THE PATHWAY OF PALM SUNDAY
April 3, 2004
Read Matthew 21.1-11
If we ask people to describe life, most will depict it in the same way- as a path or a road. The reason is simple: life is like a journey. It’s a voyage from one experience to the next – from one tribulation to triumph and back again. It’s a journey from birth to death and beyond.
Once again, we have gathered together and have been granted the privilege to travel down the road of our Savior’s life. We traverse a specific street today because we’re in a special weekend in the annual celebration cycle of the Christian church. We can call today’s street THE PATHWAY OF PALM SUNDAY. As we walk with our Savior we can see that this is 1) A Familiar Road; it’s one we’ve walked before. Yet, our traveling companion is Jesus, which means this is always 2) A Unique Journey.
1) A Familiar Road
It was a familiar road the disciples found themselves on that first Palm Sunday. It was the road to Jerusalem and they had walked it many times before. They knew, as they reached the town of Bethany, they would soon turn round the Mount of Olives, and see the city of Jerusalem suddenly sprawl out before them. They had traveled this way with Jesus before. They would again come to the city, which, at this time, would be swelling with millions ready to celebrate the Passover.
Jesus knew the road as well. He’d traveled it before, from very young to now. Mary and Joseph brought him to Jerusalem for the feast every year. It was a magnificent road, a wonderful road to the pilgrims who traveled it. It was especially breathtaking, when, after not seeing the city for the whole journey, you came around that mountain, and there it was! You would see the temple glistening in the afternoon sunlight, and you’d see the magnificent, towering gates; you’d remember the great history of it all: how King David first took that parcel of land as God’s city, and how Solomon first built a glorious temple there. Then you’d recall years of sorrow, when it lay in ruin during seventy years of captivity, until Nehemiah rebuilt its walls.
The road itself was known and loved. But the journey of that Palm Sunday was completely different. The road would not change, but the things along the way, and the end result, would be different than any other trip ever made to Jerusalem.
Today, a donkey’s colt would be found tied up outside, and used as a mount for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. Today, throngs of people would go ahead and behind Jesus saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The road was familiar. The road did not change; but the journey was unique. The disciples knew the road; Jesus knew the journey. He knew what lay along the road, telling them, “You will find a colt, untie it.” He knew what answer they needed to give: “the lord has need of it, and will bring it back shortly.”
Have you ever ridden a donkey? Most of us haven’t. Let’s think about what he rode that day. It was a young donkey colt, which had never been ridden before. This was a beast of burden, not a riding beast. This animal offered a good ride for baggage, not for people. The Gospel writer, Mark, records one important fact.
Mark 11.2- this animal had never been ridden. It wasn’t ever used. This is in line with Old Testament Law. Anything offered to God for a sacred purpose was to be new, never used for labor. The Lord only uses the new, the fresh, and the untarnished. He uses things that have never really been used for anything else. He accepts and uses the little, the small, even the insignificant, but He doesn’t like leftovers or second hand offerings. Note well that if we really want to put something to the Lord’s use, let’s remember little things, small things, fine things -- but used, left over things? -- Don’t expect he’ll do much with it.
The disciples went and found things exactly as Jesus said. They answered the owner just how he said to answer, and came back with the donkey. Then they put their cloaks on it, and Jesus rode it. Now this sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially if you’ve ever tried riding an unbroken horse. Most of us haven’t, I’m sure, but we’ve seen movies often enough to know what happens, at first. Donkeys are more stubborn than horses. Here Jesus had an unbroken colt, with a crowd of onlookers shouting “hosanna!” And now, Jesus was going to ride this thing through that crowd? This appeared to be a recipe for disaster, indeed! But there’s not even a hint of trouble as Jesus rides this humble animal into Jerusalem. He enters the city as the Lord and King and sacrifice. This small animal must have known: “this is my creator, the Savior of the World, the Son of God, upon my back…I’ll let him have an easy ride!”
As He rode, Jesus knew where the journey would end: today, crowds shouting Hosanna! By the end of the week, crowds would be yelling, “crucify.” Today, we see crowds laying palm branches before him. By Friday, women follow behind him with tears, his blood and sweat dripping as he toils under the cross. Jesus knew the journey. Still, he went forward. The crowds also went before and they followed behind him. They called him the One who comes in the Name of the Lord. They knew Jesus brought God’s Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom promised to King David. They believed he came as the promised Messiah, or deliverer. They called out “Hosanna,” which means, “Lord, save us!” And they knew that he would.
So what does this have to do with us today? First and foremost, we have another opportunity to see our Savior and King in action. He did all this for us. He walked this road and endured the journey for our salvation. We see Scripture fulfilled- the King comes gently, and riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah foretold (Zech.9.9). We see Jesus’ gentle nature as a king. We see his humility: He’s the Lord! The earth and everything in it is his by divine right, and yet he rides in humility on a tiny, lowly beast of burden.
2) A Unique Journey
We learn more as we travel this pathway this morning. As we walk the pathway of Palm Sunday we realize that all of us walk down a road in this life. Each path may be a bit different, and although we know the roads of our lives, Jesus knows the journey- we don’t.
Let me repeat that: We may know the roads, but Jesus knows the journey. And it’s really HIS journey; it’s his journey into our hearts, and into the hearts and lives of others. It’s a matter of his Kingdom coming, not ours.
There are too many people in this world who think that their life is all about themselves. “It’s my life,” the teenager screams at her parents, “I don’t care what you say. I’m going to do what I want!” A patient diagnosed with cancer cries, “Why is this happening to ME?” We often forget that our lives are not just about ourselves. Our lives have something to do with our friends, our family, our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, our acquaintances, and yes, even our enemies. No one’s life is all about me, or you, or him, or her.
Self-centered and selfish- it’s part of the sinful human nature. And it can easily turn us in on ourselves, and turn us from each other and from the truth of the matter. The truth is that my life is not about me, but it’s about Jesus Christ. Your life is not about you. It’s about the one who died for you. It’s about what he will do in your life, for your life, and through life. Now, we’re often the main characters in the life God has given us, but let’s face it, what is your life or my life? As sinners who were condemned to hell, we had thrown true life away. But Christ redeemed us- each one of us. He bought us back. As the Bible says, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price,” (1 Cor.6.19-20). The life you live right now, Jesus paid for it. He paid for its sins; he earned its blessings. That’s what it means to be a disciple, a follower, a Christian, a lamb, a sheep of the Good shepherd. That’s a perspective that’s important to maintain.
Often, we’ll talk about life as a journey or a road. There are roads we may well know. We walk them day after day, year after year. There’s the road of a student: you know where you’ll go on Monday. You’ll get on the school bus, or get a ride from mom or dad, or carpool, to school. You’ll be there for several hours, go to this class, that class, recess, maybe softball, football, or track practice, and then its back home at night. There’s the road of someone’s daily life: you get up, get ready for work, drive the highway, punch in for eight hours, and head back home. Most of those roads we’ve traveled again and again, and will continue to travel. Jesus has gone with you every step of the way, though. Tomorrow and the next day it’ll probably be the same road, but who knows about the journey? What strange thing will appear along that road? When will a detour take place? We know the roads; Jesus knows the journey.
He gives us the right answers to all our questions and complaints in his Word. Oh, that we’d trust those answers more, and pay more attention to them! And as odd and confusing, as his words may seem to us, let’s not say: “I don’t understand you Jesus, so I won’t accept what you say. I can’t repeat it. You’re too hard to follow!”
When we put God’s Word aside, to come up with our own answers to challenges, and when we look for things that sound better to us than the Scriptures, then we end up losing hold of the little donkey he sent us to fetch. Then his whole intended ride into another heart, another life, is put off for another time. Let’s not be ashamed of the Scriptures, and the simple answers of faith. Jesus taught them to us. He knows the journey, and knew it ahead of time, before we ever walked the road.
Our lives, the roads we walk, lead us to either follow behind Christ, singing his praises, or to go before him, laying palm branches and cloaks. Missionaries go ahead, paving the way as Jesus rides into hearts by His gospel. Then pastors, teachers, and congregations follow behind, praising God for his kingdom that has come. As a congregation, here in Cornwall, we have our part, too, in cutting down palm branches, and laying down our cloaks. That’s what our offerings are about. God certainly doesn’t need our money, our time, or talents, but those are things that we give to honor Christ, to provide him a smooth path into other lands, other towns, and into the hearts and lives of other people.
Jesus may have taken you down a familiar road, but does something different. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? You think it’s just another journey to work, but he’s got in mind a humble ride into the heart of one of your coworkers, with you to going ahead, or following behind. You think it’s just another family get together or reunion. Jesus has a humble ride in mind for you; a humble ride through a simple conversation about church, faith, and forgiveness. Maybe it’s a conversation that’s happened before, but who knows? The road is the same: but today, the journey may be different. Jesus knows it, and will well provide the answers. Christ knows where and when to send us to fetch the humble never-before used gentle answer, which he will ride into another heart.
At the heart of Palm Sunday is a path. It’s the path our humble Savior rode on in majesty, and lowly pomp, as he went on to suffer and die for our sins. It’s about the path Christ humbly rides into our hearts today through His Word. Let’s share that Word daily, and remember that our roads, our journeys, really aren’t just about us. They are about Christ Jesus, and his salvation. Our lives are about his Kingdom- his rule in our hearts and in the hearts of others through faith. You may not be the main character of your life, but you and I and all believers are the ones who benefit from Christ’s work and from his journeys. So, ride On, Lord! Be with us always on your journey to save!