Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sermon: Matthew 21: 1-17 The Scripted Saviour

My acting career wasn’t very successful. I’ve no Oscars on the mantelpiece, but even I know the importance of getting your lines right. When I was in P6, our school put on a performance of Snow White. I was one of the seven dwarves - Drowsy. And there I was, with my rosy cheeks and my wee hat, doing the best sleep-acting you’ve ever seen. The whole night, I had two lines: ‘I’m tired,’ and ‘Is it time to go to sleep yet?’ Just two lines, but I got them right!

It was better than my other appearance. Our youth club put on A Christmas Carol one year. I was Tiny Tim (can you see a theme in my roles...) and the whole play led up to the moment when, with Scrooge a reformed character and celebrating Christmas with the Cratchet family, Tiny Tim would sing a solo. And, at that moment, I forgot the words. I thought I wouldn’t need them, and I got them all wrong. It didn’t work out too well.

I needed to get my lines right and follow the script, just as I had with my two lines in Snow White. As the events of Palm Sunday unfold, it’s clear that everyone is playing their part, and everything is following the script written beforehand. So whether it’s the donkeys, the palm branches, the turning of the tables or the children’s praises, none of it happens by accident; every part was written in advance. The script was there - in the scriptures.

So let’s have a look at the events of Palm Sunday, and see what they show us about Jesus.

In verses 1-3, we’re given the details of how two of the disciples go to get the donkey and colt. Jesus and his disciples are drawing near to Jerusalem, they’re almost there, and so the two disciples are sent ahead to get the donkeys. Now why did the Lord need them? It wasn’t just that he was tired, that this was like him hiring a taxi or a bike to get him into town.

The Lord needs them because the donkeys are included in the script. Look at verse 4: ‘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, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”’ The script in the scripture is from the opening verse of our Old Testament reading - Zechariah 9:9.

This pointed forward to the time when the humble king of Zion (Jerusalem) would come riding on (two) donkeys. And now Jesus is fulfilling the scripture - he is filling it full of meaning by acting it out. The promised king is here.

Jesus rides into town on the donkeys. And straight away, the crowd recognise who he is. The other week, we went for tea in Corick House, and as we came up to the front door, there was the red carpet rolled out. Not for us, of course, but because there was a wedding fair on that evening. They were showing how the happy couple would have a red carpet welcome. Well here, the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, (just like Sir Francis Drake laying his cloak down so that Queen Elizabeth didn’t have to step in a puddle); and some cut branches to lay them on the road.

They recognise that Jesus is important, that Jesus is the king. And they join in with their lines, in words written down in advance - words from our Psalm (118). Look at verse 9 - ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ That’s Ps 118:26. And the bit about ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’? That Ps 118:25 - Hosanna means ‘Save, Lord’ - a cry of praise and prayer.

The crowd recognise that Jesus is the coming King, so they shout out the script from the scriptures to welcome their king.

So Jesus makes it into the city. And then he goes to the temple. But he isn’t there as a tourist, just to have a wee look around, take a few photos and maybe buy a postcard. Jesus is there to cause a fuss, to disrupt what has been going on.

Can you picture the scene? ‘And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.’ Imagine the noise of the coins rattling on the ground, and the scramble to gather them up again. The hustle and bustle. Now why did Jesus do this? It’s not what we expect to hear Jesus doing!

St Matthew’s church in Richhill once served as the market house for the town, until the market closed, and it was turned into a church. A place of trade became a place of prayer. Well, the temple authorities had managed to do the complete opposite. Look at what Jesus says in verse 13: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”, but you make it a den of robbers.’ The temple authorities had made it a den of robbers - because you had to change your ordinary money to temple money (at a poor exchange rate) and you had to buy the pigeons and animals to sacrifice (at really high prices).

So Jesus follows the script as he quotes from Isaiah 56 to make the temple a place of prayer once more. The scriptures become the script for Jesus. The coming king cleanses the temple.

Now with space in the place, the blind and lame came to him, and he healed them. God is in his temple, and wonderful things are happening. The king has come, cleansed the temple, and is putting wrong things right. So how would you finish the sentence?

‘When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple... they’ ... (what)? They joined in the praising? They welcomed him with open arms? They were really happy?

Well, no. ‘They were indignant.’ Everyone else is happy, praising, shouting out for joy, and they have poker faces. They say to Jesus in verse 16: ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ The children have been crying out the same words the crowd were shouting earlier: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ The priests and scribes don’t like it.

And Jesus says that they too are following the script. ‘Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?”’ I can’t imagine that Jesus said this with a straight face. Do you see what he says to the top religious people in the land - ‘have you never read’ and then quotes a bit from the Bible!

The children are just fulfilling their lines in the script of scripture, from Psalm 8:2. Written down long before, was this promise that wee children would sing praise to the Lord Jesus. And now they’re doing it. Singing praise to the promised, coming king.

In this one scene, we have four Old Testament scriptures being fulfilled, as the script is followed. And, as we continue to read about Jesus, we discover that everything that happened in his life, his death, and his resurrection was promised in advance in the scriptures. That’s what we’re considering this week in our Holy Week series. Do come along each evening, and see how the Bible fits together.

For this morning, though, what will your response be? You see, Palm Sunday isn't just a drama we watch on stage. As Shakespeare wrote 'All the world's a stage.' We have to play our part, join in the drama.

In some ways, your only options are the same as my two stage performances. Your lines have already been written. Will you forget your lines, or deliberately move away from the script, and be indignant with the king, refusing to praise?

Or will you join in the chorus line, the repeated joyful response of the crowd and the children - ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ It’s a cry of rejoicing, because it’s a cry asking him to save us. The king has come, humble, in the name of the Lord, to cleanse and heal, and accept our praise because he is our Saviour on his way to the cross. Will you join in that cry today: Hosanna to the Son of David!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th April 2017

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