Monday, March 29, 2010

"God Will Find a Way:" a three-part Easter sermon

Part One: Palm Sunday – “Shouting Stones”

The intensity that accompanied the following of Jesus was “amped up” in the days preceding Passover. It seemed Jesus was purposely causing trouble:

  • He healed people on the Sabbath – twice.
  • The Pharisees approached him with a warning: “Herod wants to kill you!” Doing his best Clint Eastwood imitation, Jesus replied, “He knows where he can find me. Make my day!”
  • He told fabulously deep parables: The prodigal son, the lost sheep, the rich man and Lazarus
  • He talked about the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Worst of all, he kept saying that he was going to die!

He did all of this while he was walking toward Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was a “hornet’s nest.” It was the Jew’s holiest city. The time was Passover, the holiest feast of the Jewish faith. Crowds of people poured into the city from all over the known world. Some of them were disgruntled people; Rome ruled the city of their temple. If the wrong mood got started, it would be like throwing a match in a powder keg. If the wrong sort of leader started causing trouble, Rome would not be happy.

The Jewish leaders were understandable on edge. They ruled only because Caesar let them rule. They were allowed a modicum of power as long as they kept “the Jews” in line. Rome liked its subject people to be compliant. They weren’t afraid to enforce that compliance with violence – even death, if necessary.

Luke 19:28-40
28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "
32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"[
a] "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

The stuff about the colt only seemed to heighten the mystery – “Who is this man and how does he know such things?” He heals lepers, isn’t scared of Herod, and knows the future!

People gather to praise him – shouting and singing as they walk beside Jesus on his borrowed donkey. John tells us that “a large crowd of Passover visitors took Palm branches and went down the road to meet him.” Matthew and Mark say the people threw their coats on the road, along with the palm branches – a sign of reverence. They didn’t even want his donkey’s feet to touch the ground. The truth is probably a combination of the four reports.

Whatever it was, it was a huge commotion! Just exactly what the High Priests and Pharisees didn’t want to see! Too great a commotion, and Rome might silence them – permanently! Too much trouble and their heads would be on the chopping block.

But what’s the big deal? It was Passover, after all. Didn’t they expect a celebration? The Jews were celebrating the day when God delivered them from an unjust ruler named Pharaoh. Its not too big a leap to imagine that they might, with Jesus the rabble-rouser in the lead, decide that God wanted to deliver them from another unjust ruler – Caesar. They might take matters into their own hands!

Here they were, waving palm branches, a symbol of royalty. Here they were, shouting for Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Prophets foretold. Any good Pharisee that valued the status quo, that valued the sensitive state of affairs that granted them jus a little bit of power would know: this means trouble!

So, in a well-meaning effort to save their own necks, and the necks of the pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem, they approach Jesus with a command. “Tell these people to hush! They’re gonna get in trouble acting like this!”

“Mr. Pharisee,” Jesus replies, “Don’t you know? You can’t hush the praise of God! If we stop, the stones on the road will pick up the cheer!”

“Don’t you know, Mr. Pharisee, that no earthly power – not you, not even Rome – can quiet the true praise of God?”

God doesn’t care who wants his people to hush, when there is praising to be done, He will find a way to make it happen, even if He has to use a bunch of rocks by the side of the road!

2000 years later, there are still Pharisees in this world who would just as soon hush all Christians who want to praise God. Sometimes we want it to hush because it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it embarrasses us. Sometimes it even might make the “powers that be” think we want to cause trouble.

Jesus’ reply tells us that God doesn’t care if we’d rather have things quiet. If there’s praising to be done, He’ll find someone or something to do it!

So great is God’s power that no effort of human will can stop it. No political party can stop it! No earthly ruler, no well-meaning “church person” can silence the true praise of God!

If there is praising to be done, if there’s “rabble” to be “roused,” God will find a way to do it!

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