Sermon Series – April 13, 2014

#5 “What Did Jesus Do?”

“When Jesus took part in a Demonstration”

Luke 19:28-38 & 39-48

April 13, 2014

Things have quieted down now. Oh, pickets still picket. To walk into some business meant going through lines of 15 or 20 placard bearing strikers who greeted possible customers with moans and groans and threatening sounds, calculated to discourage would be patrons from entering the stores. Strikes occur, and workers and their families walk around buildings and plod along the streets.

And there are still parades. In New York, the Irish march on St. Patrick’s Day. People come out to honor veterans for Veterans Day parades.

Fourth of July parades aren’t what they used to be, but some communities still have them. The Boy Scouts still have their Camporees and Jamborees and Scout-o-ramas.

But the real hard core demonstrations of the past have quieted down.

The million man March, Kent State, or how about the Poor Peoples march on Washington many years ago, now is history. Crowds gathered in demonstrations in Birmingham and Memphis and Atlanta and Chicago and Newark and Washington; the scars on humanity still remain, but these too, happened many years ago.

So, despite the fact that there have been hundreds of thousands of them, most demonstrations are a matter of memory.

Recalled only with effort most times, and though people still gather in groups to protest, or plead…the Wall Street protest or as even yesterday in our nation’s capitol, groups protesting immigration reform, but for the most part, temporarily at least, demonstrations have quieted down over the years.

But there is one demonstration which is widely remembered, known around the world, celebrated annually; a demonstration whose re-creation is fostered religiously “from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand”; from the Vatican to Vietnam; from Philadelphia to Asia, to Phoenix Arizona to Jerome Arizona; a demonstration in which you and I have participated, at least in minor fashion, here, this morning;

A demonstration that took place first 1,984 years ago…in Jerusalem…1,984 years ago today!

It was a demonstration on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth. It has been said, “Jesus, too, was part of a demonstration; part of a parade without a permit. There’s just no other way to read the Palm Sunday incident.” It was a demonstration carefully planned in advance; long-haired, bearded, sandal-clad or barefooted, poorly dressed, or even ‘smelly’ people, including many so-called rabble and riff-raff…beggars, thieves, prostitutes, the poverty stricken…and a full share of “the halt, the maimed and the blind”; it was a demonstration that was directed against the status quo, a demonstration directed against the power structure;

It was a demonstration that attracted large and noisy crowds; it was a demonstration that resulted in damage to property, in violence to people, and in the death of the chief participant. It was a demonstration all right, and Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus our Lord and Savior, Jesus was not only in the midst of it, but Jesus was its focal point, the leader of the procession, the instigator, the planner, the chief demonstrator, and the chief victim of it all.

It was a demonstration all right; make no mistake about it. In the affairs of people, and of nations, and of God; evidently times to pass when demonstrations are needed to protest injustice, to drive home truth, to bear witness to faith, to stimulate hope, to accomplish a purpose when all other methods seem to have failed.

John Oxenham puts Palm Sunday in just such a context of failure when he writes of Jesus: “Unflinchingly the Messenger forecast the likelihoods to which his face was set…his life, his loving deeds, himself, had failed; one final mighty effort he could make; perhaps even now the people might be won…. An old time prophet has foretold a King who should come meekly…not as others came, with pomp and pride and royal circumstance, but riding simply on an ass’s foal and bringing peace to them and all mankind. So would he ride.

Perhaps their eyes might bear the meaning of the symbol to their hearts. He found a foal that never man had used, and mounting it, he pressed upon his way. The people caught his meaning, and with joy, with shout and song, his path with branches strewn, and flung their garments down that he should pass in triumph like a conqueror. “He Comes!” they cried. “He comes! The Promised One of God!”, and poured tumultuous through the city gates.””

(“Gentlemen, the King!” John Oxenham, pp 46-47, 55, 57)

Yet not from the point of view of Oxenham, but from the vantage point of the record in the gospels, let us look at what Jesus did in the first Palm Sunday demonstration.

We’ve already read from the 19th chapter of the gospel according to Luke. Way back in the 9th chapter we read: “Jesus….made up his mind and set out to Jerusalem…He sent messengers ahead…to get everything ready…” (Chapter 9 verses 51-52.)

Note also, this portion in the 13th chapter of that gospel: “At that same time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him; ‘You must get out of here and go somewhere else, for Herod wants to kill you.’ Jesus answered them: ‘Go tell that fox, I am driving out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I shall finish my work.’” (Chapter 13 verses 31-33.)

And in the 18th chapter there is this reference: “Jesus took the twelve disciples aside and said to them: ‘Listen!

We are going to Jerusalem where everything the prophets wrote about the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Gentiles, who will make fun of him, insult him, and spit on him. They will whip him and kill him, but on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Chapter 18 verses 31-33.)

As we recall, the 19th chapter testifies to the immediate planning concerning colt and route and crowds and the place of direct confrontation.

That’s the Scriptural record. So Oxenham. So Luke.

But it may be a too, too familiar story. Some of you here present have already celebrated Palm Sunday for more than 70 years.

Most of us have heard the Palm Sunday story in the old familiar words time and time again.

So this morning, I’d like you to think about the events on that demonstration day, in modern times…………….

Imagine, for example, the front page story from the day after the events of the JERUSALEM DAILY TIMES. The headline reads:

HOLIDAY PARADE ENDS IN TEMPLE RIOT, OUTER COURT SCENE OF CONFUSION, BANKERS’ TABLES OVERTURNED, AND ANIMALS LET LOOSE.

And the newspaper story begins: What started out as a minor parade, welcoming one Jesus of Nazareth to Jerusalem, ended in a near riot yesterday afternoon, when the man Jesus invaded the temple precincts and boldly attacked the vendors there. “It is written…. ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ Jesus shouted; then charged, ‘but you have turned it into a hideout for thieves.’”

According to eyewitnesses, the Nazarene took a whip of cords, and drove from the Temple the moneychangers and the sellers. He upset the booths of the cattlemen. He overturned the tables of the bankers. He set free both birds and beasts, thereby creating an uproar.

He then left the Temple; Jesus had made entry to the city through the east gate riding on a colt. He was acclaimed by his followers with religious chants and cheers. Vandalism is said to have occurred when branches were torn off trees and flowers uprooted to be strewn in the road on which Jesus travelled. Concerning the bold attack on the religious & financial interests, neither Temple rulers nor city and province authorities were immediately available for comment.

Or, look at the incident from another point of view: Found buried in government files in Rome, is a report submitted by the Governor of Judea. “To most noble Tiberius, Protector of the State, Ruler of the Empire: Hail Caesar!

“That you and the Roman Senate may be kept fully informed of recent developments in the province of Judea, I beg to report that the religious rioting which occurred in Jerusalem today is completely under control, and the city is now quiet. Roman troops have been put on alert throughout the province, and the situation is now entirely satisfactory. You may already know that demonstrators took to the streets this morning in the name of one Jesus of Nazareth. Holiday crowds, gathered for the annual celebration of the Jewish Passover, at first amused, were in part taken in by the festival nature of the religious-like procession, and joined in cheers for the aforementioned Jesus.

The only awkward incident occurred in the Jewish Temple, where a disturbance was quickly quelled by the religious authorities who assure us that the distributor will be summarily dealt with, and will not be allowed to pose a threat to the peace and prosperity of Judea. Roman Peace, will prevail! With renewed devotion to the welfare of our gracious and esteemed person, I am sincerely, etc., etc., Hail Caesar! (Signed Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea.)”

Or, the event in modern guise again: Also at hand is a portion of a transcript of the television program “FACE THE PROVINCE”, aired by PBS, the Palestine Broadcasting System, in which reporter Esther Aleichem of the Nazareth News; interviewed Simon Peter, one of the Nazarene’s well known followers. The occasion marked the first time a lowly fisherman had appeared on a program which generally featured high government dignitaries, economists, historians, and scientists. Janet and Mike to read below??

Esther: What I am interested in, Simon Peter, is your recollection of exactly what went on in the streets of Jerusalem yesterday. Is it true that your Master encouraged the uproar when the authorities were trying to bring it under control?

Peter: It’s true that the people were cheering and applauding. As a mark of respect and affection, many of them were putting their coats in the road so that Jesus might ride over them.

Esther: But weren’t the people told to be silent? Wasn’t Jesus himself warned to keep his followers in better control?

Peter: Some of the Pharisees did say to Jesus, “Teacher, command your disciples to be quiet.” But Jesus told them, “If they keep quiet, I tell you, the stones themselves will shout.”

Esther: What else did Jesus say?

Peter: Well, when Jesus was coming close to the city he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew today what is needed for peace! But now you can’t see it.” And he also said: “the day will come when your enemies will surround you….and close in on you from every side. They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls;

not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you didn’t recognize the time when God came to save you…”

Esther: Isn’t that a direct attack against the religious rulers? Isn’t that a threat to the government of the city?

Peter: Oh, I suppose it is. But that is what Jesus said. And by experience, I’ve come to have absolute confidence in what he says.

Esther: What’s going to happen now?

Peter: All along, Jesus has said that in Jerusalem he would be condemned and killed; but he has also said that he will be raised to life.

Esther: Raised to life? What does that mean?

Peter: I don’t know; but that is what he said.

Esther: We interrupt for a word from our sponsor, the Mount of Olives Olive Company.

One other document. Here is an excerpt from the personal diary of Caiaphas, high priest of Israel: “On the evening of the ninth day of the month Nisan, it is obvious to all that we must get rid of the troublemaker, that disturber of the peace, that blasphemer, Jesus of Nazareth. His condemnation of our beloved scribes and of the most religious of the community…the Pharisees…has made them an object of scorn throughout the country. His teachings undermine our ancient laws, and his healings upset the very balance of nature. He has stirred up the people to the point of open revolt.

Our whole system of government, church and state, is threatened. It’s more appropriate that one man die, than that the whole country go through revolution. I will take all needed steps tomorrow.”

And there, in brief, you have it….what Jesus did…the events Jesus set in motion, the reaction of the people…when Jesus took part in a demonstration.

From the point of view of a poet, a reporter, an interviewer-commentator, a government leader, a churchman, and from the record, the point of view of Jesus himself.

Now what is your opinion of the demonstration, and what is your opinion of the chief demonstrator?  Are you with him? Or against him? And if you are with him, then how far?

Would you, for example, have given him your colt….your own colt….even though you knew you might not get it back, and you would have been much poorer in personal possessions than you were before? Would you have welcomed, or would you have turned away from the motley crowd, a crowd with so many in it of society’s dregs and scum, who seemed so captivated by the demonstration? Would you have sided with the governor, no matter the cost, enforcing law and order, calling out the troops, and enforcing the Roman Peace? Would you have connived with the marriage of

convenience between the religious leaders and the business interests, to get the Temple stands back in operation again;

so that both business and religion could proceed as usual with only having been briefly interrupted? And surely it turned out that way. Would you have joined the chief demonstrator in weeping over the city? Would there have been compassion enough in your heart for that? To weep not only for friends, but for enemy? And would you have understood…indeed, will you understand that behind the cheers, behind the palm branches, behind the colt and the coats, behind the machinations of evil people, and the bungling of good, behind the vested interests, behind the state and the church, the parade in the streets, the uproar in the Temple, behind it all…is the man Christ Jesus, preparing to die?

“Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly pomp ride on to die.”

This demonstration in which Jesus took part is no simple thing. It is no John Keats: “thing of beauty…a joy forever.” It is no mere sentimental celebration. It is a prelude to death. It is as complicated as life itself….and in itself it is as incomplete as our lives are incomplete this morning.

The question we must ask ourselves is “Will we go on to the end? Will we go on as far as the table in the Upper Room? Will we go to the Cross on Calvary? Will we go on to the point where we would be willing to die with Him? Will we go with Him to the grave; and will we stand with Him at the Empty Tomb?

And if there should come opportunity this week……                

and surely the opportunity will come…..for demonstration by word or by deed, of your conviction concerning Him; of your convictions about life and living, about church and state, about business and politics, about teaching and learning, about morals and decisions….what will your demonstration be?

Will you be on the side of Palm Sunday’s Chief Demonstrator?

That’s where hailing Christ as King on Palm Sunday, really counts.

 

Let’s bow our heads in prayer;

O God, help us. Life isn’t easy; following Christ isn’t easy.

Making our decisions, developing our outlooks, forming our attitudes based on Him, Christ the King, is a hard thing to do. Help us, O God, help us each one. And may the welcome we have given with our lips today, be demonstrated in our lives this week, and always. Grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forever.

Amen.

 

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