Jesus Leading the Way, March 20, 2016


March 20, 2016

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Armen Hanjian

MARK 10:32-34; 11:1-11(NEB)                                         PALM SUNDAY

In Mark we are told, “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going ahead of them….” What a picture.  Having visited Israel 7 times, I can easily imagine Jesus walking along a dry dusty road near the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, 1300’ below sea level, passing thru the treed oasis of Jericho and then trudging the uphill way on a 22  and ½ mile journey to the city of Jerusalem – 2400’ above sea level.  Jerusalem – a walled city built on a hill for protection.  Jerusalem – the place where people lived out their lives – the rich their way, the poor their way.

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, Jesus leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe; while those who followed behind were afraid.  That description of followers – some filled with awe and some filled with fear – tells me there is more than one image of what was happening.

For years the Hebrew people were in subjection to foreign rule – at that time it was Roman rule.  The people of the land had various hopes and expectations as to how God would eventually free them.  Some believed it would be on the last day – The Day of the Lord – filled with dreadful

conflict and with a general resurrection.  Others, like the zealots, wanted to achieve national liberation by force and believed that such action would reveal (bring to the forefront) the hoped for Messiah.  Then there were the Pharisees who didn’t approve of a revolution; they believed God’s Messiah would appear in God’s good time – in the line of David and thru him the Law would be fulfilled.

Who knows all the thoughts and camps represented in the train that followed Jesus to Jerusalem?  In the popular mind, on that Palm Sunday, people assumed the Messiah would be a political hero.  We don’t know the number in the crowd when Jesus arrived at the city; evidently it was large since the officials of the province felt threatened.  Likely, never before had the time been so ripe for a political uprising.  It’s no wonder that some looked at Jesus with awe and some, knowing the power of principalities, looked with fear.

In the Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas tells of a slave called Demetrius who on Palm Sunday pushed his way through the rejoicing crowd surrounding Jesus to get a good look at him who was being proclaimed.  Later he was discussing his experience with another slave who asked, “See him close up?”  Demetrius nodded. “Crazy?”  “No.”  “”King?” “No,” muttered Demetrius, “not a king.”  “What is he, then?”  “I don’t know, mumbled Demetrius in a puzzled  voice, “but – he is something more important than a king.”

When a king directs, you follow.  Your only a subject, a pawn, a near nothing.  Jesus, on the other hand, leads.  We follow and we become and we become like him.

Jesus didn’t succumb to being crowned a king.  He entered the city in a well-planned manner.  Which included riding on the colt of a donkey – symbolic not of a conquering king, but of a messiah.  Isaiah described the messiah as a suffering servant.

“They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, Jesus leading the way….”

That was a perfect, a natural way for Mark to state it, for right from the start of his ministry as all four Gospel writers testify, Jesus calls persons to follow him.  “If anyone would come after me,” he said, “let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Let us consider, this Palm Sunday morning where he led his disciples,

Where he leads us, and how we may follow him.

Where did he lead his disciples?

Whenever some one leads, he or she comes close to misleading.  Surely, there were those who read Jesus to be leading a bloody revolution.  I believe his intent was not that – that was not his way.  When Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and sellers of pigeons, it was likely a protest that the temple was being misused.  Jesus was not intent on being a troublemaker, but he was troublesome, just as prophets usually are.

His disciples who followed him found themselves led to places of power like the Temple, led to challenge practices that burdened God’ s children, led to conflict with civil authorities and led to speak up for the truth at times and at times silently affirm the truth.

Throughout the Gospels people looked to Jesus for answers and for leadership.    But what they found was often surprising and different from the ways of the world.  Anton Jacobs writes: “When they want answers, he speaks in parables.  When they want it easy, he makes it hard. When they want it hard, he makes it easy.  When a rich man comes to Jesus, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.  When a woman starts bathing his feet in an expensive perfume and Judas argues that it could sold and the money could be given to the poor, Jesus tells him the poor will always be with you.  And the one time Jesus seems to conform to their messianic expectations is on his final triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is then followed not by his coronation but by his crucifixion.”

The disciples didn’t have it easy nor do we.  Just where does Jesus lead you and me?  Like the disciples of old, he has much to overcome in us

Not to lead into temptation but into paths of righteousness.  The truth is we are already very much following others: patterns set by our parents, older brothers or sisters or teachers who became our heroes and not all their leadership was in healthy directions.  In addition, we have the tendency to follow the herd, to do what everyone else is doing rather than doing the right.  Jesus gave us clear warning: “If the blind leads the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”

Where does he lead us? Certainly to peace, but not the peace that is “peace and quiet”, with no controversy, no stimulus, not the peace of a boat harbored, rather, the peace of a vessel moving through rough waters towards its destination.

For Paul, peace turned out to be sleepless nights, beatings, imprisonment at the end; For Father Damien, a lingering horrible death from leprosy in a leper colony.  Joy tuned out for Peter to be a crucifixion and for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, execution by the Nazis.

(ideas from Edmund Steimle)

And if we follow his leadership we may well get into conflict, sacrifice and death- perhaps not by execution, but by the strain and stress of our ministry.  He calls us to redeem the world and we know so little about doing it.  He demonstrated the only force that will work and what do we do?  We spend our time meeting budgets, oiling church machinery, coddling saints and compiling statistics.  We seek persons to join our church because it brings financial and social prestige, but the one dominating force  which should compel us to seek people is the force that drove Jesus to Jerusalem – love.

How do we follow Jesus?  By loving him, by loving him above self and above others.  “Going to Jerusalem in the sense that Jesus faced it, means going from the place of comparative security to the place of danger, from the place of comparatively little cost to the place of tremendous cost.” – Interpreter’s Bible 7:810

Does he lead you? Does he lead me?  Does he affect my budget in major ways, in every column?  Does he affect my use of my time?  Would those about me be surprised about my being a Christian?  What is my embarrassment level?  Would I speak up for the right in any situation?

What risks would I take to be a faithful follower? One measure to tell whether Jesus is leading you is do you wait to be asked or do you follow by offering yourself, by doing in his behalf, by loving God in each human being?

In a small country church where scriptures passages were written on the walls, a passage from John was written in an unusual, but most insightful way: “I am the way, the truth and the life if you love me.”

Unless we love him he will not be for us the way.  Unless we love others,

We will not be following him.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and his friend Hopeful are within the site of the Celestial City, just one last obstacle remained.  Picture it.  It is a deep, threatening river over which there is no bridge.  The prospect of having to swim across stuns them both.  Christian, especially, is filled with fear and seeks another way.  But when assured there is none, that, if they are to get to their destination, they must cross it, they commit themselves and enter the water.

Soon, Christian begins to sink and in panic cries to Hopeful: “I sink in the deep waters; the billows go over my head; all  the waves go over me.”

Then it is that Hopeful calls back: “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom and it is good.”

You and I follow One who has gone ahead of us into the future, who has faced everything in life and death we will ever face – and who calls back as Hopeful called to Christian,  “Be of good cheer,  I have gone ahead and feel the bottom, even God, and have found God to be good.”

On the landscape of human existence, there was never a person quite like this Jesus.  So, like the disciples of old, I follow him with awe, and I invite you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

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