"Which Messiah Is Ours?”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – April 13, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 118:19-29, Matthew 21:1-11

Palm Sunday

    Every Palm Sunday we rehearse the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and being greeted by a wildly enthusiastic crowd.  More than likely all of us have heard our share of sermons discussing how the Jews were expecting their Messiah to be a conqueror that would restore the throne once occupied by King David.  These sermons then contrasted such a Messiah with what Jesus represented when he told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”  (John 18:36)

    This morning we are going to consider how our understanding of Jesus as the Messiah has made a difference in our lives.  This is not an easy issue to discuss because our personal beliefs and preferences about Jesus have wide differences among believers. This is why there have been more books written about Jesus than any other personality in history.  When we recognize Jesus as our Savior, how has our understanding of Jesus impacted our lives?

    For example, some Christians believe that divine intervention plays a very important role in their lives.  During interviews by news reporters we have heard people say, “The tornado came through our community destroying nearly everything in its path.   Our home, however, was virtually untouched.  The only explanation our family has is that God spared our lives.”

    A woman in my last church blacked out as she was driving her car.  The car went off the road, smashed into a tree and burst into flames.  A passing car stopped and a father and son pulled her to safety.  When she saw the damaged car she said, “I cannot imagine how I survived.  I can only credit God who was with me.  God must have a purpose for sparing my life.  Isn’t God good?”  We have all heard people express their faith this way.

    These illustrations are similar to the image that the Jews had for thousands of years concerning the nature of God.  God routinely intervened in their national history influencing their expectations of the coming of a future Messiah. The Jews were clearly ready for another Moses that would liberate them from the tyranny of Rome.

    Even a casual review of Old Testament books suggests that the Jews understood God as a protector of His chosen people.  During the Jewish celebration of Passover, they remind themselves how God sent his angel of death to kill the first born of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:23).  This final act of God after numerous plagues forced Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.  God also destroyed the Egyptian charioteers that were pursuing the Israelites by drowning them. (Exodus 14:27f)

    The Jews believed that God was their protector when the Israelites marched into the Promised Land with the Ark of the Covenant in front of them.  Moses said to the Israelites:

Just as God promised your ancestors, God will give you a land with large and prosperous cities which you did not build.  The houses will be full of good things which you did not put in them, and there will be wells that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.  When God brings you into this land and you have all you want to eat, make certain that you do not forget that God rescued you from Egypt where you were slaves.  (Deuteronomy 6:10f)

    Few of us can forget the words of the prophet Samuel when he said, “Listen to what God commands.  ‘Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not leave a thing.  I want you to kill all the men, women, children and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (I Samuel 15:1f)  We must be reminded that this was Samuel speaking on behalf of God.    

    This image of God continued when Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of the Assyrians.  The Prophet Isaiah told the King of Israel to do nothing because God will protect them.  God once again sent an angel of death that killed 185,000 soldiers causing Sennacherib and his remaining army to withdraw to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. (2 Kings19:34f). What is interesting about this event is that archaeologists have recovered secular tablets that describe the destruction of the Assyrian army as it laid siege to Jerusalem.  

    The cultural heritage and belief system of the Jews was deeply invested in the understanding that God intervened on their behalf.  After thousands of years of rehearsing how God took charge in protecting Israel, there is no one that could blame the Jews for ignoring the claims that Jesus was their Messiah.  Jesus had none of the bold traits and prowess of King David.

    When it comes to Christianity, believers have a mixed understanding of how Jesus protects people from the pitfalls of living in the material world.  Some of them understand that Jesus’ crucifixion was like that of a sacrificial lamb being offered to take away the sins of the world.  (John 1:29)

    This new understanding of the nature of God was a quantum leap away from being the divine protector of the Jews.  Jesus demonstrated through his life and death that God would not intervene in the same way that Hebrew authors had written in their scrolls.  He would come as a suffering servant as was described by the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 42:6f)

    While dying, Jesus reassured a thief that hung on a cross next to him that he would join Jesus in paradise that day.  While dying, Jesus asked John to care for Mary, his mother.  While dying, Jesus forgave those that had convinced Pontius Pilate to crucify him and the Roman soldiers that drove nails into his body.  Clearly, the nature of this Messiah was quite different.

    Our Messiah never stopped teaching people how to define themselves through the spirit by which they live.  Many of these qualities were mentioned by the Apostle Paul.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  There is no law against such as these.” (Galatians 5:22) 

    What made Christianity distinctive are these words from Jesus,

You have heard it said, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.”span style="mso-spacerun:yes">  But now I tell you:  love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.  God makes his sun to shine equally on those who are misguided in their beliefs and on those that understand the ways of God.  God also allows the rain to fall on people whose spirits are loving and on those whose spirits are self-absorbed with evil.”  (Matthew 5:43f)

     The Kingdom of God will not come on earth as a result of God forgiving everyone of their sins.  The Kingdom will come on earth when everyone has learned to love others even when there are a variety of beliefs that people have.  This is how God loves.  When people are able to love as God loves us, they become one in spirit with God.  (John 17:20)

    How do you describe your relationship to Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God?  After being in ministry since 1968, I have learned that what matters for people is when their beliefs sustain their faith and trust in God’s presence through every circumstance they face.  God is not looked upon as an ATM, or One that intervenes in people’s lives to fix problems.  This Carpenter helps people rebuild their lives from the inside out.  It does not matter if these beliefs differ significantly from the beliefs of others. 

    A number of us have experienced miraculous events in our lives because we chose to interpret them through the eyes of faith.  For example, one Saturday night, I sat up in bed and said, “Lois, I cannot preach the sermon that I have prepared for tomorrow.  Something is not right about it and I have go to the church and work on a new one.”  Lois said, “Dick, it is 10:30 p.m. and tomorrow is Easter Sunday.  What’s the matter with the sermon you prepared?”  I had no answer but I could not silence the urge that was telling me that I needed to write a different message.

    This drama took place when we were at our church on Capitol Hill where I was still wedded to an IBM electric typewriter. Computers were in another universe that I had not yet entered.  The urgency was that Easter Sunday would have one of our larger congregations and creating a sermon less than two hours before midnight on Saturday night was an insane idea. 

    I walked up the street to the church, entered my office, sat at my desk and said out loud, “Okay.  My message for tomorrow must change.  I need your help.”  I faced my typewriter and a completely new message poured through my fingers.  It was among the most remarkable experiences of my life!  I wrote a new sermon in 45 minutes.  The Scripture came to mind that when we ask for help, it will come.  (John 14:14) 

    Was my sermon among the most profound that I had ever delivered?  Not from my point of view.  I had no idea why the sermon I prepared was not suitable.  The importance of the sermon was not the issue for me.  What impacted my life was the way it came once I asked for help.  I teasingly said, “Hey, any time you want to feed me my sermons in this way, I am very open to that.”

    Each of us must choose the way we relate to this carpenter who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the new form of The Messiah.  For some of us, he died on the cross to forgive the sins of the world as the Gospel of John proclaims.  For others, he introduced them to the idea that there is nothing in the external world that can save anyone because The Kingdom of God is within each of us.  (Luke 17:20f)  For still others of us, when we have committed ourselves to the spirit by which Jesus lived, our attitudes, emotions, thought patterns, goals and spirits become totally transformed by love.  (Romans 8:35f) 

    God relates to everyone on the level of their understanding.  God understands where each of us has come from. Yes, God is good and God’s spirit is filled with infinite mercy for each of us.