Summary: The whole creation--including us--is designed to worship the one true God. If we don't cry out, the stones will worship God. We need to become 24/7 worshipers, constantly aware of God's presence and guidance.
What do these sayings have in common?
He’s telling it like it is.
She’s speaking for America.
He’s calling for a political revolution.
She’s going to restore the American dream for hardworking families.
He’s going to make America great again.
Yes, these are all campaign slogans recently used. (Is anyone sick of the elections yet? God help us!) Candidates always promise higher employment, tax cuts, and stronger security. And the underlying message seems to be, “We need a president who will lead us in victory over all our enemies and take us into a glorious future!”
If you replace “president” with “Messiah,” you could be right there at the original Palm Sunday, in Jesus’ day. Israel had been under Roman captivity for some time. The people ached for a leader—the long-awaited Messiah—who would come and free them from oppression and put them as a nation back in world leadership.
Jesus came, but not on a battle-hardened steed; rather, on the back of a colt, a baby donkey. The message should have been clear: God’s reign would not come by force. The kingdom of God would come one heart at a time, until Jesus returns again. Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which says, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus had given his disciples detailed instructions on how and where to find the colt, and it all unfolded just as he had said. Perhaps later, as events of that first Holy Week seemed to spiral out of control, the disciples might think back to these simple directions and contemplate how God really does have everything in control, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
As Jesus rode into the capital city, people began throwing their clothing on the dirt road ahead of him. They honored him as a king. When he got to the outskirts of Jerusalem, the fervor rose as the crowd praised God for all the miracles they had seen. I wonder about that verse: Do we take note of the miracles occurring daily around us, as God stirs in our heart to help someone near us, as God brings a healing, as God brings a salvation of someone’s soul? On that first Palm Sunday, the news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was creating quite a stir, along with all the other miracles Jesus had been doing. The people were overwhelmed with excitement as they finally had their Messiah at hand. They quoted from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
What captivates me the most about today’s passage is the statement Jesus made when the Pharisees asked him to hush his fan club. In verse 40 he replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” In other words, there is something so exciting, so supernatural going on here, that all of creation must acknowledge it; thus today’s title, “Mandatory Worship.”
Mandatory worship seems like an oxymoron, because how can true worship be forced? In the year 1972 the Supreme Court directed the United States Military Academy to drop the requirement for compulsory worship. No longer would each cadet have to attend a Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish service every Sunday morning. The other service academies followed suit, as did later the state-funded military academies. Some people mourn such changes in our nation’s history, longing for the good old days of compulsory prayer in schools, for example. But in today’s pluralistic world, do you really want compulsory prayer? After all, it may not be the Christian prayer you imagined.
I showed up at West Point just six years after the compulsory chapel law was lifted, and I didn’t even appreciate the difference, because I was in chapel every Sunday anyway. Truth be told, I was desperate for all the help I could get! But my worship was freely exercised, as it should be in this nation that was founded on the very notion of freedom of worship.
Yet Jesus comes along and says, “If the people don’t cry out, the stones will have to proclaim my glory!” I get the idea that nothing could hold back praise for God that day, even if the people’s shouts of joy would in a few days turn to demands for crucifixion. Regardless of the people’s shallow hearts, God was on the move. Jesus said, “It’s compulsory worship. Somebody or something is going to worship God today, because great things are happening!”
Some scholars think Jesus was quoting scripture when he talked about the stones crying out. In Habakkuk 2:9-11, the prophet Habakkuk spoke for God in saying,
“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.”