Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 11:1-11 Sermon
April 1, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
160 "All Glory, Laud, And Honor"
162 "Ride On, Ride On In Majesty"
161 "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna"
341 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
THE CROSS: FOOLISHNESS OR FORGIVENESS?
TEXT (vs. 8-10): “8And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!'”
Today is the day we know as Palm Sunday. It happens every year. Every year we have the same basic theme in front of us, which is Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, beginning the week of his Passion that would eventually lead him to the cross, crucifixion, and death. It is an important event in the grand scheme of things.
But today is also significant in another way. It's April 1st, the day we know as "April Fools' Day." And this isn't the first time that Palm Sunday and April Fools' Day have been on the same day either. It happened exactly five years ago.
When it happened the first time, I remember thinking that this was almost a once in a lifetime occurrence. I didn't look, but I assumed that was the only time I'd be preaching a Palm Sunday/April Fools' Day sermon. After all, what are the odds that the Vernal Equinox, which determines the date of Easter, would be coordinated with the calendar in such a way that this would happen? So this time I decided to look it up. It turns out that this happens a total of five times in the 250-year period from 1875 to 2124. Just in case you're interested, the years this occurs are: 1917, 1928, 2007, 2012, and 2091. And unless I live to the ripe old age of 137, I'll never experience this again.
The most immediate and direct correlation between the two events, is that the world has always viewed the Christian message of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ as utter foolishness. On the other hand, God looks at the unbelieving world in terms of foolishness. And that's going to be my theme based upon our Gospel lesson for today. The Cross: Forgiveness or Foolishness? And as we continue, this is something that we need to keep in mind.
I'm going to open with a story. Now I'm not sure as to whether or not it is true; but irrespective of that, it does make a good point.
In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparation for the Easter and Passover holidays. So, he contacted the ACLU about the discrimination inflicted upon the atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to the Christians and Jews with all their holidays, while the atheists had no holiday to celebrate.
The ACLU jumped on the opportunity to once again pick up the cause of the godless, and assigned their sharpest attorneys to the case. The case was brought before a wise judge, who, after listening to the long passionate presentation of the ACLU lawyers, promptly banged his gavel and said, "Case dismissed!"
The lead ACLU lawyer immediately stood up and objected to the ruling. He said, "Your honor, how can you dismiss this case? Surely the Christians have Christmas, Easter, and many other observances. And the Jews, in addition to Passover, also have Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and other days. Yet, my client and all other atheists have no such holiday!"
The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said, "Obviously your client is too confused to know about, or for that matter, even celebrate the atheists' holiday!"
The ACLU lawyer pompously said, "We are aware of no such holiday for atheists. Just when might that be, your Honor?"
The judge replied, "It comes every year on exactly the same date: April 1st!" The Bible says, "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'"
Whether or not this is a true story, we have to admit that it does make a good point, doesn't it? Two times in the Psalms, the very first verse of Psalm 14 and 53, God uses the exact same words: "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" There can be no mistaking the point that God is making to us.
It doesn't take too much for us to see that the world has a far different definition of what is foolish, and what isn't. In our Gospel lesson for today, we have a great example of what the world would regard as being foolish. Here is Jesus, God's very own Son, who becomes a servant. It's not a glorious role at all, at least in the world's eyes.
Here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the beast of burden used by the common people. Those who couldn't afford horses would use them for transportation. It wasn't a glorious spectacle in the least.
Even amidst the shouts of praise by the people, Jesus knew he was going to Jerusalem like a prisoner on death row. He would be tried, flogged, beaten, crucified, and killed. And yet he willingly went to carry out his mission, which was to win forgiveness and salvation for all humanity.
Of course the unbelieving world saw this as foolishness. How could such an event bring forgiveness to a sinful world? And in their opinion, there was no need for this kind of forgiveness. They had no concept of sin, no concept of God, no concept of forgiveness, no concept of perfection, and no concept of either a heaven or hell. Because of this blatant denial of everything, these people were, and still are about the biggest fools you could ever imagine.
The scene of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is the classic picture we all have of Palm Sunday. In verses 9 and 10 of our Gospel lesson for today, this is the picture we get: "And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!'"
The people that were gathered there knew who Jesus was. They had heard him preach. They witnessed his miracles. They had no doubt in their mind that this was the promised Saviour, the Messiah who had been promised from the beginning of time. They knew that he was the promised one who came from the house and lineage of King David. And they knew that he had come to save them from their sins, from death, from hell, and from the devil. The Prophet Zechariah recorded in chapter 9, verse 9 the words of the prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
These words were familiar to many people. And so they shout: "Hosanna!" Literally, that means "Lord, save us!" They praised God for sending him. They were thankful for his being there, although they didn't know what was coming ahead. They really had no grasp as to what it would take for Jesus to pay the price for their sins.
Now here's where Jesus could have used some of his great popularity for a bit of leverage. The crowd was supporting him. He could have used his popularity to stand up to the Jewish Sanhedrin, and even to the Roman government. They could have outnumbered those who later cried for the release of Barabbas, and demanded that he be crucified. There were so many ways that Jesus could have saved his own hide.
But he took the foolish way out, according to the world's standards. Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2 tells us about this: "[Let us look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
The world looks at that kind of logic as being foolish. There is no earthly joy that can be found in enduring the cross. That was the lowest and most cruel form of punishment for the absolute dregs of society. But yet, Jesus looked at this with joy! The shame he had to endure was foolish as far as the world is concerned.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, verses 18-23, the Apostle Paul does an excellent job of presenting this. He writes: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
It doesn't take too much for us to see that the way the world defines fools and foolishness is almost a 180-degree from the way God defines it. Last week, we discussed the glory that two of Jesus' disciples were seeking. They wanted to sit at his right and left in heaven. But Jesus explains to them that God's idea of being great is to be humble and a slave to all.
In 1 Corinthians 1, verses 18, and 26-31, Paul writes: 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”
This morning, I'm going to take just a few minutes to share something with you that I experienced yesterday. I had the opportunity to meet a man by the name of Gary Thies, who is the director of a place called "Mission Central" over in Mapleton, Iowa, which began back in 2003. Gary was a banker in Mapleton who has a deep love for missions and the message of the Gospel. A five-acre piece of ground with a house, barn, and several outbuildings came up for sale. Gary bought it, and began to do what everybody thought was a foolish venture. There is a link on our congregation's website to Mission Central, so you can go and check it out for yourself.
Mission Central has no paid staff. Everybody is a volunteer. But through their work, they are actively supporting over 30 world missionaries. Gary talks about those who support the missionaries, and those who have come to know Jesus as their Saviour through the efforts of these missionaries. He has many stories to tell, and he is one of the most engaging mission speakers that I have ever heard. He's definitely someone you would want to take the time to hear.
His deep love is the souls of people. His message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the foolishness of the cross. And he makes no bones about how important this message is; because without a personal faith in Jesus Christ, those people won't be in heaven when they die. That's hell that awaits them, plain and simple. So as Christians, we have a responsibility. Gary quotes Mark chapter 16, verses 15-16 where Jesus says: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
Those are our marching orders and the consequences connected with them. When our Saviour rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he was on his way to accomplish what was necessary for our salvation. Jesus did what was foolish in the eyes of the world, so that the world would be redeemed and saved. As foolish as the world is, God still does not want even one soul to die and be condemned. That takes a kind of love that only God can give. Jesus even died to pay for the sins of the atheist, even though they reject what he did on their behalf.
We know that all atheists are fools in God's eyes. That judge in my opening illustration was right; April Fools' Day is definitely their religious holiday. They have to basically deny all of the common sense evidence that there is a God, just so they can cling to the lie they have been telling themselves. They will have an eternity in hell because it was their choice to reject the foolishness of the cross of Jesus Christ. Can you think of anything more foolish than lying to yourself, and believing it?
In John chapter 18, verse 37, during a conversation with Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells him: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
When we listen to the truth, and we know it is the truth, it is anything but foolishness. Through faith alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour, we know that our sins are forgiven. The cross of Jesus is anything but foolishness. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have an eternal hope that is sure and certain.
And so we can shout with all the people on that first Palm Sunday, "Hosanna! Lord save us!" And in faith, we also hear and believe the promise Jesus made to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise." For us, the cross of Jesus Christ always means forgiveness, and never foolishness.