, Jesus begins a week in Jerusalem that will encompass his welcome (Sunday), his last night with his disciples (Thursday), his arrest and trial (Thurs/Fri), his crucifixion (Friday), and his resurrection (Easter Sunday).

While my focus today is on the Palm Sunday text of Jesus entering Jerusalem, it does still fall into our series about the “Things We Leave Behind (to follow Jesus).” Today we will consider the ways that we substitute false Messiah’s for Jesus, the true Messiah. Sometimes we are even well-meaning, like the disciples. Today’s text is fascinating, and sometimes confusing, not only because the support for Jesus flip-flops so suddenly and drastically, but because we realize how many (including the disciples) still didn’t really understand why and how he would save them.

Prep Work (vv. 28-34)

The text begins with what I’ll call “prep work.” Just before entering the city of Jerusalem, Jesus sends two disciples into the nearby town to get a colt on which to ride into Jerusalem. That mission was as fascinating and confusing as the rest of the day: Jesus seemed to know right where it would be, the owners questioned them when they were taking it, but seemed fine once they said “The Lord needs it,” and it was a very specific animal – a young colt (can mean young horse or donkey) which had never been ridden. In the Hebrew scriptures, a young unblemished/unused animal was used for a sacred purpose, and that seems to be the purpose here.

When the disciples got it back to Jesus, they seemed to know what to do: they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. It turns out that this was one of the well-known things the Messiah would do. It came from the prophet Zechariah, who wrote:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

The stage was set! If Jesus was going to claim to be the Messiah – if he WAS the Messiah – this is how it would be announced; this was a public sign to go with all the teaching and miracles that said, “The Messiah is here.”

The Messiah We Want (vv. 35-40)

So here’s the thing: Jesus was the promised Messiah, but not the expected Messiah.  And that’s no reflection on Jesus or the promises of God; it’s a reflection on how people’s expectations can change. We often see what we are looking for, and we look for what we want to see!

We’ve talked about this more than a few times before. The Hebrew scriptures – our Old Testament – is packed full of teaching, promises, prophecies, and anticipation of the Messiah, or God’s “anointed one.” The Messiah was God keeping His covenant promises to not abandon His people and to bring them blessing. Specifically, the Messiah was God keeping His promise to King David that the kingdom and the kingly line would last. But that’s where the promise and the expectations started to diverge.

The kingdom was not ultimately David’s kingdom; it was an earthly manifestation of God’s Kingdom – God’s covenant blessing on His people. And while David was the earthly king, GOD was the Great King. And so as the earthly kings and kingdom struggled and failed and fell, it is not surprising that Israel would latch on to the scriptures full of God’s promise of a lasting King and Kingdom and a “Return of the King” as a specific anointed one God would send. And in a hard world full of empires, kings and emperors, and occupying armies like that of Rome, the expectations became increasingly political, powerful, and nationalistic.

It is clear that the people of Jesus’ day understood Jesus to have a claim to be the Messiah. And you read accounts of people wanting to make him king. Even among the disciples there was at least one ‘Zealot’ – that was the member of a political party committed to overthrow Rome by revolution. It may well be that “Simon the Zealot” joined up with the twelve disciples with the explicit hope that Jesus would rally the people for a Zealot revolution.

And what is so fascinating and confusing about Palm Sunday is that the crowd AND the disciples AND the Pharisees recognized that Jesus was making a Messianic entrance into Jerusalem. But none of them seemed to really understand what Jesus was really doing. According to the other Gospel writers, the crowd was shouting the words from Psalm 118:25-26 – “O Lord, do save (Hosanna!), we beseech You; do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord (i.e., the Messiah).” Though all of writers makes clear that the crowd was shouting the words of Psalm 118, Luke makes it clear that they are looking for a King, for the Messiah-King: “[Omitting ‘Hosanna’] Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord…” (v. 38)  They saw what they wanted to see. Had they quoted only a verse further in Psalm 118, they might have understood a bit more of what was coming: “The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” (v. 27)

The Pharisees also seemed to have the same understanding of Messiah – and that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah – but they desperately did NOT want a confrontation with Rome. Certainly that’s what they used with the Jewish High Council and then with the Roman Governor and King Herod to get Jesus arrested and executed. “He’s claiming to be the ‘King of the Jews’ – and Rome won’t stand for that!”

Even the disciples didn’t seem to understand. They struggled so with his death, even when he told them outright what was going to happen. In fact, even AFTER the crucifixion and resurrection and just before the day of Pentecost, they still asked: “Okay Lord, is NOW the time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

So if Jesus wasn’t there to restore the earthly kingdom to Israel and lead a revolt against Rome and Caesar, what did it mean for him to be the Messiah?

Weeping Messiah (vv. 41-44)

We get a glimpse in verses 41-44. As Jerusalem came into view, he didn’t whip the crowd into a frenzy or call for arms; he began to weep and said, “If (only) you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” Jesus is keenly aware of two things: 1) that shalom (the peace or prosperity of Psalm 118 and God’s covenant) are not going to be achieved through fighting Rome; and 2) the people all around him – his people, God’s people – are completely blinded to what God is doing through him. They are chanting the right words to the right Messiah for the completely wrong reason.

And Jesus weeps because he sees what that blindness will cost. His people will suffer still further and they “did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (v. 44)

And yet even then there is grace. Jesus speaks words of forgiveness for his captors, who “know not what they do.” He forgives a thief hanging on the cross next to him. He returns to commission and anoint his followers to minister first to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then to the whole world. That’s the good news – that even when we destroy the life boat God has sent us, God is not done or defeated. But oh what sorrow and suffering we can inflict on ourselves in our blindness and mis-directed zeal!

Right Worship

This relates to our topic from a few weeks ago about ‘religion.’ For whatever reason, human beings know how to worship. Well, we know the reason; we were created in God’s image and God made us for worship! But sin – our willfulness and disobedience – warps that good and godly impulse. So we worship wrong things. That’s what the first commandment warns against. We will worship, to be sure, but we will worship trees and stars and the zodiac and crystals. We will worship rules and rituals and words and behaviors as if there is a magic formula for God. And even when we have the truth spoken to us, living among us, walking and talking and healing us; we’ll squint and squeeze and make him into something other than who and what he is; and we’ll worship that.

It’s not a 1st century problem. It’s a human problem. That’s probably why it’s the first commandment, AND the second! “No other gods” (#1) and “Do not make, worship, or serve an idol” (#2). It’s something we still struggle with and something we need to leave behind to follow Jesus well.

There is so much right about Palm Sunday: Jesus is in view; most recognize his claim to be unique and special; people are even shouting “Save us!” But what salvation? What savior? Many then wanted freedom from Rome – political and economic salvation or rescue. But Jesus said he had greater news – the advent of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Some wanted physical healing – hearing that Jesus could do that sort of thing. But Jesus said he had a greater gift – forgiveness of sin.

What about you? “Hosanna – save us!” is the right thing to say. What saving do you want? In this election season, it is easy to resonate with wanting political and economic rescue. It’s also easy to resonate with wanting prayers answered – for healing, health, security, happiness, and more. But Jesus had greater news; Jesus had greater power. Your Messiah is too small!

Who is your Lord and Savior? Is it the right politician being elected in November? Or the right new 9th Supreme Court Justice? Is it somehow getting enough money to pay the bills? Is it the right relationship or job or accolade? All those things are important. Probably none of us would admit or use “Lord and Savior” language for any of those things. But our behavior sometimes gives us away. We are waving palm branches and throwing our coats down and we miss the time of visitation.

It’s already been a part of this service as we welcome new members into the church, just as it is at every baptism and confirmation.

Who is my Lord and Savior? Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior… Who is he? What has he said? What has he done? And where is he leading you and me next?

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