Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “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 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
At the start of the week before Jesus’ Crucifixion, something comes into the foreground in the Gospel writers’ reportage: TIMING. Yes, an intricate timing is on display around Jesus’ death.
Let me demonstrate, first from an overall perspective: though the religious authorities’ first instinct is to wait until after the hubbub of Passover before they arrest Jesus, it turns out that the timing of Jesus’ death aligns with Passover… and all its associations of release from the oppressive power through an atoning death.
And more specifically, both in the events of our passage and a few nights later at the preparing of the Passover meal, there’s this wonderful exact timetable on display, almost a choreography. We won’t take the time to look at the latter episode.
Here, Jesus sends two disciples into the village and tells them that, at the precise time they enter, a colt (of a donkey) will happen to be tied up at such and such a place. He then imagines for them the conversation that will occur when they begin untying and leading away this colt that’s not theirs. He assures them that onlookers will be in the mood to be ok with two guys leading away a donkey that’s not theirs!
You try that and see what happens. Next time you go to the grocery, find someone standing next to their half-full cart and looking at the shelves for an item. Go up to their cart and start walking away with it. When they say, ‘hey, that’s my cart,’ tell them “The Lord has need of it and will get it back to you pronto.” Then see if they’re allayed.
But “this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2: 23). Everything was planned and goes as planned: the colt is there, the conversation takes place, the lookers on don’t bat an eye when the men tell them that the Lord needs it.
TIMING, the writers want to show. PLANNING. PURPOSE. The events at Passion week were the opposite of accidental, chaotic… though at plenty of moments it appeared like CHAOS was in control.
But the marvels don’t end with the precise timing. Intentionally, Jesus had ordered an unbroken colt to ride on into Jerusalem. When the Lord heaves his leg over that young donkey’s back and then rests his full weight on it, and the animal doesn’t start or buck, we realize there’s something wonderful going on.
A connection between man and animal, in which there’s no fear on either side, only an understanding of/ agreement on who is Master.
So, this is all wonderful,
on the border of… probably crossing over the border of miraculous. Yes, I’ll say it: what we got is the start of a miraculous journey. Let’s peek ahead to the end and see where this amazing journey ends up:
V. 11 – And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Wait…what?!?! What was that all about? Under these splendid arrangements, He rides into Jerusalem… but then nothing happens. Ok, He dipped into the temple and took in that whole scene. But after He just returns to Bethany. The trip, what was it for?
Well, as we see a couple verses down in v. 15, the next day Jesus enters the temple again, and then things get done. He overturns tables and seats, drives some people out, impels others to put down the loads they were carrying. So, turns out the visit the day before, the one we’re looking at, was a scouting trip, when Jesus figured out what needed done the day following.
So…questions: Why all the attention – up to and including miracles – toward preparing for, providing for this scouting trip? Since nothing was accomplished in Jerusalem, can we say that the miracles were wasted? Why do Mark and the Gospel writers all write about this scouting trip? And why has the Church for hundreds of years circled this episode on the church calendar and celebrated it annually?
If nothing happened?
And the rejoinder is: well, something did happen that Sunday. As he traveled to Jerusalem, worship happened. Jesus was worshiped. That’s recordable. That’s big time.
The Church is given the account of this journey into Jerusalem to learn or relearn: worshiping Christ matters.
I think of those congregations around the world who are renting out school gyms to gather in week by week. And this morning they’ve brought in all their equipment, and set up chairs, and gone outside and set up signs. Then a couple of hours later they’ll take down the signs and stack the chairs and pack up their equipment, make sure that everything is clean. And leave. Every month they pay the rental fee.
Why this preparation and hassle? Because worship makes a difference. It’s worth the hassle. It’s a thing in itself, worthy of miracles to support it, to spotlight it.
Indeed, the story of the world is that God is seeking worshipers.
So this passage draws our attention to the high place of worship, even as it might not seem to accomplish anything. Let’s briefly list ten specific things about worship from this passage:
- Worship is noticing and allowing yourself to become excited and exclaiming.
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative and ignoble and amusing and trivial – -and miss seeing the great and holy that’s right in front of you, if only your eyes were open. It’s easy to be stuck in your head. For some reason, on this trip into Jerusalem, a few people and then a lot of people noticed and were then moved by Jesus Christ. And they shouted! Worship is attention to God, and that’s unusual. That’s a gift. Given when you’re on your own and also given corporately to a church.
- Worship is sacrificial.
Whenever you read the word “cloaks” in the gospels, recall that clothes were a scarcity at that time. So throwing the cloaks on the back of the donkey, on the road, was big. A sacrifice, which to some eyes must have appeared unnecessary. Yet they threw them down because they wanted to, they rated this Man so highly, they were giving whatever they could to show him honor. Worship and sacrifice have always gone together.
Brothers, your time and money cannot be better spent than in supporting the worship of Christ.
- Worship is enthusiastic.
Did you notice the word “shouting”? Yes, it’s true that Middle Easterners are commonly less reserved than we creaky and reserved New Englanders. But maybe that’s because they see more clearly than we do. The King! The Savior! It’s real! When we gather, He’s here in our midst. When the Word is opened, the Spirit reveals Him to our spirits. This Christ is strong over death. Who loves His people. Who is shaping us wisely. He’s the One to destroy all the works of the devil. Yes, you can and should get excited. If in your exuberance you want to shout “Amen” as the Word is preached, if you want to raise your hand while the song is sung – go for it. Just don’t show off and don’t go after emotion for emotion’s sake. Arrive at emotion having gone through understanding.
- Worship recalls the broader context.
What is “David” doing in this passage? someone might ask. I thought he was in the Old Testament? But these people have been given the perception to see that Jesus is the continuation…no, the fulfillment, of something connected with David the King. And David’s life and reign was a summit in the story of Abraham. And Abraham is the answer to something promised in Humanity’s first home, the Garden of Eden.
Worshipping well requires us to know these facts, to make these connections. We appreciate what’s happening a lot more when we can place it in the context of what God has been working on for a long time.
And not just biblical history: What is the history of this church? What is the history of God’s work in northern Connecticut? Worshipers understand that we are entering into the labors of worshipers who have gone before us. Going way back. Worshipers are natural historians, always re-discovering that we’re part of something old and big…grand.
- Worship sees beneath the superficial.
Kinda reiterating a couple of previous points: Looked through a certain lens, Jesus is just another pilgrim entering Jerusalem around Passover time. But worshipers see more, they’ve been given the gift to see below the surface. This is the coming King in David’s line. If there’s any salvation possible for us and our children and our communities and our environment… it’ll be through Him. Hosanna! God, save! Son of David, have mercy on me!
Others…non-worshipers don’t see. They’re overly practical and rely too much on their eyes. They don’t see and so they don’t take God seriously and so they don’t take themselves seriously and so they don’t sing and shout and ask. Their cloaks stay on their backs.
- From a certain perspective worship seems pointless.
Among this crowd of worshipers were disciples who within a few days would abandon him. Judas who would betray him. The crowd who wouldn’t defend him. Knowing this, it’s easy to get cynical when we hear their enthusiastic cries. Also, five days later, the One who now sits astride the colt comfortable on other’s coats will then be nailed onto crosspieces and be gasping for air…and eventually suffocate.
So, this worship scene is riddled with weakness: deeply flawed people, an agonizing future just around the corner. What’s the point of worship in these conditions?
Some of you that have sung today might eventually wander off the Christian reservation. This church might split into different factions and have to close down. A painful future might await us.
How can we afford to worship now…attend to what God is doing and rejoice in that…when soon everything might go south? When we can’t guarantee that this kind of scene will continue. This is a question worship often raises…
- Worship is a banner of truth
The answer to that is: our attending to and exulting in what God is doing in Jesus Christ is reality – it aligns with the truth. Jesus really is the King, the Savior, worthy of our attention and exclamation.
One of the chief lessons of this passage is: No matter what happens to us or anybody else after we worship, by our worship a banner of truth has been raised up in this time and in this place. And so this worship here…now… MATTERS. Nothing that happens later can cut down that banner of truth. We can enjoy this moment together – knowing that by the Resurrected Lord, our labor of worship is not in vain.
- Heaven and earth meet in the worship of Jesus Christ.
God has marvelously…miraculously made all the crucial arrangements – remember the impeccable timing and the unbroken donkey – and then the crowd joins in on what God has arranged. This is the great thing about worship – – – it never starts with us. We’re coming into the action that God has already begun… and we’re just fitting in.
This is always true. It’s certainly true at Somers Baptist. At the end of August, my family joined in the worship here, but as you know God had been at work long before. Do you know this property was bought for $1? Can you just start to imagine the many works of God by which this building was raised up? The miracle -stories of people who have been come to Christ and been baptized in that baptistry? Behind all of our current worship is the works of God. Behind the people assembled, the money given, the pews cleaned, the works of charity, the songs sung…God has made the worship arrangements and now we’re joining the chorus.
- Worship inclines toward the physical.
The story that day wasn’t that everyone thought deep thoughts. No, how much physicality was in this scene: the smell of the colt, the waving palm fronds, the sound and feel of them cutting through the air, the shouts. Worship tends to be corporeal, something taken in by our senses. We sing. We hear. We see symbols. We’re about to taste the Lord’s Supper. We lean in to hug or shake hands. (Though we don’t do much incense around here…)
Today I’d like us to accentuate this physicality in the Lord’s Supper. When the ushers pass the communion elements to the person sitting at the end of the pew, they’ll quietly say to that person, “the body of Christ broken for you.” Then, “the blood of Christ shed for you.” Then, when the person passes it on to his neighbor, he’ll quietly say, “The body of Christ broken for you.” “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
Even kids. And don’t giggle or be shy. Just tell them what it is and what it means.
- Worship is a great Sunday activity.
Finally, I don’t want us to miss that this worship gathering happened on Sunday, seven days before Christ’s Resurrection. I wouldn’t be surprised if by this timing God is giving His people a dress rehearsal for changing Saturday worship to Sunday worship.
As I’ve said a few times before, make it your aim to gather for worship on Sunday. Every Sunday. Even if you’re traveling, find a gathering of Christ-worshipers and join them. There’s something very human about that. There’s something stabilizing about the rhythm of weekly Sunday worship. You can make a life out of this!
The week before Christ’s death, an otherwise forgettable trip becomes unforgettable because God the Father had arranged for His Son to be worshiped. By this arrangement and by the Spirit in four gospels spotlighting this Sunday worship, we are summoned to regular worship of Christ.
This morning, we’ve gathered to worship, we’ve come to the Table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s take a couple of minutes to pray: a) confessing our sins, especially our failures of worship; b) thanking God for bringing us to see that Jesus Christ is worthy of our attention, our sacrifices, our lives, because He is the King who has saved us unto eternal life
Brothers and sisters, this is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because it is His table, we extend an invitation to every baptized Christian believer who is in a solid standing with a local church to join us in this sacred remembrance of the Lord’s death for us and for our salvation.
If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the prayer of confession we pray is the prayer of your heart, then we would be delighted to celebrate this Communion Meal with you. If these things aren’t yet true of you, please just allow the elements to pass you by. We long for you to join us in this meal!
Remember that when we pass the bread to each other, we’ll say “The body of Christ broken for you.” And when we pass the tray with the cups, we’ll say, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” By saying these words to each other, we are reminded of the priesthood of all believers.
The Word of God proclaims that ‘God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness’ in Jesus Christ.
So let us confess our sins using Psalm 51, which you’ll see on the screen. May these words be the prayer of our hearts today…
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Having confessed our sins and professed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we now remember the price paid for our redemption, and we renew our covenant vows of love and loyalty to our Savior and Lord.