“Courage, Compassion and Communion”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
April 5, 2020
This morning I want to focus on a text that will shed light on two of Jesus’ most outstanding qualities, his courage and compassion. Without these traits, Jesus would have been far less effective as a leader.
I am convinced the reason many people trusted and followed Jesus was because they believed him to be a man of courage and compassion. He never backed down from an intimidating challenge or quit caring about people who were struggling to survive or being oppressed.
Nowhere is this better seen than the story we’ll examine today. Jesus’ courage and compassion were certainly on display the day he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Listen as I describe the details.
For several days or weeks, Jesus and his disciples have been making their way from Galilee to Jerusalem. A description of this eighty mile journey that began in Luke 9:51 came to an end in Luke 19:27.
Our text begins a new unit in Luke’s gospel that takes place in Jerusalem and culminates with the arrest, torture, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This morning, our attention is drawn to the grand entry Jesus made into Jerusalem on what is now known as Palm Sunday.
Just before Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he 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, they 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)
This event is recorded in all four gospels, which indicates how important it was to the spiritual formation of the early disciples. What was it about Jesus the early Christians needed to know? What was it about Jesus they needed to emulate?
For starters, it was his courage. Riding on the back of a donkey that day was like riding into the eye of a storm.
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. They wanted to arrest, crucify and bury him by the end of the week before Passover. Why?
Throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, he had been an outspoken critic 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, by exploiting those who were the most vulnerable, by ignoring the poor and by 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 the scribes and Pharisees and interacted with them 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 had grown to admire and love, and telling the story of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem was one way to do it.
It was not just Jesus’ courage that needed to be highlighted, 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 Palm Sunday story puts them on display for all to see.
So do the events that occurred five days later on Good Friday. Sometime around nine o’clock in the morning, Jesus was nailed to a cross. Offering no resistance and without a struggle, Jesus opened the palms of his hands and allowed his enemies to drive nails through them.
How could this innocent man do this? The same courage and compassion that enabled Jesus to ride into the eye of a storm made it possible for him to make the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of justice, peace, wholeness and salvation.
Courage and compassion. Who knew they could be so powerful? Who knew the difference they could make in the lives of people living in despair?
Who knew how they could transform our lives and bring the best out in us? Who knew they are two of the most important qualities all of us need to possess for such a time as this?
I believe we do, too.
So I ask: Who needs you to be courageous and compassionate during these stressful times? Who needs you to put the welfare of others above your personal desires? What sacrifices are you being asked to make during this global pandemic that will require the best of you and the most from you?
Think about this whether you are alone or as you gather with family members around your kitchen table to take communion.
Thank God for sending Jesus on this merciful mission of hope and healing.
Thank Jesus for being faithful to this divine mission all the way to the cross.
Ask God to help you to follow Jesus’ example so you, too, can meet the needs of others and inspire them with your courage and compassion.