Something to Ponder while you Eat your easter egg...

If you are looking for a title for today go with “Something to ponder as you eat your Easter Egg”
My reasoning for this is a story Chris Williams tells how a Jewish friend of his at this time of year wished him a “Happy Christian Festival of Chocolate.”   I have also met this with Muslim colleagues. In fact our attitude to some of the main Christian festivals and Easter in particular leaves people from non Christian faiths quite puzzled. They know it is important but they see us putting much more emphasis, and certainly more money, on other festivals especially on Christmas.  Only last week Sue Blake suggested that we tend to under emphasise Easter. I agree. In the western churches we often have given the impression of not putting great importance on Easter. It is important and certain aspects of it are very important.
The fact is Easter is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus and as Paul reminds the Corinthians:
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.[1]
I would like to focus in on the Easter story and in particular, Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Yes it’s Palm Sunday – the day when in many churches the events of Palm Sunday are remembered.
However let’s look at this story and one thing to say is that all four gospel writers regarded the entry into Jerusalem as important. All four gospel writers record it and remember the gospel writers were selective. To some extent each gospel writer was writing for a particular audience e.g. Luke appears to have had non Jews in mind, so on occasions he explains some of the Jewish practices by way of background. They included what they believed to be important for the emphasis they were bringing. They all include the entry into Jerusalem. That suggests it is important. So let’s read what was probably the earliest account to be written in Mark’s gospel chapter 11:
1Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; 2and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3“And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” 4So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. 5But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” 6And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
10                 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”
11And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.[2]
Now I want you to ponder for a while about what was actually happening. Use your imagination a bit because 2000 years of Christian history has made us look at a lot of these accounts through rose tinted spectacles:
  1. Jesus laid out exactly how he wanted things to happen. He sent two disciples to what was probably a sympathizer in the city. He made the decision to go. Indeed previously his disciples had tried to persuade him not to go.
  2. Jesus enters the city riding in a donkey – in Eastern culture a symbol of peace. Every other occasion we have Jesus entering anywhere he is walking.
  3. The disciples and the early church link this event directly to a prophecy in Zechariah. However they did not see it straight away and this may be why Mark as the earliest written account omits it. John records:
16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.[3] However one assumes this was on the mind of Jesus when he decided on this method of entry into the city.
  1. The people cut down palms and lay their garments for Jesus to move over. Although there are references to this in the OT this is quite likely in their minds a reference to Judas Maccabeus, a great Jewish hero from that period between the Old and New Testaments, who about 200 years before had defeated the Syrians. As he came into Jerusalem this is what the people did. The people would have known about this as would the Jewish and Roman authorities. They would have understood the significance of the people’s actions.
  2. The people called out “Hosanna” – literally save now. In other words they expected Jesus to do something. Jesus in fact receives their praise.
  3. But please note who was forcing the events - Jesus
Now let’s try to put this in some context and see how these events came together:

Raising of Lazarus
Healing Blind Man
Entry to Jerusalem
The Fig Tree
Cleansing the temple
Matt 20 ???
Matt 21
Matt 21 v18
Matt 21 v 12
Mark 10
Mark 11
Mark 11
Luke 19
Luke 19
John 11 – after which the leaders plotted his death
John 12

1.       In John’s account just before this we have the story where Jesus brings his friend Lazarus back to life quite dramatically, with plenty of witnesses.
2.       Following from the raising of Lazarus in John’s account we read from that day on, they (the religious leaders) plotted to put Him to death.[4]
The whole drift of this story is that Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew the opposition building up against him.
Jesus did have other options. He could have done any one of the following:
1.       Joined the other maverick rabbis / messiahs who appeared to be around at the time
2.       Turned away from his fate
3.       Led the revolution. Many of the crowd expected him to and this may well have been why the same people were calling for his blood about a week later.
I wonder if the temptations he was experiencing were just as real and pressing as those he experienced three years previous in the desert. Certainly a week later in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus was showing the intense pressure he was under as he faced his fate.
None of these routes were taken as an option. The fact is that often when we come to consider the Triumphal Entry we have a "nice, pleasant" view of what was the great decision time for Jesus. It was when he entered Jerusalem knowing full well where it would end up. In Matt 20v18 Jesus had told his disciples:
33“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; 34“and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”[5]
I find myself challenged by several factors here:
  1. Jesus was absolutely single minded
  2. There was to be no compromise on what he believed to be important.
Relate those to my life and I find myself challenged to:
  1. Consider if my whole life is focused on being everything God wants me to be and one thing that stops me is sometimes a feeling in Church life “I’ve been her before” and I need to constantly refresh my vision of the Kingdom of God.
  2. I work very closely with people who I get on with very well but whose lifestyle I disapprove of. For example two people I work very closely with at the University and get on with very well indeed are gay. I need to know better how to love the sinner but hate the sin. I need to ensure I am not compromising in what is important.
Sue encouraged us to pray and fast over the next week. When you get to Friday you were encouraged that the theme would be “Me and Jesus” and together let’s consider:
1.       How can I best follow the example of Jesus in my single mindedness for the Kingdom of God?
2.       How can I best ensure I am not compromising on important issues?

[1]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.
[2]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.
[3]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.
[4]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.
[5]The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.


Dave Donoghue, 26/04/2011