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Which crowd are you
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-17
Track 5 of 12 in the Being with Him means Looking Like Him series
Running time: 29 minutes, 37 seconds.
Palm Sunday

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, April 4, 2004
"Which Crowd Are You"
"Being With Him Means Looking Like Him"
(Matthew, 21:1-17 )
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

Sometimes I can't figure out who I am. Oh I don't mean I can't remember whether or not I'm supposed to be teaching or preaching, or parent or mentor. I mean sometimes I can't figure out who I am when I read my Bible. It seems like every time we sit down with the Scripture and we begin to read, we assume some kind of a posture, an approach to the text. We read it from a certain perspective.

If we're listening, for example, to a story in the life of Jesus where he tells a parable, often we identify with somebody in the parable or, more often than not, we sit over on the sidelines and we listen to the story as if we're some kind of an innocent bystander.

I come to Matthew 21. This great text about the triumphful entry, Palm Sunday, its original version. And I find myself wandering, who am I in this text? With which particular set of characters might I identify? Would I be among the crowds, the teachers of the law, the children, the disciples? Am I sitting over on a rock someplace on the side of the road, just kind of watching all of this unfold in front of me making no particular attempt to identify with anyone in this text? Who in the world am I when I come at this particular piece of Scripture?

Let's read it together starting in verse 1 of Matthew 21.

Matthew 21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

"Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,'"

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!"

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"

The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.

"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him.

"Yes," replied Jesus, 'have you never read,

"'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

I find myself asking, who am I? Which one of these folks do I most closely identify with in this particular text.? Am I the pragmatist - If it works, then leave it alone. They are in this text you know because it was a very practical matter to be a money changer. It was a needed commodity in that setting. This is, after all, one of the major feasts. Jerusalem grows by 50 to 150,000 guests coming into the temple grounds. All of them having journeyed some enormous distance to get there.

You know the rules, if you come to the temple with an offering, the offering has to be a perfect offering. Can you imagine trying to cart a perfect sheep two or three hundred miles by foot and get them there in good shape? If you came from another part of the country your coinage would not work. It has to be the temple coin. It has to be the right coin. So it only makes sense that, well, that you would have people there doing money changing, selling appropriately perfect animals for the temple. It was just a very practical, kind of pragmatic experience. It's the sort of thing that you would just assume had to happen.

If you've ever traveled, the very first thing you do when you get off the plane in a foreign country is you go straight to the ATM, plug in your nice American pin number and out comes foreign currency. It's the best place to get the best exchange rate, but you have to do it if you expect to spend any money. If you want to buy something, you have to have the coinage of the area.

And so you've got these people sitting in this temple ground, making it possible for people to do what they came to do. There's really a good reason for them to be here, never mind of course that what happens as a result is that it prevents people from coming in to God's presence.

The temple was divided into a number of different sections. Certain people go into certain places. And only the elite got into the temple grounds itself, but there were courtyards for the women and courtyards for the gentiles. It was in this courtyard for the gentiles that the money changers had set up their wares. In fact this text that Jesus quotes from Isaiah says literally, you have taken over this place that is supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations and turned it into a den of thieves.

By the way, it's not about whether or not they were selling something in temple grounds. This isn't why we can't have a sale in the foyer. This is about not making room for people in the kingdom. This is about having a space that belongs to those who were not part of the people of God to be able to find their way into the presence of God. To be able to have a location where they could come and actually identify themselves in God's presence. And, out of just practical expression for the need for those faithful Jewish people to have a place to go get their animals and get their coins exchanged, that which was for the outsider, the gentile, had been eliminated. There was not room for it. They weren't needed there anyway. I mean, after all, they weren't welcome. It's hard to imagine that people who are serious about a relationship with God, who have desired to open up the presence of God to the world around them would ever put themselves in a position of actually stopping people from coming.

I remember when I first began to date my wife. I would go to her church on Sunday's once in awhile and they had Sunday evening services back in those days. Sunday evening service started at eight o'clock at night. I found that a little odd to be quite so late at night. Back in those days, Sunday night service served a very particular purpose, and the particular purpose of a Sunday night service was, that was when you brought your lost friends to church. Sunday morning was for church people and Sunday night was this kind of evangelistic outreach. Now, I kept wondering how in the world you could get anybody to come to church at eight o'clock at night. And what they discovered was, you can't. People are home putting their kids to bed. So I tried to do a little investigation. Why do you have church at eight o'clock at night? Seems like a strange hour of the day. Well, that's the non-farmer in me. This was farm folk, specifically, dairy farm folk. And if you know anything about dairy farms, there's a certain thing that happens the first thing in the morning and a certain thing that happens late in the afternoon -- ya gotta milk the cows! By the time these dairy farmers had gotten around to doing the afternoon/evening milking, about eight o'clock was the soonest they could get to church. So it was very practical reasoning to have church at eight o'clock. It's just that, quite frankly, they had, since those days, gone to the automated milkers. No more of that hand stuff. And frankly, there were only about three people in the whole church that still milked cows.

But we had church at eight o'clock because that was the practical thing to do rather than the THING to do to bring people to know Jesus.

I think in contrast to the church that I visited in downtown Prague, I was there on a Sunday morning. I don't happen to speak Czech, but that was not a problem because in that particular urban setting, that downtown church, it didn't matter whether you spoke Czech or German or English or Chinese, because the language that was spoken in the pulpit was translated into six different languages for anybody who wanted to come and hear.

Do you see the difference? One says, church is for us. The other one says church is intended to be for the court of the gentiles. We don't want to take away the place where people have an opportunity to come and hear a word about God.

So I find myself asking if I'm like those rather pragmatic people who like things practically the way they are because they happen to work for me? And do I ever ask,

"Is what's convenient for me keeping other people from the Kingdom?" I find myself asking, when I look at this text, "Who am I?"

Am I the participant - if others are willing, then so will I. You saw them early in the text. It's just a mob of people headed into Jerusalem. It's time for the feast to begin and people are traveling toward Jerusalem and all of a sudden, coming in the midst of this crowd, there is this one riding on the foal of a donkey that you and I know by name. We know that, that's a prophesy from Zachariah 9. We know that's about him being the King. But all of a sudden as the voices begin to swell, they want to know, who's this? Oh, that's Jesus and he's coming in and pretty soon the whole crowd is crying out Hosanna to the King "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" And you can just imagine can't you as the sound begins to swell, pretty soon other people get drawn in and then some ahead of them are saying it and some behind them are saying it. In fact, if you pay attention to the text, the next thing you know is the children in the temple grounds are crying it out. You can just see them imitating the crowd. It's pretty easy to be caught in the allure of the popular. To be able to speak when everybody else is speaking. Right? If the whole crowd is excited about Jesus, if everybody is shouting Hosanna to the King, it's not hard to say, Hosanna to the King.

But what if nobody is speaking? Apparently, I didn't know this, as a personal experience, but apparently down in Orlando, near Disney World, there is a City of Jerusalem mockup. I was unaware of this. I guess you can actually go into this area and you can actually see a mockup of the temple grounds itself and somebody will be there to explain to you, all of the different features of Jerusalem and tell you the story of, well, the triumphful entry, for example, or the last week of Christ.

One of my students, an adult student, was standing there the other night talking and saying . . . .. You know, she was there watching this presentation and this fella had so clearly explained the Gospel of Jesus, right out here in front of everybody and she said, when he got all done talking everything was absolutely silent. Nobody said anything. She said, Ya know, I thought somebody should say Amen! Or Thank You Jesus! Or, Praise the Lord! Or, clap or do something that acknowledged that the Gospel had just been preached our here in the public square. But, she said, I was just like everybody else standing there watching in absolute silence.

It's easy to join in the crowd and to shout when everybody else is doing it. And this crowd shouts Hosanna. Never mind that in just the matter of a few days they will be absolutely silent while another crowd shouts Crucify Him!

That is the struggle isn't it? To speak when no one else is speaking. To stand when no one else is standing.

For a number of years we ask our students to write testimonies of some event in their life where they wrestled with an ethical dilemma. It didn't make any difference whether they won or lost. What we wanted to know was, how did you attempt to handle this particular ethical dilemma? We stopped doing it because, frankly, we got tired of reading some of the sorted junk that teenagers have so easily gotten themselves into. But, the story line was so familiar that I could tell it to you in my sleep. Raised in the church, always been a good person. Gotten along well with other people. Had a bunch of friends that weren't particularly Christian. Started hanging out, going places where maybe I shouldn't have gone, but always maintained my character, my integrity. But when you're the only one, after a little while you feel a little strange being the only one and so, you decide that you'll take a little drink. I mean every body else is. You follow the story down the path.

It's easy to cry out when everybody is crying out. It is really hard to stand up when everybody else is being silent.

And so I find myself asking, is that me? As long as we're in church I'm willing to talk Christian, be Christian. As long as I am in the assembly of saints gathered inside a building someplace clearly marked out, this is where church "stuff" happens, I can be Christian and sing and lift my hands or clap at the appropriate time and say the Christian things. But when I get out there where the church really exists in the every day world, out there where you live and work and breathe. Can I now stand up and be counted? Will my voice be as vocal there as it is in here? Or when the pressure comes, will I, like this crowd, go silent?

Who am I? Am I the antagonist? The one for whom if it's different, we're against it.? The priests and the teachers of the law in this particular text, who have become so accustomed to the way things are done in the temple, that it doesn't matter how much evidence you marshal in favor of something unusual happening today. They want just to tell those kids to be quiet. That's not how we do things in the temple ground. That's not how things happen here. It doesn't matter that he's done, like the text said, wonderful thing among us. In healing people, we have so little information here, except that this crowd has come wandering into this particular temple area and they have been shouting out Hosanna to the King. They have begun. . . . . . .the words of Jesus in a way that they are beginning to really understand who this man is. They want to say that. And, they're told, you can't say that here. Be silent. Shut those kids up. Never mind that we missed the whole point of what these people happen to be saying and shouting.

I confess to you that some days I wake up and I think maybe I have been Rip Van Winkle. You know, you woke up in a whole new world. You ever feel that way about the society you live in? You turn around and you think what ever happened to the common Christian consensus. What ever happened to the fact that we all kind of think alike?

We have a tradition among our American missionaries, you know. They go away for three or four years and then they come home for six months or a year, and then they leave and come back.

At one point, well, amusing is not nearly the right word. I remember one of our visiting missionaries who happened to have a home in Lincoln, IL. About every three or four years he'd come back. He'd spend six months to a year in the United States. A lot of that time he would guest lecture in classes on our campus. He might teach a course or two. We would always ask him to preach in chapel and I remember one particular chapel sermon where he got up and he absolutely lowered the boom. I mean if you could shoot a twelve gauge shotgun at us, he was shooting double barrels. Boy he was angry. What is the matter with you people? Whatever happened to you Christians? Why are you behaving the way you are? I mean he just berated us, up one side and down the other and I found myself sitting back there thinking to myself, he woke up in a whole new world. Things have changed in the last three or four years while he was gone and he's having a hard time making the adjustment.

I'm like that. I pretty well like things the way they are. I like knowing what time church is going to start, what we're gonna do when we walk through the door. I kinda like knowing whether I have a sheet of paper in front of me or not, what the order of service is. I like knowing how long the sermon is supposed to last, especially when I'm preaching it. I like believing that the way that you do things in 2004 is the way we did things in 1974, except they're not. And I confess to you my own inherent struggle at wondering. Can I adapt to things that are different?

A lady in a church not far from Lincoln was listening to the teenagers in her church, and they were extremely critical. Did not have much good to say about the congregation and it bothered her. So she decided to do a little experiment. This is not fair. She decided over the next several weeks that she would just kind of "hang around" after church and listen to people. You know what she discovered? The teenagers were only repeating what they heard their parents saying. She decided, just for herself, no imposition on anybody else, she just decided that she would make the first thing that she said, as soon as the service was over, she would turn to somebody and say, "wasn't that a good sermon" or song or service. "Did you not.. . ." She was gonna find. . . . . . "sometimes I have to really work at it," she said "but, I find at least one positive thing to say to somebody, so that the first thing out of my mouth is a positive response."

Are you like me? I mean, I really hope not. I was sitting in Chapel Wednesday. Now I confess. I'm spoiled by the kind of worship that we do here. I was sitting next to my son-in-law. I was waiting for one of my favorite preachers to preach and we were in that portion of our worship where we were singing. . . . .slowly. I started to lean over to Frank and say, "somebody needs to give Barry some caffeine". And I thought, ya know, I don't know if he's enjoying this worship or not. But if I make that comment, I guarantee that he won't be enjoying this worship any more. And I decided that I was just going to bite my tongue and not enjoy it. . . . . by myself.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had so conditioned themselves to the way things were, that they had turned their tradition into truth, and could no longer hear the voice of children, crying "Hosanna" to the King.

Whom am I? Am I the believer who realizes that if Jesus is King, then my response is to worship Him. It is the power of this passage, by the way. The power of this passage is to point us at this particular moment in the time of Jesus life to recall those texts of Scripture from the Old Testament that highlight that He is, in fact, the Messiah. He is the King, the Son of David. Hosanna to the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Only the King rode in on the back of a donkey. They knew that. And so they began to put their coats on the ground and cut the palm branches and lay them out because they were going to honor the King. They were gonna do whatever they had to do to bring praise to the Father.

And I see the marks in this text of those who understand that if Jesus is King, they will worship Him, whether it's through obedience. . . . .Jesus says, Go in to town and find the donkey . . . . . and they do it. Maybe it's through their trust in the Scripture. Jesus says this is about what Isaiah says. This is about Zachariah's promise. This is Psalm 118 being lived out in front of you and they believed that text to be true. Maybe it's about just simple proclamation. That they are going to shout with the children -- Hosanna.

You know, Luke adds this interesting remark that Matthew leaves out. You remember what Luke says about this. If the children don't cry out, then the rocks will. Mercy Me has a song that says, "Ain't No Rock Gonna Cry in My Place".

That's what a believer says, there ain't no rock gonna take my place when it comes to praising God.

If Jesus is King, then we're his subjects. That means doing things His way. This isn't about. . . . does it work? This isn't about. . . .do I like it? This isn't about. . . .who else is doing it? This is not about. . . . . have we ever done it this way before? This is about seeing what God calls us to see. . . .that Jesus is His Son. . .and that we're to worship Him. That we're to be subject to Him.

Who am I? The innocent bystander who looks at this text at a glance and says, well, I'm none of those people. I'm just me and frankly, this is just interesting stuff you do on Palm Sunday every year.

That's what a believer says, there ain't no rock gonna take my place when it comes to praising God.

If Jesus is King, then we're his subjects. That means doing things His way. This isn't about. . . . does it work? This isn't about. . . .do I like it? This isn't about. . . .who else is doing it? This is not about. . . . . have we ever done it this way before? This is about seeing what God calls us to see. . . .that Jesus is His Son. . .and that we're to worship Him. That we're to be subject to Him.

Who am I? The innocent bystander who looks at this text at a glance and says, well, I'm none of those people. I'm just me and frankly, this is just interesting stuff you do on Palm Sunday every year.

Who am I? Am I the Pharisee?. . The scribe. . . .The teacher of the law. . .who says I don't care what it takes. This is the way we've always done it. I like it this way. Am I the money changer who says, I don't care if we crowd out everybody, as long as we have things the way we need them for us. You know who I want to be in this text? I just want to be the children, who in their innocense cry out, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

Like little children, we just simply acknowledge who He is. We do what He says. We offer Him our praise. We don't care whether anybody likes it or not. We're not deterred by whether the kid down the street thinks this is a good idea or not. This is what we want to do so we do it.

We're inviting you to a triumphful entry. The entry of the King, not into Jerusalem, but into your life, where you stand and shout. Welcome! Come on in.

Let's stand together.