Palm Sunday Sermon – An Audience of One by Revd. Alex Pease

Palm Sunday Matthew 21.1-11

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the crowds are ecstatic: ‘Hosannah, hosanna to the Son of David’ they call! This Jewish rabbi, who had healed the lepers, opened the eyes of the blind and brought men back from the dead coming into Jerusalem at the Passover! Amazing! We would all want to cry out with joy…..But within a few days, the same crowds who had been shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ were shouting ‘crucify him, crucify him’.

The Crowd, we, can be very fickle. We can be easily led by popular opinion to enthusiasm one moment, and to anger and hostility, the next. But the Jesus that the crowd had an hand in crucifying was the same Jesus that they had worshipped on the road to Jerusalem.

So I want to make two points:

Firstly, if we are Christians, we are followers of Christ seeking to follow him in all things, acting in the way that he acted, and reacting in the way that he reacted.

In one of the lectures at my theological college, one of the lecturers handed us a cartoon of Christians being led into the arena in Rome… and a couple of lions padding towards them with their tongues hanging out…..the caption underneath the cartoon was ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life’….

The life of a Christ follower is not necessarily easy, and God’s wonderful plan for our lives includes our life in eternity; but, may here on Earth, result in unpopularity or ridicule, at the easiest end of things, and actual suffering even death at the worst…

Whilst it must have been fantastic for Jesus, receiving the praise of the crowds on Palm Sunday, it must have been crushing, hearing everyone calling for His crucifixion, a few days later.

But although Jesus was doing everything deliberately in front of everyone, so that they might learn, He was only trying to please an audience of One – God the Father.

If we are following the path that Jesus has set for us, there will be moments of great excitement, encouragement and joy, when we will really feel that God is with us, prayers are being answered, incredible things are happening, and everyone thinks we are wonderful…

But there will also be moments of discouragement and depression when we feel abandoned by God, and where we feel that everyone hates us and we wonder what on earth we have done starting down this path of Christian discipleship!

But we cannot make our decisions, on the basis of what makes us popular…on the basis of what gives us glory in the world’s terms…

We must read the Bible, pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us on what is God’s will in any situation; to reflect carefully and then act accordingly; not hastily take to heart too much criticism or too much praise.

Sometimes the crowd will glorify us, sometimes the crowd will crucify us. But our decisions must be made regardless of whether they are going to make us popular or not, because we have an audience of One

So, firstly, as Christians we must act on the basis that we have an audience of One – Jesus Christ

Secondly, we must be careful, not to be swayed like the crowd, this way, then the next.

If I hear that someone who is publicly a disciple of Christ, a Christian, perhaps a minister, perhaps a politician, or someone at work, or in our community, if I hear that that person
is very popular with everyone, I want to ask ‘so what don’t you like about them?’  If the answer is ‘we like everything about them’, then I wonder whether the Christian is really following in Jesus’ footsteps. Because, if we are really following Jesus, sometimes we will do and say things which make us unpopular as Jesus did – he was crucified after all!

If, on the other hand, I hear that a publicly acknowledged disciple of Christ, a Christian, if I hear that that person, Is ‘dreadful’, I want to ask the opposite question: ‘so what do you like about them?’ And equally, if the answer is, ‘we don’t like anything about them’ then I wonder whether the Christian is really following in Jesus’ footsteps because, like Jesus, sometimes we should doing things which will inevitably make us popular, because everyone loved Jesus’ inspired preaching, praying and care for the people that they called out ‘Hosannah’ as he travelled into Jerusalem.

But in both cases I will also question whether the person I am speaking to understands what it is to be a follower of Christ. Because from the perspective of the crowd, those who observe, a Christian should be doing or saying things in our communities which will make many of those who observe them, want to cry ‘Hosannah’: Great works of love and kindness, we all love people who do that. But a Christian will also do or say things which will make many of those who observe them want to cry ‘Crucify’ perhaps saying or doing things which are unpopular, unfashionable, but follow Jesus…

But our reaction to the Christian who does and says these things says probably as much about us as it says about them.

And if we in the crowd, those who are observing the Christian, trying to be Jesus’ disciple in the world, if we are also followers of Christ, we should have the humility to evaluate the Christian’s efforts to be a follower of Christ, not on our own ideas, not on what is fashionable or popular in society; but, reflectively, on the basis of what God the Father, whose true character is revealed to us, exclusively in the Bible, on the basis of what God the Father would say, is important.

And, let’s face it, we have all been in the crowd shouting ‘crucify’……….

I can remember, before Lucy and I became Christians in Tokyo, being publicly furious with my boss’ PA, Rita, who is a Christian, because she would not lie to a client for my boss, about his availability, I thought it was absurd that she put her loyalty to Christ ahead of her loyalty to the firm which employed her…..

But I was wrong, she had an audience of One and that one was not my boss…

So we have all been there….

But we need not despair, because we have in the Bible evidence of how God dealt with the Jerusalem crowd who cried hosanna on Palm Sunday and who shouted ‘crucify’ on Good Friday and drove his son to his death, and how God deals with us.

St Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:23, says to the Jerusalem crowd ‘you, (that’s us) with the help of wicked men put [Jesus] to death by nailing him to the cross’….St Luke continues in the passage in Acts: Acts 2: 37 ‘when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers what shall we do?’ Peter replied: ‘repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….’ And then Luke continues: ‘and those who accepted his message were baptised and about three thousand were added to their number that day’.  Its the same crowd (more or less) as on Good Friday, as on Palm Sunday.

There is nothing that we can do or which can happen to us which prevents us from obtaining the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ offers if we choose to seek it, even having shouted ‘crucify’…

It is just a matter of repentance and understanding that our lives are not about popularity, not about glory, but our lives are lived only to please that eternal audience of One.

AMEN

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