19:28-40. John 19:13-16, Psalm
Called to Praise God.
What is there in your life that is worth shouting about?
Consider the following scenario. You have been given tickets and travel to and watch your favorite college basketball team as they are playing in the conference playoff finals on their home court. The team been rarely ranked among the top teams in the nation, and they have played an average season. However, they seemed to have come alive in the playoffs. After winning several key games, they are playing the first-seeded team in the conference, an arrogant team that has not experienced a single conference defeat in several seasons. You watched your team steadily fall behind in the score since the opening tip-off and they are behind by more than 30 points at the half. However, something happened over the half-time break. Upon their return they begin to chip away at their opponent's lead, scoring on nearly every possession and forcing several turnovers. The home team crowd is getting louder and louder as the number of trailing points shrinks. Still, they are two points behind with 15 seconds left, and their opponents have the ball, passing it around at their end of the court in an attempt to run out the clock. It would seem that all hope of a win is gone.
Then with about 3 seconds left one of the passes gets intercepted by one of your second-string players who takes the ball at a full run and watching the clock throws a Hail-Mary from past mid-court. As the ball starts back down from its arc high above the crowd the buzzer sounds and the ball sees nothing but net, falling through the hoop, scoring three points for a win.
What would you be doing right now? I would be shouting and screaming along with the rest of the home-team crowd. We would be lavishing praise upon the team for their accomplishment during the tournament. We would be lavishing praise upon the coach for his part in the winning streak. We tend to lavish tremendous praise upon the winner.
There will be little such praise for the losing team or for the losing coach. The losing coach could also lose his job.
The world is always ready to lavish praise upon the winner and condemn the loser. We are not afraid to shout praises to those who stand in the winner's circle, to those who accomplish what we consider to be great feats. We are not afraid to shout praises to those who entertain us. Many of the most popular performing acts take the stage to the screams of adoring fans. Sometimes those fans might be us.
Praise is an important part of the Christian life. Christians are instructed many times to lift up their praises to God in many ways: through prayers, through shouting, through music, et. al. Yet in our penchant for judging others, we have a tendency to praise those whom we adore and condemn those whom we despise and sometimes forget our praises for the one who truly deserves all of our praise: God who redeemed us.
1. PRAISE FOR THE WINNER. Luke 19:28-40.
And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 29And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. 31And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. 32And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them. 33And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? 34And they said, The Lord hath need of him. 35And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. 36And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. 37And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; 38Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. 39And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. 40And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out..
Luke paints for us a vivid picture of Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. We can see the image of Jesus, a man of full stature, entering Jerusalem seated on a colt, a small donkey. The disciples had borrowed the colt, thrown their clothes over it for a saddle, and when they came within sight of Jerusalem the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and shout praises of adoration to God, proclaiming the coming of Jesus. Why did they praise Jesus?
Some praised the man, Jesus. THIS IS GROUP NUMBER ONE. Many of the Jews who were in Jerusalem for the Passover had come from surrounding communities that were vividly familiar with Jesus' miracles. They had heard his teaching about a new kingdom, and now they were witnessing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a colt. They may have recalled the prophesy of Zechariah (9:9 ff) that proclaims the king who will bring salvation to Zion, a king who triumphantly enters the city, riding on the back of a colt. Considering themselves to be in bondage to the foreign government, Rome, they saw Jesus as their salvation from that bondage. They believed that Jesus would free them from Rome and establish a new and independent kingdom of Israel. Like those of us who shout at the success of the buzzer-beater that brings about an assured victory, the people shouted their praises as they saw Jesus as that same assured victory in a battle against an unbeatable foe: the Roman Empire.
These people had also seen and heard of Jesus' healing power. Decimated by the power of sickness Jesus brought to them the hope of receiving that same healing. There would be no more sickness in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophesy of Exodus 15:26. This is truly reason for celebration as they expected this new King to be their salvation from sickness and death.
These people celebrated for what Jesus could do for them: save them from the Romans and bring them eternal health. They expected a great victory. They anticipated their witnessing of the overthrow of Rome and dreamed of their part in it. They dreamed of the new kingdom that this Messiah would bring to them. They had cause for celebration.
Some praised the LORD, Jesus. THIS IS GROUP NUMBER TWO. In addition to the Apostles, we are aware of over one hundred other disciples who had been following Jesus and had accompanied Him on His trip to Jerusalem from Galilee through Samaria. For a few of these, this entrance into Jerusalem was particularly exciting. They understood that Jesus was more than just an earthly, political king. They understood that Jesus was the LORD, YHWH, Yahweh. They anticipated Jesus' restoration of the Temple to that of the glory days of the Kings. Jesus would be both the King and the High Priest, a priest in the order of Melchizadek. To some extent they understood that it is through this Messiah that they would find righteousness and be set free from the burden of their sinfulness. They had cause for celebration. These people celebrated for what Jesus could do, not only for them, but for all people.
We see that their praise was EXPECTANT. The people in the crowd had expectations of what this triumphant king would bring to their lives. They believed that somehow Jesus would overthrow Rome and restore the Temple. In a large part, the people defined Jesus by their expectations.
We see that their praise was EXUBERANT. The noise of the crowd was probably not unlike the noise of the basketball fans who are engaged in exuberant shouts of joy when their underdog home team suddenly wins the championship.
We see that their praise was SINCERE. Whether or not they understood the purpose of the Messiah, the people of both groups were genuinely excited, and held a great expectation and anticipation of the role of the coming King. They were fully ready to submit themselves to His Kingship, or His Lordship, depending upon their understanding of who Jesus is.
We see that their praise was APPROPRIATE. When the adulation of the crowds was criticized by the religious leadership, Jesus proclaimed that if they were constrained from praising Him, the very rocks would cry out in praise. Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, and He was clearly making this point. Jesus is LORD, Yahweh, the Messiah who was the Agent of Creation and the Judge of All. He is the King of Kings. He is worthy of all of the praise that this world can give.
From all appearances, we would expect the crowds, both GROUP ONE and GROUP TWO to stand by Jesus during the events of the next few days. They have appropriately and sincerely voiced their submission to His Kingship, and they have done so with great exuberance and expectation. However, as we find from our illustration of the buzzer-beater, the losing team is not treated with the same adulation as the winning team. Both teams have proven themselves to be outstanding, working their way successfully to the finals in a rigorous competition. But human nature has no room for a loser. The sin of pride prevents us from praising only the one who gratifies our own desire to identify with the winning team. During the days following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, events occurred that did not meet the expectations of the people in both GROUP ONE and GROUP TWO. Jesus did not overthrow the government of Rome, nor did he restore the Temple. What the people witnessed was quite different.
2. CONDEMNATION FOR THE LOSER. John 19:13-16.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. 16Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.
How quick we are to condemn. How many people have enjoyed the adulation of adoring crowds only to see that praise turn instantly into condemnation when they no longer meet the crowd's expectations? Pete Rose was one of the most adored baseball players in the game until his gambling hobby was revealed, and he was reviled. We are currently watching the fans turn on Barry Bonds for his alleged use of steroids. What happened to those adoring crowds that stood at the gates of Jerusalem just a short time before?
We might recall that the bulk of the crowd was from GROUP ONE. This is the group that adored Jesus because He could do for them. However, the daily headline had dramatically changed. For this group, this One who proclaimed to be this new and coming King turned out to be an utter failure. His mission to defeat Rome had miserably failed. The religious administration He came to depose has taken Him prisoner and is arranging His death by crucifixion.
Their EXPECTATION of who Jesus was changed to DISAPPOINTMENT when their desires were not met, leading them to no longer believe that He is the Messiah. To them He is now simply another false Prophet, an imposter who deserves death for His heresies.
Their EXUBERANCE is changed to ANGER when they found that Jesus did not come as a political leader. They were ready to do anything it takes to remove Jesus from influence, even to the point of His crucifixion.
Where they were SINCERE in their adulation for Jesus as their new King, they are now demonstrating the HYPOCRISY of that praise because they did not actually receive Him or submit to Him as their King. As soon as He no longer was the king they wanted, they did not consider Him a king at all.
Where their praise was once APPROPRIATE, their condemnation is now a testimony to their sinful and judging hearts.
Where was GROUP TWO at this time? Where were the ones who did receive Jesus as their LORD? Faced with the overwhelming power of GROUP ONE, this group went into hiding, leaving Jesus to look out over the crowd of unbelievers. Jesus had earlier expressed how His heart was broken for this city that kills the prophets, and one can speculate that His heart was breaking as He was witnessing with human eyes the repetition of the idolatry that brought them to destruction at the hands of the Babylonians just a few centuries before.
3. PRAISE FOR THE LORD AND KING. Psalm 111:1-10
Human nature gives praise as a condition of one's own judgment and expectations, lavishing it upon those whom we favor, and withholding it from those whom we despise. We tend to be conditional in our praise. When we look in our own hearts, how do we respond in our praise to God? The crowds praised Jesus for what they thought they would receive from Him. Do we do the same? Are we more interested in what God will give to us, and withhold our praise for those times we sense what we have received? Why is it so easy to shout out praises to our winning basketball team, but we often stand silent when we have opportunity to praise our LORD, the King of Kings?
Like in so many areas of our lives, we struggle to rise above the sinful world that we are immersed in. God is calling his faithful out of that sinful world, calling them to love Him. This is what separates the faithful from GROUP ONE. Those who praised Jesus upon His entrance into Jerusalem did not LOVE Him. The faithful can stand in confidence as they praise God because of their love for Him. Giving God this love is not a choice for the Christian, it is the calling of the Christian. This call to love God is not a suggestion; it is a command:
Deut. 6:5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
When I was young, I thought that this command was impossible. I desired to love God this way, but I found I loved other things more. Our church fellowship created an environment that was a nice place to be, and they talked about Jesus and a God who were a nice part of my life, but at that early age I had not fully committed my life to Christ. Like the people in GROUP ONE, I could praise Jesus along with everyone else and agree with everyone else that Jesus was the LORD and King. My decision to praise Jesus was based upon a logical choice: Jesus is LORD, therefore He is worthy of praise.
Still, there was this conundrum. I could join others in praise, yet I did not love the LORD with all of my heart, soul, and strength. It was very easy for me to leave the church behind and enter back into my own little world and, basically, ignore God's call on my life. However, God was working on me through those faithful people in the church and through the power of the Holy Spirit to show me the reason why I could not love God in this way. That reason was the unforgiven sin that characterized my own life.
What has Jesus done for us that makes Him worthy of our unconditional praise? Paul writes,
Romans 5:8. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
1 Peter 3:18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,
The difference between GROUP ONE and GROUP TWO was the decision that each individual in the faithful second group made to love God, doing so by placing all of their faith and trust in Him. When one makes the choice to place their faith and trust in God, the value of the things of this world pale in comparison to the love of God for us. When we place our faith in God we find that we can love Him with all of our heart. We can love Him with all of our soul. We can love Him will all of our strength. By loving God in this way, we are giving to Him our mind, our will, and our emotions. When we have done this we can really appreciate and understand what God has done for us. He is the King of all Kings, the Savior, the Messiah who entered the gates of our hearts in triumph as He released us from the bondage to sin and idolatry.
The Jerusalem Jews saw Rome as the beast that vexed them, not understanding that the real beast is satan, who has the power to destroy those who reject God. Christ did not come to defeat Rome who only had the power to kill the body, He came to seal the defeat of satan who had the power to kill the soul. The Jerusalem Jews had good reason to praise the One who would save them from Rome. How much more of a good reason do we have to praise the One who has saved us from satan? Not only is God worthy of our praise, He requires our praise. Note the words of the writer of Psalm 111:
1 Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.
2 The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
3 His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
4 He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant.
6 He hath showed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.
7 The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.
Like those who witnessed Jesusí entry into Jerusalem, our praise of Him can be EXPECTANT, as we can fully expect God (who is faithful in all things) to fulfill the promise of salvation. Our praise can be EXUBERANT as we praise Him with all of the means we have including our prayers, our voices, our music, our writing, etc. Our praise can also be SINCERE as we truly love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength. Finally, our praise for God that is expectant, exuberant, and sincere is APPROPRIATE since God is worthy of all of our praise, and He desires it.
Let us never be like those Jerusalem Jews who praise God with our lips, but fail to truly praise Him in our hearts. Let us come to a renewed commitment to love God with all of our hearts, with all of our mind, and all of our strength. Let us thank God for what He as done, and may our praise for Him be continually on our lips with words that come from the very depths of our heart.