11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I performed my first wedding yesterday in Harrisonburg. It was a lovely wedding for a young man whose family I knew well from Ohio. It was fun working with a young, Christian couple beginning their life together. But of course, being the kind of person who enjoys good food, the thing that I looked forward to the most was the reception following the wedding.
But Sonya and I have a problem and I don’t think that it is too much to say that we are cursed or something of that nature. I say that we are cursed because we always seem to end up sitting at the table that is fed last.
You think that I’m kidding, I know. But if you don’t believe me, try sitting with us sometime and you too will be fed last. And of course someone always has to quote the scripture, “The first will be last and the last will be first.”
I thought that my time had come to be first yesterday. We sat at the same table as the mother of the groom and the grandparents of the groom. I though surely it was going to happen. We even joked about this with the people at our table; our time had come to be first. The scripture had been fulfilled! We maybe weren’t going to be first, but we weren’t about to be last. Not with those important people at our table…or so I thought. We were the very last table to go through the buffet line.
Now obviously when we joke in the buffet line about the last being the first and the first being the last, we are taking that scripture a little bit out of context. Because what that scripture is really talking about is humility, social status, and power in this world. It is the lowest in this world that will be exalted. Exalted to a place even better than the front of the buffet line.
Today we will look at the passages above and I hope to look at this whole last being the first concept by lifting out three themes from our scriptures. I want to show you that we serve a humble king, we serve a humble savior, and that we serve an exalted Lord.
Our Humble King
Our scripture for today from Mark is a story that we tell in the church every year at this time on this day, which we call Palm Sunday. This is the triumphal entry when Jesus enters into Jerusalem as the people yell, “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Hosanna is a Hebrew word (transliterated into the Greek) that means “save now”. So as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem and the people were escorting him into town by throwing down their cloaks and palm branches, they are yelling out to Jesus, “Save us now. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord and the coming kingdom of David.”
It is clear that what the people were expecting was a militant leader that would deliver the people from the hands of the Roman occupation. Save us so that we might experience a kingdom like the one that David led one thousand years ago. Save us like Moses saved our ancestors from the Egyptians, only this time lead them out of here so that we can enjoy the Promised Land, the land promised to our ancestor Abraham by God himself.
But this was never Jesus’ plan, and I think that can be seen in the way he entered into Jerusalem. When you think of a king leading his people into war, how do you picture him? Clad in armor from head to toe with a sword drawn high above his head, sitting on a great, powerful, white stallion? That’s how I picture a king leading his people into battle. Which for some reason makes me think about high school.
When you are in high school, other people’s opinions matter more than anything else. I really didn’t care about grades and I really didn’t care about what I wanted to be when I grew up. But you better believe I cared about what other people thought about me. And nothing sets one’s social status in high school quicker than the car that they drive. I grew up in rural Ohio, so if you wanted to be cool, you drove a truck. The bigger the better.
My first car was a pickup truck, a 1984 Ford Ranger. Not a big truck, not a new truck, but still a truck and a 4 wheel drive truck at that. So the first day of school comes along and I have the opportunity to make a good impression on all of the other students (that I no longer even talk to). So the day before school started I cleaned my truck inside and out. I washed and waxed it. I even vacuumed the interior. And as I am cleaning the interior, in order to have adequate light to make sure that I don’t miss anything, I turn on the dome light…and leave it on…all night long.
Needless to say the next morning, the first day of school, I was not running early. So as I grabbed my new notebooks and pens and headed out the door, I placed my keys in the ignition, turned the key, and nothing happened. Not even the radio came on. The battery was dead.
Had I more time I would have jump started the truck, but I couldn’t be late for the first day of school. So I went to school in my mom’s car.
Why do I tell you this story? Because I don’t believe that some things have changed since Jesus’ day or before. When you want to make an impression on people, you make an entrance. Today we would roll in in a Cadillac, a limousine, or a Hummer. Do you think that Barack Obama goes anywhere in his mother’s 1990 Ford Taurus?
But how does Jesus enter into Jerusalem? Does he come in on that white stallion, clad in armor, wielding a sword? Nope, he comes in on a colt, a young donkey. I imagine his feet dragging on the ground as he enters. His entry is a far cry from the king on the white stallion. Instead we have a king unlike the kings that we normally picture, a humble king who will lead a kingdom unlike any other kingdom of this world. Here is the king of the Jews, the one that they are crying out to, “Save us now, restore the kingdom of David” riding in on a lowly colt, the offspring a donkey.
So why would Jesus ride in on a donkey? I think Jesus rode in on a donkey because it wasn’t what was expected of him. Our form of transportation says a lot about us. I was trying to establish my identity as this farm boy in high school and Jesus was trying to establish his identity as a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom.
We often refer to this as Jesus’ upside-down kingdom. We referred to it as an upside-down kingdom in our call to worship today. But this last week I heard an interesting thing from my friend Ron Copeland who is the pastor of the Early Church and the cofounder of Our Community Place in Harrisonburg, which seeks to be a life giving and life changing Christian community which ministers to the poor. Ron said that he doesn’t like that we call Jesus’ kingdom upside down. He said Jesus taught us to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, give away our possessions and follow him and we call this the upside-down kingdom because it is so far from what we live in and experience every day. But, Ron asked, which one is upside-down? Ron would say that Jesus’ kingdom is the right-side-up kingdom. It is the kingdoms of this world that are upside-down.
Jesus had a humble beginning, born in stable and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. He grew up in a working class family, son of a carpenter. His father likely passed away when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30. We don’t hear anything about Jesus holding down a paying job after he begins his ministry, so I could only assume that his clothes were old and ragged, his hair and beard unclipped, his sandals were well worn. And now he is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people are calling him to be their king, their messiah, their lord. Oh yes, we serve a humble king.
Our Humble Savior
Our second reading from Philippians speaks more of the humility of Jesus. Paul writes that though Jesus was in the same form of God, that he emptied himself taking the form of a slave in human likeness. He humbled himself, even to the point of death on a cross.
I think that sometimes we miss out on how embarrassing and humbling it would have been to die on a cross. The cross isn’t just a piece of jewelry we wear around our necks, and it isn’t just a wall hanging in the front of our churches. This was a method of execution, a method of execution used by the Romans to make a statement, to say, “This is what will happen to you if you mess with Caesar.”
Jesus was beaten, bruised, stripped of his clothes, and he allowed all of this to happen. He himself said that he could call down legions of angels to defeat the Roman soldiers, but he knew that this death on the cross was something that he needed to do. He humbly submitted himself to this punishment, though he had done nothing to deserve it. And what does Paul tell us to do? “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Now notice that Paul is not saying that Jesus was beaten, bruised, stripped, and that we are to go and do likewise. But Paul is saying that we are to have the same mind as Jesus. We are to have a mind that says, “I know it won’t always be pleasant, I know it isn’t always going to go the way that I want it to go, but I am going to follow God’s will.”
Are we willing to give of our comfort, of our health, of our possessions if called to do so? Or are we like the Rich Young Ruler that we find in Mark chapter 10. The RYR encounters Jesus and tells Jesus that he wants to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him that he must obey what essentially comes down to five of the Ten Commandments. And the RYR replies that he has done so since childhood.
So Jesus, knowing this man’s vice, his love for money, tells him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to those in need. Then he will have treasure in heaven. And the man walked away, because he had a lot of stuff.
I love this story, and I hate this story. I love it because it teaches an important truth about the kingdom of God, that if we put anything before the kingdom, we won’t have access to the kingdom, just like the RYR put his love for money first and seemingly forfeited a chance to be a disciple of Christ. Yet I hate this story because I know that I, unfortunately, have a lot of similarities to the RYR.
Now of course Jesus did not tell everyone that sought to follow him that they all needed to sell all of their possessions to follow him. Peter, James, and John were not told to sell all of their fishing equipment. But Jesus knew that the RYR valued his possessions and his wealth more than he valued the kingdom of God. And if he wasn’t willing to give it up, then he wasn’t worthy of the kingdom.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Jesus had no home, no place to rest his head. He sacrificed the pleasures of this world for the ministry he was called to. The RYR wasn’t willing to do this. Our savior gave everything that he had, right down to his life, right down to his own comfort. We serve a humble savior.
Our Exalted Lord
So we have this humble king who entered into this world in a manger and entered into Jerusalem on a donkey. That humble king is also our humble savior who, though he was God, allowed himself to be humiliated, tortured, and killed on a cross. And through it all, Jesus remained faithful to God. Therefore God exalted him, giving him the seat of honor next to God, where every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Obviously this whole “every knee shall bend and tongue confess” thing has not happened yet. But there have been many people that have made that decision, to name Jesus as Lord. To bend one’s knee before Jesus is a humbling thing. It is admitting that Jesus is Lord and we are his servants. And if we want to be lifted up, if we want to inherit eternal life, we must be humble servants to not only our exalted Lord, but to our humble King, and our humble savior.
See, it is easy to serve an exalted Lord, someone elevated to the right hand of God. It is easy to worship a Jesus wearing a crown and ruling over all of the world. But if we really want to be his servants, we must also serve the humble King and humble Savior.
I think of those people that escorted Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, inaugurating him as the next king. How humbling must that have been for them? They see a guy on a donkey and they decide that this guy should be their leader. They had to humble themselves to want that donkey riding, working class, shaggy looking man as their king. They had to humble themselves to want that guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and Pharisees as their leader. But at that moment, they knew that he was the right man for the job. And he still is today.
As Christians, we don’t just choose one aspect of Jesus and follow that Jesus. We cannot worship the exalted Lord without serving the humble king and the humble savior. And our humble king is the king of a kingdom unlike the other kingdoms of this world. A kingdom where the last are the first, the humble become the exalted, the poor become the rich, and the lost become found. We serve a humble king of a right-side-up kingdom. And yes, my friends, this is even better than being first in the buffet line at a wedding reception.