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Palm Branches and Red Carpets
April 4, 2004
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke, chapter 19 and follow along as I read verses 28-40. Hear what the spirit says to us.
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,
30 saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.
31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'"
32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.
33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34 They said, "The Lord needs it."
35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,
38 saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop."
40 He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
According to Hollywood, red carpet treatment consist of three “G”s---Glitter, Glamour, and Gossip. If you tuned in February 29th to the 76th Annual Academy Awards, you got your fill of the “three G’s” as celebrities walked the Red Carpet on their way into the Kodak Theatre. The E! Network began its coverage of the Oscars at noon, offering six hours of buildup to the arrival of the stars for the awards ceremony. Thousands of fans sat in specially constructed stands to catch all the action. Why? Why were they out there? Perhaps they wanted to see which female star’s neckline plunged the lowest; perhaps they wanted to see whether Russell Crowe is really a “hunk in a funk” as he is sometimes described, or maybe they just do not have lives of their own and consequently spend their time following the lives of others.
Those watching on television stayed glued to the tube for a glimpse of Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kate Hudson, Elijah Wood, Reese Witherspoon and others. Flashbulbs popped as photographers shot pictures for the covers of People, Us, and The National Enquirer. Interviewers stuck microphones into celebrity faces and asked stupid questions, to which they received mostly stupid answers.
People actually enjoy this stuff. The Academy Awards show has become the most-watched television event in the world, drawing nearly a billion viewers. About one in every six human beings watched the Oscars. Glitter, glamour, gossip—the 3 “G’s” work well in Hollywood.
Jesus the Celebrity
And not just in Hollywood. Almost 2,000 years ago, Palm Sabbath was a major happening. A superstar was coming to town, so the people of Jerusalem spread their cloaks on the road (Luke 19:36). At the time, Jerusalem was overflowing with Passover pilgrims. As many as 2.5 million people were in and around the city. The city was already electrified by this great festival, then on top of that here comes this celebrity from Galilee. It was an Oscar celebration long before they had Oscars.
Jesus was aware of this, and knew exactly what he was getting into. He expected a hero’s welcome on Palm Sabbath, but he also knew how this was all going to turn out. He had been alluding to it for weeks, much to the dismay of his disciples. It would end at the cross, but that is several days away. First we have this Palm Sabbath Parade.
The gospel of Luke also tells us that Jesus and his disciples did all their own advance work. He sent two disciples ahead of him to acquire a colt, and said to them, “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it’” (19:31). Just as Jesus predicted, the owners of the colt asked that very question, but they were silenced when the disciples explained, “The Lord needs it.”
The point of Palm Sunday is that Jesus receives celebrity treatment as he enters Jerusalem. All the expected elements are in place: He makes a grand entrance. He is escorted by the citizens of Jerusalem and “the whole multitude of the disciples” (v. 37). They wave palm branches, praise him for his deeds of power, and sing hymns of acclamation, crying out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven” (v. 38). He rides on a colt, on the foal of a donkey, just as King Solomon did before his coronation, signifying that he is a king coming to his own coronation.
So Jesus is a superstar, complete with the “three G’s” of glitter, glamour and gossip. He has the glitter of a royal entrance, the glamour of waving palm branches, and even the gossip associated with his disciples and the borrowed colt. A lot of buzz surrounds this celebrity superstar as he enters the Holy City.
Like modern celebrities, Jesus is not only idolized, he is also picked apart. He is feeling the love of the people on Sunday; feeling their disappointment on Monday, and feeling their rage on Friday. The machinery that kills him on Friday begins to operate on Sunday. As the disciples sing praises, the Pharisees begin to shout, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” But Jesus refuses to do this, replying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (vv. 39-40).
From this point on, the gossip about Jesus becomes increasingly negative. People sense that he is not interested in driving out the oppressive Romans. They notice that he travels with a band of unarmed disciples, not a cell of terrorist operatives, as did Barabbas, for example. They hear him speak of loving enemies, not of glorious victories. The chief priests, scribes and leaders of the people start to look for a way to kill Jesus (19:47), and by the end of the week the people themselves are shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:21). Luke tells us that the Roman governor can find no ground for the sentence of death, but the crowd keeps demanding that Jesus should be crucified. In the end, to keep the peace, the governor grants them their wish (23:22-25).
Jesus is killed on Friday because he fails to live up to human fantasies. They loved him on Sunday. They despised him by Friday because he was not what they wanted him to be. They were thinking about Jesus in human terms. When they recognized Jesus as king, they were thinking in terms of a king of Judaea who would lead them into a war with the Romans. That was as far as their thinking would let them go. They did not realize that they were dealing with the king of the universe. When they gave Jesus the red carpet treatment, they saw a celebrity, they did not see the Lord of life.
Now we might want to congratulate ourselves here and say that we know better, we know who Jesus was, but do we, that is the question. Or maybe we should put the question this way: How do we know Jesus? How do we regard Jesus?
For example, some folks regard Jesus as a means of self-aggrandizement. They use Jesus to convince themselves that they are better than other people. They are outwardly Christians. They make a profession of Christianity and they are not hypocrites. Ask them if they believe in Jesus as their personal savior and they will say that they do, but what they mean by that is that they use Jesus as something to glorify themselves. We have all encountered these kinds of folks in the church. They profess Christ so that they can look down on other people. This is “Oneupmanship Religion.” Oneupmanship religion uses religion as a means of getting one up on everyone else. It is “I-centered” religion. It is about me.
For example, a person may make some great profession about their difficulties in becoming a Christian. We have all heard these “testimonies.” The person talks about how they were a drunk or a druggie and they dwell upon their past sins, in fact, they talk so much about their past sins, we wonder if they do not still love their sins too much. There is nothing wrong with testifying about how we became a Christian. We all have an interesting and valuable testimony, but the testimony should focus on Christ. It is a characteristic of oneupmanship religion that the focus is on me and my sins.
Or again, some folks practice oneupmanship by talking about how much more difficult their brand of Christianity is than other brands. They may have all sorts of rules and regulations. Their religion has lists of things you cannot do, and things you must do. They may only wear certain clothes, or perhaps they do not wear jewelry, or maybe they do not eat certain foods. Maybe they fast during certain seasons of the Christian year. And it is all so hard, but they get through it, and look how great they are. This kind of holier than thouness is exactly what the Pharisees did in ancient Judaea, and that is why Jesus condemned them so harshly. Of course, nothing is wrong with wearing a certain kind of clothes or wearing or not wearing jewelry, and many people could afford to fast more than they do. But what is their motive? If their motive is to emphasize how hard I have it and thus how much better a Christian I am than you other cloddies then that is one-upmanship religion, and not Christianity at all. In other words, if I am doing all this religious stuff to be respected and admired by other people, then that is the wrong motive. If I do not do certain things because I want other people to look at me and think, How religious he is, what a great saint of God he is—if that is my thinking, then that is wrong. It is wrong because it is selfish. Oneupmanship religion stems from the human desire to fit in socially or to climb the social ladder. They want others to think well of them, so in a Christian society they make a mighty profession of Christianity—which has nothing to do with Christ. If we only make a profession of Christ to fit into our society or to get other people to think well of me, then that is just about me. It is not about accepting Christ as lord of my life at all.
Jesus refer to one-upmanship religion in the sermon on the mount when he says, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matt. 6:5-6). What Jesus is saying is that people use prayer to make a show of religion. They use their supposed piety as a means of spiritual oneupmanship. “Look at me, I am praying. What a great saint I must be.” Now Jesus is not saying that we should not pray in public. What he is saying is that we should not make a show of prayer so that people will admire us. If that is our motive, Jesus says, then we have our reward when people admire us and we should not expect such prayers to be heard by God.
Sometimes one-upmanship religion takes the form of denominationalism. In denominationalism, the person says, “I belong to thus and so denomination, and we are the only ones who have the truth, and we are the only ones who are going to heaven.” Who does that glorify? It does not glorify Jesus. It glorifies the self. I am the one with the truth, too bad about the rest of you dummies. Folks that think like that should read the Bible. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” He did not say he would build the Presbyterian Church nor the Baptist Church nor the Methodist Church nor the fire-baptized, saved and sanctified full Gospel church. He said his church. And the people who belong to his church are not ARPs or Episcopalian or Roman Catholic. They are his people, people who accept Jesus as Lord of their lives. Here is the principle: Denominations do not save you; denominations do not get you to heaven, only Jesus does that.
Sometimes we use one-upmanship religion with regard to the local church. A lady told me once, “I go to such and such a church because it is the most beautiful church in town.” Or another says, “We have more programs than other churches.” You can hear the one-upmanship in those statements. “My church is better than your church.” Now I have nothing against a beautiful church. I personally think that York ARP is the most beautiful church in York. But that is not a reason to go to church. We go to church to worship Jesus Christ.
But some folks get it all tangled up as to what it means to worship Christ. They think that the worship of Christ is a matter of church ceremony and ritual, and they elevate those things so much that they begin to worship ceremony and ritual. That was what the whole Protestant Reformation was about back in the sixteenth century. We realized that over the centuries church ritual had become so complicated and so many things had been added that Christian worship had become more ritual than worship, that we had all this stuff in the church and not much of Christ in the church..
All of this one-upmanship religion is much like the view that the crowd had of Jesus on Palm Sabbath. They put Jesus on the celebrity red carpet because of what they thought they could get from him.
Today, we need to look at our own motives. We need to put Jesus in his proper place—which is not on the celebrity Red Carpet but in the center of all life and specifically in the center of our lives. Jesus is not interested in glitter, glamour and gossip, but he is interested in being our lord and savior. As lord and savior Jesus leads us not into some sort of spiritual one-upmanship, but into a life of love.
How many times does Jesus say to us, my people are a people of love. The problem with all that one-upmanship religion is that it has no love. It may profess the right doctrines. It may say all the right words. It may do all the social things that people think go into making a great Christian. In fact, it is empty of Christ, because it is empty of love.
On Palm Sabbath, they had all the wrong motives about Jesus. They wanted to use Jesus in some way. What about our motives? Do we put Jesus on a red carpet because we want to use Jesus? That is not only one upmanship religion, that is backward religion. We do not use Jesus; Jesus uses us. He saves us by his love and he calls us to live his love. He calls us to have the attitude of love, so that we never have any need to put other people down. Rather our need is to lift other people up. When the love of Christ fills our hearts, we do not need for other people to admire us. We do not need to climb social ladders. We do not need to play all those games of human greed and selfishness. We have no time for that kind of stuff because we actually have a life. We have a life in Christ. That is what Palm Sabbath is about. It is about Christ as lord of my life. Make sure he is lord of your life. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/12/04