The Wrong Way To Follow Jesus | 04.02.23 | Palm Sunday
Pastor Drew Williams
Many children grew up singing the words, “You put your right hand in, you take your right hand out, you do the hokey-pokey, and you turn yourself about.”
It’s a silly song to help teach kids autonomy of their limbs, and to learn right from left.
It’s a silly song, but it’s also a pretty good description of how many of us live our lives. We step into something new in our lives, but only with one foot. We keep our other foot firmly planted in what we know and are familiar with.
We try new things, but only for a moment, then we take our hand out again. We put our hand in, shake it a bit, test out this new phase in life, deciding which parts we like and which parts we want to leave behind.
And this can work with many things in life, because “all-or-nothing” isn’t usually the best course of action, except with one thing.
Today’s Scripture passage is going to show us the pitfalls of halfway living when it comes to one thing, how we follow Jesus.
So let’s open our black, seat-back Bibles to page 63 of the NT to get ready to read Luke 19, starting in verse 29.
We’re going to see how Jesus, and his claims as King over everything, demand an all-or-nothing response. And when people try to follow Jesus halfway, it can have disastrous effects.
So, hopefully you’ve been able to find Luke 19, and let’s read together, starting in verse 29…
Now, this passage is full of context and OT callbacks, because it shows Jesus fulfilling the people’s expectations of who the Messiah was going to be. But it can be pretty complex to unwind everything to better understand it.
So we’re going to watch this short excerpt of a video put together by The Bible Project to give us a head start on understanding what is going on in this passage, and then we’ll continue to unpack it together a bit more as we try to see how it might pertain to our lives today.
Jesus is heading into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, but he knows that he’s going there to meet his death. He’s spent three years helping people, teaching them about the open arms of God and what life under the rule of God is supposed to be like.
He’s healed people, fed people, restored people to their families and communities, and broken down barriers keeping people out of God’s open invitation.
Some people have loved it, and have built up a crowd to follow him. Some people have been threatened by it, unsure as to how his new teachings will change the way they are used to living and interacting with God. Other people have been challenged by his high call, unable to follow him because of staying connected to their previous way of life.
And as he makes his way on the last mile trek into town, he’s riding on a donkey, fulfilling images from the prophet Zechariah, who said
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9)
Jesus’ own followers believe that this is Jesus’ royal entry into the capital city. They’ve been following him long enough and they believe that he is the Messiah, the coming king who will save them from Roman oppression, the warrior king who will beat their enemy and Make Israel Great Again and put them back in a position of power after spending so many years under the oppression of outside forces.
So they’re singing royal songs like Psalm 118:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Ps 118:26, Luke 19:38)
The rest of the crowd who is there for the Passover celebration is getting caught up in the moment, too. They’ve heard about Jesus. Maybe some of them had even heard him teach before or seen him perform a miracle. They know the prophecies about the Messiah, and they’re excitedly wondering if Jesus is the guy. Is this him? Will we finally have someone who can restore God’s favor to us, so that we have better lives? We’ve been living under the threat of Rome for so long, and I just want God to be in charge again so that I can have a better life!
So they’re getting caught up in the excitement. They’re spreading cloaks on the road in front of Jesus, something that was usually only done for royalty. And the religious leaders are seeing this, and they AREN’T excited.
First, Jesus is pretty unorthodox in his teaching. Instead of demanding that everyone strictly follow God’s laws in order to earn his love, Jesus is teaching that God gives forgiveness and grace even before people change the way they live. Jesus welcomes in people and allows them to slowly learn how to follow him, instead of expecting them to change before they show up.
But, second, the religious leaders are also afraid, because they know how powerful Rome is. And all this “blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord” stuff is going to get noticed. The Roman authorities are going to take that as a threat, thinking that the Jews are raising a rebellion, and they’re going to come in and squash them, like they had before, and even more people are going to get killed and hurt. And Jesus isn’t the warrior king they need to beat Rome.
Nope, he’s the wrong guy who teaches the wrong stuff and he’s too dangerous to keep around. It was fine when he stayed up in the countryside and helped people in villages. But now that he’s bringing a whole brigade into the capital? Too dangerous.
And then Jesus surprises everyone when he goes straight to the temple and proceeds to drive out all the money changers and people selling stuff, because the ENTERPRISE of temple worship, all the buying and selling and trading and lines and commotion were actually getting in the way of allowing people to actually worship and pray there. So he declares words that prophets had told the Jewish leadership hundreds of years earlier.
“You see? It was a problem back then, and it’s still a problem now!”
He’s calling out the religious leaders for becoming more intent on building the ENTERPRISE of their jobs, rather than helping people come to God in prayer. They’ve ended up creating barriers and blockades that get in the way of people worshiping God, and so Jesus pulls it all down.
[SLIDE ] (v47-48)
And our text says that the religious leaders are so offended and angry at that, that they decide he needs to die. And even though Jesus didn’t hide – in fact he stayed right there and starting teaching all the crowds who were about the kingdom of God and how to step forward fully into the life God offers – they couldn’t do anything because they would be seen as the bad guys.
And THIS is how we kick off Holy Week, commemorating the final days of Jesus’ life. And are we starting to see how it’s going to play out? Because Jesus has made it clear to the people who were with him then, as well as to us, that you can’t follow him halfway.
But we all try to do that, don’t we? Many people like PARTS of Jesus.
I like his love.
I like his healing power!
I like how he tells off the religious fundamentalists.
I like Jesus the Savior, who rescues me when I call.
I like Jesus the Teacher, who helps me live a better life.
But how do we react when Jesus’ teaching pushes on the things that we care about? What happens when the Way of Jesus calls us to follow him out of our comfort zones?
That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks: when Jesus points out the things in our life that have become too important, that have become ultimate things, that have become things that pull us away from God’s direction in our lives.
And when that happens, it can hurt a bit. It’s a bit painful. Don’t push on that Jesus! It’s sore. Don’t take that away Jesus, I didn’t know how much I relied on that. Don’t ask me to go THERE Jesus, I’m not sure if I can trust that you’ll protect me.
But Jesus tells us that we can’t follow him halfway.
So when we grab the PARTS of Jesus we like: his teaching, his grace…we usually find out that we are ignoring the parts of him that we don’t like as much.
When we focus only on the pieces of Jesus that we prefer, it’s like we’re fashioning him into a savior of OUR choosing.
Now, if taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing that pulls us away from God is idolatry…then that means we can make an idol out of the half-version of Jesus that we’ve selected.
We trade in the real Jesus – the full Jesus – for the half-Jesus that we like that doesn’t ask us to do too much that makes us uncomfortable.
And we aren’t the only ones who do that! The disciples were doing it to Jesus in our passage! They liked MOST of Jesus. They liked the teaching, the healing, the kingdom-of-God talk.
But they still had the expectation that the Messiah was going to put Israel in power again, and they wanted to be the in-crowd who ruled over others. They expected Jesus to beat the enemy, Rome, and cast out the Gentile and Samaritan outsiders who weren’t “The Chosen.”
Perhaps they thought all the times that Jesus spent with the outsiders, with the downcast, with the foreigners, maybe those were just random and didn’t have anything to do with the journey to becoming the Jewish King.
The crowds also had picked and chosen a half-Jesus.They like SOME of Jesus. They liked the miracles, the healings, the food. They definitely liked the food. Jesus was meeting their needs, and they came in DROVES. But when he would ask them to follow him and take on the role of becoming his apprentice…well, a lot fewer of them agreed to that.
They had the expectation that the Messiah would restore God’s favor on them so that they would have better lives. Less taxes, less threat from enemies, THAT’S what the Messiah is supposed to offer me. THAT’S when I’ll know that God is in charge again, when my life feels better.
But if I’m still dealing with grief, if I’m still dealing with hardship, then that makes me feel like God must not love me very much. Or maybe he’s not in power yet.
How hard it was for those people to hear Jesus’ message that grief and suffering are part of the process of laying down your life to serve others. How hard it was when Jesus didn’t promise easy lives for his followers, he just promised to be present with them?
And even when it came to the religious leaders, who understood the idea of changing their lives to follow God’s laws, even they weren’t so sure about Jesus. They were skeptical and threatened by Jesus.
They liked his teaching about God’s law, and they were amazed at his miracles, but they couldn’t accept how radical his love and acceptance and forgiveness was.
No, God was HOLY, set apart, not-to-be-mixed-with-sinners. And he expected holiness from his people! Anyone that diminished those expectations for “proper” living must not be from God.
This Jesus, with the way he just forgave sins and spent so much time with people he SHOULDN’T be spending time with…he’s leading people astray. There’s no way that’s going to make God happy with us. If anything, it’s going to bring even more judgment from God on us.
And we’re already being punished for how badly we are following God’s law! That’s why we are under Roman occupation! It’s God’s punishment…it has to be!
Oh, and speaking of Rome, Jesus’ claims to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, the coming KING…they aren’t going to like that the Jews have a “king” they are parading around. They’re going to respond by crushing it before it becomes a rebellion, and they’ll crush us all to teach us a lesson.
And if that happens, this Jesus is too soft, too loving, too much of a healer and not enough of a warrior. There’s no way he’s going to beat our enemy, Rome.
See, everyone in our story has done the same thing to Jesus. They like PARTS of him, and they say, “I want to follow this part of you. Not the other parts, just these parts.”
Do we see how we do that, too? I know I do it. I like the Jesus that did big, flashy things that drew a crowd. I want to be a part of that, Jesus! Can you come and do big flashy things in my life so that I can feel excited?!
I’m not as much of a fan of the slow, patient work that Jesus normally did. I’m not as much of a fan with the fact that he would often leave behind crowds so that he could focus in on something else.
But, do we see that when we choose to follow Jesus halfway, when we try and only follow a half-Jesus, then we’re actually walking away from the True Jesus?
And when our little half-Jesus, the parts that we’ve collected and then turned into an idol, when that doesn’t live up to our expectations, when the little savior we’ve created doesn’t save us in the WAY we want, or doesn’t come to us in the TIME we want and expect, then we feel like God has failed us, and we don’t know where to turn.
When the moral Teacher that we’ve curated, picking and choosing the teachings we like, when that guys doesn’t relate to OUR life experience, or when it conflicts with the lifestyle of someone we care about, all of sudden we’re not sure where to turn.
I think that’s what caused Jesus to cry. It was the fact that all the people had MISSED the real Jesus. They had missed God.
[SLIDE ] v44
They didn’t recognize when God had pressed in to visit them. I read that and I wonder, how many times have I missed God? How many times have I been too focused on MY expectations, on MY preferences, on MY desired life, that I’ve missed when God is leaning in close?
Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Here’s what I’d like to suggest that you do in response to this message today: ask God to show you if you’ve been following him only halfway. And then come confess that and ask him to help you turn fully to him.
Just like in our story, Jesus didn’t make himself scarce. He placed himself right in the middle of the temple to become the easiest to find person, so that anyone could turn to him and draw near to him.
Jesus does the same thing each and every time we gather here. He taps us on the shoulder, tries to catch our attention through a song, or a scripture, or a prayer, and then opens his arms wide and invites us to turn more fully to him.
So ask God to show you if you’ve been following Jesus halfway. And then come confess that. Maybe during our time of prayer. Maybe you want to come to the railing during communion. It’s open to you every week.
Come confess that to God and ask him to help you turn more fully to him.
The good news is that in the moments when we are feeling conflict, when we are feeling threat, when we are feeling fear, when we are feeling hopeful for SOMETHING to happen, God is pressing near. In those moments, God is catching our attention and creating space for a “time of visitation.”
The good news of the gospel is that we can ALWAYS turn back to the True Jesus, asking hims to help us see him for who he really is.
He’s the True Savior, who sacrifices for us and sits with us in suffering.
He’s the True Teacher, who not only helps us live a better life, but who IS the Truth who speaks the words of Life, inviting all to learn from him.
He’s the True High Priest, who is the only Way to God, but who becomes the Sacrifice for us, so that there are no more hoops to jump through or barriers between us and the forgiveness and love offered by God.
He’s the True King, who leads not with might or by pushing others down, but by opening gates and welcoming in outsiders to his kingdom, regardless of their merit.
He’s inviting us to lay down our idols and turn more fully to him. Will we listen? Will we come? Amen.