This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on Palm Sunday, 4 April 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 50: 4 – 9, Philippians 2: 5 – 11, and Luke 23: 1 – 49.
The "fall guy" in the Palm Sunday story, to me anyway, has always seemed to be Pontius Pilate. We blame him for putting Jesus to death but it was he who basically asked what it was that Jesus did that caused Him to be arrested and brought to trial. As we read the story of the trial, we note that the Pharisees and scribes had great difficulty convincing Pilate that Jesus was guilty. For as Pilate himself said, "I can find nothing wrong with this man and I shall set him free." Sometimes I think that Pilate should have set Jesus free but that would not have been part of God’s plan and the Pharisees and scribes would have found someone else to put Jesus to death.
The question this day, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom, must be the question that was in Pilate’s mind and the minds of other that day as to what did Jesus do that cause him to be put to death on the cross — Just what did Jesus do that caused Him to die?
In the earlier portion of his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged those young Christians to behave in a manner appropriate to the Gospel they claimed to believe. In the passage from Philippians that was the second reading this morning Paul provides the understanding about what it means to live the Christian live.
Paul points out that first Christ demonstrated an attitude of humility. He didn’t dwell on his own status or position; he didn’t try to grasp at everything that was due Him. Because Jesus was not concerned about exalting himself, about not claiming all the glory and honor that was truly His, God "highly exalted him." This, in itself, is interesting. We live in a society where the thing is get one’s share of glory and honor and where it is perfectly acceptable to let others take the blame when things go wrong. Yet Jesus showed us a different way to live.
Second, even though He was God on earth, Jesus willingly took "the form of a slave." Why would someone who would be king of all do so. By definition, a servant focuses on helping others, not ones self. Jesus, in being a servant, focused on the needs of others. He showed a concern for the hurts of others; he listened to them, showed compassion for them, loved them. In doing so, he gained the esteem from God that He cared little about.
It was not because she gained anything that Mother Theresa worked for the poor in India; it was not for any gain that Albert Schweitzer brought medical care into Africa. It was because God needed someone need willing to serve Him and bring his presence into the world.
Third, Jesus sacrificed everything for the most important thing He loved. We, more than anything, need to recognize that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was for us. He was willing to submit to the will of God and die on the cross so that we could live. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to do the same? Are we willing to be obedient to the will of God, doing what is asked of us? Are we willing to yield our financial resources, our time, our carefully planned career paths so that others might have the same access to the heavenly kingdom granted to us by Jesus’ death?
These are tough questions and we know that even Jesus struggled with those questions. That Thursday night in the Garden, Jesus asked himself if the struggle was worth the effort.
But Isaiah, in the Old Testament reading for today, pointed out that we can stand firm and do that which is asked of us because the Lord God is willing to help us. When we face troubles, when the crisis in our lives is so great that it seems nothing we do will overcome it, we know we can turn to God, just as Jesus did. In our most difficult situations we can always know that God, "the One who vindicates me," is near.
In face of the mocking and beatings that Jesus took that night of his trial, he stood firm. For us, even though it is most difficult to remain steadfast and firm, we can stand firm because we know that Jesus was able to do so. Not because of anything that we do but because of God’s presence in our lives, a presence given to us by Christ.
Finally, as we come to the table this morning, we know that we have been given a kingdom. The first Communion was that Thursday night and the disciples heard Jesus say that the Kingdom granted to Him by the Heavenly Father was given to us. By celebrating that Last Supper with the disciples, Jesus showed us what heaven would be like. Heaven is, Jesus was saying, expressed in the idea of friends coming together as a community gathering together.
Communion means something different and unique to each of us. We cannot celebrate communion by ourselves; we need to be a part of a community. As we celebrate as a community, we also celebrate individually because Christ died for us.
For me, this Lenten season has been about renewing one’s covenant with God and one’s relationship with Christ. For me, it is a time to renew that relationship with Christ, of knowing that thought I may been a sinner, I am still welcome at God’s table. Others may see communion as a healing. Communion is one sign that Christ died for each one us.
Pilate asked what it was that Jesus did that? Some day someone may ask you what it was that Jesus did. The challenge this morning is to be able to show others through your words and actions what it is that Christ died and why it is so important to sing Hosanna to the highest on this Sunday.