Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Text: Philippians 2:7-8 (NRSV)
He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Hidden beauty

Leroy was about the ugliest dog you could imagine.  His coat was straggly and wiry; he had the strangest ears; his tail was crooked and he drooled. 
You might give Leroy a first glance and think, “What a strange mistake of creation” but you wouldn’t give Leroy a second glance.  You would wonder how anyone could love a thing like that. 

But there was more to Leroy than his looks.  He was bursting with personality and had loads of love to share.  This was evident when he was taken to the local aged care nursing home.  He didn’t care that the people there were frail, wrinkled, disabled, sometimes poked him a bit too hard, or got him in the eye when they meant to pat his head. 

Neither did the people care that Leroy wasn’t the most beautiful dog in the world.  In their eyes, he was fantastic as he sat beside their chairs, rested his chin in their laps, accepted bits of their morning tea and shared his unconditional love with even those who couldn’t respond any longer. 
You see, there was more to Leroy than his scruffy exterior, there was an inner beauty that warmed the hearts and filled the long days of those nursing home residents. 

A visitor to the nursing home might have easily dismissed Leroy as a misfit because of his external appearance.  They would miss getting to know the true Leroy.

Of course, you have already picked up that this little story about Leroy is about another misfit – a man named Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Not even his disciples could look past the man even though they had seen him heal the sick, raise the dead to life, cast out demons, stop storms, forgive the worst sinners, and speak about God with such authority. 

They stumbled every time Jesus spoke of God’s plan to save all humanity. They didn’t get how the Messiah could fall into the hands of evil people and suffer and die.  That was all so wrong and Peter wasn’t backward in coming forward on behalf of the rest of the disciples to tell Jesus that he was talking like a crazy person.

Matthew tells us that whenever Jesus spoke of the things that were going to happen in the near future, the disciples “were filled with grief”. In other words, it deeply disturbed them, it upset them that Jesus would talk like this.  This is not what they had in mind for their future and for the future of the Messiah. 

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem on what we know today as Palm Sunday, the disciples must have quietly rejoiced that Jesus had finally come to his senses.  “Now at last we are going to see the Messiah swing into action”, they must have thought”. 

This thinking must have been bolstered when Jesus takes charge and sends two disciples ahead to find a donkey.  He gives them instructions where to find it and what to do if anyone thinks they are stealing their donkey.  Jesus could have commandeered any of the donkeys along the road to Jerusalem but he sends disciples to look for an ordinary everyday beast of burden in some grubby stable at a moment when they expected to be part of a glorious moment.  Maybe this is a reminder that those who are truly great in the Kingdom of God are those who humbly serve others.

Well, we know well how the story continues.  Cloaks are thrown across the donkeys back to make a saddle and Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem as people throw their coats and tree branches on the road.  The people excitedly cheer, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

This was the long expected king the prophet had spoken about. 
“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

There can be no doubt about it.  Jesus is a king.  He is the creator of the universe.  He rules with power and majesty.  There can be doubt about his royal credentials. 

When it was announced to Mary that she would soon be pregnant, she was told by the angel Gabriel, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.  The Lord will make him a king as his ancestor David was, and he will be king of the descendants of Jacob forever.” 

However, looking at Jesus on the cross, he appears to be anything but a king.  He is bloody, beaten, treated as a criminal, mocked and dies a shameful death.  To the on-looker there is nothing great about this man on the cross. 

This is not the way the King of kings and Lord of lords is supposed to be treated. If we think of Jesus as a king in human terms you are right.

Jesus is a king but a different kind of king – he is a servant king.  He has come to serve, to help, to give relief and support humbly and selflessly. 
Whether we talk about the bowl of water and towel at the Last Supper,
or his suffering at the hands of evil people
or his dying the shameful death of a criminal on a cross,
or riding on a humble donkey on Palm Sunday,
they are all powerful symbols of the way Jesus saw the task his Father had given him.  “He emptied himself … being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross”.  If serving meant laying down his own life, then that’s what the Palm Sunday king would do.

What does all this mean for you and me today?  Palm Sunday and Good Friday happened a long time ago – what do they mean for us today?

In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus are standing next to each other, staring at a star-filled sky. “Would you like to see a falling star?” Charlie Brown asks Linus.

“Sure...” Linus responds. “Then again, I don’t know,” he adds, after some thought. “I’d hate to have a star fall just on my account.”

The first point I want to make in talking about the meaning of Palm Sunday and Good Friday for us today is this – a star did fall on our account. A star did give up its brilliance, its lofty position on high for us. 

That star was the Son of God.  He came down to earth for us: like a lamb led to slaughter.  He died for us.  I hope that this fact will hit us again this Good Friday as we remember his cruel and horrible death. 

Grasp the magnitude and the love behind Good Friday.
Here is the King of the universe, the perfect Son of the Most High God emptying himself of all power and glory and enduring such suffering for us at the hands of evil people. 
Here is the God whose incredible love for us can hardly be described in human words, jeered at with so much hatred and nailed to a cross of wood as if he were the worst criminal. 
What humility! 
What love and,
oh, what he accomplished there for us. “He emptied himself … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross”. 

He died for us. Those words are music to our ears. 
He died for us. 

He came to offer up his life as the perfect sacrifice, laying down his life for every single person who has lived, is living and will live in the future. 
He came to release forgiveness into the world. 
He came to take away our fear and give us peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that calms us when we are terrorised and horrified at what our sin does in our lives.
He takes all our failure and guilt on to the cross with him and for us he dies there on The Place of the Skull.
For us he came and made the way open to enter eternal life. 

It is humbling to be loved like this – to be loved to death by God. 
It bows the head.  It bends the knee.  It is the end of all trying to justify ourselves.
To be loved like this gives us a new sense of our own worth, of who we really are in eyes of God.  The Son of the Most High God has died for us! 

My second point about the relevance of the events of Holy Week for us today takes me back to Leroy the dog.  As Jesus rode into Jerusalem there were those who cheered and those who jeered.  Those who shouted “Hosanna” and those who called out “Blasphemer”, in fact it wouldn’t be long when the cries of “Je-sus, Je-sus”, will turn to “Crucify him, crucify him!” 

You see, when people saw Leroy they saw how scruffy and untidy he was, they missed seeing his warmth and love.  It’s just as easy for people today as it was for the people of Jerusalem to dismiss Jesus as irrelevant and unimportant.  It’s for this reason that Jesus trained his disciples to follow his example of servanthood and humility and to be pointers to the incredible love that God has for all people.

The task is no different for his 21st century disciples and is just as difficult, some might argue that it’s more difficult.  Times have changed but the needs of humanity haven’t changed one iota. 

Whether they realise it or not they need the love, comfort, hope, forgiveness, eternal life, strength for the present and joy of a future – all this is given freely by the one who gave himself unconditionally on a cross for us. 

The elderly people in my opening story could see the true beauty behind Leroy’s scruffy exterior.  They didn’t see his untidy fur or funny ears; they only saw his love and generosity for them. 
As we travel with Jesus to the cross again this week and then rejoice together in his resurrection from dead, may we again see the true beauty of Jesus – his love, his obedience and commitment, his willingness to die even for sinners, his victory over sin, death and Satan. 
As we journey with Jesus may we also keep in mind those who only see Jesus as another Leroy – maybe you can find a moment to encourage them in their faith,
talk to them about your faith in Jesus and what Jesus means to you,
encourage them to go to an Easter service – be genuine, be gentle, be patient.

Let’s encourage one another and celebrate the wonderful Good news – Jesus died for us.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th April 2017

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