It’s been a disastrous week…a rollercoaster of a week. What started out on a high note, showing lots of promise, ended like nobody could have ever imagined! You may be thinking that I’m talking about our current situation, but this morning I’d like to take you back in time to the first Holy Week.
The last week of Jesus’ life before He was executed on a cross and rose from the dead on the third day is such an incredibly important period of Jesus’ life. The Gospel writers devoted a huge portion of their writing to detailing what we call Holy Week. Matthew wrote twenty-eight chapters, one-fourth of what he recorded, chapters 21-28, focus on Holy Week. One-third of Mark’s sixteen chapters, chapters 11-16, are devoted to detailing what happened during the final eight days of Jesus’ life. Luke gives one-fifth of his Gospel to describe the details. Last of all, John saved the last half of his Gospel, chapters 12-21, to describe this most important week of Jesus’ life. One-third of the eighty-nine chapters of the four Gospels are devoted to Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday.
There is a reason why all of the Gospel writers recorded these events and why they gave so much space to Jesus’ final eight days. They wanted those who would come after them, they wanted you and me, to understand the details and implications of Jesus’ final days. So let’s dig in.
The week began with what you and I call Palm Sunday. It’s the day when our kids come walking down the aisle waving palm branches while we all sing, “Hosanna to the King of Kings!” Unless you’ve got a house full of kids and have somehow located some palm branches, none of us are reenacting that first Palm Sunday parade this morning. I bet you are like me though, I’ve got perfect recall of the countless times we’ve seen it take place right here at BCC. The sights and sounds of times past still brings a smile to my face.
The massive crowd that filled Jerusalem shouted, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us! Save us now!” That’s the moment that was filled with such promise in the hearts and minds of the people. They believed Jesus was the One, the One whom God had sent to save them…and they were right, but their understanding of “salvation” was all wrong. Let’s read our first Scripture for this morning and we’ll talk. Turn with me to Mark 11 and we’ll begin with verse 1.
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:1-11 NIVO)
It is important for you and me to understand the story within the story of what was happening in the minds of God’s people at the very moment Jesus came riding into Jerusalem. Let’s go back further in time to a disastrous period when the Jews were under the power of the Seleucids, the Greeks. Around 195 B.C. a king named Antiochus the Great rose to power and defeated the Ptolemies who were in control of Jerusalem and all of Palestine.
Twenty years later, in 175 B.C., his son Antiochus Epiphanes took over the reigns of the kingdom and did everything in his power to humiliate and destroy the Jews. He slaughtered God’s people, sold tens of thousands into slavery, dedicated their temple to his Greek gods, forced pork down the throats of the priests, turned the temple chambers into a brothel, and slaughtered a pig on the altar of the temple. He told the Jews the only gods they could worship at the temple were the Greek gods of mythology…Zeus, Bacchus, Saturn, and others.
After ten years of humiliation and unending suffering, on December 25, 165 B.C., under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the great leader of the Maccabean family, Antiochus Epiphanes and his troops were defeated and the temple was cleansed. Jerusalem and the temple were restored to God’s people and they enjoyed 100 years of independence and freedom until 63 B.C. when the Jews came under the rule of the Roman Empire.
When the Jews regained their freedom from Antiochus Epiphanes, Judas Maccabeus had new coins minted for the people of God. On the coin was the palm branch. It was a symbol of victory, of national pride, and freedom. Waving palm branches for the Jews of Jesus’ day was like waving the stars and stripes on the fourth of July for us as Americans. When the Jews were taken over by the Romans in 63 B.C., new coins were minted by the Romans for the people of Jerusalem. On the coins were broken palm branches. And the Jews longed for a new deliverer who would come one day.
Now, fast forward to the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The people were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” The people had gathered in Jerusalem for Passover and the words they were shouting were from Psalms 118:26. Psalms 113-118, are known as the Egyptian Hallel. These Psalms were sung at Passover to celebrate God’s deliverance from another power, the power of the Egyptians. They were certain the day had finally come, they would be free at last. God had come to save them! The people fully expected that when Jesus rode into town He would immediately go to the barracks and destroy the Roman troops. Did you notice what happened right after the people waved their palm branches and laid down coats on the road? Take another look at Mark 11:11.
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:11 NIVO)
What happened? Nothing! Jesus looked around at everything and instead of pouncing on the Romans, running the Romans out of town, Jesus left town and went out to Bethany with His disciples. He did what?
The people were looking for Jesus to do something…and He would do something. The people were looking for Jesus to be their conquering King…and He came to be THE conquering King, but not the kind they had in mind. The people were looking for salvation…and Jesus came to bring salvation. The problem is this: What the people expected and wanted was not what Jesus came to deliver.
Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about by taking you to one of the prophecies foretelling Jesus’ coming, more specifically Holy Week. If you will turn with me to Zechariah 9 and let’s read together from Zechariah 9:9-10.
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10 NIVO)
This King came riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He didn’t come like other conquering kings, He came in righteousness. He’s a righteous King. He’s a gentle King who proclaims peace to all of the nations. His Kingdom will extend throughout the earth, but the spread of His Kingdom won’t come about because of the sword and the bloodshed of many, but it will happen by His own shed blood. Zechariah goes on to tell us more in Zechariah 13:7-9.
7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:7-9 NIVO)
This King, God’s King, is a Shepherd King who tends His flock, who cares for His own, who goes after the lost, and who will bring peace to all the nations. God’s people understood their coming King to be a warrior King, a David-like King, but God’s King is a Shepherd King.
Everything that took place was according to plan, God’s plan, and Jesus understood the plan, but the people had an altogether different plan that they expected God to bring to fruition. Remember the verse, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…” from Zechariah 13? It was written 550 years before Jesus was ever born and yet Jesus knew His Hebrew Bible and He knew it was written about Him. That’s why, right after He shared the Passover meal with His disciples and they made their way out to the Mount of Olives, Jesus told the disciples,
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matthew 26:30-32 NIVO)
Those same folks who shouted at the top of their lungs, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” in just a few short days would shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Unmet expectations can do that to us can’t they? You prayed for God to heal your mom or dad…and they died. Religious people, Jesus’ people, told you that if you would just believe…God would heal your child, but your child never got well. You prayed that God would intervene in your marriage, restore your broken marriage, but you are still broken from the divorce that took place many years ago. I could go on and on with the unmet expectations I’ve heard coming from friends of mine through the years. And in addition to all of these, I have my own unmet expectations where I was counting on God to come through and all I got was disappointment.
The problem of unmet expectations is not a modern-day phenomenon. People have always been disappointed by not having their expectations met. Even some of God’s most faithful servants have struggled with unmet expectations. Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest of any man ever born of a woman and yet when John was sitting behind prison bars and facing execution for pointing out the gross sin of Herod Antipas, John began to wonder about Jesus. John had given his whole life to preparing the way for the Lord. He had faithfully lived out his Nazarite vow, he had given up so many of the simple pleasures of life that so many others enjoyed, but now he was wondering, “If Jesus is the One we’ve all been waiting for, why am I sitting in this prison cell?” We read, in Matthew 11:2-6,
2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:2-6 NIVO)
Jesus was the One, He is the One, and He also urges us, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Don’t let your unmet expectations cause you to turn away from Jesus. In Gene Edwards’ little book, “The Prisoner in The Third Cell,” he writes in a fictionalized way about what must have been going through Jesus’ mind. He writes,
Never before in all his thirty-one years, not in all his preexistence in eternity, had he ever longed so intensely to answer the cry and the question of someone struggling to understand the mysterious ways of God… If any man ever lived who had a right to have an explanation given to him, that man was his own flesh and blood, his own cousin. “John, your pain is great. I feel it. Tonight you so desperately need to understand me, to fathom my ways, to peer into the riddle of my sovereignty. Your heart is breaking. But, John, you are not the first to have this need. You are but a long train of humankind stretching across all the centuries of man who have called out to me with questions and doubts. You are but one voice among so many who wonder, and who agonize over my ways. Blessed are you if you are not offended with me.” (Gene Edwards, The Prisoner In The Third Cell)
God failed to meet your expectations and so you turned away, you walked from Him. The truth is every single one of us has had more than one opportunity to be offended and walk away because Jesus didn’t come through in the way we wanted Him to, but you are blessed if, even though broken and discouraged by unmet expectations, you refuse to turn away from Jesus and instead cling to Him with everything you’ve got.
Every time there is a national tragedy I hear the questions begin to surface, “Where is God?” “If God is all powerful then why doesn’t He do something about our situation?” I’m hearing those questions reverberating throughout our nation even now in this current crisis we are facing. My answer to those who are asking these questions is this: “God is at work in our pain and suffering.” I would encourage those of you who are asking those same questions this morning, to consider that God, our God, is the only God among the pantheon of supposed gods, who sees the suffering of His people and enters into their suffering. Read with me from Mark 15:15-20.
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. 16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:15-20 NIVO)
Flogged with a roman cat o’ nine tails, mocked, beaten to a bloody pulp with the soldier’s fists, with a crown made out of thorns mashed on his head–Jesus subjected Himself to the cruel torture of those He came to free from the shackles of sin.
Mark tells us it was the “third hour,” about 9 am, when they nailed Jesus to the cross. The God who spoke all of creation into being, the One who flung the stars and the planets into their places, and knit you and me together in our mother’s tummy, was crucified between two robbers, two criminals. His wasn’t the only cross standing tall outside of Jerusalem that day, but it was the only one that has ever stood that held the God of glory, the only truly innocent Man who has ever lived. Still, those who passed by mocked Him, shouted insults at Him, and egged Him on: “So! You can save others, but you can’t even save yourself!” Six hours after they nailed Him to the cross Mark tells us Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” It’s an Aramaic phrase that means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words are a quotation from Psalm 22. It’s a powerful Psalm, but I want us to focus on the words that came from Jesus’ lips as He hung on the cross just before He drew His last breath.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was a person just like you and me, He was tempted in every way that you and I are tempted and yet He never sinned. Never once did He sin. He was fully human while at the same time fully God. He ate and drank just like you and me. He experienced hunger and thirst. He was hot and cold. He had a job working as a carpenter. He laughed and He cried. He experienced the joys and sorrows that we experience in life, but He never knew the weight nor the consequences of sin…not until that moment on the cross when God the Father laid all of my sin and all of your sin upon His shoulders. It wasn’t forced on Jesus, He willingly took our sin upon Himself because of His love for you and me. The holy and righteous God of glory took your sin and my sin upon Himself. That’s exactly what the Bible teaches. Isaiah 53:4-6 predicted would happen one day. Read it with me.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIVO)
There are many in our society today who have tried to put the word sin out of their minds. You can never use the word sin again, but still you know that something is off inside of you. Long ago, Augustine wrote, “Whatever we are, we are not what we ought to be.” Do you recognize that about yourself? You aren’t what you ought to be? I’m not what I ought to be either and yet He took all that was wrong with me, all of my sin, upon Himself so that I might be restored to a right relationship with God.
This is the polar opposite of how most people today think we are made right with God. Most people today will say they are trying to be good, better than they used to be, and they hope one day that God will take them home to be with Him because they have tried to live a good life. The Bible says,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO)
God did it. Did what? Everything we need for us to be made right with Him. He placed your sin and my sin on the shoulders of His own Son and then He placed the sinless righteousness of Jesus on all of those who will receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. And for that reason He is worthy of our worship and praise!
Let me ask you a question before we end our time in God’s Word. Everyone is aware of the deadly threat of the coronavirus. We’ve all heard that there is no vaccine, but if someone discovered a cure, a fail-proof vaccine that would heal your sickness …what would you give for that vaccine?
Something far more deadly than the coronavirus entered this world long, long ago. The fatality rate is not 3% or 20%…it’s 100%! The data bears this out. If you were born you will one day die my friend. God sent His Son into the world and He has taken the disease of sin upon Himself so that you and I may know the sweet forgiveness of God and have the assurance of eternal life. Here’s the good news, it’s not for the rich or the brilliant or the influencers in society. God’s grace for anyone who will receive the His Son. Will you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 5, 2020