“Riding into the Eye of a Storm”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
April 14, 2019
As I listened to Carrie Beth talk to the children about Palm Sunday during the Children’s sermon, I was reminded of the story of the little boy who was too sick to go to church. It happened to be Palm Sunday, and when his brother returned home after the service, he could hardly wait to tell him what he missed.
“You picked the wrong day to be sick,” he told his ailing brother. “You are not going to believe what happened in church this morning. Jesus came riding into the sanctuary on a donkey, and we all walked alongside him waving palm branches!”
“Aw man!” the younger brother exclaimed. “I can’t believe it. The one Sunday I missed, and Jesus showed up!”
This morning, let’s talk about the event in Jesus’ life this little boy thought he missed. The fact Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem is included in all four gospels and has been re-enacted every year in the Holy City since the fourth century tells us how significant it was to the early disciples. This story was an important component in the formation of their faith.
Luke will provide the lens through which we’ll look at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The narrator informs his readers that Jesus and his disciples have been making their way from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe Passover. (Luke 9:51-19:27) That journey was coming to an end as our text opens.
Somewhere near the outskirts of the city, Jesus sent two disciples into a nearby village to secure a colt for him to ride on the final leg of the journey. It appears Jesus had already arranged for this transfer to occur because he told the disciples exactly where to go, what to look for and what to say if someone asked them what they were doing.
When the disciples returned with the donkey, the disciples threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. Immediately, Jesus began his descent into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
As Jesus made his way down the slope, many spread their cloaks or palm branches on the path before him. They began shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)
Perhaps they saw what Jesus was doing as the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”
The Pharisees were not among those who viewed this event as the embodiment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Instead, they commanded Jesus to rebuke his disciples and silence them.
Jesus ignored their order and sternly replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
When Jerusalem came into Jesus’ view on the Mount of Olives, he broke down and cried. After regaining his composure, he voiced this lament: “If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)
Jesus went on to describe the destruction that was sure to come to Jerusalem because the religious leaders rejected Jesus and the pathway to peace he wanted to pave for them. “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:43-44)
What was it about this event that impressed the early disciples so much they made sure it was handed down to future generations, making it possible to be included in all four gospels?
For starters, I believe it was Jesus’ courage. Let there be no doubt Jesus was riding into the eye of a storm that evening.
By the time Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the religious leaders had already made the decision his voice had to be silenced and he needed to die. More than anything, they wanted to arrest him before the week ended and bury him by Passover. Why?
Throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, he had been an outspoken critic of the lives and leadership of those who held the reins of power in Jerusalem. He believed many of them to be callous and corrupt.
He accused them of caring about their own welfare more than the people they were called to serve by tilting the scales of justice in favor of those who bribed them, exploiting those who were the most vulnerable, ignoring the poor and using their power and influence for personal gain.
He condemned them for making life harder for those struggling to survive and turning a deaf ear to their pleas for help. He called them out for being dishonest, unreliable, selfish, greedy, rude, arrogant, insensitive and cruel.
There is no doubt Jesus’ words and work created conflict between him and those who chose to control people rather than serve them. As a result, Jesus was riding into Jerusalem with a target on his back.
Yet, he continued on this journey toward hope and healing. To do any less would have disappointed God and all those who needed him to be their advocate. He could bear the pain of being crucified more than the shame of being a coward.
This is why Jesus moved among and even interacted with the scribes and Pharisees as the week progressed. He attracted crowds everywhere he went and took advantage of the opportunity to teach what would be perceived by the religious elite as a threat to their positions of privilege and security.
Like prophets from the past whom the people revered, Jesus was on a mission to reveal the true nature of God and to give voice to God’s dreams for all people. He had a message to deliver, one rooted in the pursuit of justice and the establishment of peace, and nothing or no one would deter him.
Never had the earliest disciples met anyone with this much courage. The world had to know the Jesus they knew and loved, and telling the story of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem was one way to do it.
It was not just Jesus’ courage that impressed them, though. It was also his compassion.
Never before had the disciples seen the Grand Marshall of a parade cry. Jesus wept openly and heavily upon seeing Jerusalem and peering into the future that awaited the people he loved and tried to save.
It was Jesus’ compassion that compelled him to go to Jerusalem to confront the religious leaders. For three years he had walked those dusty Palestinian roads listening to people’s stories, responding to each one with genuine concern and tender mercy.
He was touched by those who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life, and he was disgusted with those in power who seemed not to care at all about their plight. Their indifference betrayed their calling and misrepresented the God who called them to serve.
In Jesus’ opinion, they needed to be held accountable and called on to repent. Who was going to deliver this message? Who would take this risk?
Only someone who loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself would take on this challenge.
Only someone who valued serving over being served, sacrifice over self-indulgence, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting and peace over violence would take this risk.
That someone was Jesus, and his story had to be told.
Courage and compassion. These were two of Jesus’ most admirable traits. This story puts them on display for all to see.
Would anyone point to you as an example of compassion and courage?
Where does your voice need to be heard?
Where do you need to roll up your sleeves and get involved in making a bad situation better?
Who is hoping you will be more like the Jesus you came to worship today?
Who is hoping you don’t so they can continue to exploit others by abusing their influence and power?
Lent is a time for riding into the eye of a storm, not playing it safe.
I wonder which you will do this week.