Palm Sunday, 4/8/01
hoices we make determine how most things turn out for us. There are accidents that happen, and sickness that comes our way, but in most things God has allowed us to choose, and thus, partner with Him in determining destiny. The Good News is that even though we have so many choices to make every day there is actually one essential, foundational decision upon which all subsequent selections are built. As we make that decision, and the many ensuing choices that follow, we become the sum total of our choices.
Many of the decisions we face at crossroads in our lives are easy, but many continue to be difficult. Oftentimes we struggle, but if we have made that one important decision, it always guides us in the right way. Or, if we have made some wrong series of decisions along the way that have caused us to get off track, in time that one decision made in our past will compel us to correct the error of our ways.
A few years ago America was reading Robert Waller's novel entitled, The Bridges of Madison County. It was a story about an Italian WW II bride Franchesca who was married to an Iowa farmer named Richard. Her life was routine and her youthful dreams had faded. Then Robert Kinkaid, a worldly magazine photographer, entered her life and they had a four day affair. Franchesca had to decide whether to follow this man and an unknown road, or remain with her husband and two teenaged children. Finally, the decision came down to the religion of her childhood and a choice she had made back in her homeland: A choice that was renewed amidst her momentous life decision and that finally kept her back on the farm.
Many people of Jerusalem chose to welcome Jesus into their holy city on that first Palm Sunday. They waved palm tree branches in the air as they put their garments in his pathway and shouted words of welcome. Yet, by the end of the week many citizens were clamoring for Jesus to be crucified. Perhaps some of the same people who initially welcomed him on Palm Sunday were in the crowd rejecting him when the tide of political opinion turned.
It is still hard for us to remember that many of Jesus' ardent followers turned on him when the going got tough, but there were some who risked their fame, fortunes and lives to remain faithful. Several are named, but many loyalists are only known to God.
Often seen as a minor player in the Easter story, Joseph of Arimathea was one who came through as a pillar of faithfulness in the midst of the trials and tribulations surrounding the Cross. Joseph was "waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God." (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51). His expectation of the coming of the Messiah separated him from his fellow members of the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin. Prior to the unfolding of the events surrounding Jesus' Death, Joseph had become secret disciple of Jesus. (Matt.27:57; Jn.19:38). He must have dreaded the opposition of his fellow Council members as they debated the fate of the prophet from Nazareth. Luke's gospel records that Joseph prudently absented himself from the council's actual vote to condemn Jesus to crucifixion. However, after the death of Christ, Joseph went to Pilate, the Roman Governor, and asked for the body of Jesus (Mk. 15:43). In doing this Joseph was openly acknowledging his faith in Christ. In fact, it was Joseph and Nicodemus, the two wealthy secret disciples, who prepared Jesus' body for burial. (Jn. 19: 39). Joseph donated his own tomb which was located in a beautiful garden near Calvary where Jesus was put to death. This precious part of the story of Calvary is found in all four Gospels, (Mt. 27:57; Mk. 15:42-47; Lk. 23:50-56; Jn. 19:38-42).
Our heroic Arimathean is an example to us of how we can make a core decision that sets in motion many successive choices and outcomes. Joseph chose to follow Jesus no matter into what situation that decision would lead him. He did what his newfound faith led him to do. In so doing he played a key role in the burgeoning Church.
Holy Land pilgrims can still visit Joseph's Garden Tomb which is very possibly the same empty tomb briefly occupied by Jesus' corpse. It is one of the sites that Marilyn and I have sought out on each of our three trips to Jerusalem. It is a small man-made cave dug out of a limestone hill. It is big enough for about six persons to walk into together. In 1970 my father and I walked over to the tomb one afternoon. The usual waiting line was not present, because of a worship service in a nearby chapel, so we went into the tomb and knelt by ourselves. During my prayer the thought came to me that I would probably outlive my father and that the memory of our time together in the place of Jesus' Resurrection would one day be a precious memory to me. When my Dad died in 1988 I had an assurance that he was with our Resurrected Lord in Glory.
The gospels of Mark (15:43) and Luke (23:51) both record that Joseph, "..was looking for the kingdom of God." His expectation and longing for the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies was the key to his finding Christ and making the choice to believe in him and to allow that underlying choice to control his subsequent decisions as a disciple. Joseph's new life began with his longing for more of God. A fact of life is that we get out of it about what we expect.
If we can expect God to act and if we can begin to believe that He will act on our behalf, then we can begin to believe that He can guide our choices and give us power to choose Him over all else. Then when decisions come our way, when we face momentous choices that will shake up our lives; His grace will be sufficient to keep us on the right pathway.
After all, we have chosen to serve a God who is all powerful: A God who created our lives and who has sought us through His Son. If we can believe this then all things become possibilities--- If we are making our choices in the light of that one choice.
a sermon synopsis
by Dr. Bob Allred, Pastor