Lately, and by that I mean within the last couple of weeks, I have found myself in an introspective mood, perhaps occasioned by two major events – one, the funeral service of a faithful and phenomenal member of the Denham Town Baptist Church in which I was privileged to share having known her for the last few years of her life; and two, my 40 something birthday celebrated two Fridays ago. Both these events have caused me to stop at the proverbial “crossroads” and to take stock of where my life is – what am I doing with this precious gift of God? How am I fulfilling His purpose for me? Am I daily giving my best in my relationship with and in my service for Him? Is God pleased with the quality of my life, with the way I have been living these past years? And, whither do I go from here? How else can I love and serve Him who has paid it all for me? What spiritual legacy will I leave behind for those who come after me? How can I be a better Christian and a better servant of His?
I want to believe I am not alone in such thoughts; that somewhere out there even in this moment, there are other persons like myself pondering the options before us … whither do we go in love for and service to God? Our faith journey is never an easy one, for we get discouraged and distracted; we are often wary of and wearied by the situations of our lives that would draw our attention from the One who has called us, to cast our despondent gazes instead on our own feelings, fears and failures; we wonder whether we are making headway or just merely treading water in our service and offerings to God and we question whether we should give up or go on.
On this Palm Sunday, might I draw from the text read earlier in St Luke’s gospel that which may offer both a word of comfort and challenge to us regardless of where we stand in our personal and collective spiritual journeys? We examine Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and we note with much familiarity and fondness the preparations, the procession and the proclamations. We hear the all too familiar sounds of the hooves of the colt and the resounding acclamations and adulation with which the crowd greets their King. We see the waving branches and the numerous outer garments that line the path our Saviour will trod. There is much love and honour in the atmosphere. We note the sharp voices of those who would have none of it and we hear Jesus’ cool response. We can see the anguish and the despair on Jesus’ face as He surveys Jerusalem and we hear the yearning and regret in His voice as He weeps for her inability to recognize the true significance of the moment.
This is what we have come to know and celebrate on Palm Sunday; but I wonder if we might be led today to examine more closely Jesus Himself in the midst of all this – that, like many of us this morning; He too was standing at a proverbial “crossroads” in His life. As Jesus sent His disciples to make arrangements for this signal moment; He must have been painfully conscious of what was to be set into motion. That, in allowing Himself to be led into the city on the back of a young colt, to the sounds of “Hosanna!” He was literally handing Himself over to that which had been ordained as His destiny in order to save humanity – death on a cross.
I ask you to indulge my slight imposition on the text that Jesus, being fully human, must have felt even a smidgen of doubt and uncertainty as He faced the imminence of what was ahead. And which of us would not? We can only imagine how conflicted He might have felt, wondering about going through with His Father’s plan and perhaps even wavering in His decision to do so as the enormity of His sacrifice and service hit Him. As Jesus stood there on the edge of the city, at the edge of the gathered crowd, we can only imagine that His thoughts must have led Him to ponder again His own purpose in God’s scheme of things. We wonder if He might not have thought like we do so many times – does this make sense? Can I really do this? Wouldn’t someone else be more equal to the task?
You see, there were two options before our Lord – the crowd and the cross. Let us spend a few minutes examining them both … As Jesus made His way into the city, His usual crowd; that is, the gathering of followers would have swelled tremendously owing to the fact that the city was in the throngs of preparing to celebrate another Jewish Passover. Matthew’s account notes the magnitude of the crowd indicating that one led the procession and another followed. The composition of the crowd would undoubtedly have included His disciples and their families; those who would have been recipients of His teachings and His ministries of healing and deliverance; those who were curious; those who were hoping to catch a glimpse or get a touch of Him; we know His critics and detractors were also there – the Pharisees; as well as those who might not even have fully grasped the import of the moment but were really just typically “following the crowd”.
Notwithstanding this, the crowd was in a jubilant mood as the people hailed and heralded Jesus as King and Messiah on His entry into the city. Their cries and shouts would have been a good indication of their support for Him. The willingness and eager abandon with which they spread their personal garments on the ground suggested their excitement in the moment and their respect for Jesus. Despite the many who comprised it, the crowd spoke with one voice, the voice of acceptance - for this is the reality of the crowd, any crowd – no time usually for individual thought, but instead immediate collective response. The people were truly as one in their waving of palm branches and their shouting of generous praises.
All of these elements combined would make, as we say, “one’s head swell”. Jesus could have focused on and given in to what was right before Him – the overwhelming praise of the crowd. He could have been so enticed by the voices of admiration that He would have forgotten His true purpose. Instead, as He faced the crowd, His mind was on His other option - the cross.
For Jesus, the concern was not so much what was immediately before Him. Being fully divine, He was fully aware of the task that lay beyond the crowd – that of being nailed to the cross. The symbol of pain and suffering was at the forefront of His mind even as His ears rang with sounds of reveling and rejoicing. His thoughts would have been consumed with doing the will of His Father; to be faithful and obedient to death, even death on a cross; all of this to accomplish the Divine purpose and to ultimately restore humanity to right relationship with God. Thoughts of the cross would undoubtedly evoke feelings that ran counter to those He was now experiencing; for whereas the cries of the crowd spoke to an acknowledgement and ascription of greatness and glory, the cross would speak to servitude and sacrifice; whereas the crowd spoke to support, the cross would speak to solitude; whereas the crowd spoke to rejoicing, the cross would speak to suffering; whereas the crowd spoke to excitement and enjoyment, the cross to endurance; and whereas the crowd spoke of honour, the cross would speak of humility.
All these elements would make one, as we say, “pass the buck”. Jesus could have changed His mind at that point: He could have turned His back on the cross. Instead, He turned His face towards it and His thoughts towards the crowd.
Jesus put the cries of the crowd into perspective and recognized them for what they truly were. In His lament for the city, He both realized and responded to the fact that the crowd, in their own folly, did not even fully understand who Jesus really was and what His coming would mean – not political or military rule, not lordship and dominion but the ushering in of a new kingdom paradigm that would speak instead to selflessness, service and sacrifice. Jesus was conscious that the crowd was unaware of what was about to unfold and so were ignorant to even their own role in it. Instead of condemning them, Jesus took pity on them. Yes, Jesus’ thoughts were always and will always be of the crowd and this is what compelled Him to look to the cross and to go to the cross. God’s word reminds us in Romans 5:8; “God commends His love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. This speaks volumes to the heart and passion of our Christ; that even when His thoughts and actions could have been of self, He chose instead to look beyond self and to give His life in sacrifice for you and me. Even as Jesus wound His way through the crowd, His eyes were fixed firmly on the cross.
We may, at this time, be asking, what does this have to do with us? What can we learn from this brief yet profound moment of Jesus’ life in His last few days on earth? Might I suggest that in those moments when we would be tempted to give in to the voices and cries of the crowd, we would do well to do as Jesus did … we need to look beyond self, beyond the cries of the crowd and the temptation to pander to those cries; we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Himself and not on the challenges that will ever be presented before us. As we consider our own lives; and more so as believers, we consider our personal, individual walk with the Lord, we must acknowledge that there will be moments when we doubt our own ability to go forward and question our effectiveness and readiness for what lies ahead. Yes, friends, when we are faced with the lived realities of our time and realize that they are to be held in tension with God’s expectations on our lives; whenever we are faced with our human limitations and we wonder where to go from here; whenever and however we are challenged by the voices in the crowd, wherever we are tempted and/or seduced by the proclamations of the crowd; in moments when we are at risk of being drawn in by the energy and excitement of the crowd; we must take a page from Jesus’ book … put the voices and actions of the crowd in context – silence the voices of the naysayers and detractors – put into perspective the voices that praise and support lest we become distracted by them and keep our eyes fixed on the One who is author and finisher of our faith; the One who graciously invites us to the cross, which daily we are constrained to take up and follow Him; the One who overcame so that we too will overcome. Like Jesus, we must learn to pause and ponder that which is before us and we must carefully choose.
May I ask this morning, as I close - what spiritual “crossroads” are you at presently? Are you at the place where you are sensing God’s call to a personal relationship with Him? Or perhaps your “crossroads” is that place where personal ambitions and desires meet God’s call to deeper service? Are you at the place where you are not satisfied with how you are living and serving your Lord? Or maybe this morning you stand at the “crossroads” where what is popular and current collide with what is not? Do you even now waver between two options? Then you and I are in good company this Palm Sunday … like Jesus, may we realize that there may be moments when we have to choose between the crowd and the cross; moments when we will even have to go through the crowd in order to get to the cross. No matter what, let us commit to live our lives beyond self; by going the way of the cross, for as the songwriter says “the way of the cross leads home”. Amen.
Reading from St Luke 19: 28 - 44 (NIV)
(Christ For Today – April 9 2017 – Stacey Lalor-Knowles)