ROAD SIGNS TO THE CROSS
By Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
April 14, 2019
TEXT: Matthew 21:1-11
(This sermon begins with a video the youth made: “On the Road with Jesus”.
The dialogue of the 2 reporters is given below.)
REPORTER: This is _______________, reporting to you on this Sunday, at the cluttered entranceway of Jerusalem, through which this Galilean, Jesus, past only hours ago. The clamor was deafening, as thousands of screaming, hysterical people accompanied Jesus through the gates -- only to be met by thousands more from inside the city. Chants of “Hosanna,” which means “save now,” could be heard over and over again as the man of Nazareth made his way along the jammed streets atop a donkey. Now we turn to ___________________, who is situated along the parade route inside Jerusalem. ________________________ ((Addresses CORRESPONDENT #1 by first name))
CORRESPONDENT #1: ___________________, ((REPORTER’S name)) as I look around me, all I see are the countless remnants of clothing thrown all over the street like so many discarded rags. Once beautiful palm and olive trees that line the city streets are now mutilated because many of the overzealous Jesus followers tore off branches to lay in the path of their professed new Messiah. Ironically, the palm branch, as we have learned, is a Jewish symbol of joy and victory
Pilate will soon hear about this. Now we know that Pilate’s track record for dealing with the Jews is not good. On one occasion, he disrepected the holy city of Jerusalem by hanging shields upon which were inscribed the names of the heathen gods, in his palace. He is also been accused of using money from the temple treasury to pay for the expenses of some Roman projects. On the other hand, rumor has it that Pilate is in jeopardy with Rome for his link to the brutal slaughter of several Jews some months ago. Therefore, Pilate must tread softly. He must try to please the Jews as well as his superiors in Rome. But for now I wonder how he is going to handle this situation. As he sees it, this is a religious dispute -- not a political one. But if it is not solved soon, watch out Caiphas, because Pilate will be coming for you. Back to you
______________________ ((CORRESPONDENT #4 first name))
CORRESPONDENT #4: Thank you __________________________ ((Addresses the REPORTER by first name)) We know that the Sanhedrin is the sacred body of chief priests and scribes whose duties are to preserve Jewish law and examine the credentials of those who give religious instruction. It is made up of rich men, mostly, who control the practices and the money of the Temple here in the Holy City. Caiaphas is the High Priest. It is no secret that he and his associates want to stop Jesus. But there is an underlying tone of fear. If Caiaphas refuses to acknowledge this Jesus as the so-called “Son of God,” he will alienate thousands of devout Jews who help support the Temple with their offerings. And that, too, could threaten his position. He has even told some of his colleagues -- and I quote – “It is better for us that one man die for the people than our whole nation perish.” Where is Jesus going to be next?___________________________ ((Addresses the REPORTER by first name))
REPORTER: Thank you again _____________. Tonight, Jesus will return to Bethany. Some say He may spend the night on the Mount of Olives and go to a garden called Gethsemane. Tomorrow morning, He plans to return to the capital here and go to the Temple. Many factors ensure that it should be a fascinating week ahead: … the jealousy among the religious leaders … the concerns of Pontius Pilate; … the angry nature of the high priest, Caiaphas; … the religious excitement of the common people; … the upcoming Passover celebration on Thursday; … the arguing among Jesus 12 closest friends; … and … the daring boldness of Jesus Himself. I only hope that it will be bloodless as well. This is _____________________, reporting from the holy city of Jerusalem -- on the road with Jesus.
We are traveling on the road with Jesus this Lent – looking for the road signs along the way to the cross. We are grateful for our youth joining us on the journey and sharing reports about Jesus as He made His way to the cross. Stay tuned for our reporters who next week on Easter, will tell us about that day of crucifixion and the joy of the empty tomb!
Last week, Pastor Greg told us about the road sign “Yield” and how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying “Not my will but Yours be done.” Jesus was tempted and could have chosen the path of self-preservation … but instead, and thankfully for us, He yielded, and chose the narrow path of suffering and sacrifice that would lead to salvation.
Today we take a step back, in the timeline of Holy Week, and look at Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus chose to follow the Road that Narrows all the way to the cross to pay the price for our redemption. Get your Bibles out and let’s read Matthew’s version of the story of that first Palm Sunday. But first look at Matthew 20:17. In going to Jerusalem – Jesus knew the road He was taking. Jesus tells his disciples, for the third time, what was going to happen: “Listen”, he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence Him to die. Then they will hand Him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip and crucified. But on the third day He will be raised from the dead.” Jesus set his focus on the cross, the road less traveled – a road that led to death…but also to resurrection. But the disciples still didn’t accept and believe what he meant. They still argued about who was the greatest among them. And then, as they arrived at the Mount of Olives, Jesus starts to make his descent into Jerusalem. Turn to Matthew, the 21st chapter and we are going to read the first 11 verses.
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” 4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!”
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered.
“Who is this?” they asked. 11 And the crowds replied,
“It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Our story begins with Jesus standing on the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem. Last week, Greg showed you this picture of the Mount of Olives, when he talked about the Garden of Gethsemane. At the top of the picture the Mount of Olives, which rises over 2,700 feet high stretching from north to south on the east side of Jerusalem. 1 As Jesus stood there at the top of the Mount of Olives, He was able to get a great view of the city of Jerusalem. In Luke’s version of Palm Sunday, we read that as Jesus started down the Mount of Olives and got closer to Jerusalem, He looked at the city and started to cry (Luke 19:41) And so wanted to have peace in Jerusalem but there was none – and He longed to gather the people like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. And so as all around Him, people were rejoicing, Jesus was weeping - tears of heartache and sorrow for Jerusalem and for those who did not open their arms up to the Messiah. This is the church that was built on the Mount of Olives, to remember that moment of Jesus weeping.
Now to give you a perspective of what this mountain looks like – I found this simple map. You can see where the Mount of Olives is – and then the pathway down towards the Garden of Gethsemane – and on then to the Kidron Valley and then up to the Eastern Gate, where Jesus entered into Jerusalem.
Now that path down the Mount of Olives is really steep. Jesus was headed on a narrow path that would lead to suffering and death – all for you and me. You can see the pathway, pictured here that will give you an idea of the descent. Some people will tell you that it is really good to wear hiking shoes or use a walking stick to give you some stability as you walk down the steep decline. However, I don’t remember anyone telling us that when we were there. I had to hang on to my son as we walked down the path, because of my great fear of falling. It was a steep, narrow road that took us down to the Garden of Gethsemane and then towards the Kidron Valley and up to the Temple.
Today, on Palm Sunday, followers and pilgrims of the faith, gather in Jerusalem to follow that same path, and wave their palm branches in celebration. Look at what that pathway looks like on Palm Sunday! Isn’t that incredible! I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in the midst of that crowd.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem – there was a huge crowd as well. Josephus, a Jewish historian, estimated that the crowd that had gathered there for the Passover probably numbered as much as 3 million people!2 It was a crowded city – and the road into town was narrowing as Jesus approached the Eastern gate, to enter the city.
It is believed that Jesus entered these gates called the Golden Gate or the Eastern Gate. There are 8 major gates in the walls around the old city of Jerusalem – but the Eastern Gate is the one that gives the most direct access to where the Temple used to stand. Now, there is a Jewish tradition that says, when the Messiah comes to rule, He will come through these gates.
In 1540, the Muslims shut and sealed the gate – in an attempt to prevent the Messiah from gaining entrance to Jerusalem. And a Muslim cemetery was placed in front of this wall, which is also believed will deter it being entered by the Jewish Messiah, who would not defile Himself by crossing a cemetery.3 HOWEVER – we believe that when Jesus returns – nothing will stop Him – not even a cemetery or a sealed gate. On the day of His return, it will be as a victorious, conquering King!
But on that first Palm Sunday, the gates were open and Jesus entered them going into Jerusalem. He entered in humility, riding on a donkey as the prophet had foretold. A large crowd went ahead of Him, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They waved palm branches, throwing their coats in his path, as if to welcome a King! What a glorious moment that must have been – the disciples must have been thrilled as they saw the people worshipping Jesus as King. One devotion described it this way – “Jesus could have decided that His mission on earth was over after the Triumphal Entry. He could have announced to His Father that the climactic moment had occurred – the people hailed Him as Messiah! Surely His work on earth was done! But the road mapped out for Jesus didn’t end at the Triumphal Entry.” No – the road would get narrower as He followed it all the way to the cross. “Jesus was obedient and trusted God to deliver and sustain Him through the dark days that would follow this bright path of palm branches and praise!” 4
Jesus rode into Jerusalem and took up the hard way. The road He travel would be narrow – leading away from the praise of the people to a crown of thorns. Just five days after this grand parade – there is a totally different climate among the people. Those who shouted Hosanna now shout “Crucify Him”. Instead of placing palm branches at His feet, they jeered and shouted and demanded His death. But Jesus keep going down that road … pushing forward to that road the would lead to suffering and the cross. It was the narrow road that would mean death for Him and life and salvation for us—through the forgiveness won for us in the cross and empty tomb.
That’s the good news of Palm Sunday. Jesus – our King of kings – followed that narrow road all the way to the cross for you and for me. He didn’t let any detours or speed bumps along the way change the direction of the road He was traveling. He knew the path that He was on – and it was a narrow road – was God’s road. And it was a road of love, for you and for me. That God gave Him the strength and courage to continue to walk it.
And we are called to follow Jesus – into that narrow road. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Enter God’s Kingdom by the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13 & 14) The wide gate is open and easy to get through. It is the way the majority seem to be traveling. It is following the world’s way or our own way. It is following whatever the crowd is doing – and depending on your own wisdom. It will give empty promises – and a life with will never satisfy. But the narrow road is the much harder and more difficult to travel. It requires commitment, discipline, self-denial and sacrifice. BUT it is the only path that leads to life – the abundant life that Jesus promises us.
The narrow way is the path God has designed for us to take. The narrow way is where we know forgiveness through Jesus who gave His life for us. Because Jesus walked that path before us, all the way to the cross, He will be to carry us through and direct our steps through this journey of life. He will give us the strength for the journey and rest along the way. He will give us light for the road and will give us shelter during times of storms. And those are promises we can count on.
Writer Tom Maddox, tells that “One Palm Sunday when I was a child, I took a purple crayon and colored my friend's shoes purple. Gayle cried out loud, "I don't want to wear purple shoes!" Her mother did her best to clean the shoes, but the crayon would not come off. Gayle was to lead the children's parade into the church. Her mother said to her, "Don't look at your shoes; keep your eyes fixed on the cross."
Years later, I was feeling sorry for myself because life had dealt me a hard blow. Gayle helped to cheer me up. At the time Gayle was dying of cancer, but she never felt sorry for herself. Because of her enthusiastic faith, I started to change my life.
Gayle died three years later. As I prayed, I remembered a little girl who once wore purple shoes and who kept her eyes fixed on the cross. I remembered that Jesus, throughout the loud hosannas, kept his eyes focused on his mission to die for our sins. Jesus died so that we might live, so that Gayle might live.
May we all keep our eyes focused on the cross and our hearts set on following the narrow
road with Jesus.
To follow Jesus is not an easy task. To follow Jesus may mean going against the crowd. To follow Jesus may involve carrying his cross. But each step of the way, Jesus walks beside us offering grace and forgiveness and strength.
There may be some here today who would like to take that step of faith and make a commitment to follow Jesus. You are willing to stand up and confess your faith in a Savior who died on the cross for your sins. If you are ready to confess your faith, we ask you to come forward at this time.
There may be others who are looking for a church home feel First Christian is the place for you to serve Christ best. We invite you to come forward now to transfer your membership. We will welcome you with open arms and work together to grow in Christ.
And there still may be others who wish to rededicate your life to service in Christ's name. You may feel you have fallen away from Christ and you want to come back – to make your commitment stronger. You are invited to come now at this time to rededicate your life to Christ. Let us all renew our faith in God as we stand and sing.
1 William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974. Page 365.
2Steve Shepherd in “Only One More Week.” Palm Sunday ’03 – Sermons and Bible Studies.
3Wendy Bumgardner, Mount of Olives Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday Walk. April 8, 2019.
Got Questions, “What is the Significance of the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem? https://www.gotquestions.org/eastern-gate-Jerusalem.html
Tom Maddox (Georgia, U.S.A.). I saved this story many years ago but I didn’t save the website.