Palm Sunday (What Every Donkey Knows)

Donkey

The Gathering/ Pastor Barry, Palm Sunday

The Donkey Jesus Rode Luke 19:28-38, Matthew 21:1-11

I don’t know, of course, if the donkey that Jesus rode had been given a pet name by its family or not.  I don’t know what kind of work it did or didn’t do.  All that I know is it was a young donkey (colt or a foal) that had never been ridden before, and I know the reputation of a donkey (at least from a Western point of view).

Donkeys by nature are stubborn and rebellious. They don’t take kindly to strangers, and they don’t like being told what to do.  On the other hand, they are strong and sturdy animals, capable of carrying great loads over long distances…but it was Jesus carrying the greatest load that day.  He knew that one week later He would be carrying a cross through those same streets to die for the sin of any that would call on his name.  Strange that Peter and John (likely the two disciples who went ahead to make the arrangements) could simply walk up to the owner of animals and say, “The Lord has need of your donkey” and then take him (and his mother: Matthew 21:2) without incident all the way from Bethany into Jerusalem among howling crowds!  Maybe the owner joined the parade!

I find it amazing that this donkey (which had never been ridden) and also its mother (Matthew 21:7) acted so out of character to become such docile and willing servants to Jesus.  What did these animals know that made them behave in such a way that day?  What can we learn from the donkey (and its mother) on this Palm Sunday?

Balaam’s Donkey Numbers 22:26-33, 2 Peter2:15-22

Before I sermonize about the donkey that Jesus rode, let’s go back in time to God’s use of a donkey in another Bible story.  Balaam was a prophet who had plans to make “personal gain” from the gift of prophecy that the Lord had given him.  He sought every way he could to collaborate with the enemy of the Lord (Moabite King Balak) while trying to look holy at the same time.  When Balaam refused to listen to God, the Lord spoke to him through his donkey!  Now if that wouldn’t get your attention, nothing could.  The main thing we need to see here is that God can teach us anything through any vehicle He chooses.  We can also see how angry the Lord is when we choose to live recklessly with one foot in the world.

We live “recklessly” and in danger of God’s “Opposition” or wrath when 1)  We refuse His Lordship for our selfishness  2) We refuse to serve Him as Lord.

Balaam was so bent on going his own way that, even as a prophet (seer) he couldn’t see that the Lord was against him. The donkey he was riding was smarter than he and had even   suffered three beatings for Balaam’s recklessness.  Nonetheless, Balaam figured out a way to get his reward from Balak. Balaam advised the Moabites on how to entice the people of Israel with prostitutes and idolatry. He could not curse Israel directly, so he came up with a plan for Israel to bring a curse upon themselves. Balak followed Balaam’s advice to entice the Israelite men with their women, and Israel fell into sin, worshiping Baal of Peor and committing      fornication with Midianite women. For this God plagued them, and 24,000 men died (Numbers 25:1–9; Deuteronomy 23:3–6).

Peter bitterly refers to Balaam when speaking to those who “left the straight way” and wondered off to “follow the wages of wickedness.”  Although Peter was talking to “false teachers” who influence others with their sin, the warning to any who would stray from the lordship of Christ is evident.  In fact, we are all teachers of the gospel and ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) of the living God. How we live does influence others.

The Lordship of Christ  Luke 19:39-44, Romans 1:18-21

The donkeys in both of these stories, first, teach us about not gratifying self but submitting to the Lord’s will.   Any donkey, and all of creation, knows who the Lord is.  Only humans are foolish and prideful enough to question such an obvious truth.  (Romans 1:18-20)  To the Pharisees who told Jesus to rebuke (silence) His disciples, Jesus replied, “If they keep quiet the stones will cry out!”  God’s Word tells us that the “whole creation groans” to be liberated from its bondage (Romans 8:21-22) and to experience the redemption that only the Lord Jesus can bring.  No wonder the donkey and its mother went so willingly with the Lord of its creation.  He and its mother both knew who it was that requested their service. Do we?

They would not kick against the master as Balaam did and later died by the sword (Joshua 13:22), or as the Israelites did with the Midianite women and 24,000 men died, or as the Jews did when they rejected Christ one week later (having him crucified).  On the way to that parade in Jerusalem where three million would gather, Jesus wept as he looked toward the city and prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Within 40 years it happened exactly has He stated in A.D. 70 when Rome destroyed the holy city and slaughtered its inhabitants. Willful sin (rejecting God) does have its consequences and many innocents are ravaged in the process. 

Willingly Serving Christ  Matthew 16:21-26

Secondly, the donkey that Jesus rode teaches us about willingly serving Christ.  Like the   donkey, we are all created with the ability to “bear” the load that He requires, but will we?  Jesus said that none can follow Him unless he “deny himself and take up his cross.”  His rebuke of Peter was for us as well.  What worldly thoughts and actions keep us from serving Him and bringing His kingdom to this earth?  Will we allow our will to be broken by the Lord so that we can carry His burden for a lost world?  Even a donkey knows what his purpose in life is…do  you?  Will you let Jesus have the reins?

Good Donkeys  

Today I made mention of many people who messed up and acted like beasts, but all the donkeys were good!  Yet Jesus didn’t come for donkeys…he came that we might be saved.  The donkeys were servants to that hope and Jesus the servant of all. All creation (donkeys included) know that Jesus is Lord and king of all.  Do you?

COURAGE (naked runner/lesson 9)

PeterOnWater

The Gathering/ Pastor Barry  Gospel of Mark (memoirs of a naked runner)  Lesson 9

Courageous Stories Mark 6:30-32

Men love to tell of their stories of courage to other men.  It is in their DNA.  Rather it is the story about the giant fish they fought and caught (or got away), the hunting trip that landed the buck (or the one that got away) or the backpacking trip where they conquered that peak (or rested at the waterfall) or the rafting trip where they conquered the rapids (or flipped into the icy waters).  Men love to tell their stories of courage and it is as important to manhood as air is to breathing. Some may say that Jesus sent out the twelve and then the seventy two because he needed them to work the towns before he arrived, but God never needed anyone to accomplish anything that he willed.  He could make the rocks cry out if he wanted (Luke 19:40). No, Jesus sent those men out so that they would develop courage, confidence and faith.  Jesus sent those boys out to become men because Jesus wants men to lead.  In fact, the apostle Paul encouraged men in the leadership of the church to step up and “be courageous”(1 Corinthians 16:13).  The actual Greek translates that line as “act like men”. Christian men, we better buck up and teach our boys to be men because society sure wont and the best of mothers cannot. Godly men need to teach boys how to act like men and Jesus sets that example in this passage today.

The apostles were tired from their journeys in ministry but excited to tell Jesus all about their experiences. By this time Jesus was always surrounded with people and so they were hard pressed to get his full attention. They choose to engage their teacher’s responses rather than to eat and Jesus paid attention. He even pulled them away from the crowd so that they could continue their stories and be alone with him.  Are we involving our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews and neighbors in ministry?  Are we showing them how to serve and live like Jesus? Are we sending them out in mission? Are we listening to their    excited stories of courage and faith?  This is how disciples are made and if we want to pass the torch of our Christian faith this is how we do it.

Sheep Without A Shepherd Mark 6:33-36, Isaiah 53:6-7, Psalm 23:1-3

The people just wouldn’t leave Jesus alone! They ran on foot and got to the place where Jesus and his disciples were going ahead of them.  These people were excited too!  Excited to see Jesus and hear him teach.  The walkers were gawkers and naysayers and mockers, but the runners? They were seriously hungry for God and when Jesus saw them all out of breath and

waiting for him on the other side of the lake he had compassion on them.  He likened them to sheep without a shepherd and so he “fed” them with his teaching.

A domesticated sheep without a shepherd is a disaster and as dumb as dirt!  But a good shepherd loves his sheep and takes care of them. Then and only then can a flock be productive. Jesus refers to those that follow him as his sheep.  Isaiah 53 says that all of us have strayed like sheep but Jesus went like a lamb to the slaughter to pay our debt of sin.

Sheep are not courageous animals.  They are timid and weak, but a good shepherd is.  As a shepherd, David defended his sheep from both the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-35). In his Psalm he calls the Lord his shepherd (Psalm 23:1-3).  When we respond to Jesus as a sheep responds to his shepherd we are productive, but apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Do you want to have a blessed and productive life?  Then stay close to the shepherd and follow his voice (John 10:26-28) anything else is simply a disaster!  Our faith must be in him alone . Our confidence is in following his lead.  Our courage comes from the journey we travel with him.

“You Give Them Something To Eat” Mark 6:35-44, Matthew 6:25-33

When Jesus finished feeding the people with the word of God it was time to give the disciples the task of physically feeding the impossible crowd.  They had cast out demons and healed in Jesus’ name but now the disciples would feed :5,000 men”(Women and children were also present; however, they were not traditionally counted in such calculations).  with five loaves of bread and two fish.  It was a lesson in courage, confidence and faith.

Do you believe: “I can do all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13)?  Do you really believe that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move a mountain 17: 20)?  Jesus wants us to believe like this.  By the end of the day the disciples certainly did because they experienced it. What Jesus was essentially saying to his disciples through this miracle was: “you participate and I will provide.”  God said the same thing when he provided manna to the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 16:4). Courage,  confidence and faith come only as we participate with Jesus.  We need to believe that where God guides he provides.  He satisfies all who come to him and there is plenty remaining besides (Mark 6:42-43).   Stop thinking in limitations.  He is a limitless God.  Simply “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). He is calling us to be his disciple so do what he says: “you give them something to eat!”

“Take Courage!” Mark 6:45-56, Matthew 14:22-36, James 1:1-8

After the feeding, Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat while he stayed back to dismiss the crowd and have some quiet time. Mark tells us that Jesus saw the disciples, from his vantage point , straining to get to the other side of the lake, but he didn’t go out to them right away (he waited until just before dawn).  As he was walking on the lake his intent was to even pass them by in their struggle.  Jesus knows that trial and testing is a good thing.  This  develops courage, confidence and faith (James 1:1-5), but when they cried out to him in terror he “immediately” responded.  “Take courage” he says, to us in our despair, “it is I”, and then he climbs into the boat (our situation). “Jesus is in the boat” when we cry out!  

Matthew adds that Peter asked to come to Jesus on the water and walked to him (for a moment) on faith, but when he looked at his situation he sank.  Like Peter, We doubt when we look anywhere but at Jesus.  Courage is keeping our mind and both eyes on the shepherd; however, crying out “Lord, save me” is a very wise plan B.  Let’s keep pressing on!

COMMITMENT (naked runner/ Lesson8)

JesusTeachesTwelve

The Gathering/ Pastor Barry  Gospel of Mark (memoirs of a naked runner)  Lesson 8

Two By Two Mark 6:6b-13, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Luke 10:1-2, 17-20

It has been said that two is company and that three is a crowd!  Jesus sent out his disciples two by two (Mark 6:7).  I can tell you first hand as a city council member that finding three in agreement can most definitely be a crowd of contention.  Yes, two is certainly better for   getting things done!   King Solomon (in his old age) wrote about why two was such a good number (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Interestingly enough King Solomon speaks fondly of “two” but then wraps up his illustration with the line “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”.  I would surmise that the two cords are two people working together with God being the third that strengthens the “rope”.  In the same way, the six groups of two disciples each wouldn’t have had any success in their mission at all if it were not for the “authority” that Jesus gave them over impure spirits (demons). In fact their instruction was to “take nothing” for their journey except that authority (and a staff to walk with).  The lesson here is life changing:  To have a godly friend to walk with and the Spirit of God to lead you is more than food, money, clothes and a home.  It is all you need for any journey when you are committed to Christ. What is it that messes up our journey in life?  Is it not the friends we choose to walk with and the stuff we think we must take along the way?  God alone and the authority he gives is enough!  For even that disciple that got Judas as his traveling companion came back with a good report!  If God be for us, than who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)  So let me     encourage you if I may today… Stop whining and get committed to Jesus!

Three Dog Night sang “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do” (Harry Nilsson). Jesus was well aware of this fact and that is why he selected 12 to send out in pairs to preach the gospel.  It was so successful that he later sent out “seventy two” (Luke 10:1). This was God’s plan all along.  His  “disciples” (those  “disciplined ones “who were committed to him and his teaching) would take his  message out to the world.  As modern day disciples we are to be doing the same thing today. He told those “seventy two” (or “seventy” as some manuscripts read) that “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers into his harvest field” During the time of Jesus about 300 million people inhabited the earth. Today there are over 7.5 billion people on the earth with a    population increase of 83 million people per year. I would say that we should still be asking Jesus to send workers…how about you?  Are you committed enough to go?           (Stats from: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population)

There is one last lesson to glean from this block of scripture, both the twelve (Mark 6:12) and the “seventy two” (Luke 10:17) came back excitedly with great reports!  Luke’s gospel clarifies that the “seventy two” were joyful over the fact that even the demons submitted to them when they used Jesus’ name.  Jesus quickly reminds them that he actually watched their commander, Satan, fall from heaven so “don’t be a braggart!”  As believers committed to the call, we will see the Lord do great and marvelous things, but we must never forget what we would be without his grace and gifted authority.  We should not rejoice that the spirits (demons) submit to us, or that we have any spiritual gift from the Lord, but that our names are written in heaven!  How much do you appreciate the gift of salvation?  Do you hold onto it as your greatest possession?  Is it your greatest joy? Does it make you a patriot for the kingdom?  Does it make you pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10) or is it your will that charts your journey?  God help us!

Commitment Personified Mark 6:14-29, Matthew 11:1-11a

Herod Antipas ruled Galilee when Jesus began His public ministry. He was a self-centered narcissist who had John the Baptist put in prison and later beheaded as payment for a sensual dance.  Herod was extremely superstitious and believed that John had been resurrected as Jesus. (Ironically John’s resurrection would be in Jesus!                     ( John 11:25)

Matthew’s gospel tells us that after Jesus had instructed the twelve disciples and sent them out John inquired through his disciples if Jesus was the “one” (Messiah) or should he expect someone else.  John had been committed to his call but because of his circumstances he was wondering if he had missed something.  John needed encouragement and validation and Jesus sent that validation back in the form of facts.  John was no doubt encouraged but was beheaded just the same.   He would not rejoice that Herod would submit to him, but that his name, as a servant of God, was written in heaven. Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.

John is praised by Jesus as the personification of commitment as he refers to him as one unswayed by the “winds” (persecution) of people. John is referred to as one who followed his call as a prophet to the masses and not to kings.  One who gave up the comforts of life for the call of God.  Jesus refers to John as scriptures fulfillment and says that there is none greater born of women (Jesus was born of God). What an honor to be praised by the one to whom all praise belongs!  Like the parable Jesus told about the servants entrusted with   talents.  John’s master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been  faithfulEnter into the joy of your master!’ (Matthew 25:21).  Could there be better words to hear from Jesus on the day we see him face to face?

 “Greater Than He?” Matthew 11:11b, Matthew 28: 18-20

“Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11b).  How could this last sentence be true? How is it possible that you and I could be (should be) greater than John?  Greater than “commitment personified?”  What could Jesus have meant?

John was truly the greatest man who ever lived with the greatest call ever given up to that time.  John introduced Jesus to the world; but John could only prophesy of Jesus and point the way to Jesus.  He could not preach of Jesus’ grace, mercy and salvation.  John would not witness the cross of Christ or his blood shed for our sin.  The full mystery of God’s grace has been revealed to you and I and therefore even the very least in the kingdom of God has “greater” work to do than he.  We have a greater mission… Will you labor in his harvest?

FAITH (naked runner/lesson 7)

JesusStormCropedThe Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark: Memoirs of the naked runner

 “Don’t You Care?”  Mark 4:35-41, John 14:1-3, 18-21, 25-27, Romans 8:35-39

The Sea of Galilee, what we would call a large lake, is nearly 700 feet below sea level and its location makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the eastern mountains and drops suddenly onto the water. The passage says that Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us go over to the other side.”  The question might be “didn’t Jesus know that a storm was coming?” After all God knows everything, right?  Then Jesus went to sleep!  The disciples woke him in a panic as the storm was rocking their world. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

 Perhaps you are in a storm today and are wondering the same thing. “Doesn’t Jesus know I am in this storm…doesn’t he care if I drown?” His answer is the same for us today: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  It was not a crass answer but a loving one that was to make them think. The disciples had witnessed Jesus doing all kinds of miracles and had   followed him because they knew that he was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, but now suddenly they disbelieved.  Believers do the same thing today.  Our faith is sure until we are tested by something that rouses our emotions. In such testing our faith should not fall apart but be bolstered all the more.  Fear and faith alike both spread,  one like a destructive cancer and the other like the cure. 

The main point for us to recognize here is that Jesus was in the boat!  This same Jesus is also with us in our storm. The apostle Paul reminded us that God has said: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  Jesus made this point clear to the disciples in the fourteenth chapter of John.  We may not see him in our storm but he is there none the less and he has taken great care that we do not drown.

We all want to see a miracle in our circumstances but the greatest miracle has already been done for we who believe.  Jesus has made every believer indestructible to the power of sin and death by his sacrifice on the cross.  Our resurrection is imminent!   He signed our release from sin and our admittance into heaven with his own blood. See how much he cares?  

Any miracle that Jesus did while he walked the earth was only temporary and performed in order that people would know that he was Messiah.  Any miracle that his apostles did was also temporary and performed to demonstrate the power of Christ.  Any miracle witnessed today is likewise a temporary display of Jesus power, but we must never forget that we are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). The “temporary” is simply used (and only upon occasion both then and now) to point others to the permanent and eternal thing that Jesus has already accomplished for those who believe. No “storm” can therefore separate us from the love of Christ so don’t be afraid, but believe (Romans 8:35-39).

“What do you want with me?”Mark 5:1-20, Romans 10:12-14

Once the boat arrived on the other side of the lake Mark and Luke say that Jesus and the disciples found themselves in the region of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:26-39) met by a demon possessed man, while Matthew’s account (Matthew 8:28-34) calls it the region of the Gadarenes where they were met by two demon possessed men—both are correct from their perspectives.  Mark and Luke are writing to Gentiles and Matthew was writing to Jews.  The names were variants of the actual place which was called Gadara at modern Umm Qais in northern Jordan. Matthew recalls two men where Mark and Luke recall only the vocal one who later requested to leave with Jesus.

What is important to note here is that the demons (there were many in the man: “Legion”) knew exactly who Jesus was (as did the winds previously) and begged him not to “torture” them by making them leave the one(s) they possessed. Jesus appears to grant the request of the demons by allowing them to go into the pigs, but on closer inspection he sends the pigs to run off the cliff and into the water where they drown. This left the demons with no place to go but to the abyss (Luke 8:31- a place of torment).

 A more noteworthy observation is how the people of the town respond to Jesus.  They do not open there hearts to him in faith, instead they beg him to leave so that they can continue with their disbelief.  They were as lost as the demons.  In essence, they too cried “what do you want with me?”  Jesus answered them by leaving .  We must want faith to have it. Only those who call upon Jesus’ name will be saved. The freed man was left behind to continue that offer.

“Who touched me?”Mark 5:21-43, Luke 18:7-8

In contrast to the hard-hearted people of Gadara we see the earnest pleas of faith from Jairus (a synagogue leader: Luke 9:41) for the healing of his daughter and the woman with an issue of blood. Both seek after Christ in faith and are rewarded for their persistence.  Jesus was physically touched by the woman and emotionally touched by the man’s love for his daughter in the same way as he was by the persistence of the paralyzed man who was lowered through a roof by his friends (Mark 2:5). Jesus admires persistence in faith as is reflected in his parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), “but when he comes will he find faith on the earth?”  Will you touch Jesus through your persistent faith or will you give way to fear?

 Amazed Mark 6:1-6, Psalm 46:10

At the end of chapter five the dead girl stood up and “they were greatly astonished!” We have also read that “they” were terrified when the winds obeyed Jesus (Mark 4:41) and they were amazed when the demons fled (Mark 5:20b), but did these things birth faith in their hearts? Jesus went to his hometown and once again people were amazed but they didn’t have faith so he did hardly any miracles there.  He was untouched by their response and “amazed at their lack of faith”. In our storms… Why are we so afraid? Do we still have no faith?  Child of God listen to that still small voice grow louder…”Be still and know that He is God”.