I Don’t Get It

Delivered Palm Sunday, April 13, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Isaiah 50:4-9a
and John 12:12-16

(Video clip from Shrek, battle with prince, true-love’s kiss, Princess’ transformation to ogre)

(Laughter) But, you know what that does show- you never know what to expect or you are expecting one thing and you find that something else completely different happens. You were waiting not only for her to turn into the beautiful princess, but you are waiting for maybe even Shrek to change into something else. That is what this day is about. It’s about expectations and what we bring to our understanding of God. Oh, also by the way, it’s the 150th birthday of Central Presbyterian Church. And I shared with you a couple of months ago when I first came back that that would just seem like an unbelievable coinciding of events as we start 40 Days, as we just move into the next chapter of the church’s life and it is a fantastic thing to be part of Central Church at this time in its history.

This past week we witnessed a scene that will probably stick into our collective consciousness for a long long time, and that was the scene of the statue of Saddam Hussein coming down in the middle of Baghdad. Nobody expected that necessarily about a month ago when things started. As a matter of fact, we didn’t know what to expect. Many people were predicting one thing, many predicting another. Not sure how it would all turn out and there were many voices that were being broadcast that we were trying to interpret what was going on and the one that puzzled me the most, that probably did you, was the information minister for the Iraqi people, and I am not kicking them while they are down, but I try to get my head around that and I just could not understand why he would stand there and say, “nobody is here. They are not coming here. They will all die. They will all be sacrificed. I predict they are all going to be gone.” I mean how it that possible? Maybe he had to do that. Maybe somebody had something in his back and he had to say that. I don’t know. But it just amazes me how our perceptions and expectations can be so radically different. And of course I know we all hope for a swift end to what is going on there and a reconstruction that brings justice and peace for everyone.

Well in a similar way to most of the Iraqi people who cheered the Marines, 2000 years ago we had a similar scene of Jesus being cheered as he came into Jerusalem. And for very similar reasons, they were glad, the Iraqi’s were glad that there was the overthrow of their oppressive ruler, and that’s exactly what the people of Israel were hoping for; the overthrow of their oppressive rulers. And we are going to look at it in John, Chapter 12, Verses 12-16. And I want to before we read this, ask that we pray for just a moment.

Lord, we thank you that on this Palm Sunday we can come and in spite of our expectations find that you are here waiting for us and coming to us, and so we pray that your word would speak to us as we listen and that it would be open to us as a word that’s really needed in our hearts. For we ask it Christ’s name. Amen.

John 12. Verses 12-16. “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt. At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.”

The crowd that gathered for Passover, they were not the residents of Jerusalem. They were a crowd that came in for the feast. And they had heard about Jesus and his miracle of raising someone from the dead. And their expectations were so strong that they were probably thinking about a scene that had happened 200 years earlier when another crowd was waving palm branches, because of an overthrow of a wicked ruler. A man who had conquered Jerusalem, his name was Antiochus Epiphanes, not Antonakos Epiphanes, Antiochus Epiphanes. He was a man so blasphemous that he slaughtered a pig in the Holy of Holies, and made the priests drink its blood. Talk about a hated leader, he bludgeoned the Jews into submission for years until a man named Judas Maccabeus had had enough and he, with his family and the troops that he rallied, staged a guerilla war for nine years and finally at the end of those nine years, Judas Maccabeus came in and overthrew Epiphanes and ran him out and it was a spontaneous celebration that broke out and they were yelling his name, Judas, Judas Maccabeus and they were waving palm branches and even after that time on the back of a Jewish coins are palm branches that symbolize victory over oppression and deliverance from oppression.

Well here in John’s gospel, it’s 200 years later and the Jewish people are now again oppressed, and now this time the oppressor is the Roman army. And so the people when they hear about Jesus and his miracle, they shout Hosanna and it says right in the text that they shouted, they were shouting loudly Hosanna at the tops of their lungs, and they were waving palm branches like this because another victory is coming. Another deliverer, just like Judas Maccabeus has come and he is going to get rid of this conquering army.

Psalm 118, Verse 25 and 26 is where they get this from. Hosanna, means save us. And in the Psalm it says, “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Blessed is the one commissioned by God. Blessed is the one who has God’s authority to do what we know God would want to do for us. In recent Jewish history indicates that Jewish leaders have been referred to as the King of Israel. Menachem Begin when he came in one time in the public arena, people said, “Rule us, you are the King of Israel.” Often Jewish rulers were called the King of Israel,anybody who could free them from oppression. But essentially they were saying, “Jesus be like Judas Maccabeus and deliver us. Deliver us.” But their expectations and their focus were off, real off. Kind of like the information minister. Totally off of God’s plan and God’s intention.

And so I wonder as we gather here today if anybody comes with certain expectations of what you hope God will do in your life. Or I wonder if some of those frustrated, those expectations have been frustrated. I thought God was going to do this, but it hasn’t happened. Things are supposed to be this way. I don’t get it. And we get most distressed when we start to focus on what we need and want. And so we can say like the Psalmist, Lord, save us. Grant us the success that we need and that we want. When we look at life with ourselves at the center, we can never understand what God is up to. And that is what is so amazing about this text that nobody understood what was going on. They just didn’t have God’s perspective on it. The disciples, they were totally confused. I mean in John, Chapter 6, Jesus rejected an attempt to make him king and now he looks like he is accepting it. So they are saying, so what’s he doing? The crowd, they are thinking, bye-bye Romans one day, and then like a week later it’s crucify him Romans, go for it. I mean it’s like they had a complete turn around. The Pharisees only a few verses later, their plans are completely frustrated when they say, “look the whole world has gone after him. Our attempts to kill this man are futile.” And then a week later their day had arrived. You know Jesus gives a hint of what he is up to. Only in John’s gospel do we see Jesus, it says finding a donkey and sitting upon it after the praise begins. And all the other gospels, you know the story, he sends his disciples out to get the donkey and to bring it to him and he orchestrates the whole thing. In John’s gospel it is right in the middle, he turns it around. And it is like he doesn’t come in a warhorse. He comes in on a donkey and Zechariah 9:9 is in view and it says, here comes your salvation. Gentle, riding on a donkey, and in a way he curbs their nationalistic enthusiasm and tries to point in another direction. A direction of peace, but nobody understands it. The question is, when did the disciples understand? Only after Jesus is glorified. Only after they see that he spent his whole life doing what God wanted him to do. He poured himself out as a drink offering. Only then did they realize what Palm Sunday meant. Only after the cross, only after the resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit did they realize what God was up to in Jesus Christ. When they realized it wasn’t about their success, and what they needed or their initial expectations, but about what God was doing, then they understood.

And now here we are on the other side of all of this. What’s our excuse for not knowing what God is up to? Well we can still be unclear about what God is doing. All around us, we don’t know. Many times we get caught in living into our expectations. I think one of the clearest examples of this, and I am not picking on anybody or anything, but I just want to read some statistics to you about cohabitation or living together before marriage. The majority of all marriages are now preceded by cohabitation. 60-75% of first marriages and 80-85% of remarriages are preceded by cohabitation. From 1970 to 2000, cohabitation rates increased ten fold from 500,000 30 years ago to 5.5 million. And it appears that the rate will continue to increase. In a recent representative national survey, 60% of high school seniors indicated that they agreed or mostly agreed with this statement, it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along. You know we look at that and we say, in a way that kind of makes sense. You know, look at all the divorces, our expectations of divorce; maybe this would be a way to guard against it. And there is many reasons why this is increased. Many people say economic advantages, time together, increased intimacy, less complicated disillusion, won’t have to go through a messy divorce, testing our compatibility, etc. etc. But did you know and here is where the expectation gets snaffooed. That research shows that most cohabiting marriages end in divorce, more than those that don’t. Now why, lack of commitment? One explanation is that while the basis of marriage is a strong ethic of commitment, cohabiting couples are much more oriented toward their own personal autonomy, and are more willing to terminate the relationship. It’s easy to speculate that once this low commitment, high autonomy pattern or relating is learned, it becomes hard to change. And then another reason, cohabitation reflects uncertainty. One professor explains, I think there is something in the experience of cohabitation that makes it hard to know when is the time to make a choice, to change one way of living for another and to say yes this person is the one for me. Now I just used that as an illustration of how our expectations can completely undermine us. And I am not trying to lay any guilt trips on anybody. I mean if these statistics are accurate, then a lot of folks here are cohabiting or they have. Now the whole point is that we need to align our expectations toward what God would want. And not just live by what makes sense to us. In fact, statistics say it doesn’t make sense. That’s one illustration. Here is another one.

Where is the new pastor? I mean, wasn’t it in the year 2000 that Ron went to Dallas? What are you still doing here, kind of thing? You left and you came back. What are you doing? What’s going on here? I don’t know. All I know is that our expectations are a certain way and if we live too much by what we think should happen, we can miss what God wants to have happen in our lives.

Same thing with the 40 Days of Purpose. What is this about, this 40 Days of Purpose anyway? Some of you may be thinking. I was so gratified yesterday, it was awesome. 500 people over at Grace Church. We kicked it off. But it is still not too late to jump on board. But we can look at this and we say, you know it seems so packaged, you know. It seems so marketed. And I have had more than one conversation with some folks who have really in a way reacted to what seems like too much of a slick approach to try to make something happen in the church and I understand that response. But I want to ask you something. Even if that were true, could you humbly look past all of that and engage, and then see what God might want to do through it? Wouldn’t that be a fascinating thing? Wouldn’t it be a humble thing to say, even though I think it looks this way, just like the way it looked to people when Jesus came into Jerusalem, even though it looks this way, I am going to move past that and believe that God wants to make some changes in my life.

You know, many times we complain about boredom in our lives. We complain that we just don’t know what we want to do next. We are kind of a bored society. Recently I read about a confrontation between a kindergartner and his teacher. It seems like this kid was doing everything possible to make her life miserable, and as she was trying to gather everybody into the classroom, you know he kept running outside and she had to grab him by his backpack and yank him back in and she finally sat him down and said, “you stay here until the bell rings.” To that, he had just one word. Boring. That is what he said right to her face. “Boring.” And then she said, “I don’t care if you think this is boring, you stay right in this chair and don’t leave until the bell rings.” And then making the word sound like the definition, he said “Boring.” Boring. He was slow to engage. Finally she did everything possible. She got him involved in some artwork and whatever. A few minutes later she turns around and he is having the time of his life. He is loving it. Now what does that teach us? That boredom is not involved with the environment. Boredom is our approach to the environment. See? It is our expectation of what will happen. And in this case it was his unwillingness to be involved that made it seem boring in the beginning. Do you ever feel bored with people around you? Do you ever feel bored in class or even bored in church? I hope you are not feeling bored right now. But if you do, engage yourself more, not less. You know again, couples come and they say the pizzaz has gone out of our relationship. Well how much time are you taking to spend together? How much interest are you really sharing together? See, the idea is to involve yourself in learning more about, because we can’t ever learn everything there is to learn about our mate, even in a lifetime. If you are in a class that is boring you to death, raise your hand. Answer a question. You will be amazed how interesting it will start to get if you put yourself out there. Same thing with worship.

You know I am so glad, talking about 150 years of Central’s history, I am so glad that one elder, and you can read about this in a little history that Pastor Smoot wrote that is on the table, but most of you probably know this. But in the 1940’s this church was going down the tubes. It had been downtown. It was dead. It was gone. There was like eight people left in 1945 or 1946. And one guy, one guy not willing to allow the expectations of everybody else to dictate his behavior contributed a bequest so that Central Church would be planted somewhere else. And here we are. One guy, not living according to others expectations. The Bible says try to understand, try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. If you will involve yourselves in this 40 Days, and I know most of you will, God is going to be glorified even if we don’t understand what its about right now. I know most of you, if I sat down with you personally and asked, “do you really want to know what God wants you to do with your life” and you would say “yes,I really want to know what God wants me to do with my life.” Well in the next 40 days we are going to find out. We are going to get insight into what that will be for every single one of us because we will be looking at five things that every Christian should be involved with.

Rick Warren said it yesterday on the simulcast, the average person, the average lifetime is 25,550 days. And he had a great question. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to take 40 of those days out and really focus and concentrate on the question, what does God want to do in my life, so that you can learn better what God wants you to do with the rest of them, after the 40 days.” I hope you won’t sit on the sidelines. I hope you just won’t let this go right past you. I urge you to get involved. If you’re not in a group, get in one. If you haven’t gotten a book, get one. Sign on. Don’t sit on the fence. Don’t miss out. As you look deeper in to this material, it’s not because of the book, “The Purpose Driven Life”, it’s because the word of God contained in “The Purpose Driven Life.” Some of you may have some concerns, like well if I do this it really won’t be that big a deal. And so you are living by your expectations. Or you say, maybe I don’t want to do this because God might really change something and right now I don’t want to be changed. I like things just the way they are.

I am going to close with this. In the other gospels there is always the account of Jesus telling his disciples to go get the colt, the donkey. And it’s a mysterious thing when he says, if anybody asks you what are you doing, just say the Lord has need of this donkey and they will give it to you. I have always been amazed by that verse. And that’s exactly what happens. The disciples go and they find this colt of a donkey and they untie it and somebody asks them, what are you dong? What are you taking that donkey for? The Lord has need of it. Oh, okay. Fine. Well I am here to tell you that if we launch 40 Days a week from today, the Lord has need of you and if you will get together with us, God will be glorified in ways that we cannot imagine and when we come together on June 1st, celebration Sunday. We will be meeting at Loch Raven High School at 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon; we are going to hear more God stories than we have time for. Believe me. If you will give yourself, even if you don’t understand now, God will be glorified in your life and in the life of this church. And it will touch other people’s lives that are not even a part of this church yet. I urge you to join me in 40 Days of Purpose.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your grace. Help us not to continue to live by just what makes sense to us or by our expectation or by how our expectations have been frustrated by experiences in our life. Help us to give ourselves wholly to you and to our grace so that we might be conformed more clearly into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.