Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday: Welcome Jesus, Welcome Others to Know Jesus

Luke 19:28-40
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see;
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
(Spoken) And he said, ‘Zacchaeus you come down
For I'm going to your house today.
For I'm going to your house today.’”

That's a simple little Bible song about an incident in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus was passing through the city of Jericho, which sets at the lowest point on earth, heading for Jerusalem. A short man named Zacchaeus, climbs into a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as Jesus walks by. Zacchaeus had gained his riches by extorting more taxes from people than they owed. He wasn’t popular in Jericho. But Jesus invites Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

I bring this up because we it helps us to understand Luke's account of Palm Sunday if we first understand what happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus just before Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

Let’s take a look at Luke 19, starting at verse 5. It says that Jesus saw Zacchaeus and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” There's a lot of irony here. A sinner looks down on God in the flesh, Who has come into the world as a servant to all humankind. Yet the scene doesn't play out like that at all. You might think that Zacchaeus’ first impulse would be to tell Jesus to find somewhere else to stay. After all, he had only climbed the tree to see what all the fuss was about. He could see by Jesus’ attire that Jesus was just more Galileean riff-raff. Yet Zacchaeus doesn't react as you'd expect!

All of us have the same choice in this life that Zacchaeus had to make at that moment. We can choose to receive the gift of faith in Jesus or not.

“Listen!” the risen and ascended Jesus is recorded as saying in Revelation 3, “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Jesus Christ wants to come into your life, be your Savior, be your best friend.

Jesus, Who died and rose to set you free from sin, death, and a pointless life, is knocking at the door of your will, life, and heart each day? Will you let him in?

Zacchaeus' answer was, “Yes!”

Luke 19:6 says that Zacchaeus hurried down and received Jesus “joyfully.”

When, after a decade of atheism, I received Jesus into my life, I knew a joy I had never experienced. I still had no clear idea of what God wanted to do with my life. Jesus didn’t offer me a life free of adversity or difficulty or death. But I didn’t care because Jesus was in my life and I knew that He was all I needed! I knew that Jesus Christ had saved me, a sinner who had once despised Him!

Sometimes, amid the routines and challenges of life, I forget that. But I have learned the truth of the Christmas hymn by Phillips Brooks: "Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in." That's true no matter how many times we fall, no matter how far we've fallen!

In Luke 19:9, Jesus, considering how Zacchaeus had received Jesus by faith, declares: “Today [now, this moment] salvation has come to this house, because [Zacchaeus] also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man [Jesus refers to Himself in this way] has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Whenever you and I get lost, wandering far from God by engaging in unrepentant sin--be it thievery, gossip, fornication, adultery, worshiping other gods, dishonoring our parents, or some other way--God can find us again!

Not everyone was happy about the change that had come to Zacchaeus’ life. Listen: The moment you feel that you’ve been made clean by the forgiveness and grace God gives through Jesus, that's when the devil, the world, and your sinful self will begin grumbling. Bet on it!

"Who are you to receive God’s forgiveness?" the grumblers inside and outside of you will demand. "Who are you to be called one of God’s righteous saints?"

The grumbling that day in Jericho came from some of the crowd who had been shouting for Jesus. Look at Luke 19:7. “But when they saw [Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house], they all complained [or grumbled], saying, ‘He [Jesus] has gone to be a guest with a man who is sinner.’”

I wonder how we would react if today, we saw Jesus enter the home of a drug dealer? Or an adulterer? Or an extortionist? Or any other sinner, like you or me?

But Jesus will enter any home and any heart that welcomes Him.

The grumblers that tell you that someone doesn’t deserve the forgiveness of God Jesus brings, the grumblers that tell you that you don't deserve the forgiveness that comes from Jesus Christ, completely miss the point.

Here's why: None of us deserves God’s forgiveness. We are all sinners who deserve condemnation and hell. But Jesus died and rose so that we can be with and enjoy God for all eternity! These gifts come to those who gladly receive Jesus.

It’s interesting that Jesus was walking from Jericho to the Mount of Olives as our Gospel lesson begins.

About 1200 years before the birth of Jesus, God’s people entered the Promised Land from the east, crossing the Jordan to face the walled city of Jericho. Jericho had to be conquered so that God’s people could take the land.

The leader of the Hebrews was Moses’ successor, Joshua. His name in the Hebrew language was Yeshua, meaning God saves. It is the same name as that of Jesus. In the Hebrew language, Jesus’ name was also Yeshua. But because the New Testament is written in Greek, where Yeshua becomes Yesus, we call him Jesus.

When the Joshua of the Old Testament prepared to enter the promised land, you’ll remember that he sent two spies into Jericho. Twelve-hundred years later, Jesus needed no spies. He knew everything that was going to happen. He knew where His enemies were.

But Jesus did send two disciples ahead of him. Jesus instructs the two disciples to find a colt in a nearby village, presumably Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It would, Jesus tells them, be tied, and would be an animal on which nobody had previously ridden.

That last bit of information is far more important than it may seem: God in the flesh would be the colt's first rider.

This is part of a pattern in Jesus’ life and ministry.
  • When Jesus was born, He came from a womb that had never known sexual intimacy. Jesus was the first born of a virgin’s womb. [See Luke 1:26-35; Matthew 1:18-25.]
  • When Jesus died, His body was “ a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.”  [See Luke 23:53.]
The things of God must always be first, holy, and set apart. Jesus is, as the New Testament book of Hebrews calls Him, our pioneer. He always writes new histories for those who repent and believe in Him on clean sheet of paper. He starts creation over again!

The two disciples find everything as Jesus has told them. They bring the animal back, throw their clothes on it, and set Jesus on it. Jesus begins to ride into Jerusalem. From the depths of Jericho, Jesus and the disciples ascend to the Mount of Olives. One New Testament scholar has written that even today, when you go by car, the culmination of the ascent from earth's lowest depth, Jericho, to the Mount of Olives, brings a sense of relief, the drive up is so steep. And the view, when one arrives, he says, is breathtaking: From the Mount of Olives, you look down into the Kidron Valley, and look across to see Jerusalem.

Jesus no doubt took in this sight, thinking of all that lay ahead of Him. Who can imagine what pangs Jesus felt as He kept His face set toward Jerusalem and the suffering and dying He would undergo for you and me? How alone He must have felt at that moment!

“Then,” verse 37 says, “as He was drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

It’s important to point out a couple of things that are unique about Luke’s account of Palm Sunday.
  • First, there’s no mention of palms. Those are in John’s gospel. Branches are mentioned in Matthew's and Mark's accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on this day. But no palms in Luke.
  • Second, he doesn’t mention the crowds shouting, “Hosanna,” an Aramaic prayer meaning, “Save us, pray.” 
  • And third, in Luke’s telling, only the disciples welcome Jesus, not the crowds. 
Now, does that mean that there weren’t palms, hosannas, or welcoming crowds? Of course not! It simply means that Luke has some things he wants you and I to notice about the first Palm Sunday, things that he foreshadowed in the events in Jericho surrounding Zacchaeus.

Using the words of Psalm 118, which some New Testament scholars say, was a hymn sung by worshippers as they headed for Jerusalem for festivals like the Passover, the disciples welcomed Jesus to the holy city.

Did the disciples fully understand what was going on? No.

Did some of them think that Jesus was going to start a revolution and set up an earthly kingdom to replace their Roman overlords? Probably.

Did any of them believe that Good Friday and Easter were going to happen? At that moment, I’m sure they didn’t know.

But they knew enough to welcome Jesus. We don’t know what lies in our immediate futures either. We don't know what God has in mind for us. We don't know what valleys or Good Fridays this fallen, sinful world may mete out to us.

Yet if we will welcome Jesus as our God and King, we do know that we have an eternity of Easter Sundays to look forward to!

And we do know that Jesus, Who was tempted, tested, suffered, died, and then rose, will be with us every step of the way!

But don’t expect the devil, the world, or even our inner sinful rebels to take our welcoming of Jesus lying down! Look at Luke 19:39, please. “...some of the Phairsees called to [Jesus] from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’” “Tell those people to be quiet! They need to can their faith in You!” they were telling Jesus.

There will always be people who grumble about the joy Christians know in Christ.

“Tell my daughter to quit reading the Bible so much, pastor” a mom once said to me. “Why?” I asked. “Religion has its place,” the mom asserted, “but we have to be practical.” Like Mary, the sister of Martha, that woman’s daughter had chosen the better part that could never be taken away from her. That's the part we must choose, too, if we are to have life with God!

The things of this world will die, damned to hell for eternity. As a design engineer who built great buildings and bridges once told his colleagues over dinner, “One day, all of this will burn.” But those who trust in Jesus Christ have life with God, now and forever! They welcome Jesus into their lives. The grumblers, even those who go to church on Sundays but forget about Jesus on Mondays, block Jesus from their lives by refusing to welcome him into every portion of their lives.

Fact is, we all can be grumblers, at least some of the time. The reason for that is simple: If you dare as a Christian to live in daily repentance and renewal, you can count on God to confront you for your sins, even as He embraces you in His grace and love. God loves sinners, but God still hates sin and always will. By His grace, through Jesus Christ, God is committed to removing sin from our lives. But it's a painful truth that none of us likes being separated from our sins. We get comfortable with them. They start to define us. We feel a natural resistance to God's intention to make us new by removing our dependence on our sins from us!

We’ll never be completely free of sin this side of heaven. But the Christian tells Jesus, “Let the old self be crucified, so that the new self can rise today and every day.”

Jesus, of course, refused the Pharisees request. He wouldn’t let His disciples stop welcoming and praising Him. In verse 40, Jesus tells them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

I've shared with some of you before that when our son was about eight years old, he said, "Hey, dad, you know how Jesus said that if people stopped worshiping Him, the stones would start worshiping Him instead?" "Yeah," I said. "Well, I know it would be bad if nobody was worshiping Jesus. But it would be kind of cool to hear how stones worshiped."

Listen: Don’t let inanimate stones take your job!

It’s the job and the joy of every Christians to shout and sing and live the praises of the God Who died and rose to set us and all of creation free from sin and death and futility.

It’s our job and our joy to welcome Jesus into our lives and, like Zacchaeus to tell others of our thankfulness that Jesus--God in human flesh--went to Jerusalem, to suffering, to a cross, to hell itself, and than rose from death to set us eternally free.

Welcome Jesus into your life!

Then welcome others to know Jesus!

That’s what Palm Sunday is all about.


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