If you were here five Sundays ago at the start of this series, you might recall that this long journey began with the story of Jesus in the wilderness. I mentioned how this story of Jesus in the wilderness is to remind us of the exodus story when the Israelites had escaped from being slaves in Egypt and traveled in the wilderness for forty years on their way to the Promised Land.
So when we read the story of Jesus beginning his ministry in the wilderness, this is to help us see that Jesus’ life and ministry will be about retelling this story of Israel in a new way. It’s like Jesus is embodying the story of the people of Israel from the Old Testament. Jesus is Israel.
Today’s scripture of Jesus riding a donkey into the city of Jerusalem for what would be the last week of his life is another way that Jesus is embodying Israel. Just like Israel had been freed from slavery and led by God in the wilderness to the Promised Land from the Old Testament, so Jesus has been taking us on a journey leading us into a new kind of Promised Land. Jesus is leading us to a new kind of Exodus, an exodus not from slavery in Egypt, but an exodus from our own slavery to sin and death.
Jesus reenactment of the exodus story will lead us to the promised land but this time, it will lead us to a cross and to an empty tomb. All of this is to say that Jesus’ three year journey with his disciples has been paralleling the journey of God’s people from the wilderness into the Promised Land.
When we think of Jesus’ life and ministry in this new light, the light bulbs start turning on in our minds. We begin to see how Jesus’ story and the story of the Israelites centuries before him are woven so closely together.
And even more importantly, we are able to see how purposeful Jesus’ life and ministry really were. Jesus doesn’t do things arbitrarily. He does them in such a specific way to fulfill the earlier story of the people of Israel. Jesus is purposefully leading us from our own slavery to sin and death and into a new Promised Land that will lead to freedom from fear and salvation.
Or to put all of this in a more short-hand version, Jesus is doing for us what the people of Israel were unable to do for themselves – conquer sin and death once and for all.
We call this day that begins Holy Week, “Jesus’ Triumphant Entry.” Jesus triumphantly enters into Jerusalem to face the powers of this world face to face. I like that word. Triumphant. To be triumphant means to be confident.
Notice that Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey which again is a very purposeful thing for Jesus to do. Riding on a donkey into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy from the Book of Zechariah in the Old Testament in which it was believed that the coming Messiah, the coming King who was to bring freedom to the people of Israel would enter Jerusalem in this very humble way.
Yes, Jesus is that purposeful which helps explain how Jesus was able to be so confident knowing that he would be facing incredible opposition from the religious leaders who had been opposing him. Jesus was remarkably confident because he was on a mission, a mission filled with the specific purpose of leading God’s people to freedom and salvation.
Jesus had the kind of confidence that the Prophet Isaiah proclaims in Isaiah chapter 50 when describing the future Messiah, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefor I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
Jesus had a mission and a purpose and he trusted in God as he lived out that mission and purpose. He rode into Jerusalem knowing that he was not alone. God was with him.
God relieves our fears as we embrace the purpose and calling that has been given to us.
Sometimes when fears begin to overwhelm me, I think back to the spring semester of my freshman year in college when I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was feeling really lonely and was struggling with my grades that first year. I also didn’t make the final cut to be on the baseball team. Sports had always served as my sense of security and confidence and now I didn’t even have that. I was feeling lost and without any kind of direction in my life.
But then something amazing happened. I found an old cassette tape of a county-wide Christian rally that I had attended when I was in Junior High School several years earlier. Just for kicks I played that tape and the speaker who I obviously didn’t listen to the first time was challenging all of the youth who were at that rally to respond to Jesus’ challenge from Luke 9:23 to take up our cross and follow him.
I listened to that tape over and over and over and over again. Even though I had been raised in the church, I realized that I had never really made a commitment to put Christ first in my life. And so, one day I thought to myself, “What do I have to lose.” And so I got down on my knees and prayed for God to help me put Christ first in all that I do.
During that prayer, I was already feeling the weight of my loneliness and lack of purpose in life being lifted from me. It was the most freeing experience I have ever had. I felt like a new person.
During that prayer, it was like I could hear God telling me to begin putting Christ first in my life by doing these two very specific things. The first thing was to focus more on my studies even though I still didn’t know what major or future career I should pursue.
Actually, it wouldn’t be for another two years that I would know the career path I should take but that wasn’t the important thing. In that moment, God just wanted me to trust him on a day to day basis and the rest would take care of itself.
The second thing I felt God calling me to do was to begin a bible study for people my age so that I would be more likely to keep Christ first in my life and I could help other people keep Christ first.
After that prayer, amazing things began to happen. Surprise, surprise! I started getting really good grades even in classes that I didn’t even like. I started making the Dean’s List. And I started a bible study with people my age that faithfully met throughout my college years.
I also started feeling more confident and at peace in my life. I started stepping out in faith in ways that I could never have imagined. All of this new-found confidence was because of that very important prayer during my freshman year in college to put Christ first in my life.
What a difference it makes when we put Christ first in our lives! What an incredible difference it makes when we live out the purpose and the calling that God has given to each one of us!
Like any of the other fears we have been looking at throughout this sermon series, it’s not like we totally overcome them. Even when we are seeking to put Christ first in all that we do and living a purposeful life, we still face situations where we doubt ourselves and wonder if we are really up to the challenges that we face in our day to lives. Some challenges seem more difficult than others.
Adam Hamilton is the Senior Pastor at Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. I believe it’s the largest United Methodist Churches in the country. He was asked to deliver the inauguration sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington DC under then President Obama.
Even though he speaks to large crowds each week at his church, he was very nervous. There was the president, the vice-president, members of the cabinet, many members of congress, and C-Span cameras broadcasting this event.
He said that just before it was time for him to get up to deliver his sermon, that he became unusually nervous. All of the sudden, he became overwhelmed by the national spotlight. He started to think, “What if I trip and fall while climbing up the steps of this large stone pulpit? What if I make a mistake and say something that I will regret? What if my pounding heart doesn’t stop pounding?”
And that’s when he remembered all of the people who were praying for him back at his church in Kansas City. As he thought about those many prayers that were being lifted on his behalf in that very moment, a sense of peace came over him. He didn’t feel as nervous anymore. He felt God’s presence with him and he ended up delivering quite a powerful and prophetic message to some of the most influential people of our country.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he knew that God had called him for that purpose. Even though he knew that suffering and death awaited him, he also knew that the cross would lead to resurrection and freedom from sin and death for all of God’s people, the ultimate exodus.
He knew that he wasn’t alone. God was with him.
Whether we are in the wilderness facing temptation or riding into a very challenging time in our lives, keep Christ first in your life. Know that God has given each one of us a purpose. Know that God has given you a purpose.
And remember, this story ends with an empty tomb.
My Fears Relieved: Confidence
Sermon Discussion Questions
Philippians 2:5-11 & Luke 19:28-40
April 14, 2019
During this 40-day season of Lent, we journey with Jesus from the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan and we continue to follow him all the way to the cross and the empty tomb. On Palm Sunday, we are nearing the conclusion of Jesus’ long journey as he rides into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus’ journey is in many ways, a reenactment of when the people of Israel wandered through the wildnerness and eventually made their way into the Promised Land. In other words, Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem was very purposeful. This is what helped him to face his fears of what was to come with confidence.
Share a time when you faced a situation with confidence because you were aware of your purpose.
During this season of Lent, we have been looking at several different fears that we face from time to time. These have included the fears of temptations, doubts, fruitfulness, forgiveness, generosity, and today we look at the fear of confidence.
Which of these fears do you struggle with the most? How can being more purposeful help you overcome these fears?
Pastor Robert shared the story of when Adam Hamilton was invited by then President Obama to offer the inauguration worship service sermon in front of many high profile leaders in Washington DC. Adam said that he was overcome with nervousness before getting up to speak but then he remembered that his congregation was praying for him back in Kansas City.
Who are the people in your life who can pray for you whenever you are feeling afraid and in need of confidence?
Today is the beginning of Holy Week which will conclude with his crucifixion but three days later, he will be resurrected from the dead.
How does the good news of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection give you confidence in your life?