(A sermon based on Mark 11:1-11 for Palm Sunday 2015)
We are Christians; that means that we are followers of Jesus Christ. So during this Holy Week let’s follow Jesus through his last week on Earth and in so following let’s see what we can learn about what it means to follow him. To paraphrase the question he asked James and John when they asked to be seated at his right hand and his left in his kingdom, “Are we able to drink the cup that he drank?” Are we able—are we willing—to follow in his way?
There’s goes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Let’s follow him.
We should note right off that Jesus went to Jerusalem intentionally and purposefully. He was not dragged to that city in which he knew his life would be in danger; he went there on purpose. No one forced him to enter the place where the forces who wanted him gone were gathered; he went there voluntarily. He knew what going there would cost him and he went anyway.
Have we counted the cost of discipleship? Have we taken a good hard look at what it means to follow Jesus wherever he goes and to serve him wherever we go?
When Mark first tells us that Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, he also tells us that Jesus told the Twelve what was coming: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (10:33-34).
Implied in his words was an invitation to his disciples: “So come along with me!” Implied in his words is an invitation from Jesus to us: “Come along with me!”
In the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11, when Jesus tells the disciples that it’s time to go to where the deceased Lazarus lies, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Nobody says that when Jesus says it’s time to go to Jerusalem, but they could have. And we should.
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
To go to Jerusalem with Jesus is to die with Jesus.
To go to Jerusalem with Jesus is to give up your life with, to, and for Jesus.
To follow Jesus is to die with Jesus; it is to give up your life with, to, and for Jesus.
Such following means to choose the narrow way over the broad way, to choose the hard way over the easy way, to choose the selfless way over the selfish way, to choose the generous way over the greedy way, to choose the dangerous way over the cautious way, and to choose God’s way over the world’s way.
And so the King of the Universe, the Lord of Creation, the Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. As Dom Crossan and the late Marcus Borg pointed out [The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem (New York: HarperOne, 2006), pp. 2-5], at about the same time the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would have led his own procession into Jerusalem with flags flying, with trumpets blaring, and with soldiers marching; his arrival was ostentatious and impressive. Jesus, though, was hailed as King by a motley crew of commoners and outcasts.
Jesus fulfilled the expectations of Israel in unexpected ways. He came in the true power of God—in the power of humility, of love, of service, and of sacrifice. He had tried to tell his disciples how it would be but they did not get it until after his resurrection.
Now here we are 2000 years after his resurrection but we still have a hard time getting it.
But it is still true—“the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And it is still true—if we are to be his disciples, we must take up our cross daily and follow him. And what the 20th century theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said is still true: “When Christ summons you, he bids you come and die.”
Jesus is our King; we are his subjects. Our King says to us, “Come follow me to Jerusalem with full acceptance of what that means—that you are willing to give up your self-centered, self-serving, self-protecting ways in order to love God with all you are and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is my King; I am his subject. Will I follow him?
Where will my King and I go? How will my King and I serve? How will my King and I give ourselves up for God’s sake and for others’ sake?
Where will your King and you go? How will your King and you serve? How will your King and you give yourselves up for God’s sake and for others’ sake?