Scripture: Luke 19:28-44
I could be wrong about this, but I think there is a good chance that the majority of you have heard the name Tony Hawk at some point in your life. For about twenty years now, he has been something of a household name. There is also a good chance that the majority of you who have heard his name, probably know that what he is best known for is skateboarding. The funny thing is his name and being good with a skateboard is all that Tony Hawk is known for. A lot of people have a passing familiarity with him, but it does not go any further. This has led to multiple encounters where Tony Hawk goes completely unrecognized. For instance, he had has TSA agents check his ID, recognized his last name is Hawk. They then mention it is neat he has the same last name “as that famous skater”, and then wander out loud just what is he up to now. There was another time when Tony Hawk tweeted this: Met a dude at a gas station in Iowa. He said “Anyone ever tell you that you look like a young Tony Hawk?” He is my new favorite person.” There was also a time when he was in line at the grocery store and the guy in front of him asked, “Do you ever get mistaken for Tony Hawk?”
A lot of people love the idea of meeting someone famous. This past week I was at Star Wars celebration, and there were a lot of people who paid between $50-100 so they could “meet”, and pose for a picture. Often these were not the headlining actors, but people who had secondary roles. In a few instance, their screen time is best measured in seconds. Despite that, people happily paid for the privilege to meet someone famous. Yet, as Tony Hawk’s ongoing experiences show when someone with fame just naturally crosses our paths, we are not prepared for it. We completely overlook and fail to realize what is right in front of us. I feel like Jesus could have related to this.
In first century Israel, the people were looking for a Messiah. The faithful held at hope that the messiah would come, and they were always looking expectantly for signs and clues as to who that person might be. For three years of ministry, Jesus was not exactly subtle in presenting himself as the Messiah. On more than one occasion in the gospels he more or less proclaims he is. Yet, all the way to the end some people completely overlooked him and failed to realize that the Messiah they were waiting was standing right in front of them. Failing to recognize Jesus is not an issue that is unique to first century Israel.
Lent is meant to be a time when we commit as both individuals and as a community to take our faith more seriously. If we are going to be serious about our faith, then we have to know our faith. To those ends, throughout Lent on Sunday mornings we have been focusing on the core beliefs of faith. We are going to focus on the core beliefs shared by Christians, as well as those ways the Methodist tradition uniquely emphasizes those beliefs. Today we are going to focus on what just might be the most central, core, and important belief for Christians. This is the belief more than any other that sets us apart from every other faith in the world. In fact I will go as far as saying, in order to be a Christian you MUST believe this. You must profess that Jesus is the messiah.
When Jesus emerged from the wilderness one of his first acts was to go to the synagogue in Nazareth and declare that he was the messiah. During three years of traveling, preaching, and performing miracles he made this claim in various ways, but he never went as far as to publicly declaring it in an irrefutable way. The changed at the beginning of the last Passover on the day we now remember as Palm Sunday.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and in doing so he timed it just perfectly to make an amazing statement. First, Jesus was in no uncertain terms declaring himself the messiah. It was more than a coincidence that Jesus chose a donkey as his mode of transportation. In the Old Testament book of Zechariah there is a prophecy in Zechariah 9:4, that reads: “Rejoice greatly daughter Zion! Shout Daughter Jerusalem! See your king comes to you righteous and victorious lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. Remember, this was a time of messianic expectation. The people were expecting the messiah to come, and these expectations reached a fever pitch around the Passover. This is because many thought that the Messiah would come during one of the high holy days like Passover, and tradition had come to believe that when the Messiah rode into Jerusalem on a donkey they would come in to the temple through a specific gate. Jesus rode into the temple through this gate, while riding a donkey. The optics being presented and the message being declared were undeniably clear.
When Jesus rode into the temple, making a loud declaration, the people responded. They waved branches and they shouted. The certainly saw Jesus, but it is questionable how many recognized him. The Pharisees certainly saw Jesus, but they saw him less of a savior and more of an annoyance. The religious leaders in power had come to something of an understanding with the Romans. They may not like Roman rule, but they had learned how to prosper under it. Jesus threatened that. When Jesus came to Jerusalem as a messiah, they only saw trouble. They saw a wild card that would upset the balance. This is why they wanted Jesus to silence his disciples. The Pharisees saw Jesus, but they could care less if he was the messiah or not. To them, he was an inconvenience to their own plans, designs, and power.
Some of the other people saw Jesus for he was, the messiah, the son of the living God. He had disciples, including the twelve, who had followed him from Galilee. They may not have fully realized what being the Messiah entailed, but perhaps those disciples were on the right path. The majority though, were looking for something else. Many were hoping the messiah would be a political savior. Their idea of a messiah was someone who would lead a rebellion to restore Israel to the world stage. Even though the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament are about restoring relationship with God, they took them to mean a restoration of power and prestige. When Jesus declared that he was he messiah, instead of trying to recognize what that truly meant, the people instead focused on what they wanted Jesus to be, not on who he truly is. They were quick to wave palm branches and declare “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, but when Jesus did not immediately give what they wanted, their silence became deafening. None of the people who shouted Hosanna were present to drown out the crowd on Friday who shouted crucify him.
The gospel of John records that Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. The vast majority of the Jews, God’s chosen people, did not realize that the messiah was right in front of them. They did not realize that God was moving ,and God was seeking to restore not just them, but all of the world as God’s people. This is why as Jesus approached Jerusalem he wept. He knew what he had come to do, and he knew that the vast majority of the people in that city were not going to recognize the messiah had been among them.
Today, there are still people who do not recognize Jesus for the messiah he is. This week several cable stations will re-air some of their old Jesus specials, and a lot of these focus on the “historical Jesus.” The vain academic quest for the historical Jesus seeks to view Jesus only as a person in 1st century Israel. It focuses entirely on human concerns and human variables. These attempts to isolate the historical Jesus do not recognize Jesus. Jesus was a historical person, who lived in first century Israel and died on a cross. The historical Jesus and the eternal Jesus are on in the same. The Jesus that walked dusty roads to Jerusalem is the same Jesus who sits at the right hand of the father. The historical Jesus that hung on the cross is the same eternal Jesus that rules as a holy king. To try to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of faith denies that Jesus is the messiah sent to redeem the world.
There are other long standing positions used today that show people might see Jesus but do not recognize the messiah. One such argument has been around for close to a century now, and that is Jesus is one of many great moral teachers. Like Buddha or Confucius, Jesus is just one of many enlightened people throughout history who give us wisdom for the ages. All the way back in the 1940’s, C.S. Lewis refuted this. In Mere Christianity Lewis states: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Throughout his ministry Jesus eluded to and sometimes made more direct statements that he is the messiah. On Palm Sunday, Jesus publicly and undeniably declared that to be so. Jesus cannot just be a great human teacher, because Jesus claimed to be far more than that. Jesus claimed to be the messiah, the very son of God.
Again this is a fundamental belief of Christianity. You cannot be a Christian without Christ. From the very beginning of the church, disciples have had a good idea of what it means to have Jesus be the Messiah. Paul wrote the letter of the Philippians to the first generation of Christians. This was before disciples started doing things like writing creeds or doctrinal statement. Yet in that letter Paul includes what many biblical scholars believe is an early hymn. That hymn defines what it means for Jesus to be the messiah just as well as any of our modern creeds and doctrinal statements. Philippians Chapter 2 records about Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus was and is the chosen one. He is the person, the only person, who has the ability to set us right with God, erase our transgressions, and free our hearts from slavery to sin and death. Jesus, being fully God and fully man, was obedient to death on a cross that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus is the messiah. On Palm Sunday Jesus declared this eternal truth, and he set in motion the events that would lead to the cross. He died to save the world of its sins, which means he died to save each and every one of us of our sins as well. May you know, may you believe, and may you be willing to confess that Jesus is your savior. May you know that God has exalted him to the highest place, and at the name of Jesus, ma your knee be willing to bow, and may you always acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord!