Waiting For Something to Happen (Introduction)
I remember spending the night in Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for a flight home to Belfast, there was nothing open. As I walked around, I scanned to find a spot where I could pitch my tent (not literally) for the night ahead. Finally, I found five seats offside. I rolled the suitcase up, shuffled into a position, and started to settle down for the night. I was knackered, as I had been travelling home from Tanzania and had not slept in 20 odd hours. There as I sat, no matter what position I tried, I couldn’t get over. Thus, I eventually gave up on sleep and decided I would see the night out, that I would wait there. “It is only 12 hours to the flight.” I thought to myself. That 12 hours seemed to drag more than anything other time I had ‘waited.’ I could almost hear the ticking clock in my ear. After six hours or so, and a few vaguely watched Netflix series, I could see someone approaching my campsite! I was almost excited by the prospect of a neighbour…. “Do you mind if I take those seats beside you son?” I nodded, he made himself comfortable, and we waited. Starting at the blank ceiling, watching the cleaners work, checking my watch, trying to focus on more Netflix. It was an endless cycle of waiting. All I wanted to see was my gate appear on a screen!
These last few weeks have felt like an eternal night in Heathrow Terminal 5, where it’s hard to tell what day it is, never even mind what time it. We are all just sitting about waiting for something to come, or to end. We do not have a time scale, a deadline or something to look too. We are just waiting. As I was sitting think around Palm Sunday, I found myself asking “What hope does Palm Sunday offer us amid all this waiting?” This is a Palm Sunday like no other, as most churches in the UK and Ireland are scattered, and at home. However, I think there is something in the timing of all this, that we find ourselves facing this situation, at the same time, the Church thinks about and journey to the Cross. Today for the first time, afresh or anew we must look to Jesus, and what we see is that he is one who knows the pain of waiting, and in his waiting proves to us that he is worth waiting for and with. The question is:
Do you see him?
Context of the Passage
Palm Sunday is so much more than waving Palm leaves are doing some arts and crafts in the build-up to Easter. It is a pivotal moment in the Gospel story. Here, in Matthew, it marks a sudden shift in the tone of the Gospel and the ministry fo Jesus. Things become more urgent, more necessary to form this point. We are in the shadow of the Cross, seven chapters from the Crucifixion of Jesus, and eight chapters from the end of Matthews Gospel – the Great Commission.
Preceding our passage is the third (out of four) of Jesus’s predictions of his ultimate display of Glory and greatness – his CrucifixionCrucifixion. A reminder to us that true greatness is not seen through the lens of the world, but in ways could not understand. Chapter 20 has a fantastic flow, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard to hammer home his judgment on the worldly view of greatness. In that parable, he reminds us that before the eyes of God, it is not about what we have done, or what we will do in terms of performance, productivity, or power. It is simply how we relate to the Father. Then having predicted his own death, two of his disciples display that they still do see him clearly, as their mum appears on the scene and asks for first dibs for her two boys. Jesus foretells them what is to come, and while then they do not get it… they soon will. The inditement is that while they have been with, they have yet to truly see him: They could not see him… Do you?
Open Our Eyes Lord
Today we are being reminded that there is one worth waiting for! Moreover, there is one who understands all that we are experiencing while we wait. This passage shows us that. As we take a few points from Matthew 21:1-11, My prayer is that by the end of it, the Lord will have opened the eyes of our heart to see Jesus clearly. That during pain, worry, and stress you would know in Him, we have one in whom we can depend, trust, and look too.
Matthew 21:1-11 (NIV)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
1 – See That You Can Trust Him (1-4)
In 2016 when I was in Kenya, I was able to spend a few days by myself exploring Nairobi. It was a surreal experience, mainly because I was in a city I had only briefly passed through. Still, I liked the idea of exploring and pretending to be cultured. When there I decided I would use an Uber to get about… I ordered one via the app, then after a few minutes, my driver and his car pulled around the corner and stopped beside me. I looked at him, and then looked at the car and said: “no, sorry I will just walk.” In all my years travelling and exploring, I do not think I have ever seen a car in a worse state. It had more dents and scratches than a bit of tinfoil scrunched up; the tyres were balder than me and watching the car break was like watching someone trying to stop on an ice rink for on their first attempt at ice-skating. I could see the car clearly, and knew not to trust it.
It has been planned all along
Today’s passage begins in a rather strange way: Jesus (about a mile east of Jerusalem – Bethpage) seemingly instructing the disciples to go and ‘borrow’ donkey for him to ride it into Jerusalem, then giving them a clause to get out of any confrontation. Why? Verse three tells us, and verse 4&5 help explain it. Firstly, in verse three Jesus plainly refers to himself as ‘The Lord.‘ He is stating that He is God. A reminder (that the disciples did not heed) that this is God, The Lord at work. Secondly, verse four and five builds on that theme: they remind us that all that has happened and is about to happen has been prophesied and set in place by God. It is a declaration that the final act of God’s Salvation plan is about to begin:
‘This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying’
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”
The prophet being quoted here is Zechariah, and the words are taken from Chapter 9:9. The lesson should be simple, the disciples should be starting to see that they are playing their part in something their society has been waiting for – the coming of their Messiah. The should see, but they do not. They were raised in the Jewish tradition, they would have known the prophecies foretold, and yet they still could not see Jesus for who he was. Can you see him? Can you see now that Jesus is not some nutter pretending to be God, or seeking to build his own little army, and kingdom? No, he is one whom we can trust. Why? Because these are not the acts of a madman, they are the acts of God! Part of a plan that has been set in motion since before the foundation of the earth. That which has been prophesied is about to be fulfilled! Can you see it? With a rusty old Taxi in Nairobi, the signs told me not to trust it; today, the signs are are clear, and the question is: Do you see him as the one you can trust?
” Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mind to fear but to obey,
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfil Thy purposes through me.”
― Amy Carmichael
2 – See One Who is Willing and Relates (6-9)
See That The Road of True Greatness in one Not Walked
With our current cultural obsession with superhero’s (fused by Marvel & DC), we have notions of what a true hero should be; even those with issues at some level are men and women that you would want to follow in life. They did not choose the path, but they took up the mantel to defend all that is good…., so the story goes. They are the unwilling hero. The narrative of Palm Sunday and God’s redemptive plan is different; Jesus Christ willingly chooses to walk the road to the Cross. A path that he had been walking for 30 odd years on earth, and a route of which today – Palm Sunday – marked the beginning of the final descent, and still most difficult. Yet Jesus willingly walked it, not for his own sake, but for you and me. He chose to take the path that no one else could, for the benefit of everyone but himself. This is why it was the path of true greatness. This was not some attempt to assault the throne of Rome or to incite governmental change with the promise of a new era of human rights and economic success. No, this was a man riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not towards an earthly throne but to be nailed to a rugged cross. Yet, he willingly did so. Do you see in his willingness one in whom you can trust? Do you see in his willingness true greatness: Not because he seized power, but because his motive was for the other and not himself. Do you know the gift of grace he makes available for all who come to God in repentance and need? He is one who we can trust because he needs nothing from us and gives everything to us. Do you see him as the one you can trust?
“” “It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and it was his love for sinners like me.” ― D.A. Carson
See One Who Relates and Understands
Experience makes all the difference. In pastoral ministry I am going to struggle to relate to someone who is going through something I have not experienced, but, if I was to go through something similar – then my experience aids my ministry. The root of the compassion as a word is joining: Where passion is to suffer (Think the passion of Christ) Compassion then is co-suffering. To have compassion is to join someone in what they are going through. Our passage today reminds us of the reason we can trust Jesus during every season of life.
Today, we are amid a global pandemic, the world has come to a standstill, EasyJet has grounded its entire fleet, international borders are shut, we are fearful of going out of our house, and church attendance has moved online. Can Jesus really understand all the emotions that we are experiencing around this? They worry that we feel right now for those we know to be at risk, or working in high-risk roles, the fear of what is ahead, the anxiety that every day brings? Yes, he can. So much of how Christ can relate can be seen in this narrative and the passages that surround it:
- Worry About Loved Ones: Just previous to the Triumphant entry in John 12, Jesus went to his friend Lazarus and raised him from the dead. In that passage, we see the depth of Jesus compassion, as he wept bitterly over his friend, and comforted two people he loved – Mary and Martha. Jesus understands our worries for those we love at this time. Do you see it?
- Anxiety Over Life: What about how we are feeling now, what about that worry, stress, and anxiety that seems to define our every breath. We are in a preputial state of concern, and the weight of it can feel like too much. Can the Son of God, who has the power and authority of heaven within him really relate to what we are feeling in this pandemic? Yes! Think about just a few chapters later in Matthew 26. When alone in prayer with the Father late into the night Jesus is described by Matthew as ‘grieved and distressed’ (26:37.) Or, the imagery Luke employs for the same narrative: ‘And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ (Luke 22:44). These are the images of a man who knows that weight of anxiety, and the pressure of death. He knew what he was about to face on the Cross, and although he was willing, it did not make it easy for him. He was anxious, distressed and weary. He understands and has experienced all the emotions of life on earth! In him, we have one who understands all our fears over Covid-19 and whatever else we may be going through at this time. Do you see him as he reaches his hand out to you in compassion?
It might not be our first through, but even in today’s passage, we see one who understands our fears and stress. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem surrounded by his followers, he knew what was ahead, he knew that in less than a week, he would hang on a tree. Imagine how hollow the claps and cheers of the crowd would have felt to him as he moved up the road to the Holy City. Imagine how isolated, or socially distant Jesus would have felt on the back of that donkey with every trot. The distress that he must have felt, the anxiety, all increasing with every step, that as the crowd cheered and screamed louder, they seemed more distant to him knowing all that was ahead. Jesus did not come from the adulation of a crowd, he came for the curse of The Cross. Willingly, for you and me – Do you see him?
“The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
3 – Seeing Him Clearly (10-11)
Jesus demands a reaction. There is no middle ground when it comes to seeing him. We understand that in today’s passage, and we must recognise ourselves as well. As Jesus enters the city, it is evident that he has been noticed, verse 10 described Jesus as entering the city and the crowd being stirred up (NIV, ESV). It is essential to be clear at this point, this is not a positive reaction to Jesus. The Christian Standard Bible describes Jerusalem as being in ‘uproar.’ JB Philips, in his paraphrase, puts it succinctly as: “a shock ran through the whole city.” The word translated as ‘stirred up’ (NIV) here is Seiō which can mean ‘to agitate, stir up, with fear or some other emotion.’ The same word is used to describe the earth-shaking when Jesus is on the Cross (Matthew 27:511) and the fear of the guards at the appearing of an Angel of the Lord (Mathew 28:42). This is Jesus, he who demands a reaction, so today we must ask ourselves as we gaze upon him how do we see him? There are only two choices:
- to see Him as he claimed to be – Lord and Saviour.
- To see Him as a threat to who we are and what we want to be.
There is no middle ground here, Jesus does not offer us that choice. Here the religious establishment begins to fear that Jesus will steal their power and influence (hence they sought to have him crucified). They could see him, but as he truly was, only as a threat to their little kingdoms. The crowd declare him to be ‘a prophet’ in verse 11 which may reflect their limited understand and inadequate view of the Lordship of Jesus. He was functioning in the role of a Prophet, but Matthew writes for us to see him as so much more than. The challenge then is for us to consider: Do we truly see him? If we do, then we must recognise him, come to him and trust him in these strange times. Today it is my prayer that you truly see him in all his splendour and beauty and that as you gaze upon him, people begin to see him in you.
“At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!”
― Isaac Watts, in the hymn “At the Cross.”
Conclusion: See Him, Trust Him, Known Him
The Will See Him Soon
In Matthew 20, we are presented with two different groups who see Jesus. One has listened to him teach, seen him perform miracles, and years following him… Yet, at that point, they have still to truly see him. Yes, their eyes can perceive him, but their heart has yet to truly see him as Lord. They still see him as they want to see him, as beneficial to them, through earthly lenses. It is a limited view. Hence their mum approaches and asks that they would benefit from him in a worldly way (Mat.t. 20:20-25). They viewed him as a saviour but through the lens of the sword, not the lens of the Cross. Even after Jesus has predicted his death, to help them see clearly that his kingdom will not be like anything they have known. Although they do not see there, soon they will (Matt 20:33). The rest of the disciples do not come off well here either as they react with indignation, not to the actions of the two brothers, but to the fact they were beaten in the run to power.
What True Sight Looks like
Yet, in all of this, there are two who although they cannot see anything in a physical sense, they can see Christ clearly. The two blind men who meet Jesus at the end of Jericho are the only people to see Jesus as he truly is, although they have no earthly sight they have a spiritual sight unseen in this whole narrative. A sign that recognises Jesus’s beauty, power, authority and Lordship. The blind men represent what it is to truly See. Even though they could not see him, then recognised him clearly: “Lord have mercy on us, Son of David!’ (MTh 20:30) as they fight the discouragement of the crowd to come to Jesus, and know him. Yes, he restores their sight, so in an earthly sense they see clearly. Thankfully it is so much more than that! How do we know they genuinely see Jesus? Because it bears fruit in their lives. It is not that they get healed, looked at Jesus and think – “Yep, he’s definitely God because now I can see!” and then they go on to try and forge a normal life. No, they see him truly and are capture by him, to see Jesus is to follow Jesus. To see Jesus is to give your life to him because you know there is nothing better. Thus, we are confident that they see him clearly as they following him because they know there is nothing else. My prayer this Palm Sunday is that for the first time, anew or again that you truly see Jesus for who he is. One worth following, one worth trusting, and one on whom we can depend on whatever we face. That as you see him, you are transformed by him and give your life to Him and his Cause. Read over, dwell on, and then perhaps pray the words of this wonderful prayer.
Prayer: Jesus My Glory
“O Lord God,
Thou has commanded me to believe in Jesus,
and I would flee to no other refuge,
was in no other fountain, build on no other foundation,
receive from no other fullness, rest in no other relief.
His water and blood were not severed in their flow at the Cross,
may they never be separated in my creed and experiences;
May I be equally convened of the guilt and pollution of sin,
feel my need of a prince and saviour,
implore of him repentance as well as forgiveness,
love holiness, and be pure in heart,
have the mind of Jesus, and tread in his steps.
Let me not be at my own disposal, but rejoice that I am under the care of one who is too wise to err, to kind to injure, to tender to crush.
May I scandalise none by my tempter and conduct, but recommend and endear Christ to all around me, bestow good on every one as circumstances permit, and decline no opportunity of usefulness.
Grant that I may value my substance, not as the medium of pride and luxury, but as the means of my support and stewardship.
Help me to guide my affections with discretion, to owe no man anything, to be able to give to him that needed, to feel it my duty and pleasure to be merciful and forgiving, to show the world the likeness of Jesus. “3
Today may you see Christ clearly as Lord and saviour. As one who you can trust and depend on, as one who can relate to all that is going on, and as our only hope. And as we see him, may we make him seen.