"Will You Go to Jerusalem?"Dr. Ronald D. Vaughan Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40 Year C - Liturgy of the Palms - Sixth Sunday in Lent
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.'” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them.
As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”They replied, “The Lord needs it. “They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.
As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40 NIV)
I need to begin this message with a confession. I struggle with Palm Sunday. One source of my struggle is that I grew up in and have served Baptist churches my entire life. Most of those churches don’t observe many of the events of Holy Week, so observing Palm Sunday leaves me feeling that we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem one Sunday, then agree to meet again a week later on Easter Sunday after he’s conquered sin and death.
I know Palm Sunday is not to blame for that problem, but I fear we conveniently bypass the struggle, sorrow, and sacrifice of Holy Week and show up for its victories. My other source of struggle with Palm Sunday has been my difficulty in discovering its meaning for my Christian journey and for every person who wants to follow Jesus. What lessons does Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem offer me? What issue does it challenge me to face?
I believe I’ve discovered one important meaning of Palm Sunday for me and all of you who belong to Christ. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he threw himself into his mission so completely and so openly that he couldn’t turn back. Palm Sunday was the day, I believe, Jesus gave himself totally to God’s work no matter what the cost. His journey into the city was the first domino that fell upon all the events that would lead Jesus to the cross.
Does Palm Sunday challenge us to take the kind of step Jesus took riding into Jerusalem?
Does following Jesus mean that you and I need to give ourselves so completely to God’s truth and work that there is no turning back?
I want to walk through this story looking for that invitation.
The first thing I think we must see in this story is that…
Jesus is Ahead of Us
One of my children asked to follow me to a restaurant. After driving a short distance, I couldn’t find my child’s car in my rear-view mirror. My cell phone rang about the time we pulled into the parking lot. “Dad, I’m going to need some help getting there.” “Weren’t you following me?” I asked. “I thought I was, but I discovered that you don’t have the only red Toyota on the road. I’ve followed someone else for the last ten minutes.”
The story begins with the words…
(Verse 28) After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
If you and I are serious about following Jesus in a life-directing, even costly way–if we want to make the journey to our own Jerusalem with the opportunities and challenges it holds, we need to be sure we’re actually following Jesus in the course we choose. Many sincere seekers have taken a journey that led them to a mountaintop to wait for the carefully calculated end of the world. Others have withdrawn from family and friends to be controlled and used by some charismatic leader. Still others have followed a noble cause or a political agenda as though it would usher in God’s kingdom.
You can’t follow the wrong car and get to the right destination. We need to be sure that we see Jesus leading the way to the all-out commitment we want to make. This story offers us guidance in how to begin.
Plan Your Entrance Carefully
Almost half of this story is about securing the animal Jesus wants to ride into Jerusalem. He sends two disciples ahead into Bethany, telling them that they will find an unridden colt tied there. If they are stopped and asked why they’re taking the colt, Jesus tells them to reply, “The Lord needs it.” These two disciples enter the village, find the colt, untie it, and when asked by its owners why they’re taking it, they give the answer Jesus gave them. Their mission is successful and they bring the colt to Jesus for him to ride upon into Jerusalem.
Why is so much attention paid to the animal on which Jesus will enter Jerusalem? Because the animal he chose to ride would make a statement about his mission in Jerusalem to everyone who saw him. The significance of that choice is lost on us, but not to those who gathered in the city for Passover. Had Jesus chosen to ride a horse into the city, the people would have looked upon him as a warrior who had come to lead his people into battle to conquer the Romans and free Jerusalem. But Jesus specifically chose the colt of a donkey to send the message to everyone who saw his entrance that he came in peace. Jesus planned to enter Jerusalem, not as a warrior, but as one who came to offer peace with God.
Jesus has many devoted followers who are more than ready to fight. Christians battle for the Bible. They wage war for their preferred style of worship. Some fight to save Christmas. Others mobilize to impose their views on other people in their churches, denominations, and communities.
I know Christians must sometimes fight for the integrity of our faith and struggle to see God’s will honored in the world. But before we become career warriors, before we invest our lives in fighting for fighting’s sake, we need look up and see Jesus entering Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, coming to offer sinful humanity and a broken world peace with God. We will follow him best by making peace, not picking fights.
Be Prepared for How Others Will React
As Jesus approached Jerusalem, riding on a young colt, people reacted to his arrival in vastly different ways. Some people spread their cloaks on the road to show deep respect for Jesus, greeting him as they would a person of royalty. People broke into a chorus of praise for all the miracles they had seen Jesus perform. Some welcomed Jesus with the shout,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk. 19:38 NIV)
They saw Jesus as a king chosen by God to bring peace to his people.
As wonderful as these shouts of praise must have sounded, Jesus knew that the people were praising who they thought he was more than who he truly was. Despite all he’d done to make clear he came in peace, the people looked for a warrior king to enter the city, rally the people and overthrow the Roman oppressors. They cheered for Jesus because they believed he had come to capture a throne, not be the victim of a cross. Most of them will soon grow disillusioned and walk away.
The Pharisees were upset with this boisterous display of support for Jesus. They envied the people’s enthusiasm for him and his ministry. They also feared such an uprising might trigger a repressive response from the Romans. The Pharisees urged Jesus to tell his followers to stop shouting and be quiet.
If you decide to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to devote your life wholeheartedly to him, you will receive all kinds of reactions. Some people will cheer you on with great enthusiasm. Savor their support, but don’t grow dependent upon it. Some of them are cheering for their own idea of what following Jesus means. They may expect your deepened devotion to Christ to make you a fiery evangelist or a cultural warrior or a social activist. They might think you’re answering a call to preserve and defend the church traditions they’ve known or to break free of those traditions. The praise of many people is like the seed that fell on shallow soil. It springs up quickly, then withers at the first sign of disappointment.
You’ll also hear from your own kind of Pharisees, those who can accept you being a Christian as long as you keep it quiet. They’re all for a respectable kind of religion that occupies its rightful place in a life but doesn’t take it to extremes. They don’t want your faith to get out of hand and cause trouble. These voices might urge you to remain silent in the face of oppression or not apply the principles of your faith to the policies of our government. They might care more about “what we’ve always done” than “what Jesus would do.” Be a quiet Christian and they’ll leave you alone.
Jesus wasn’t controlled by the voices of those who lined the road to Jerusalem. He wasn’t intoxicated by the praise of people who longed to be free but misunderstood his ministry. He wasn’t hindered by the protests of the Pharisees who felt threatened by his presence and wanted him to compromise his calling to avoid conflict. His answer to the Pharisees reveals, I believe, the key to his faithfulness and ours, if we truly want to follow him.
Follow a Voice from Beyond the Crowd
When the Pharisees tell Jesus to quiet the voices of his followers, he says,
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Lk. 19:40 NIV)
Is Jesus saying that if his followers stopped cheering him on, the rocks along the road would begin shouting and continue his welcome to Jerusalem? I don’t think so. I believe Jesus is saying that if every human voice along the path he felt so called to follow were to fall silent, he would still hear a voice leading him on to Jerusalem. This voice was greater than the cheers of any crowd. This voice was so real to him that he heard it everywhere and from everything. Jesus heard the voice of his Father loving him and leading him to his place of greatest service.
The day I was ordained to Christian ministry, my former pastor, Rev. Harry Floyd, preached the ordination sermon. As on any highly emotional day, I heard some of what he said and missed other things as my heart and mind ran in many directions. I was a new pastor, floating on the praise and encouragement of many wonderful people in my home church and the church I’d been called to serve. A number of months later, when my romantic notions of the ministry crashed into one of the rocks of the reality of church life, I vaguely remembered something my Pastor Floyd had said in his sermon. I dug through a box of cassette tapes and found a recording of that service. This time I listened intently to every word of his message. This time I heard my wise pastor say,
Some days of your ministry will be so difficult that the call of God will seem to be all you have.
On those days, you’ll discover that God’s call is all you need.
How can you and I follow Jesus to Jerusalem?
How can we devote our lives more fully to God’s way?
How can we follow the Prince of Peace in a world at war?
How can we go beyond the shouts of those around us to hear and obey the voice of our Father who is leading us to our time of greatest service?
Listen with your heart.
Follow where Christ leads.
Go with Jesus to your Jerusalem.
About the writer: Dr. Ronald D. Vaughan is a native of Greenville, SC and is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.). In forty years of ministry, “Dee,” as he is known to most people, has served as a hospital and fire department chaplain, a university teacher and pastor of five congregations. Since 2011 he has served as senior pastor of St. Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
Dee is married to Linda, a native of Gaffney and a graduate of Furman University. Linda works as an adult education teacher for Lexington County Schools. The Vaughan’s have three children and three grandchildren.
Dee has published four books, including Seeing in the Dark: Biblical Meditations for People Dealing with Depression by Smyth and Helwys. He enjoys playing the guitar and banjo, occasionally writing a song, portraying Biblical characters, and seeing the amazing ways God works in the lives of people.
Scripture and Music:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Hosanna, Loud, Hosanna
All Glory Laud and Honor
Ride On! Ride on in Majesty
Lift Up Your Heads, O Mighty Gates
Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
Hosanna! (arr. Leimbach)
Arise, Your Light Has Come (Danner)
I Sing the Greatness of Our God (Bock)
Lo, He Comes (Horman)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Martin or Mallory)
The Palms (Faure)
We Sang Our Glad Hosannas (Horman)
The Holy City
I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked
Jerusalem the Golden