Intro: I wonder what it was like to be one of those disciples climbing the up the hill to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? What were they feeling? Excitement? Joy? Anticipation? But what about fear? Garrisoned at the Fortress Antonia were Roman troops. How many? Enough for there not to be trouble. Plus temple guards. The disciples knew that Jesus had offended the ruling Sanhedrin and the ones who maintained the temple. The word "Crisis" means great opportunity with great possibility for failure.
Somewhere on the road, maybe a day or two before Palm Sunday, a discussion occurred which I think sheds some light on what was in disciples mind. It involves two of the biggest and windiest disciples, James and John. If 12 disciples making noise on Palm Sunday, you can bet 2 of disciples where making 80% of the noise, James and John, better by the nick-name Jesus gave them, "sons of thunder."
[ Mark 10:32-40]
I. I like people who can give yes or no answers. We spent the last week dealing with used car salesmen, doing a little search for a car. I have come to believe that not many people in that business can answer a straight question without resorting to convolutions. But these two fishermen, James and John, when Jesus says, "Are you able to suffer like I am going to suffer and even to die for your faith?" They simply say "yes, we are able."
[Reminds me of the story about a fish and game warden, who had a neighbor named Charlie. The game warden was always suspicious that Charlie was doing something illegal, but he could never catch him. Each morning, the game warden would see Charlie go out fishing at daybreak and then within an hour come up from the lake with a basket full of large fish. One day the game warden met Charlie as he was going down to fish and the warden said, "Can I come with you?" Charlie looked him up and down and said, "do you really want to fish?" The warden said yes. So, Charlie took him in the boat to the far side of the lake. Stopping the boat, Charlie opened lunch pail and took out a stick of dynamite and threw it over board. Boom! All the fish floated up to the surface.
The game warden had a conniption. Read old Charlie the riot act. Charlie just reached in and took another stick of dynamite and lit it and handed it to the warden. He said, "hey, you gonna fish or talk?
I think James and John were willing to take the dynamite and fish. That's what Palm Sunday is about.They were all going up to Jerusalem. Jesus is talking about how he's going to get crucified. James and John step up and ask if they can get the spots on either side of him. See how committed they were to Jesus. How committed to Jesus are you this morning?
II. Perhaps James and John were like the secret service, always ready to take a bullet for Jesus. Imagine these two burly fishermen who moonlighted as bar-room bouncers. On more than one occasion, Jesus went out into the night alone, and he asked James and John to go along. I think these two assumed that it was their job to protect Jesus. They were his body guards. When Jesus came into his kingdom, they wanted to have their seats by his side so they could look out for him. Little did these big lugs realize then that the reason Jesus often took them out into the night alone with him was so that he could give them extra lessons on how to pray. It was kind of detention for disciples and James and John got it often.
James and John didn't realize their human strength wouldn't be needed by Jesus in Jerusalem. When his hour came, he would not need them to protect him. And they had not yet earned the honor of being crucified to his right and left. That would honor would be stolen by thieves. James and John would be left with nothing to do that Friday afternoon but to watch and pray. This is a hard task for action-oriented people to do. It is hard for the courageous to be humble. It is hard for those accustom to leaping before they think, to be reflective and take the full weight of the crucifixion in.
What about you, as you prepare the week ahead. You may, even now, be considering all the things you need to do. Some of you have a grocery list started on your iPhone. You have been hoping that I haven't noticed you adding items to it as I speak. Will you be ready, come Friday, to watch and pray?
III. I often ask myself, if I lived back then, if I were a disciple, would I be like James and John? Would I say, "Lord, I am able to be crucified with you." It says here that some of the disciples, as Jesus led them up to Jerusalem, were amazed. Some, like James and John were emboldened. They could taste victory. Others, like those who followed further behind, were afraid. And last in that line was Judas, who decided to betray Jesus.
I think that each of these parade goers realized better than we do today what Palm Sunday is all about. Jesus coming to Jerusalem was a political statement. Everyone knew about the prophesy from Zechariah involving the coming Messiah sitting on a donkey. Jesus was claiming on this day the right to sit on Herod's throne. He was saying to Pontius Pilate and to the Roman legions stationed in the Fortress Antonia get out or be put out because the son of God has come
I admire the courage that these two had. It is rare thing to be foolishly brave. It is a rare thing to totally trust Jesus. We usually make sure that we have an exit plan before we make life and death decisions. We keep our receipts. We make sure that what we buy into has a money-back guarantee. James and John had no exit strategy. They went into Jerusalem ready to die with Jesus.
When you think about it, the greatest decisions that we make in life are those in which there is no safety net. If we decide to get married. If we decide to join the military or enter a dangerous career. When we choose to have children. My kids didn't come with a guarantee, did yours? When choose one course of treatment over another. Do we take the medication that has serious side effects? Or do we take a risk on something else? I contend that these decisions --the ones that have a certain irreversibility to them -- are the ones that demonstrate both our humanity and our faith in Jesus.
There used to be a game show on TV where people were given a bunch of money and then they could make a bet; they could choose what was behind door number 1 or 2 or number 3. What If you knew that behind one of the doors there was the answer to all your problems... riches, and happiness, and life everlasting, but behind each of the other doors there was a roaring lion ready to devour you. Would you have the courage to pick a door?
IV. For us today, to choose Jesus is to choose a faith that costs and keeps on costing. Ask James and John on the way to Jerusalem. Ask Paul when he faced wild lions at Ephesus. Ask Hudson Taylor, or David Livingston, or any of the great missionaries. Ask any real Christian that you know.
Often times, preachers will preach sermons on how naive or selfish James and John were for asking for thrones next to Jesus in glory. But, I pray for myself and all of us here that we might have the courage of a James or a John or a Mary Magdalene or a Mother Theresa. We often hear sermons on how frail and stupid the disciples were. Sure they weren't the quickest to catch on to Jesus' teaching. Still, everyone of those twelve, and many of the women with them, went up that road prepared to suffer and die. (With the possible exception of Judas)
Is that possible for Christians to have the same faith today?
James and John have been our examples this morning. Everyday, you are an example for someone else. The people around us will not be helped by our having a half-hearted faith. Goethe said, "Give me the benefit of your convictions, don't give me your doubts, I have enough of my own."