Sermon – Things Are Set for Disaster

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Mark 11:1-11; 14:1-2, 10-11

Farmville Presbyterian Church

March 24, 2024

– Jesus’ determination to do what needed to be done


Have you ever had to make a truly difficult choice?  I’m guessing that you have.   Maybe you had to move somewhere that you were not so crazy to go.  Maybe you had to take care of someone that meant a big life change for you.  Maybe you had to change a career in a way that was frustrating.  Maybe you had to face personal changes to health that were difficult to accept.  I hope you made the better decision, but I’m sure whatever you decided, it was not easy.

Today is the truly hard choice for Jesus – the hardest that he has to make.  Does he ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah, or does he stay away and continue doing his travelling rabbi thing?  On the face, that may not seem like such a big decision.  People did not make it to Jerusalem all the time.  It was like going to the big city.  Jesus was from a good distance away in a world without good transportation or roads, and you had to worry about bandits.  He had been to Jerusalem before, notably when he was a child, and John’s Gospel has him there one other time at the beginning of his ministry, but this was not a common thing for Jesus.  It was not like going to Richmond or even DC.  It would be more like going to California or Hawaii without planes where you would really have plan the trip.  Many people never made it in Jesus’ day, but this particular day was a big day for people to be there.  And Jesus made the excruciating decision to join them.

Why?  Why was this a big day and why was this decision so hard?

As Jewish holidays go, this week is a huge one.  This was Passover week.  Passover was like their Independence Day – sort of like their 4th of July, but it was even bigger because without it they would still be slaves in another country.  Back in Exodus, God directly intervened through Moses to lead the people out of Egypt from a terrifying situation.  It is called Passover because the spirit of death passes over houses with the lambs’ blood on the door, signifying they are part of the people of Israel.  The houses without the lambs’ blood suffered terrible loss.  This was the straw that set the Israelites free from Pharoah’s iron grip, and this was the celebration many, many years later (maybe 14 or 15 centuries) that brought crowds of people to Jerusalem.  The best 4th of July fireworks display that I have ever seen was in Washington, DC from the mall.  You would expect a great show there.  The Jews would expect a most special Passover in the capital of the nation where the Temple was.  The same Temple that Jesus said he would rebuild in three days after it was torn down.  No, this week was not going to do well for him.

But this day, the Sunday before Passover, the first day of the week, was a day to look for the Messiah to enter that gate.  That’s why there were throngs of people with things to wave.  It was messiah welcome day.  People seen as messiah were not that uncommon back then.  You might have someone identified as a potential every year or every few years.  There was someone who became notable for one reason or another.  They might be a good preacher who said things people wanted to hear, and he had no problem condemning Rome for their brutal oppression.  Messiahs were not terribly rare, but if they wanted to take the next step to leading the people to revolution, they would enter Jerusalem from that gate on that day.  Riding a colt would just sweeten the deal because that was one way Solomon was recognized as king, when he rode his father’s mule into town.  Also, when Jehu was made king, the people laid their garments on the road for him to enter on.  These were all super-charged kingly statements.  The people were right then and right there ready to make Jesus king and go to war against the Romans for their freedom.

But that was not even the worst part of the decision to enter Jerusalem, though that would be why the people turn on Jesus.  He let them down by not lighting the powder keg.  Maybe that is why Judas betrays him.  That’s one idea.  But the truly difficult choice was something else.

Remember that lamb who met the untimely death at the very first Passover, whose blood ended up marking the doors for the spirit of death to pass over the house?  Well, people still picked a lamb to cook and eat for Passover.  It was a required part of the required meal.  A year old lamb was to be chosen without blemish to be eaten by the family at the Passover meal, but its blood was to be offered against the altar as a sacrifice.  They did not need to paint their doorways with the blood anymore, but they were supposed to offer the blood as a sacrifice at the altar.  There are some priestly jobs that I am very grateful we no longer perform.  It was much bloodier work back in the day, and I am sorry if it seems a bit gruesome, but it was life, and they were following the directions from the beginning.

Anyway, they needed a spotless lamb; everyone needed a lamb.  Well, this day was lamb selection day.  This was the day that the people were also supposed to pick a lamb to sacrifice and eat later that week.  You have to wonder how many people were there celebrating Jesus and what he might do, and they were thinking to themselves, “I need to make sure to grab a lamb for Passover after we are done here.”  What they did not realize they were doing was selecting their true lamb right then and right there.  Jesus, the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world, was riding into Jerusalem for this reason.  This is why he had a hard choice to make.  Riding in as a king meant he could have started a revolution and a war and become very powerful until they were defeated by the Romans which the Jews eventually would be within the next hundred years, but riding in as the Lamb meant one truly terrible end.  He would be sacrificed to save the people.  There was only one way that choice would play out.  He was riding to his cruel death.  The lamb was not treated well.  It was brutal.  It would be the same for him.

It was a very hard choice, the hardest.  How did you weigh yours?  Did you make your choice by what you thought was easiest?  Or maybe by what was right?  Did you choose based on what was loving?  Hopefully, that goes hand-in-hand, right and loving.  The right choice should literally always be the most loving choice.  There is always the other option.  Maybe you did not think you had a true choice, but you did.  You could have gone the other way.  It might have gone very badly to abandon people or to lead a different life.  It might have meant the end of important relationships or the loss of dreams, but there is always a choice.  You made a difficult decision that you have lived with the rest of your life.  Perhaps you have had to make a number of difficult decisions.  Jesus understands that.

When he set his face to Jerusalem, he started a ball rolling that would not stop until one thing happened.  He also made the right, loving choice.  He gave everything for his people, for us among many.  Even more, he made this choice without knowing if it would work.  His sacrifice was secure, but would people rise up and follow in him?  We can debate the finer points of predestination, but there is nothing making us follow in his steps.  There is nothing forcing us to work for the Kingdom of God here and now.  There is nothing compelling us to be followers of Jesus.  His plan was to free us to change the world as much as to be with him forever.  That’s why the disciples become apostles.  They wanted to change the world by sharing good news.

Jesus made his decision.  He made his choice.  In order to go through with it, he had to steel his nerves.  The passage from Isaiah is paired with today because of this language: he set his face like flint.  Even though it was going to be beyond harsh, he would go through with it.  Isaiah did not have Jesus specifically in mind, but his words certainly seem to be useful here.  The suffering servant in Isaiah’s day had very tough choices, too.

I have no idea how your decisions turned out.  We are still working on some of ours.  As a nation, we have some tough ones come up, and there are tough ones right now that need to be addressed.  The loving choice is the right choice.  I am very worried about people in places of unrest and violence and war.  I am very worried about our future here, what changes about our nation in the coming months.  I am looking at some life changes, too, as my youngest heads off to college, but there is always a choice.  Even though, Jesus was staring disaster in the face, he made the choice because it was the loving thing to do.  He made that choice because that was God’s love working through him.

It is no different today.  We are also the Body of Christ for a reason.  We can choose to work out God’s love around us and in this world or not.  We may not always get it right.  We might find ourselves in some kind of disaster, but if we genuinely try to choose the right, the good, the loving, we will be following in the steps of our Lord, to whom be the glory.  Amen.