Sermon Series: Things that make a Difference
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem also marks the beginning of the end of Jesus’ public ministry. The day that the church and all Christendom has set aside and calls Palm Sunday is the day that begins the count down for our Lord and savior to meet his earthly destiny and fulfill the divine will and purpose of God, our heavenly Father, who sent Him.
Even though Jesus’ life on earth was coming to a close His ministry was not diminished by the thought or the reality of His impending death. In fact, it appears from the pages of scripture that Jesus saved the best for last. This is encouraging for those who have been called by God and labor in ministry. As we take a glimpse of the final days of Jesus on earth, we are able to see that for all of the thanklessness we may endure in the early stages of ministry, as we continue to labor for the Lord we will discover that the quality of the work we do in our latter days will far surpass anything we did in our former days.
Jesus was headed toward His death, but He still lived His life with a sense of purpose. It seems that the closer we get to God a change will come over us. We will become bolder, but not boastful. We will become confident, but not cocky. As I reflect on the final days of Jesus here on earth I am reminded that death is not to be feared, but life is to be lived and for as long as we live, we are to live our lives to the glory of God.
As Jesus was on His way to Calvary He passed through a little village named Bethany. As the presence of Christ got closer to and deeper inside the little village a series of events occurred that made a profound impact on both the people of the village and the village itself. So as we open Marks gospel to the 11th chapter beginning at the first verse let us retrace the footsteps of Jesus and see what really happened at Bethany.
As Jesus and His disciples approached the village of Bethany, Jesus said to two of His disciples “Go to the village ahead of you and you will find.” There are many things that people consider to be a colossal waste of time. Meetings that drone on and on are a waste of time. Being subjected to listening to pedantic speakers who are more interested in hearing themselves than communicating information is a waste of time. Having to scroll through a series of automated options to reach a live person only to find out that the office is closed and no one is available is a colossal waste of time.
However, one of the best uses of our time is listening to the words of Jesus. Jesus is like E.F. Hutton when He speaks everyone listens. One of the reasons for this is that Jesus speaks with authority. The authority of Jesus’ words empowers His listeners. “Go and you will find.” Jesus understands the need for timeliness and therefore His words are timely. Many people struggle with knowing when is the right time to act or to speak we should do so when Jesus says so. Jesus understands the need for direction and therefore His words provide the direction we so often lack. They answer the what, and how questions of life. Jesus also understands the human need for fulfillment and therefore His words bring fulfillment. Everyone at one time or another looks for and pursues things they want, but Jesus knows what we need is what will truly fulfill us.
Jesus said simply, “Go and you will find.” In these few words Jesus taught both His disciples then and us today that when we listen to and apply (put into practice) what Jesus tells us to do in the moment we find that there will always be added benefits. The disciples went out with nothing, but they came back with something. They went out scared and afraid, but came back confident and empowered. When they did what Jesus told them to do they noticed that when they spoke to others using the words of Jesus people listened and responded. One of the most empowering feelings in the world is to know that when you speak to others they will hear you and be responsive to you.
Jesus then proceeds to further instruct His disciples to untie the colt and bring it to Him. The colt was tied up and no one was using it. There are many things that can tie people up. Fear ties us up. Anger ties us up. Resentments tie us up. Living in the past can tie us up. Guilt can tie us up. Unforgiveness and bitterness can tie us up. As long as a person is tied up they will never discover their purpose. The colt was meant to be ridden, and you and I were created to achieve and accomplish, and we cannot do it if we are tied up. Look at the things God has placed in our hearts to accomplish and then let us ask ourselves why have we not accomplished these things? Anything short of sickness or death is an excuse.
Another point to consider is that As long as a person is tied up they will never be able to fully experience the person, presence, and power of Christ. Jesus instructed the disciples to bring the colt to Him so that He could give its life meaning and purpose. Before Jesus could send His disciples out to liberate the colt they first had to be liberated. Jesus frees His followers first so He can use them to liberate others. How do we liberate others? We liberate others by bringing and introducing them to Jesus. Notice that Jesus did not spend time trying to calm the disciple’s anxieties about going to a strange place, engaging people they did not know, and doing something they were uncomfortable doing. If Jesus had done this they would have resisted, because we never want to do anything we have never done before or that makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead He simply told them to do what I tell you to do and do not think about it. If you do what I tell you to do you will become free and the one you are going to will also become free. Jesus challenged the faith of His disciples. Faith by definition is living what you believe. The Christian faith is more than an intellectual exercise it is living and believing in the power of God through Jesus Christ. Faith then demands that we believe the power of Christ will overcome all obstacles to executing and fulfilling whatever Jesus instructs you and I to do. We cannot live something we do not believe and we cannot believe something we are afraid to live. A living faith is a liberating faith.
After the disciples had liberated the colt they brought it to Jesus and He mounted it and proceeded to enter the village. As Jesus entered the village the people shouted “Hosanna!” Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” The shouts of the people were in response to the recognition, in part, of who Jesus is. No one on this side of heaven will ever fully know and experience Jesus. But, when the presence of Jesus enters a room, that room is transformed. When the presence of Jesus enters a home that home is transformed. When the presence of Jesus enters any space occupied by people that space is transformed because the presence of Jesus is a transforming presence. These were a dejected, oppressed, and despondent people. As they fixed their eyes on Jesus something happened in that little village. They began to feel different and their spirits picked up as they realized that hope in the person of Jesus Christ had entered their little village. When the realization that hope in the person of Jesus Christ has entered out lives, homes, marriages, present and future it will always produce celebration. Although these people did not fully know or understand who Jesus was, they saw in Him the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel, to overthrow the shackles of Roman oppression and to once again establish Israel as the crown jewel of God.
Think about this what are the things that really excite us? For some it is curling up with a good book, for others it might be a good show or a play, and still for others it might a sporting event. Some people go crazy shopping and spending money. Regardless what it is that excites us, there is something that moves each of us to the point of visibly and audibly expressing our joy and excitement. One of the questions this text raises is, what do we see when we look at Jesus? Does the reality of Jesus excite us? When was the last time we celebrated or got excited about Jesus? In Luke’s gospel regarding this narrative, he records that some of the Pharisees encouraged Jesus to tell the people to knock it off, that it did not require all of that. Jesus responded by saying, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” I wonder what a stone with vocal chords would sound like? While do not know what a stone with vocal chords would sound like, here is what I do know that I am not going to let a rock steal my praise. If I can get excited over people who will at times disappoint me, things that will over time fail me or cease to move me, then surely I can visibly and audibly celebrate and get excited whenever I sense the presence of Jesus entering any space that I am in. The presence of Jesus is reason enough to celebrate.
As Jesus was leaving the little village, He was hungry and He saw a fig tree in the distance. He decided to see if the tree had any fruit and when it did not He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Jesus continued on His journey and entered the place of worship He saw what was going on and began to overturn the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling…and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. He said, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
In the final two scenes as Jesus is leaving Bethany and enters Jerusalem we see Jesus bringing about correction. Isn’t it interesting that he saves correction for last. Many commentators believe that these two acts and especially the last act sealed His fate because He upset the status quo. Jesus brought change to people who were not interested in change. If all people make mistakes, why is there so much resistance to correction? My grandmother used to say that the propensity to make mistakes is the reason they put erasers on pencils. Whenever Jesus offers correction it is always in love. If a driver is going off course and one of the passengers in the car realizes that the driver has gone off course, wouldn’t it be prudent thing to offer correction rather than watch the driver continue to go off course?
What about a person, relationship, or a church that is veering off course wouldn’t it be equally prudent to offer correction to save that person, relationship, or church? Doesn’t God care more for people than He does about things? Correction brings us closer to God while veering off course takes us farther away from God. Correction is designed to put us back on the right track. Correction is what loving parents give to their children. Godly correction sets right that which is going wrong.
What happened at Bethany?
1. JESUS SPOKE AND THE DISCIPLES PUT INTO PRACTICE WHAT HE SAID AND THEY BECAME EMPOWERED – they went out scared, anxious, and unsure but they came back confident and fulfilled
2. THOSE WHO WERE TIED UP BECAME FREE – the empowered disciples put their faith in Jesus used what He gave them and became instruments of liberation for others
3. THE PRESENCE OF JESUS TRANSFORMED THE ATMOSPHERE FROM DEJECTION TO CELEBRATION – the recognition in part of who Jesus is infused a dejected and despondent people with hope and joy for the present and the future
4. LOVING CORRECTION WAS PROVIDED TO A CHURCH AND A PEOPLE THAT HAD GONE OFF COURSE – the fig tree was enjoying the benefits of life without giving anything back and the lust for power and selfishness led to abusive practices within the house of God
The events that occurred in a little village called Bethany over 2000 years ago changed not only that village but also all of the people who encountered Jesus on that day. We have been examining and talking about things that make a difference and clearly the one thing that will make the most profound difference in any person’s life is the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus in the life of any person will make a life changing difference and it will also make an eternal difference. Without Jesus the village and its people were hopeless, dejected and despondent, but the moment Jesus approached and the deeper He went into the village and the lives of the people they realized the hope of their salvation had come and they celebrated His arrival in their midst.