My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Impediments in the Road" - (04/17/11)

Matthew 21:1-11
April 17, 2011 (Palm Sunday)

            We’ve all seen speed bumps.  In fact, there are some of them right out here on Spokane Street.  The City of Portland, in its great wisdom, has put in speed bumps all over town to annoy car drivers and appease bicyclists.  Of course, the idea is to slow down the flow of traffic, to act as an impediment.  People don’t like the feeling of suddenly being slammed into the roof of their car so they tend to slow down just a little bit before they hit the bump.  At least, that’s the theory.
            England is covered with speed bumps and humps of all kinds, and they have caused no end of public controversy because most people hate them and claim that they do very little good and a whole lot of harm.  The Internet is filled with British websites that delve into every aspect of speed bumps.
            However, the Brits don’t know what real speed bumps look like.  You have to go to South America to find the really interesting ones.  Now those people know how to get you to slow down!  In fact, if you don’t slow down to a near stop you will tear out the whole undercarriage of your vehicle.  In nearly every small town and village in Brazil you will encounter what they call “tartarugas.”  The Portuguese word literally means turtle shells, but “cannonballs” would be a better word for them.  They are usually about the size of basketballs, made of steel, and buried all the way across the asphalt spaced about 6 in. apart.  They are hemispherical, so they look exactly like half-buried cannonballs.  They also use another type of speed bump there called a “lombada.”  That just consists of a 12 in. diameter steel pipe lying about half-buried in the road.  They always put up a warning sign, but sometimes the sign is so close to the speed bump that it doesn’t give you enough time to slow down.  I’ve hit them more than once and it’s not fun.  They function very well as an impediment in the road.  One way or another, they will slow you down!

            As a motorcycle rider I am always very alert to any kind of impediment on the road that might cause me to lose control and fail to reach my destination.  Sometimes there are pieces of tires on the road from trucks that have had a blowout.  Coming back from Salem a while back I had to swerve to avoid hitting some wooden drawers that had fallen out of a chest-of-drawers from some people that were apparently moving.  Riding up the Washington side of the Gorge on Hwy. 14 a few weeks ago I came around a corner and there were a bunch of rocks in the roadway that had fallen down from a steep hillside.  I had to swerve to miss them because they could have easily caused me to crash.  I do everything possible to avoid these kinds of impediments because I want to reach my destination.  I don’t want to get wrecked, or injured, or sidetracked.  I want to reach my goal with my bike and my body in one piece.
            From the moment Jesus arrived on earth He had a destination.  He knew where He going and He knew the path to get there.  He was also aware that there were forces at work to throw roadblocks in His way.  He came to accomplish the will of the Father, but Satan wanted to do everything possible to stop Him from going to the cross to become our Savior.
            The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, what we call Palm Sunday, is recorded in all four of the Gospel accounts.  It occurred five days before the crucifixion and exactly one week before Easter Sunday.  This morning we are going to revisit those events through the account of an eyewitness, Matthew.  Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 21:1-11.

Verses 1-3: 1When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.  3”If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” 
  • Jesus and His disciples were coming to Jerusalem from Galilee by way of Jericho.  They were accompanied by a large group of Jesus’ followers who were traveling along with Him, heading up to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem (cf. 20:29).  The law was that every adult male Jew who lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem must come to the Passover; but not only the Jews of Palestine, but Jews from every corner of he world made their way to this, the greatest of their national festivals.  Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic moment to reveal His identity as their Messiah.
  • Bethphage is believed to have been a village situated about halfway between Bethany and Jerusalem (i.e. ±2 mi. from Jerusalem).  In that last week of Jesus’ life He and the disciples were spending their nights in Bethany and walking back and forth to Jerusalem each day.  The Mount of Olives lay to the east of the city and gave travelers their first glimpse of Jerusalem.
  • Jesus gave very clear instructions about the ass and the colt to the two disciples that He sent into town.  This shows the significance of the event, though the disciples themselves were unaware of the importance of what was about to happen.  On other occasions Jesus had always walked into the city.  This time, though the distance was not more than about two miles, He insisted on riding on the colt of a donkey.  Why?  Matthew tells us in the next two verses.

Verses 4-5: 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5”SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, ‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.’” 
  • Here Matthew tells us that these events were in direct fulfillment of prophecy and to prove it he quotes Zechariah 9:9, which foretold this with amazing exactitude.  Moreover, this was a passage that the Jews themselves regarded to be Messianic in nature.  Jesus knew the prophecy and was careful to fulfill it to the letter.
  • I marvel again and again that every detail of this story was orchestrated by God Himself.  Nothing was left to chance.  Nothing just happened by luck or by accident.  Bible scholars have argued for years about this event.  Some claim that it was miraculous in nature, a product of Jesus’ foreknowledge and sovereignty.  Others claim that it was the result of very careful planning on Jesus’ part.  They say that he must have known the owner of the donkeys and made arrangements with him beforehand.  Personally I believe this was all supernaturally orchestrated by the Lord Himself.  It’s too hard to explain otherwise.  And besides, we see something very similar happening just a few days later when Jesus sent a couple of His disciples to book a place for them to celebrate Passover (read Mark 14:12-16).

Verses 6-7: 6The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, 7and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. 
  • The disciples were basically clueless.  They did not know what was happening.  They were just following orders.  I’m not convinced that they were capable of connecting up the dots to see just how momentous this occasion really was.  Only afterwards did it become clear to them what had taken place.  We know this from John 12:16, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified [i.e. after the Resurrection], then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.”
  • They brought both animals to Jesus, but Jesus was only really interested in the colt, and all four of the Gospel writers testify that Jesus rode the colt, in fulfillment of the prophecy.  The mother donkey was needed to quiet the previously unridden colt.
  • It seems strange to us that Jesus would choose to enter Jerusalem on the back of a lowly beast like a donkey, rather than a powerful stallion.  And the ass was considered a lowly animal even in Jesus’ time; just a beast of burden.  Moreover, no Jewish king since Solomon had ridden upon one officially, in public.  But Zechariah’s description of the Messiah portrayed Him as meek and lowly.
  • Matthew remembers that he and the other disciples laid their cloaks on the backs of the animals and made a comfortable place for Jesus to sit on the back of the colt.  This would have been a big help.  I’ve ridden a donkey and I can testify that they can be bony creatures and uncomfortable to ride.

Verse 8: 8Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. 
  • A few minutes ago I talked about various kinds of road impediments.  Here we see another kind of impediment in the road but these were altogether different in nature and purpose.  Out of respect, out of love, the crowd that was with Jesus along with some of the people from Jerusalem who had come to believe in Jesus as their true Messiah honored Him by laying their garments in the road.  The crowd received Jesus like a king.  As a sign of homage to Him whom they now acclaimed as King of the Jews (cf. II Kings 9:13 when Jehu was proclaimed king) some of the multitude spread their cloaks on the path for His colt to walk over.  Others laid palm branches on the road to decorate the roadway and make it more beautiful (John 12:13).  That was the same thing the Jews did when Simon Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem after one of his most notable victories against Antiochus Epiphanes (cf. I Maccabees 13:51).  Note Bene: Their intention was not to stop Jesus from entering the city.  They were not trying to deter Him from what He had come to do.  They were not acting out of hatred but out of deep love.  This was their way of showing their respect and their submission to Him.  They were not putting up roadblocks to stop Him from accomplishing what He came to do.

Verse 9: 9The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!” 
  • “Hosanna!”  This is a Hebrew expression meaning, “Save now!”  The people were taking this from Psalm 118:25-26 and were using these words to clearly proclaim their hopes for Jesus as Messiah.  Essentially it is the people’s cry to their Messiah for deliverance and for help in the day of their trouble; it is an oppressed people’s cry to their Savior and their King.
  • “Son of David” likewise is a Messianic title.  It refers to the fact that the Messiah would come from the house and lineage of King David.  These people believed rightly that Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophecy.  Until now Jesus had been careful to shun all such public displays announcing His Messiahship.  He had revealed it to individuals (John 4:26; Matthew 16:16-20) but not to the multitudes, not to the nation.  But now all of that had changed.  He was ready to reveal Himself as the true King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah.

Verses 10-11: 10When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”  11And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” 
  • The crowd’s acclamation of Jesus as Messiah prompted this question from many who were standing by, watching and listening.  “Who is this?”  Though most people don’t realize it, that is the most important question of all time, because the way you answer it will determine where you spend eternity.  Your answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” will determine whether He ends up being your Savior or your Judge.  To believe on Him and accept Him as your Savior will take you to Heaven.  To reject or ignore Him will lead you straight to hell.  It’s just that simple, that black and white.  I John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
  • People in the crowd with Jesus were filling the others in, saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Galilee.”  Many of the people were undoubtedly seeing Jesus for the first time, though nearly everyone in Israel had heard about Him by this time, because His followers were everywhere.
  • Jesus’ public ministry lasted approximately 3½ years.  During that time He traveled the length and breadth of Israel many times.  He visited nearly every town and village.  He preached and performed miracles in nearly every hamlet.  Thousands had seen and heard Him, and many had come to believe in Him.  However, there were still many who knew little of Him.  That Palm Sunday must have been a shocker for some, as they heard their countrymen declaring this rag-tag rabbi to be their promised Savior.
  • Many had put their complete faith in Jesus.  However, many had also come to hate Him and His message.  Most of the religious leaders said that He was a blasphemer and a false prophet.  Their unbelief caused them to do everything in their power to block His pathway with impediments.
  • They tried to use their ecclesiastical authority to turn the people against Him.
  • They threatened Him many times.
  • They tried several times to kill Him.
  • They paid false witnesses to lie about Him.
  • They bribed one of His own disciples to turn traitor against Him.
  • They accused Him of sedition and used their political influence with the Romans to get Him executed.
  • They closed their minds and refused to listen to His message.
  • They hardened their hearts and refused to believe in Him.

            Jesus came here on a mission.  He described it in Luke 19:10 – “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”  In other words, He left Heaven to come looking for lost people like you and me to save us from eternal damnation.  He came into our world through a miraculous birth.  He lived a sinless life.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached the message of God’s salvation plan.  He died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures.
            On the long road to the cross the devil and his crowd did everything they could to put roadblocks and impediments in Jesus’ way.  The cross was Satan’s worst nightmare, because it was the culmination of God’s plan to save poor lost sinners.  Moreover, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did anything they could to put impediments in the road, to keep Him from being heard and believed in by the people in Israel.  They slandered Him, called Him a liar, accused Him falsely of all sorts of things, and even tried to have Him killed.
            So how about you?  What kind of impediments are you laying down before Jesus today?  Are you laying your garments in the road, to welcome Him into your heart as your Messiah?  Are you lining His way into with palm branches to welcome Him into your life as your King and Savior?  Or are you laying down a barrage of unbelief, criticism, and self-righteous excuses to try and head Him off?  The one kind of impediment will win you His praise and a place in Heaven.  The other kind will guarantee His sentence of condemnation and your place in the Lake of Fire.  Your choice.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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