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“On the Road to Calvary!”

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Passion Sunday ~ March 20th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

(Click on the arrow to listen to the sermon)

 

On the Road to Calvary!”

Psalm 24:7-10; Luke 19:41-44

 

A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mom. His dad returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see,” replied the father, “when Jesus came into town, everyone laid down palm branches to honor Him, so we got palm branches today.” The little boy replied, “Aw man! I miss one Sunday and Jesus shows up!” You never know what you’ll miss, so I’m glad you’re here today!

 

Today is a big day. It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem for the last time. He is on the road to Calvary. Although we can easily see the joyous celebration the crowds had for Jesus thinking He is the one who will set them free from the bondage of the Roman occupation, I think Passion Sunday is about something of a greater importance. Jesus is on the road to Calvary. He is not going to Jerusalem to hear the crowds shout “Hosanna.”  Nor did He come for the first part of the week. No, Jesus came to Jerusalem for Good Friday. He is on the road to Calvary.

 

The Paradox of Palm Sunday

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Passion Sunday, there was a stir and all the people took notice. Matthew tells us that “the whole city was stirred and asked ‘Who is this’?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” As you can tell, everyone was so excited. However, their passion and excitement will soon evaporate. The question I would like to ask this morning is very simple. How does this story come together with ours?  How does this story relate to ours today? Are we the modern day equivalent of those who lined the road from Bethany to Jerusalem with palm branches waving?” Two important observations as we look together at Psalm 24 and Luke 19 this morning:

 

First: Palm Braches Don’t Live Long

The problem with palms is that once you cut the branches from the tree, they don’t live long. The problem with Palm Sunday is that the excitement of the crowds didn’t last very long. A few short days later when Good Friday came, many of the same voices who shouted “Hosanna!” were also shouting “Crucify Him!” This was a sign that their love for the Lord was shallow and based entirely on their hope of what exciting things He could do for them.

 

They wanted to follow on the road to the throne, but they would not follow Jesus on the way to the cross.  They were more than eager to wave palms before the coming king, but they would not give their allegiance to the Suffering Servant. Are we also so shallow that we will wave palms on one Sunday a year and sing hymns of praise to our Lord, but refuse to obey the Servant king? You know, no one has any difficulty accepting and following a glorified king. The real issue for us today is to follow a crucified Messiah. The real challenge for us today is to keep trusting not on Palm Sunday but on Good Friday.

 

Second: The Cross and our Culture

I guess the question I am asking this Passion Sunday is: Are you, am I, willing to walk toward the cross and to live our lives according to what the cross demands? It isn’t a pretty life but it is a fulfilled life.  Are we willing to follow Christ and end up where Jesus did? In Romans 8:17 the Scripture teaches us if we share in His suffering, we will also share in His glory. Can we stand our ground when we get mocked and ridiculed for our beliefs especially in this skeptical age? Many will turn away to pursue the ways of the world and live lives ignoring the demands that are called for when we pick up our cross and follow. Few people find the way even though the signs are all around us.

 

As the cross was pressing in on Jesus from all sides, He would not try to go around it. He would not take the easy road nor would He try and go over it or under it. Obedience to God was more important to Jesus than anything else. The cross is against the mindset of our culture. It was against the mindset of the crowds on Palm Sunday. The contrast was so evident that day. While Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the crowd celebrated a Messiah of their own imagination. Are we following in the footsteps of the Messiah or the crowd?

 

A few years ago, Larry King interviewed Joel Osteen, the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest Protestant Church in the United States, located in Houston, Texas. The Membership of Lakewood is over 43,000. As you may know, Larry King is Jewish. Yet, his questions that night reflected a profound insight into the Christian faith. He asked his guest, “Yours is a Christian church isn’t it?” “Oh, yes,” answered the evangelist. “Well,” King continued, “I have never been to your church but I’ve watched your TV broadcast and I didn’t see a cross anywhere. You have a huge stage with a large globe depicting the earth. But there’s no cross in sight.”

 

The evangelist’s response was that his daddy who also had been a preacher didn’t have a cross in his church either, just a large map of the world with pins indicating all the places the gospel has spread. I’ve got no idea if Joel Osteen or his father knows about the work of Philip Reif, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. Reif says, “Any church that keeps preaching on the cross is not going to growbecause in our culture what we’re interested in is success, not sacrifice.”

 

When you think about it, for many Christians, Holy Week is without a cross because we skip most of Holy Week. So many Christians jump directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, leapfrogging right over all the unpleasantness. Many churches do Palm Sunday without even a nod at the Passion story so that Palm Sunday becomes “a dress rehearsal for Easter.”

 

Why include Jesus’ suffering in the joyous festivities of Palm Sunday? Why are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday indispensable aspects of Holy Week? Why is it important to remember Jesus’ suffering and death? Because in this world and in our lives there is suffering and death and to remember Jesus’ Passion is to become aware anew that we are not alone. There is One, the Son of God, who is with us, who shares our pain. Because, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Because we know the cross was so central to Jesus’ life and ministry and it should be the same way to us. In Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Friends, we do not triumph over suffering. But the truth is we triumph through suffering. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

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