An Easter Sermon
(Luke 19: 28-40, Matthew 21: 1-11, Mark 11: 1-11, John 12: 12-19)
Upon a white donkey, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem. It was a practice for a ruler of a city to ride his white donkey. It allowed the lord to reveal himself in a particular way to the people of the city. The ability of any king to gently ride a young donkey through a boisterous crowd would reveal his loving nature and relationship not only to his donkey but also extended to all his servants. The donkey followed the Lord’s lead because of its trust in the Lord to get it safely to its destination.
A jubilant crowd of disciples surrounded Jesus as he made his way to Jerusalem. They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” The crowd that followed Jesus had great expectations of him and for good reason. They had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, and they expected more of the same in Jerusalem. They believed in him as the Christ, the Messiah, the true king anointed by God himself. He was appointed as the King of kings, the Lord of lords over and above the civil rulers in Jerusalem that were appointed by a man, the Roman Emperor. Many believed that Jesus was coming to overthrow the Roman occupation and to restore Jerusalem to its former days of glory. Others expected a continued flow of unimagined miracles. Either way, those people that followed Jesus had great expectations of him to usher in a new era of life for the people of Israel.
We are very much like the crowd of disciples that followed Jesus into that great city. We too have great expectations of Jesus. I amongst others regularly preach that Jesus is a giver of life, and that he is with you, he cares for you, he can bring healing into your life, and that he will answer your prayer, and even perform miracles. Others too will confess of how Jesus had worked in their life and brought them healing according to their needs. It is no wonder that we also have great expectations of Jesus. Palm Sunday the beginning of Holy Week is a celebration of great expectations that we have in Jesus.
However, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had on at least two occasions told his disciples the reason why he was going to Jerusalem. He was going there to die. It was a statement that was incomprehensible to the followers of Jesus. It was contrary to their great expectations of him. The talk of death seemed contrary to Jesus giving life. ““How can this be?” they thought. How can Jesus who performs miracles, who claims to be the Son of God talk such rubbish?” It was thereafter ignored, and the disciples continued with their great expectations of him.
In the following days after arriving in Jerusalem, nothing of any significance had happened according to the crowds great expectations. By then, Jesus was left alone praying in the garden of Gethsemane. It was evening, and Jesus was praying to his Father in heaven. The act of Jesus praying was in its self acknowledgement of the Father’s presence with him. He prayed intensely until his sweat was like droplets of blood falling to the ground. Jesus prayed to have his circumstances changed. His prayers were met with silence.
There are times in our own life where we kneel to wrestle with prayer calling upon God to change those tragic circumstances in life. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane those prayers can be met with silence. We have all experienced the silence of God in prayer, and yet He is with us in prayer.
When Jesus could no longer pray, he surrendered to the will of his Father in heaven and said, “Not my will, but your will be done”. When one is spiritually exhausted and even physically exhausted from wrestling with God in prayer, then there is only one way to go. That is, to surrender to the will of God and say, “Not my will, but your will be done”. It means to hand over to God the decisions of life and death, and healing. The surrender of your will can give a sense of peace that comes from allowing God to take charge of matters beyond your control. It is letting go of self and putting your trust in God alone.
Jesus stood up from prayer and walked out from the garden of Gethsemane. He was soon arrested by those who were plotting against him. He was then interrogated, tortured, and finally crucified on the cross until he was dead. He hung on the cross while the crowd that had followed watched in silence. By the time Jesus was placed in his grave that once jubilant crowd that followed him into Jerusalem had vanished, and his disciples had returned to their former way of life.
From a time of great expectation, to silence in the face of prayer, to tragedy such was the tumultuous week for those who had followed Jesus. How could the crowd of disciples that followed Jesus come to terms at what had happened during the past week? From great expectations in a man that they thought was the Christ to the death of their hope on the cross. Their faith in Jesus would have been challenged as if one is tortured for the truth. They would have struggled with questions like: How could the Son of God allow this to happen? Have we believed in vain? Have we followed Jesus for nothing? Do we look for another saviour? How can I recover? Who is there to help me?
We too are like the crowd of disciples that followed Jesus. We have great expectations of him and when our time of terror comes we kneel in prayer only to be met with silence. I am not alone to find myself silent in the presence of those who are suffering. I am speechless, I have nothing to say, I am lost for words of comfort. Many times I have preached that Jesus will give you life, Jesus will heal you, Jesus will hear your prayer, and that Jesus can work miracles. I still pray for miracles but in between there is still a lot of silence. Perhaps, our presence in silence to those in need is better than words. Perhaps, our presence in silence is enough to acknowledge their suffering.
When you are wrestling with God in prayer, his silence can challenge and even shatter your faith. Questions arise like: Why don’t you answer my prayer? Don’t you care for me? Don’t you love me? Do I need more faith? Why are you doing this to me? Are you punishing me? What must I do for your help? Furthermore, God’s silence can provoke a person to anger and they begin to hate him. In anger they abandon their faith and leave the church. Such an outcome is sad where they continue to live a life of unresolved pain. It is in silence that God patiently waits for you to trust in him to allow him to take control of the situation no matter what may come. He waits in silence for you to acknowledge your humanity and confess, “Not my will, but your will be done”. It is a hard thing to do to hand other the matters of life, death and healing to another. When you finally surrender and put your trust in God, he will give you a sense of peace which passes all understanding.
When resting in God’s peace then one is more receptive to his leading and good news. On Easter Sunday, God raised Jesus from the grave, from death to life. Jesus is risen. He lives, and the King of kings has ascended into heaven to rule from his heavenly throne. Jesus continues through the Holy Spirit to bring healing into our life, to give us abundant life, to perform miracles as before; and also to be silent when the time comes.
At times, the silence of Jesus to our prayers deserves special meditation. We are so much like the crowd of disciples that followed Jesus. Not everyone in the crowd would have been there when Jesus fed the five thousand with only two fish and five small loaves of bread. They missed out on being fed. Some others may have missed out on being healed when Jesus was there to heal the daughter of a Centurion, or the girl of a Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon. They may not have been there when Jesus healed the two blind men on the way to Jerusalem. So they missed out on being healed by Jesus. They may not have been there when Jesus gave his great sermon on the mount or his other great and divisive sermon in Capernaum. They were sermons that gave hope, comfort and life to many people. Nor were we there and we also missed out on such opportunities for healing and life.
Although you were not there, I will tell you what Jesus has given you whether you know it or not. Through the death, resurrection and ascension of our heavenly king he has given you and me eternal life. He has given you forgiveness of sins. He has given you a restored relationship with God whereby you can freely approach him as your Father in heaven. Jesus has given you and every one of us a place in heaven with him. It is a place where we will meet all those who have gone before us in an atmosphere of forgiveness, peace and love. We have all of this, is this not enough? We have all of this even before we begin to pray for more. And Jesus does continue to give us more, to care for us so that we may trust in him especially when at times he is silent.
In the second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul writes about his complaint and says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” In times of silence from Jesus, perhaps it would be helpful to meditate upon his grace.
Finally, I will finish where I began, with the donkey. Of the crowd that went with Jesus into Jerusalem, it was the donkey that showed an exemplary relationship of trust with Jesus. A young donkey that had never been ridden would be fearful of a noisy crowd shouting and waving branches in front of it. It is enough to make any donkey complain and not go anywhere as if they were being stubborn or recalcitrant. Despite the noisy crowd, the donkey trusted in Jesus as its lord to care for it and guide it safely on the path to Jerusalem. There are times when we need to be more like that donkey. Amen.