Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
April 9, 2017
Text: Matthew 25:15
Old Testament: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
New Testament: Matthew 21:1-17
Jesus entered Jerusalem this day to a fanfare! When I imagine this first day of Holy Week, I imagine a Steelers Super Bowl parade. Thousands of adoring fans are wanting to catch a glimpse of their hero. Children and parents are along the boulevard, leaning from buildings above the street, standing on roofs, craning their necks to see Jesus.
They’ve heard so much about Him!
He’s a great teacher! He’s a wonderful defender of the weak and widows. He challenges the priests in the Temple. He taunts Roman authorities with His following!
More than that, Jesus is a miracle worker! He healed a blind man, and a man who was lame beside the Pool of Siloam. Up north, near Cana, He turned water into wine! He fed 5,000 people beside the Sea of Galilee with only two loaves and a few fish. He cast demons from people! There are reports that He walked on water. To top it off – He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead! Then, he raised Lazarus from the dead!
Jesus has come! Jesus is here! What will He do next!
A people weary of government taxes welcomed Jesus this day. People weary of failed government welcomed Jesus this day. Maybe He would put a stop to this madness. A people exhausted by poor political leadership welcomed Jesus this day.
Maybe He would fulfill political promises others had betrayed that compromised their national independence. If a person dared to protest the government above the cowering crowd that endorsed its policies with its silence, the law brought a permanent halt to their complaint.
Maybe Jesus would do more!
Expectations were high this day as Jesus faced His admirers. He knew their needs. He saw the hope in their faces and the dejection in their land that sought a Savior. He had arrived to accept His destiny as the leader of a grand movement to make Judea great again!
For over 1,000 years, from the time of King David, the prophets had promised a Messiah – God’s own anointed. The Messiah would lead the nation over its enemies in a glorious triumph of God’s power.
The Messiah would bring prosperity and peace to establish Israel as the chosen people of the earth – a beacon for the rest of the world to adore. The Messiah’s strength and courage would inspire Jews to rise from bondage and claim their destiny!
A millennium of waiting was over! This was the man! This is the moment!
For the Romans and Pontius Pilate, Jesus’ arrival was alarming. The Jews had become docile, accepting their fate of listless tax payers without any real sense of a better future. A few nativist rabble rousers in the countryside were creating disturbances. But Jerusalem, like Judea, had been quiet. Quiet, that is, until Jesus arrived.
For Herod Agrippa, King of the Jews, Jesus’ arrival was puzzling. He wasn’t leading an army. He arrived on a donkey. People were waving palm branches as if Jesus were a somebody. By all appearances, he appeared to be a nobody. He lacked Messianic pedigree.
For Caiaphas, the head of the Temple’s Sanhedrin, Jesus had a grip on people the Temple priests never achieved. The people loved Jesus. Children flocked to Jesus. Teens adored Jesus. He seemed more revered than the Temple itself.
Moreover, it was Passover, the holiest season in Judaism. There was no worse time for Jesus to arrive than when Jerusalem was most filled with people who were celebrating their salvation from the Egyptians. Tents and people were everywhere. At night, the city glowed with light from throngs that had advanced upon Jerusalem from throughout Judea. Passover in Jerusalem was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
For those who were content with the status quo, Jesus’ arrival was a disaster in the making. Unless he could be isolated from His followers and publicly humiliated, or, unless He could be made into an example of what happens to those who dare disturb the peace, He might start a movement that would be hard to stop. The city was ripe for change and He needed to be stopped!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He commanded the authority to be all Jerusalem wanted Him to be. But Jesus knew what they wanted wasn’t enough. He had a greater purpose in mind than starting an insurrection against an earthly government, whether it was in Jerusalem or Rome.
He knew such a mission would lead to thousands upon thousands of deaths. Families would be destroyed, even Jerusalem itself. If Rome were expelled from Judea, it would only be temporary, until Tiberius Caesar sent another army to quell the insurrection. Judea would be no better than before. This was not the destiny towards which He rode.
No, He had a greater destiny in mind. Rome relied on one weapon to control its provinces. Judah’s law relied on one weapon to command obedience to God. Both Rome and Judah relied on the fear of death to enforce the people’s submission.
Jesus came to remove Caesar and King Herod’s greatest weapon to insure their power: death. He would do it in such a manner that no one else would pay for its accomplishment. He would shoulder responsibility solely on Himself to demilitarize the Roman Empire and Judea’s law.
He would do it in such a way that the greatest instrument of fear Rome possessed would be neutralized. The Cross, that hated instrument of Roman justice that was employed to insure compliance by conquered nations, would become the means used by Almighty God disarm death.
Jesus entered Jerusalem to claim the Cross for His destiny.
He saw the Father’s ultimate purpose was to remove from every earthly dominion and ruler the weapon that’s used to enforce submission to their authority. The Father’s ultimate mission was to show world leaders His love is the power that commands all principalities and powers. To reach that ultimate destiny, Jesus had to mount the Cross as the world’s destiny.
In the call to Christ’s discipleship lies the very same destiny. There is a principle for which Christians are to live and die for – the principle that God is love. Many so-called disciples of Jesus fall away from that principle. They’re unwilling to pay the price that’s demanded from all who dare to believe God is love. They lack both the confidence that God’s love commands the world, and the commitment that God’s love is all that’s needed to bring peace to the world.
God is love compels the Christian to turn the other cheek, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, to pray for those who persecute you, to bless and not curse them. God is love demands the righteous follower to accept Christ’s Cross, to endure the humiliation and shame that accompanies the Cross, and to rise above the mocking crowd to seek God’s grace from the Cross for those who persecute you.
When you stand on the principle that God is love, you won’t be silent like the rest of the crowd that cowers in fear, and so condones injustice by their silence. When you stand on the principle that God is love, you mount Christ’s Cross. You climb upon the Cross with trust in the heavenly Father’s love, and the knowledge that ultimately, only His love redeems the world.
The Cross is your destiny.
There are no conquering Messiahs who claim the Cross of Christ’s destiny for Jesus’ followers. There are only humble servants who love the world so much that they shame the world into submission to the Father’s love by accepting the Cross as their destiny.
Anyone who seeks to wave palms this Sunday in Christian ministry is challenged by the Cross of destiny to understand God’s mission for what it is. Palms are meant for the Messiah – the earthly ruler who rids Judea of its enemies with the force of death. The Cross of Christ’s destiny stands before each Christian, calling us to represent the principle of Jesus’ love by offering yourself on His Cross for the world’s salvation.
Waving palm branches is no substitute for the Cross of Jesus Christ’s destiny. Christ’s Cross of destiny points His followers upwards to the house of many mansions that Jesus promises for all those who turn to Him and live. The true, invisible Church, is that modest group of Jesus followers who accept the Cross of destiny as their own, and show the world the beauty of God’s love in their self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ’s name.