What Happened??? Mark 11:1-11; 15:6-15
If you are wondering why we are in Mark rather than Revelation, it is because we are pausing from our journey through Revelation to focus upon this Holy Week…upon the cross today and the resurrection next week…
Michael Vick. Star Quarterback arrested for Dog-Fighting. Barry Bonds. Seven-time Major League Baseball MVP jailed found guilty of Obstruction of Justice. Jeremy Mayfield. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Winner, banned indefinitely after testing positive for methamphetamine. These athletes and their fans at some point were probably left shaking their heads, asking “What happened?” As “hero’s” went very rapidly to “zero’s.”
From the choir’s singing this morning, moving from “The Triumphant Entrance Medley” to “Written in Red,” and from our Scripture reading this morning…we witnessed a Biblical “hero to zero” story that probably left many of Jesus’ followers standing around with their heads spinning in confusion, wondering “what happened?”
Our reader began this morning with a passage that read much like “the Triumphant Entrance Medley.” Jesus sends his disciples out to get a donkey that he would ride into Jerusalem. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people there lay their cloaks upon the ground an honor reserved for a king…they cut leafy branches, possibly palm branches, from the fields and lay them on the road as well…if they were palm branches, the symbolism would have connected to both the Fest of Tabernacles and Hanukkah…festivals celebrating the faithfulness of God to deliver His people. The people were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Many of their acclimations were words from Psalm 118, which, as our “24 Hours That Changed The World” study group can tell you, are part of the Passover liturgy. With this entry of Jesus, we see connections to three of the primary celebrations of the Hebrew people. There is no doubt that as Jesus rode into town, many, if not all, of those along the roadside, were expecting Jesus to be the promised Messiah. He would be the one that would destroy their oppressors, and lift Israel to its rightful place amongst the world know to them…they would be the city on a hill that would draw all eyes toward God. Jesus is seen as the “hero” that has come to set God’s people free from captivity…Jesus was to be the one to re-establish the throne of David in Jerusalem and reign as the fulfillment of the promise made to David, that one from His line would sit on the throne forever. Jesus is the hero…He is the one…Everyone along that road was excited…
Yet, by the time we move to the second Scripture read, Jesus seems to have become a “zero.” By the second part of our Scripture reading, Jesus is a prisoner in the hands of Pilate, the Roman prefect charged with overseeing and keeping peace within the region. In our reading this morning, Pilate, after having examined Jesus, and in a possible attempt to let Jesus go free, presents the crowds gathered before him, with the option to either free Jesus or free Barabbas, a man that had been found guilty of murder during an uprising against Rome. Here the people, many of whom had probably stood along the roadside as Jesus road in on the donkey, shouting their “Hosannas!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” had a chance to set free the one they had declared to be the Messiah. Yet, here, their chants changed…under the influence of the chief priests, they ask for the release of Barabbas. When Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, the one called ‘the King of the Jews,’ the people responded, “Crucify him!” Pilate tried again, “Why, what evil has he done?” But even louder than before, the people cried out, “Crucify him!”
From hero to zero…from ‘Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,’ to “Crucify him!’ What had happened? Why this change? It leaves us asking, “what happened?” It is obvious with those athletes what happened…they made bad choices…broke the law, broke the rules…and had punishment handed down…but what had Jesus done since entering Jerusalem being treated like royalty? How were the chief priests so easily able to sway the people to ask for his crucifixion rather than his release?
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus had confronted those in the temple who were taking advantage of God’s people…turning over the tables and chairs of the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals in the Temple courtyard…and driving them out. Jesus engaged the religious leaders in a variety of verbal challenges, always coming out on top. He even goes as far as to warn the people to watch out for some of the religious leaders, that they are simply taking advantage of the people. Jesus declared that the widow dropping her last two coins into the Temple treasury was giving more than all of those who put a small portion of their riches into the coffers. He foretells the persecution of his followers and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus tells those who follow Him, to be on the watch for the return of the Son of Man. Jesus shares the Passover meal with his followers, offers the first Communion meal with those gathered with Him, goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, is betrayed by Judas, arrested by the temple guards, and tried before the Sanhedrin…where the religious leaders are frustrated in their attempt to have folks offer false testimony against Jesus, but then condemn Jesus based on His own words. They then turned him over to Pilate to be tried as an insurrectionist…bringing us to the cries of “Crucify Him!”
Why this turn on Jesus? Why ask for Barabbas’ release and the crucifixion of the one they had just praised only days before? What had he done that was so horrible? It could be what he didn’t do. As I shared earlier, in their declarations of praise, the people declaring Jesus to be the Messiah coming out of the line of David, they expected Jesus to overthrow their enemies and set Israel at the top of world power…yet who had Jesus confronted since coming to Jerusalem? Not a single Roman guard or ruler…only the religious leaders who, from Jesus’ perspective, seemed to be oppressing God’s people instead of lifting them closer to God. He was not the “warrior king” they were waiting for…at least Barabbas had started a fight, and even killed a man, in an attempt to rise up against Rome. There are some scholars who suggest that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was not a true betrayal, but an attempt to force his friend to become the military leader that everyone expected…thinking if he forced Jesus’ hand, Jesus would have to act…but Jesus condemned Peter for drawing his sword at Gethsemane, and never took an offensive stance against Rome…in fact when questioned on taxes, told the people to pay their taxes…”Give to the emperor what belongs to emperor,” (not exactly what we want to hear this time of year). Could it be that the chief priests in that courtyard did not have too hard a time stirring up the people against Jesus, because He had failed to be what they had expected or wanted?
Do we see that happen today…almost two thousand years later? Do we see folks turn on Jesus? Are we the folks who turn on Jesus?
Do we turn on Jesus when He fails to live up to our expectations? Have we, in our prayers, treated Jesus as a “genie in a bottle,” asking for this or that, and when it did not happen decided to walk away from God? But preacher, “Jesus let me down. He said to ask, seek, and knock, and to ask in His name, and it would be given to us. I asked, I sought, I knocked, I persisted, and I prayed it all in His name, and I did not get what I wanted. It’s not like I was asking for the Carolina Panthers to win the Super Bowl. I was asking for a job promotion to be able to better care for my family; I was asking for healing for my mom who was struggling with a terminal illness; I was asking for protection for my friends as the massive storm rolled through. Those were good things. What happened…I didn’t get my job, in fact I was laid off, my mom passed, and my neighbors lost everything in that storm…I’m done with You.” Have there been times where we wanted to walk away from Jesus because what we wanted is not what happened…just like those who expected Jesus to act in a certain way in Jerusalem…because they were not seeking God’s will, but their own…because they could not see the greater picture, but only their little vision of what they wanted the future to look like…
Others of us understand…we understand that God, our Father, loves us, and when we ask for an egg, He will not give us a scorpion, when we ask for bread, He will not give us a rock. We understand that what we ask for may not always come to pass, but in seeking first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, we trust that God is going to give us exactly what we need. We try to live into His will, rather than have Him live into ours.
But are there other ways in which we shout “Blessed be the name” one day, and “crucify Him” the next. We are here in this last week of Lent…in the last days before the Easter celebration…we are concluding this season which is intentional in its efforts to ask us to examine our lives and determine where we fall short of God’s will…we need to examine to find out how we are blessing Jesus one moment, and crying out for his death the next.
Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing He was heading to the cross. Jesus knew that the enemy that needed to be defeated was not Rome, but was sin and death. Jesus knew that enemy oppressed God’s people far more than any emperor. The actions of the people attested to that…the money changers and animal sellers were proof of that…the religious leaders who sought to trap Him were proof of that…the disciples who hid, cowered in fear, and even lied about knowing Jesus were proof of that…those who bore false witness against Him were proof of that…Pilate’s willingness to have him crucified after finding no crime within Him was proof of that. People were trapped by sin and death, and Jesus went to the cross to overcome them, to free us from sin, to free us from death, and to free us from the punishment due to those who sinned. Jesus’ death on the cross, an innocent man put to death as a sinner, was the atonement for our sin…an act of God’s love written in Jesus’ red blood…as God Himself, gave Himself, as payment for our sin.
We know this…and yet we still shout “crucify Him!” We come here and sing and shout His praises on Sunday morning, and before the end of the week we cry “crucify Him!” We still proclaim the need for Jesus to go to the cross. How? “Preacher, I’ve never once cried out for Jesus to be crucified, I only praise His name!”
How many times do we call Jesus Savior, yet when times get tough, when we feel like we are at the end of our rope, we cry out to Winston, Jack Daniels, or Mary Jane to save us? With those actions, we cry “crucify Him.”
How often do we praise Jesus as Lord, yet say, I know Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but I’m getting even; or, I know Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me, but I can’t risk what I’ve saved up; or, I know that Jesus said, “the last will be first and the first will be last,” but I’m not getting my hands dirty serving those who ought to know better than to live the way they do…I’m not going anywhere near a prostitute, drug dealer, or con-man? With those actions, we cry “crucify Him.”
How often do we praise our Creator and God of all, “Yet curse, put down, or make jokes about those whose skin color or ethnic background is different from our own”? With those actions, we cry out, “crucify Him.”
When we gather for worship and sing praises to Jesus and then walk out of here continuing in our lives of sin, we are declaring the necessity of the cross…our actions are crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion. My friends, as we enter into this Holy Week, remembering the journey of Jesus to the cross, remembering how cries of praise turned to cries for death…let us reflect on how our voices join those cries…and come before God in humble repentance, ready to receive the grace and forgiveness that is there, waiting for us, at the cross…where there is no question of what happened…sin happened…then love happened!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.