Challenged to Change
Free the World from Evil-or be Freed Yourself?
Public or Personal King?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
What do you think in your own mind about Palm Sunday? We’re all taught to take it for granted. It comes every year. But what do you really think about as to what happened on that day – the day when Jesus came into Jerusalem and they spread palm branches in front of him? I don’t want to seem heretical but sometimes it seems like a parade that didn’t quite come off. It’s like a media event where the central character or the key figure doesn’t really seem to be wholly with the idea. It’s almost a celebration of a kind of anti-hero.
If you ask me, “Oh why do you say that? Isn’t it a triumphant procession?” I say that partly because of what Jesus was riding on. It wasn’t the victorious white charger or a Roman chariot, it was a little donkey and its little foal following behind. Yet all the crowds seemed to lap that right up. Part of the reason they did, was because they had all been taught in school for 600 years, that that’s the way their Messiah would come. I don’t know if you know where to find that but it’s in Zechariah, a prophet who wrote about 600 years before the procession took place. It’s in Zechariah 9:9.
All the Jews had learned this at school and knew that this had been prophesied for 600 years or more. Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” And so they had that in their minds. To you and me it might not look exactly like a world ruler riding into Jerusalem but to them it was what they were told to expect their Messiah would be riding on.
And so, when they saw him coming that way, it meant a lot more to them than it might mean to us. When they threw their clothes before him, for him to walk on, that had a hidden message. They had done that on one notable occasion before when a certain man called Jehu came into an important position in their country. And the position loved ones, was the word that is used in that verse that we just read, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you.”
The last time they had thrown garments on the ground for someone to walk on was when Jehu was crowned king of Israel. When they saw Jesus coming on the donkey to them, he was the Messiah. But most of all, he was going to be their king. For 400 years, they had been in slavery in Egypt. For another 400 years they had hacked out a land for themselves in Canaan. Then for a brief period of about 250 years, they had some experience of united independence under the great King Saul and Solomon and David. Then, for the past 750 years, they had been the downtrodden, oppressed vassals of the Assyrians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans. They were a downtrodden, oppressed, occupied country for the greater part of their lives. And what they yearned for, was the Messiah who would come as the king and who would deliver them from the oppression that they were experiencing.
So loved ones there were all kinds of feelings in their hearts as they saw Jesus coming on the ass into Jerusalem. In their hearts, they were crying out, “Jesus, king of Israel, we want you to do
what Judas Maccabeus did. Hundreds of years before, Judas Maccabeus had murdered the tax gatherer who came to collect taxes. He murdered him in his own yard and carried out a successful revolution against their overlords. So, the people were thinking in their hearts, “Jesus, King of Israel, come and deliver us from these Roman overlords and lead us in a successful revolution and free us from these chains around us. Give us civil freedom and liberty.”
Loved ones that was what was in their dear hearts as they waved the palm branches and threw down their clothes. What was Jesus’ attitude to all of that — to all that emphasis on delivering them from their present civil and political troubles? Well, you’ll find it in the interview that was conducted by Pilate. It’s John 18:36.
Pilate pressed Jesus regarding this very event: Israel’s independence, its nationalism and its political freedom. In John 18:36 Jesus answered “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” I think that’s why I feel some of the ambiguity that I do about the procession into Jerusalem.
You feel delight and elation that Jesus is being recognized as king. The little donkey signifies the kind of person he is and that seems appropriate. But isn’t it true that along with that, you feel that the people are expecting something different from him than what he has come to give. They want deliverance from their political oppression and he has come to give something else.
Loved ones, you can almost imagine that. You can almost imagine Jesus on the donkey saying to them in his heart, “I know the oppression that you’re suffering because of your personal situations and your political situations. I know that. But that’s not the deliverance you need most. The deliverance you need most is the deliverance within you. The kingdom of God is within you. And that’s where you need deliverance. You need deliverance from that selfishness inside you that dominates your life. That’s the deliverance that I have come to give.”
“It’s that selfishness that makes masters and slaves. It’s that selfishness that makes some people rich and some people poor. It’s that selfishness that makes some people have babies that they don’t want. It’s that selfishness that makes people fight wars and invent weapons to destroy each other. It’s that selfishness that has caused the ills of this world. Now I have to come to deliver you from that selfishness. That’s why I have come this first time. The second time I come — when I return again to the earth, I will deliver the world from its ills. But I come this time to deliver YOU from the causes of your ills.”
Loved ones, that was something that the people didn’t really understand. And yet that was the basis on which Jesus’ apostles operated during the years following his resurrection from the dead. I can show you in Ephesians 6:5-9.
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ — (It’s interesting, isn’t it? He didn’t say “Slave, free yourself, break your chain and be free.”) — not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Jesus and his apostles knew that slavery and all forms of captivity were utterly opposed to his Father’s will. But he knew that political evils and social evils were only a symptom at that time and in that society of the basic selfishness that was at the root of man’s problems. If you kept on concentrating on simply the political evils, it would be like Hydra’s head. You would cut off one, and another would grow in its place. As soon as you remove one social evil, another one would grow in its place, unless you dealt with the cause of the social evils, which was the basic sin and selfishness in men’s hearts.
So, Jesus and his apostles continue to emphasize that what we needed was a deliverance from that selfishness within us. That call “king of Israel, king of Israel” must have been very mesmerizing. We heard it recently on television, ‘king of Israel, king of Israel’, and it must have been very powerful in its effect on Jesus. Yet He knew after the Romans, will come the barbarians and after the barbarians will come another overlord and after that will come another overlord and another dominator and another and another.
What you most need is deliverance from the inner sin and selfishness in your heart that causes these evils. Loved ones, it’s easy to get caught up in a Palm Sunday triumphant procession and think that you’re on your way to heaven. When someone up there shouts, “Get rid of abortion”, you think, “Yes, that’s right, we should get rid of abortion.” And someone behind you shouts, “We ought to have prayer in our schools.” And you think, “That’s right, we ought to have prayer in our schools.” And someone over here shouts, “No nukes here.” And yes, there shouldn’t be any nukes here. And somebody else shouts, “King of Israel, king of Israel”, and you feel yes, “king of Israel, king of Israel.” But then you go home and there’s no problem there about prayer in schools and there hasn’t been an abortion in your home for years and there are no nukes from the front door to the back and there isn’t an Arab in sight. But your heart is filled with irritability and criticism and has no warmth in it and no love and no Jesus.
That, loved ones, is where the triumphal procession lies on the ground useless. It’s too easy to get caught up in Christian causes. It’s too easy to stand up for Christian causes, which are good in themselves, and to think that that is what Christianity is. Loved ones, they’ll come and go. We’ll have nukes here, we won’t have nukes here, we’ll have abortion, we won’t have abortion, we’ll have prayers in the schools, we won’t have prayer in the schools, it’ll come and go.
I remember one old Christian brother whom I taught with years ago in Benilde High School. I was saying to him, “What do you think of the modern math brother?” And he says, “Oh it was in 40 years ago and it’ll be back in 40 years hence.” These things come in their cycles. On the whole, our society improves a little and goes back a little, improves a little and goes back a little. Now it is true wherever Jesus comes, slaves are freed eventually. Wherever Jesus comes, schools are started to share truth, wherever Jesus comes, violence does cease, wherever Jesus comes, justice is established, but first He must come. First Jesus comes and then the other things come about. But if Jesus doesn’t come first, all you’ve got are causes. Some of the causes you’ll win and maintain a win, and some of them you’ll lose and some of them you’ll lose later.
Loved ones, the fact is, the world will not be perfect until the millennium. That’s no reason for us not to try to do what we can, but the world will not be perfect until the millennium which will take place after the rapture, after the battle of Armageddon, when Jesus himself comes and establishes his rule here on earth for a thousand years, prior to the setting up of his own kingdom and the redemption of the whole universe. Until that time our world is committed even by scripture, to go on getting worse and worse, proving more and more that man can do nothing independent of God.
Do you know why Jesus rode on a donkey? So that you could believe it easy for a man like him to come into your heart, that’s it. That’s why the record ends – “he left them all and went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.” Because the only real deliverance is when Jesus comes into your heart or mine and delivers us from our self-absorption, which is what produces all the social evils in our world. And the first responsibility you and I have on this day of triumph is to allow him to come in and to supplant our own selfish wishes for ourselves with his wishes for his Father and for the rest of the world.
The spirit of yourself that thinks first and foremost of what is for your benefit, needs to give way to the Spirit of Jesus who thinks first and foremost of his Father’s wishes and his Father’s purpose. Loved ones, that’s why Jesus rode on the donkey, so that you would see how easy it is for him to slip off and come into your life and come into your heart. Maybe we’ll free the world from slavery, and we should try. Maybe we’ll free the world from nuclear power and we should try. Maybe we’ll free the world from injustices and we should try. But it’s probable that with all our trying, Jesus himself will still be the only salvation for a world that will have brought itself to the edge of disaster.
But loved ones, all of that is simply a framework within which Jesus can come into our personal lives and deliver us from our selfishness. So I would ask you, have you allowed him to do that? All these causes are good loved ones and I’m for them. But the reason Jesus came was to deliver you and me from the things that make life miserable for our friends in our lives. That’s how he wants to come as king into your own heart today. So I would ask you, let’s turn our eyes away from all the noise and all the shouting and all the waving of the palm branches. Let’s ask, Lord, you’ve left the city now, would you come into my house and stay? Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you came for me and for each of us. Thank you Lord. Thank you Lord Jesus that you didn’t come to lead processions or to take care of causes. But you came to save each one of us from ourselves. And Lord Jesus, we would invite you now to come into our hearts and to deliver us from this self-centered absorption with our own interests.
Lord Jesus, will you take over our lives and will you come in and bring some warmth and life here. Will you replace all the causes for which we live, all the things that we think are good or bad, and all the things that we have great opinions about? Will you come in and take over my life? Will you live here as king and ride your donkey in here? Lord, we ask you to do that so that you may be crowned in the only way in which you really care, the way that is dearest to you. You want to be crowned the king of our life, thank you Lord. Amen.