Friday, April 10, 2015

Missed Opportunities - A Palm Sunday Message - John 12.12-19

Ever have one of those arguments, you are going back and forth, making your points. Perhaps even more, someone resorted to insults. Then after it was over, you realize you could have made a great point. It was a missed opportunity. Another one, early in our marriage, we started looking into relocating out of El Paso. Jobs were hard, my ministry with both the church and the mission concluded. Then I had a call from my new uncle-in-law. He had an opportunity if I was willing to relocate to Korea. After being in Yuma for a year, he called one last time to offer that to me. It was a missed opportunity.

Today, we are celebrating Palm Sunday. It is the time that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a beast of burden. It hasn’t been broken, yet… It was fulfilling Zechariah, fulfilling Isaiah. But it was also a time of missed opportunity. Let’s read from John’s Gospel, 12.12-19:

The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting: “Hosanna!  He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One—the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written:  Fear no more, Daughter Zion. Look, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.
His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.
Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look—the world has gone after Him!”

Nearly two thousand years ago, the gates were open. The Lord came on a donkey that had never been ridden. Two thousand years ago, people lined up from the gate leading out to the Mount of Olives. Can you imagine what that day must have been like? People all over Jerusalem has heard that Jesus is coming to town. Many go out with palm branches and others are busy making sure that the way of the Lord was clean by putting some branches down, but also putting their robes on the road as well.

This wasn’t just an ordinary king’s parade. This is one that took all day to make it from the western gate into the city to the Temple complex. Mark’s Gospel said that it was the next day that he cleaned the temple. The other two do not offer anything that is contradictory. For a single man, the streets are lined with onlookers. And in front of him are those acting as troubadours, bards declaring him. “Save us!” they cried.

After the parade, already mentioned that Jesus went into the Temple courts and drove out the market. John is the only one who places this event at the beginning of the ministry. All others have it after he rode in on the donkey, on the foal. A contradiction? No, more likely that in the 3 and half years of ministry, he cleansed the Temple. Maybe he did it just twice. But he had to cleanse it. The market kept many from drawing close to God.

But not everyone appreciated this. Luke records that the religious leaders rebuked Jesus, “tell your disciples to be quiet.” Ah but if that were to happen, even all creation would cry out. Paul writes that creation was in pain, that Jesus came to reconcile all of creation. So the stones were waiting for their chance to cry out.

This parade also sparked jealousy. Oh they knew all right. The religious leaders knew that the messiah would come in this fashion. They knew because a week later, when the Roman guards come back and report the supernatural earthquake that knocked them out, a couple of dozen soldiers mind you, the leaders didn’t bat an eye. They knew what that meant. Say that his disciples overpowered you.

It was a missed opportunity for the leaders of Israel. Rather than to accept he whom they were looking, they turn on one another. Who are you? Seems you’ve lost your disciples to him. A plot to kill him ensues. Oh, but I wonder, a mere 5 days later, how many of those who shouted “Lord, save us!” would then shout, “Crucify!”

But the leaders were not the only ones to miss the opportunity here. Others missed it as well. Remember, the crowd was shouting, “Lord, save us!” That was exactly what he was doing. The people were looking for a military salvation. Yet from the beginning of the parade, he was declaring a salvation of peace between God and them. This day, his beast of burden would not be one of might, but of love and grace, the hope of eternal life.

That is not to say anything of the lament Jesus had for the city of Jerusalem. Oh a time was coming, not but 35 years later or so, Jerusalem would be razed to the ground. Nothing would remain. Yet even as this parade concludes, I wonder if the majority of the residents were clueless to the historic week that was unfolding before their very eyes.

Even today, we have missed opportunities. We have missed opportunities when we are like the Pharisees. Consider what they were facing. They knew who the messiah would look like. Yet they rejected the Messiah because they were comfortable where they were. They liked being on top. They liked telling people what to do. Jesus undermined them.

Today, the church is majoring in the minors with opportunities. The culture is changing, and we forget that as culture changes, as people become more hostile to the Gospel of Christ, sometimes we need to learn from those who’ve gone before us. Consider Paul who was beaten without a trial, both of which are illegal to inflict on a Roman citizen. Yet Paul saw and used both as opportunity to proclaim Jesus to the city of Philippi.

With society telling us that what is wrong is really good, we miss that opportunity to share the Gospel when we declare that we will not deal with those who disagree with us. We forget that apart from God, people are blinded and believe the lies. What an opportunity we miss when we cling to rights instead of using the opportunity to share the love and grace of the King.

We miss the opportunity when we are like the crowds. One moment they call out to the king. The next moment, they reject him. This can be harsh pill to swallow. Yet when we accept Christ, we are clothed in the Holy Spirit, God wants to clean out his temple of anything and everything that keeps us from worshipping our Heavenly Father.

Yet we can develop an attitude that says, “I’ve done my God-thing for the week (church), now the rest is my time.” It’s like saying that God, you can clean my temple, but these two rooms? No, don’t worry about them. I will just keep that door locked. It’s such closets that can get us into trouble. They can become gateways for sin to grow, to take over. Consider the warning to Cain: sin is crouching at your door waiting to devour you. And devour him it did. In jealousy over God’s approval, Cain murdered his brother Abel.

At some point, keeping our closets, we live the words that Paul calls a perversion, to allow sin to reign so grace may abound more. The writer of Hebrews warns that of such an attitude, there will be a time that we will lose the grace because we are crucifying Christ all over again, bringing about public shame.

Finally, we miss the opportunity when we are like Jerusalem. The time is coming and soon will be here for God is not slow in keeping his promises as some understand slowness. For with him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. But God’s patience means salvation. Those are Peter’s words.

We live in a world that is hurting, even downright headed toward death. People are constantly looking for something better, for some great cosmic meaning. Others have bought into the lie that they are a cosmic joke, a fluke that came from pond scum. Believing themselves no better than animals, they live lives that are self-destructive.

You know, only in Christ, if I might call Christianity a religion, do we put others first because we serve a God who put us first. All other religions are merit based. Only Christianity is grace based. Imagine coming across someone who has been through a pain, made to feel worthless and being able to tell them that God desires to know him or her? Yet time is short. Because nearly 2,000 years have passed, we’ve lost our sense of urgency.

Because with the Good News, that Christ died so people can be loved by God, the bad news comes as well. If you aren’t of the crowd shouting, “Lord, save us”, you will be in the crowd that walks into hell.

But let me conclude on a positive. We can capture opportunities if we realize that we serve the King who, unlike world leaders, will hold us accountable. If we surrender all that we are, we will see opportunities. If we see the world as Jesus saw the world in Luke 10, the fields are ripe for the harvest. Pray to the Father to send out workers. When we start seeing people as God sees them, lost and need of grace, then we can be his instruments of love. We will regain our sense of urgency. And when we do miss opportunities, consider what Paul wrote to the Romans, “I know what is right and what is wrong. I know the difference between them and I want to do right. But too often, I do wrong. Who will save me? Praise be to God the Father that through Christ, we have the hope of salvation.”

As we enter this Holy Week, let us be mindful, let us look anew, for opportunities so that others might also say, “Lord, save me.”

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