Palm Sunday: To Come and To Suffer
Holy Week 2020
John 12:12–19 // Isaiah 50:4–9a // Philippians 2:5–10 // John 12:20–43
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 12, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, we’re talking about assumptions, because we all have assumptions. Now, before you quote to me that old proverb of how you spell assume... did that cross your mind yet?... Let’s know first that everyone has assumptions, and in order to live regular life, you have to have assumptions. How do I know that? One person said it like this: “Nothing is on autopilot right now. And it's exhausting.” Because these last few weeks, when we can’t assume that things will stay the same, when we can’t act the way we always act, when we have to evaluate and reevaluate every move that we make, to act without assumption, these last few weeks have been exhausting.
The deepest of these assumptions we call common sense. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “It’s just common sense!” It’s common sense to turn a light on if you’re in the dark. It’s common sense to turn your blinker on if you’re changing lanes. It’s common sense not to stick your set fingers into an electrical outlet
And what about when someone doesn’t follow common sense? I told my son to put his underwear and pants and he puts on his pants, then his underwear. I go “Ahhgg!” I didn’t think I needed to spell it out. I thought it was just common sense.
Or, I think about this. My wife put the thing next to the other thing, right by the door, thinking that I will see it when I leave the house and do the thing with both things, but then I don’t do anything with either of the things. Does that ever happen to you? I didn’t see it, or I didn’t think about it, or it just wasn’t as important to me. I’m not saying it’s not my fault, but you know her reaction. She goes “Ahhhgggg” I didn’t think I needed to spell it out. I thought it was just common sense.
Why does that aggravate us so? Aggravate is the right word for it, for that feeling that goes along with the Ahhhggg sound. It’s different from when you’re hurt or when you’re mad or sad. It’s a sound of frustration, when you assume others will share your assumption. Things are not what they seemed to be.
Can you relate to that feeling these days? Nobody is where they want to be. Nobody is doing what they want to do, and even if they are, they aren’t doing the way that they usually do.
Today, I would invite you, on this Palm Sunday, to come to the foot of the cross. Today I would invite you to once again take all of your aggravation, all of your AAAAHhhhgggg, all of your frustration and lay it down once again like palm branches in front of Jesus as he goes to suffer on our behalf.
With that feeling—with that understanding—we go to our text for today. Three assumptions that we would gather from the characters around Jesus. Three ways that we would correct our course in these days.
Assumption number one: it was common sense—it was plain—to the crowds that Jesus had finally come into his own. They tried to make him king after the fed the (5,000) earlier. They are singing the same songs again, and in a sense, they are right. They’re saying the right words. They’re quoting the right Psalm—Psalm 118! They are calling Jesus the right things: the one who comes in the name of the Lord. He is a king. He’s coming to his throne. But. Even when they said the right words, they assumed the wrong things: the was a king of this world, that he would reign from Jerusalem, that the chains he was going throw off were those of the Roman Empire. And they were wrong.
Assumption number two: It was common sense—it was plain—to everyone else in the narrative, to the disciples and to the Pharisees, that death awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. For the disciples it was plain that death was bad. They knew that Jesus was more than a bread king. He was more than a miracle worker; he was the Messiah, and for him to reign in the kingdom of heaven, well, even the Son of God had to be alive to rule a kingdom. Death wasn’t what they wanted, and it was common sense that it could be avoided and Jesus simply wasn’t working with common sense. Death was an abyss. Death was defeat. Death was the end.
For the Pharisees death was good. “Better that one man die than a whole people perish.” And Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, was right. They were right that Jesus needed to die. But. They assumed that salvation for their people was letting their nation survive under the Roman empire. They, like the crowd, were looking to a physical kingdom, and they were prepared to pay any cost to keep it.
But what if... what if we had a different assumption? What if we were working with a different purpose?
His purpose was to come and to suffer. That’s what Isaiah 50 helps us begin to know. “I gave my back to those who strike.” He did allow himself to be flogged. “My cheeks to those who pull out the beard.” That means, he let others humiliate him. “I didn’t hide from disgrace and spitting.”
Did you notice that in the OT text? But the Lord God helps me. I say it to my confirmation class often. There are a lot of big buts in the bible. Moses had a big but, David had a big but. Adam had a big but. Moses was a great leader but his anger got the best of him. David was a man after God’s own heart but even he fell into sin. Adam was created perfect but when given the choice to love freely he choose selfishness.
But Jesus is the biggest reversal of them all. Jesus was God but he emptied himself of his power, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. But his humiliation was his glory. His death was not his end. The obedience that brought him down was the reason he was exalted to the highest places, was how he could win salvation for you and for me.
Thought #1, The middle is not the end of the story. Let me tell you a little story. Our first child, Benny, was born September 30, 2015, and Laura was in labor for about 3 hours. I remember that moment of despair thinking, what if, what if she’s in this pain for 20 more hours? What if this is the end of the story?
Those are the fears of the middle. What if this middle, this quarantine, lasted forever? What if this middle, this pain, doesn’t go away? What if this middle, this day of humiliation, this fear, this punishment never goes away?
Dear friends in Christ, the good news is this, that the middle is not the end of the story. The good news is this, that Jesus came to Jerusalem expressly to suffer all he was appointed to suffer. The good news is this, that his path does not end in suffering but it leads, just as Philippians 2 says, it leads through suffering to glory.
Thought #2, When we believe this, that the middle is not the end, when we say it again and again, and when are forced to cling to this truth, then we readjust our focus on what matters.
These days, I have a longing in my heart to do ministry the way I’ve done it for my career: going to nursing homes, holding someone’s hand at a hospital bed, giving hugs after service... that’s one place where Pastor Griffin and I differ... but I can’t. Life does not look these days like it has. We don’t get to do what we want to do. But Jesus would bid us readjust our focus. Is the focus giving hugs and holding hands, or is our purpose to love our neighbor as ourselves? Well, you know the answer to that one.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that is scattered in all sorts of locations, into homes and neighborhoods and living rooms. They cannot do what they’ve always done, and yet, their purpose stays the same: to make disciples for Jesus Christ. They cannot live like they’ve always lived, yet their Savior is still the same now and for always. They don’t know what’s ahead, and yet, they walk, one day at a time, one step at a time, trusting in their savior Jesus Christ, blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Today, of all days, let us walk the familiar path of Holy Week even in uncertain times. Today, of all days, let us remember the familiar story and let that story take over our lives. Today, of all days, let us remember that while we are in the middle, we know how this story ends.
Amen and amen
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