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Come Alive: Above and Beyond

Come Alive (Holy Week 2020)  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  18:39
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Let us pray…Gracious God of Life and all that surrounds us, we come to you today with more anxiety and more fear than we even had last Sunday. God join us now, connect us, and ease our burdens as we bring all of our cares and concerns before your throne of grace this day. Bless us with open hearts, open minds, and open ears to hear your quiet, still-speaking voice this day, Amen.
This morning we begin the final journey toward the cross. This is holy week and today is the beginning. We will spend some time this morning reflecting on Jesus’ final, triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On Thursday, we will spend time reflecting on Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples before his death and celebrate the meal he instituted, with them, to remember him. Our Holy Week journey will end next Sunday when we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and our promise of eternal life.
With that being said, as we begin this morning, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize the fear and anxiety that we might feel because of what is happening in our world. In my mind, for us to really digest what happened that day as Jesus entered Jerusalem, we need to really clear our hearts and spirits to hear the story for what it is…yes, it was triumphal but at the same time, most people did not truly understand what was about to happen. Sitting here nearly two thousand years later, we have the benefit of hindsight but for them, as it was happening before them, they expected one thing and got something completely different. If you stick with me here, I think this will become clearer as we move forward this day.
Now, there is one thing I think we need to keep in mind today, did you know that the events of Palm Sunday are recorded in all four of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. To me, that means that this day is as important as it was in Jesus’ time. In fact, it is very important! It marked what we think of as the beginning of Jesus’s journey to the cross. But really, that journey began long before Palm Sunday! That journey began before He started His public ministry. It began even before He arrived here on Earth in that Bethlehem manger. Jesus’s purpose was part of a much bigger plan established before the creation of the world. It went far above and beyond what the people physically there that day could even know...Jesus’ ministry was about the bigger picture, it was about eternity, not just the immediate expectations of his world and followers.
So, as we look at the events of that day, I want to share three images with you to put things into perspective for us today…they are all pretty common items, but they remind us of the uncommon journey of Jesus. Each of them represents the ways Jesus went above and beyond our understanding or abilities in order that we might come alive to His life. So, here’s the first common thing for us this morning...

A Donkey...

As you gaze upon this picture, what are some of the first things that come to mind? I know the first thing I think of when I think of a donkey is an animal that is a beast of burden and can be quite stubborn. And really, that’s what they are known for, right? They are stubborn…not unlike some of us. So then, why would Jesus tell his disciples to do this...
Matthew 21:2 NLT
“Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.
According to Matthew’s telling of this story, Jesus directed his disciples to bring this lowly animal to him…again, having hindsight, we know that he enters Jerusalem on a donkey. And, in all honesty, if I was one of those disciples, I might be tempted to ask, “Wait, what? Why? Why don’t we go get you an animal befitting of your status and who you are? I mean, you are the Messiah and you deserve to be riding the most majestic horse we can find...” Can’t you hear them questioning Jesus about this? What on Earth was he thinking, right?
And there is something we need to understand...

A Donkey...

There really is a specific reason that Jesus chose the donkey upon which to ride that day...the meaning of Jesus riding on the donkey went above and beyond the immediate or the practical. Even this detail—and this lowly animal—was part of God’s bigger plan. A prophet by the name of Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. What might seem to us like a “plan B” or a last ditch option because nothing else was available, was actually a specific fulfillment of thousands of years of promise. And isn’t that why Jesus came any way? I mean, he came to fulfill all of the law and the words of the prophets…he was the Messiah, he was the long promised savior. The thing is though, he was not a king, like David or any of the other kings who fought glorious battles. He was the savior that came to reconcile all of God’s creation back to God…take another look at this donkey. You have to admit, it’s kind of cute. But I wouldn’t go so far as calling it majestic or royal. To put it into perspective about what I mean, at that time only the top Roman soldiers of Jesus’s day rode on fancy, majestic horses—now those were a show of power and position and that’s what the people were expecting when the Messiah came. Those animals said power, strength, authority. The donkey? Not so much
We also need to remember that the dedicated Jews gathering in Jerusalem at this time for the celebration of the Passover feast would have known these Old Testament prophecies. So, this simple act demonstrated a connection to the past by fulfilling the prophecy and it also pointed to the future of Jesus as king—not an earthly king as some imagined, but as the true King who would reign forever in God’s story of love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption in the form of a Messiah, whom the Jews had been waiting for throughout the centuries, riding on a donkey.
The next ordinary item I want us to consider in this story is the Palm branch...

The Palm Branch...

Imagine what it would be like if you could load the family into the car. Imagine driving out of the driveway toward a destination and the kids begin to cheer loudly because you are driving toward their favorite ice cream store. As you drive on, the get more excited because they can almost taste the sweet goodness of the ice cream they are going to choose. As you drive right past the ice cream store, all the way to the airport to board a plane for Paris, the atmosphere completely changes. The kids should be ecstatic, right? They are heading toward a trip of a lifetime. But instead they are crushed. They were so looking forward to ice cream. It just wasn’t what they expected. It didn’t fit their idea of what should happen.
Now, I recognize that this might be hard to imagine today, but in a few months, you might be able to or even need to...the point is, under normal circumstances, most of us would not have a surprise trip to Europe in our back pocket. But the story gives us a glimpse into what happened to Jesus’s disciples and followers on Palm Sunday. They were cheering with excitement. They thought their king had arrived! They could almost taste the victory as Jesus rode into town. Remember what I said a few moments ago…many of Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting a king like David, one who would come into their time and destroy all of their enemies and give them the peace they had longed to regain from when they entered the promised land at the time of Joshua…the were expecting power, glory, battle, and victory, not a simple man on a donkey. Even though it was not what they expected, they still celebrated…here is what Matthew records about this...
Matthew 21:8–11 NIV
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The crowd waved palm branches, which were a traditional symbol of victory. The people spread their cloaks on the road for their new king. They could almost taste the sweet goodness of freedom. Finally—finally!—their Messiah, their rescuer, had come. Finally, He was going to kick some Roman tail and overthrow their oppressors and set up the perfect kingdom for the Jews. Right?
Not exactly...the crowd would soon discover that this king wasn’t what they expected. He wasn’t here to set up an earthly, political kingdom. Instead, He went above and beyond what the people imagined. He was a spiritual king, not an earthly one. And His victory—the ultimate victory over sin and death—would be more than freedom from their current oppression. It would be the victory that restored all of creation and made a way for every person to have a right relationship with God. He would throw off and defeat the oppression of their souls. Now, there obviously were many people who approved of Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem. They were the ones cheering. But, there were just as many, if not more, who did not approve of Jesus. This group of dissenters included the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus’s popularity. But none of them understood the magnitude of what Jesus was preparing to do. So that leads me to ask, is are we prepared for this week and what it truly means for us? Jesus went above and beyond all expectations of a human, earthly king. He was, is, and always will be the king of eternity, not just earth.
So that brings us to the final ordinary object for us this morning...

Rocks...

Palm Sunday is really a snapshot that represents all of Jesus’s life: His love, sacrifice, and commitment to a greater story, to God’s ultimate work. When He rode into Jerusalem, He didn’t arrive in order to raise more support or gain more approval. This was not a campaign rally where He was trying to make sure that enough people liked Him so He could get elected. That wasn’t His goal, and He knew what was coming. He knew in the coming days He would die on a cross. He understood what entering Jerusalem that day would mean…his journey toward the cross.
Here’s the thing about this, only a mere few days later this very same crowd who chanted, “Hosanna” would change their perspective and begin chanting, “Crucify Him.” Yet, it didn’t change Jesus’ purpose or actions. Jesus’ purpose was not dependent on human approval or praise. Listen to what Luke records for us...
Luke 19:37–40 NLT
When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen painted rocks, and I’ve even owned a pet rock or two, but I’ve never heard stones actually cry out.

Rocks...

While it seems impossible to think that rocks or stones could cry out, that was just His point—the importance of the day wasn’t about who sang praises and who kept quiet. It was about all of creation, which was in need of redemption; all of creation, which was held under the curse of sin and death; all of creation, which would praise God when its Creator was at work in such a significant way to lift the curse and make a way of restoration for all the ultimate good God created. Jesus’s purpose was not to be liked by a majority of people. It was to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His own life—so that everyone and all of creation could worship God in new freedom and truth. Whether the people approved or disapproved, recognized or had no idea what was going on, Jesus’s purpose never changed. It was above and beyond earthly understanding.
Today we have the privilege of hindsight. We see what the disciples did not. We know the end of the story. And so as we watch the events of Holy Week begin to unfold, we come alive to His life, which was dedicated to God’s ways—ways that are above and beyond our own. They were when Jesus entered Jerusalem that Palm Sunday and they still are today. There is no doubt that God is above and beyond us in every way. Yet, from above and beyond, God sent the Son, Jesus, to earth in a way we never would have imagined or planned or chose. Jesus came to us in humility. He lived among us in solidarity. He sacrificed everything in obedience. Jesus’s life purpose was to bring God’s love and life to the world. His love bridged the gap and provided a way for us to cross over into the holy presence of the God of the universe, to know God personally and to relate to God on a personal level. God’s invitation extends beyond all time and space and reaches out to us here today…let us open our hearts, our ears, our minds, and our spirits to the invitation in this day and throughout all of our days, common things become extraordinary when we do, Amen!
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