Choosing our King...a Palm Sunday message
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
What kind of deliverer did the people of Jerusalem want?
On Palm Sunday the crowds were ecstatic with joy at the coming of the Messiah, but why did they so soon afterwards call for His execution? Their dramatic, fickle shift seems strange. The reason is simple—Jesus wasn’t the Savior they were expecting. Palm Sunday was our Lord’s most misunderstood moment. The crowd wanted someone to lead a revolt against the tyranny of the Roman occupation army, to reestablish Jewish rule and autonomy. In short, they wanted a political revolutionary, not a spiritual leader, and especially not one who would die for their sins. They would have welcomed Jesus if He’d been like Ghandi—a religious leader who helped drive out the British from India. Instead of conducting a war room strategy session, Jesus leads His followers to a garden for a prayer meeting. Like Judas, the people became disenchanted; they realized that He had no plans to lead the Zealots in a revolt; even Rome saw that Jesus posed little threat to their power (though they’d have thought differently if they could have seen what happened to Rome). Seeing that Jesus was not going to follow up His entry into Jerusalem with an attempted overthrow of Rome (in the style of the hero Judas Maccabee), they gave up on Jesus and turned against Him.
What kind of Jesus do we want?
Today many people prefer a God who is distant—far enough away to leave us alone; One who lets us live as we please, free to do our own thing. Yet this is hardly the kind of God we need when life gets tough. And we can’t have it both ways—we need God near, even though we may think He’s in the way. We want Him close by when we’re in distress, but not when we’re engaging in sin.
Today, just as in Jesus’ day many of us want a God who meets our conditions. We think we have some kind of bargain with God—we’ll follow and honor Him, maybe even go to church—if our lives are comfortable, and free of tragedy. Yet often life hurts, and God’s not obligated to give us a trouble-free life. He does promise to strengthen us during these times, but not to remove them. He promises only to comfort, guide and empower us during the storms of life, and to bring us to our heavenly destination.
That sounds all too spiritual, too religious for many. Today we want a Jesus who just gives us what we want, when we want it, and then leaves us to our own devices, a Jesus who makes few demands on our lives, who won’t interfere with our plans or get in our way. And so Jesus gets a low priority; He’s thought of so little, and prayer becomes an afterthought when we’re making plans.
Today some people prefer to see Jesus as a man, maybe even a prophet. It’s OK, it’s safe to reject him if he’s just a man. If He is God (as He claimed to be), then it’s not so safe to disregard Him.
Today people—even some theologians—see Jesus as a martyr for his beliefs, but not a substitutionary sacrifice. That’s all too unpleasant, dwelling on His blood as payment for sin. Unpleasant, but necessary.
What kind of king entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Not the kind that was expected. The people were unable to see what Jesus was really offering them. He came to conquer hearts, not topple governments.
The city wanted Jesus to call for revolution; instead He called for repentance. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we turn from ourselves to Him; we come under His Lordship. This means we undergo a radical change of thinking, a change in priorities, a change of direction, resulting in a change of behavior. Repentance—coming under the Lordship of Christ—is required/necessary for receiving eternal life. Repentance is faith’s companion. Repentance is not working for salvation, however. It is the result of genuine, authentic faith in Christ.
While at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for a conference last month I heard an interesting observation: The liberals and the legalists are both trying to get to heaven the same way! The liberals reject the death of Christ as payment for our sins and regard Jesus as a moral teacher—they’re left with salvation by doing good deeds, trying to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus (which of course no one can do adequately). The legalists have their lists of bad things Christians shouldn’t do, and their path to heaven is seen by their abstinence. Both systems are bankrupt. Jesus saves us unconditionally, just as we are, and gives us the motivation and desire to live for Him. Faith and repentance are gifts from the Holy Spirit.
A God-produced inner drive is the key. Paul states, “Those who are in Christ are new creations.” The old way of life is being transformed. A new Christian is beginning a process of growth. If someone claims to be a believer, yet lives a thoroughly ungodly life, that person may be self-deceived. In a newborn baby we expect growth; the same is true of Christians. If we’ve been transformed, our worldview and lifestyle have been changed. The new life we have in Christ changes everything about us. We have new priorities, a new definition of success, a new desire to read God’s word—to understand His will, to learn. We become convinced of the importance of prayer, fellowship, worship and service for God. We become saints—this word is used in the Bible to describe ordinary believers. The word means those who have been made holy. God has declared us forgiven because of Christ’s punishment for sin, and is making us a unique people, set apart from the world. We’re not perfect, but we are growing. We’re not sinless, but we do sin less!
Many people live for themselves, making their own rules. How would this work out in baseball? If all the players in major league baseball decided to play without umpires, baseball might turn into WWF wrestling! We need an Umpire in the game of life. We need accountability. This is why many reject God—they don’t want rules; they don’t want to answer to God for their actions. Jesus came as the King, but His Kingdom rule was rejected. When we come under the rule of Christ, we reject the ideas of others and accept Christ’s teachings as our guiding principles in life. The call to conversion means a call to discipleship—we intend to become the followers of Christ, not merely people who hope to escape hell. We turn to our King for a gift that converts our lives completely. We become committed to Christ. The true test of saving faith is a desire to make Jesus Lord. When we say “yes” to Christ we’re saying “no” to the world.
Jesus entered Jerusalem with a spiritual agenda, not a political manifesto. He also entered knowing how He would be received. The cries of “Hosanna” were demands to save, but not in a spiritual sense—they wanted political deliverance, not salvation. Before entering the city, Jesus looked at it from afar and cried out (Luke 13:34-35), “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’.” Jesus entered the city with tears in His eyes, for those who would reject and crucify Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we often come to You with our demands; we expect You to act in our behalf in a certain, specific way. Help us in prayer to simply report for duty rather than rush into Your presence with our demands. Instead of insisting, ‘give me’, help us to ask, ‘make me’—make us the kind of followers You desire, conformed to Your image, following in Your steps. Should any here need to surrender to Your Lordship, draw them to Yourself, so that they may turn from sin and self to salvation. This we ask, in the Name of Christ our King—Amen.