Sunday, April 14, 2019
Jesus answered, I tell you, if these were quiet, the very stones would cry out.
For most of His ministry, Jesus tried to hide His true identity. He often referred to Himself as the Son of Man, and when others tried to worship Him or spread the news of His miracles, He told them to keep silent. He didn’t want their praise or publicity. Not yet. His time had not yet come.
But it’s time now. As He makes His way to Jerusalem, the time is at hand for Him to reveal His mission. Jesus knows what’s waiting for Him in Jerusalem. He knows He will be betrayed, crucified, buried in a borrowed tomb. But He has a mission, given to Him by the Father. There’s no turning back now.
Jesus is descending the Mount of Olives, and He’s announcing to all the world that He’s “All in.” At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. In less than a week, Jesus would kneel there and pray the most heart-breaking prayer of His short life, perhaps the most heart-breaking prayer in history: Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done. (Luke 22: 42) Christ knows the pain and suffering, the betrayal and rejection that await Him, still He remains steadfast to His mission. He knows it’s His Father’s mission, to redeem a fallen world.
Nevertheless, on this day, in the streets of Jerusalem, it’s a different story altogether. The crowd is getting excited. They’re throwing their cloaks on the ground to make a path for the One who is entering their city. They’re waving palm branches. They’re shouting the praises of the man whom many of them believe will redeem Israel. Some of them are surprised to see that Jesus is riding on a donkey. And we know from because of previous lessons, this is to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey. The crowd begins singing and shouting and joyfully praising God in loud voices, Luke tells us, for all the miracles they had seen. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” they cry. “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
But, of course, not everyone is happy. Listen to the rest of the story: Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, Teacher, rebuke your disciples! Obviously, the Pharisees are offended by this little celebration. I tell you, Jesus replies, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.
That’s quite a vivid image, isn’t it, stones crying out. We could imagine Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones crying out, they do it every time they perform. But Jesus wasn’t referring to the Rolling Stones. He was referring to ordinary rocks on the ground, crying out His praise. Could an inert piece of stone on the ground cry out its adoration of Christ? And, if the stones on the ground had cried out, what do you think would have been their message on that first Palm Sunday? Let’s use our imagination for a few moments. What would be the message of those stones on that first Palm Sunday if they had cried out words of praise?
Maybe the first thing they would have cried out is Take notice, Jerusalem: your King is here.
The people of Jerusalem were longing for a king, praying for a king, a descendant of their greatest king, the great warrior King David. They called this king they were awaiting, “Messiah.” It is He who would lead them to victory over their enemies. Even the disciples were longing for this Messiah, and they were beginning to believe that Jesus just might be the one.
It’s interesting. As Jesus and His disciples were nearing the city of Jerusalem, He told them a parable about an earthly king who left his followers in charge of some money. In this parable the king told each of his workers, Put this money to work until I come back. The king was taking a big risk, leaving his wealth in the hands of his workers, and he expected a return on his investment. When the king finally returned to his kingdom, Jesus continued, he rewarded those who increased his money and punished those who did not.
As usual, the disciples weren’t sure what Jesus was trying to say to them, but they began getting excited because they thought Jesus was speaking about His own kingdom. Imagine their thoughts: This is it! Jesus is finally going to announce that He is the King, the Messiah. He’s going to set up His kingdom and defeat the Romans and restore the glory of Israel.
Well, of course He was the Messiah, but not the kind of Messiah they were expecting. For one thing, He never mentioned anything about overthrowing the oppressive Roman army. Neither did He speak about re-establishing the house of David in all its glory. My kingdom is not of this world, is what He actually said, but they weren’t listening.
The disciples of Jesus sometimes remind me of an amusing story that actor Rob Lowe once told about being invited several years ago to the White House. Lowe and his family received an invitation to meet the President of the United States. Huge honor. Lowe tried to explain to his young sons that the President is a very important person, and they needed to be on their best behavior.
Unfortunately, the boys did not understand the magnitude of the moment. As Lowe said in an interview, they were distracted by something on the lawn better. One of my great memories is standing in the Oval Office introducing Matthew to the President, and him going, Dad, Dad, squirrels! What’s a President compared to squirrels on the White House lawn when you are a young boy? Hopefully he grew out of that fascination.
The disciples were also a little misguided in their excitement. After all, even though Jesus told His followers what to expect, they were like us. They were a little deaf to Jesus’ real message. Even today, we who try to be His followers don’t really understand the kingdom to which He has called us. But still, that is the first thing the stones might have cried out on that first Palm Sunday, take notice, Jerusalem, your King is here!
The second thing that the stones might have cried out on that first Palm Sunday and that’s this: Your Savior has arrived.
Here’s the good news for everyday: Jesus didn’t come into our world to rule over us, but to redeem us. He is our King, but more importantly, He is our Savior. Some people think that when Christ returns, He will force us to do to His will; the truth of the matter is that He will enable us to be like Him. That makes all the difference in the world.
That’s the peace we’re all searching for. It’s the peace of knowing that Christ came into the world and that our sins are forgiven. We’ve been set free from the powers of sin and death. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
The one thing in this world that we can’t do, is save ourselves. But listen to the stones. We have a Savior who has come into our world to set us free. Take notice, the stones would cry, your King is here. Even more importantly, they would cry, Take notice, your Savior has arrived.
Then, I suspect, those stones would give one more cry before lying silent for perhaps a million more years or so. They would surely say about Christ, Give Him your service.
You see, it’s not enough for us to acknowledge that Christ is our King or that because of His sacrificial love, our sins have been forgiven. There must come a time when we begin to live as the kind of men and women God created us to be.
Recently I read about a Sunday school class for three-year-olds. Their lesson for the day was the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. Afterwards, the teacher asked, What would you do if Jesus were coming to your house today? One little girl quickly replied; I would tell my Mommy she better clean the house quick.
I believe the crying stones would tell us that all of us better clean our house quick. Even though we know Christ has provided for our sins to be forgiven, we also know that we’re not all He means for us to be. With His help daily, we aim to no longer be under the reign of our lesser selves. Our deepest longing is to be all He created us to be.
That amazing writer C.S. Lewis wrote: I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would leave us alone. But the question isn’t what we intended ourselves to be, it’s what He intended us to be when He made us?
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He’s doing. He’s getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you aren’t surprised. But He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and doesn’t seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of, throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.
You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. That we might be a new creation in Him.
Listen to the stones. No, not the Rolling Stones. Listen to the stones that lined the path that Jesus trod that first Palm Sunday. Listen as they declare, Here is your King, here is your Savior.