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  • Adam Schell

More Like Jesus

Lent: More Like Jesus

Palm branches were waiving, people were singing and shouting because they had been waiting a long time for this moment to arrive. For years the people of Israel had been crying out “Hosanna,” which is an ancient Hebrew prayer that begged God to “Save us now.” And finally, it appeared that their prayer had been answered.

Palm branches were waiving, people were singing and shouting because they had been waiting a long time for this moment to arrive. Now they were marching into Jerusalem, their holy city, celebrating the arrival of the grand marshal of their parade. But this man was more than a grand marshal. This man was more than a simple celebrity. This man was more than the leader of the pack. This man was their king, their high priest, the one sent by God to save them.

And that was exactly what this man intended to do: to save the people of Israel. He intended to save them from the oppressive rule of an outside dictator. He intended to save them from their unjust captivity under a foreign government. He intended to save them from the corrupt religious leaders who had risen to power and now controlled the Temple. And he wasn't going to waste any time getting to work.

So, as he marched through the streets of Jerusalem, he headed straight for the Temple. Because he couldn't help but see the corruption, the desecration, and the wickedness every time he looked toward his Father's house. He was sick and tired of seeing the money changers and animal vendors that did not belong in the most sacred space in all of Israel. So he intended to clean it up and clear it out, and run anyone who got in his way out of town altogether.

And that's why the palm branches were waiving. That's why people were singing and shouting. They were celebrating the arrival of this man. They believed he was their savior.

Now, since today is a day that we in the church call Palm Sunday, you might think that I spent the first couple of minutes of this sermon retelling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. But the story I just told you isn’t torn from the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The story I just told you comes from another book that was written almost two hundred years before Jesus ever set foot in Jerusalem.

The story I just told you is actually the story of a man named Simon Maccabee. But who was Simon Maccabee? Well, Simon was one of the men who helped save Israel from the oppressive rule of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Empire.

But unless you really know your ancient history, that begs the question who was Antiochus Epiphanes and what was the Seleucid Empire? Let’s start with the Seleucid Empire. And this is a huge oversimplification, but the Seleucid Empire was the Empire that ruled over Israel about 170 years before Jesus was born.

And who was Antiochus Epiphanes? Well, he was the Seleucid King who took control of Jerusalem. And when Antiochus rose to power his only desire was to bring his entire empire together as one unified people. So this meant that Antiochus outlawed any behavior that might divide his people...which included any religion other than his own…and Antiochus wasn’t Jewish. So he banned the practice of Judaism in Jerusalem, and then Antiochus proceeded to take control of Israel's Temple and he dedicated it to the god Zeus. And, as you can probably imagine, that didn't go over real well with the people of Israel. 

And that brings us back to Simon Maccabee because – after Antiochus took control of Jerusalem, and outlawed Judaism, and dedicated the Temple to Zeus – Simon and his brothers started a rebellion against Antiochus and his armies. 

And although a lot of rebellions in Israel’s history have ended up like the rebel alliance at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the rebellion Simon led was more like The Return of the Jedi…and, if you don’t speak Star Wars, that means that the rebels actually won. They drove out Antiochus. They defeated his generals. They destroyed his armies. They reclaimed their country, their capital, and their Temple.

So the story I told you to start this sermon was actually the story of Simon Maccabee’s triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. A time when palm branches were waived. A time when people sang and shouted. A time when the people of Israel believed their savior arrived. But it does sound a lot like the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 

Let me show you what I mean. If you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone go ahead and open it to Mark 11. Mark 11. And, as you’re finding it, I just want to point out that the book of Mark is basically a biography of Jesus. So in the book Mark you can read about Jesus’ ministry and the miracles he performed, you can read about his crucifixion and his resurrection. And in Mark 11, you can read about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

So let’s take a look at Mark 11 together. We’ll start reading in verse 1, which says:

1 When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

4 They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. 5 Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. 9 Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Mark 11:1-11 (Common English Bible)

So the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry sounds a lot like the story I told you at the beginning of this sermon. And you know what? These stories are supposed to sound alike. But that’s not all. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry is also supposed to sound like the story of King Solomon riding through the streets of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey during his coronation. And it’s supposed to create images of the crowd laying their cloaks out before Jehu as he was proclaimed king. And that’s because the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry is supposed to show us that Jesus is the King of kings.

Jesus is the King of kings.

And the story of Jesus' triumphal entry is supposed to remind us of who the crowd expected their king to be. The crowd expected that their king would be the next Simon Maccabee. They expected their king to put together a rebellion that would stand up to Pilate's tyrannical rule. They expected their king to save them from their captivity under the Roman government. They expected their king to stand up to their corrupt religious leaders and clean up and clear out the Temple. 

But only five days after Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, we see a completely different scene unfolding in this story from Mark 15, where Mark writes:

1 At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” 3 The chief priests were accusing him of many things.

4 Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” 5 But Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled.

6 During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. 7 A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. 8 The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” 10 He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. 12 Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

Mark 15:1-14 (Common English Bible)

So what on earth could’ve happened in only five days to cause a crowd that shouted “Hosanna”  for Jesus on Sunday, to cry “Crucify him!” on Friday? What could’ve caused palm branches waving through the air on Sunday to be replaced by a crown of thorns on Friday? What could’ve caused a crowd that laid down their coats for their Messiah on Sunday to demand he lay down his life for them on Friday? What could’ve caused this crowd that treated Jesus like a king on Sunday to treat him like a criminal on Friday?

The harsh but simple reality is, that as Jesus spent those five days teaching in the temple, the people realized Jesus wasn't the king they expected.

Jesus wasn't the king they expected.

They thought their king would run Rome out of Jerusalem for good, but instead, Jesus only ran a few merchants out of the temple. They thought Jesus would demand Rome be overthrown, but when he was asked about taxes Jesus told them to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's.” They thought Jesus would challenge them to give their lives for the kingdom of Israel, but instead, Jesus told them to give their all for the kingdom of God. They thought Jesus came to end their suffering and give them a new life, but instead, Jesus only talked about further abuse and his own death.

So the man they once celebrated became their scapegoat. Their king became an ordinary criminal. The man who was supposed to save them would be sentenced to death by them. All because the people didn't understand who Jesus is. 

Over the last few weeks, as we’ve journeyed together through the season of Lent, we’ve been reminded of who God wants us to be. In Romans 8:29, we’re told that God ultimately wants us “to be like his Son” Jesus. So Lent is a time when we commit to be more like Jesus.

But you know what? A lot of the time we don’t really want to be more like Jesus. Instead, we want Jesus to be more like us.

We don’t really want to be more like Jesus. Instead, we want Jesus to be more like us.

That’s what happened to the crowd in Jerusalem between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. They wanted Jesus to want the same things they did. They wanted Jesus to want power and prestige and prosperity. But Jesus came to suffer to sacrifice to serve. So the crowds turned their backs on Jesus.

But there was at least one person in the crowds who got it, his name was Simon. And Luke tells us that…

26 As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26 (Common English Bible)

Now, we don't know a lot about this man named Simon. As a matter of fact, there are only a few things we know for sure about this man. First, we know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke each tell us in their gospels that Simon helped carry Jesus' cross. And in this action alone, we see Simon's willingness to do something the palm-waving crowds weren’t willing to do. The crowds turned away when Jesus spoke of suffering, and sacrifice, and service. But Simon put aside his selfish desires and he took up the cross to follow Jesus

We also know that Simon is from a place called Cyrene, but why does that matter? Remember these city names would have meant something to the people who first told and heard these stories. Just like mentioning New York might make you think of the Empire State Building, or mentioning Nashville might make you think of country music, or mentioning Bowling Green might make you think of Corvettes; mentioning Cyrene would have made people think of something. Specifically, they would’ve been reminded of the fertile soil of this town, a soil that helped produce abundant grain, olive oil, vegetables, herbs, dates, and thriving livestock. 

Why does that matter? Well, during Jesus’ time on this earth, he spent a lot of time talking about fruit. In places like Matthew 7:17, Jesus tells us, “every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit.” And in Luke 6:43-44, Jesus says, “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit.” So by telling us that Simon was from Cyrene, we know that Simon was like the land he came from, he was a fertile soil that would produce great fruit for the kingdom of God.

And that leads us to the third thing we know about Simon. We know Simon had two sons – named Alexander and Rufus – who were well known to the community Mark wrote this book for and seemingly to the church in Rome as well. And that leads us to assume that Simon was so transformed by this event – by carrying Jesus' cross – that he becomes a follower of Jesus and leads his family to follow Jesus as well.

So out of all the people that were in the crowds on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Simon seems to be the only one who understood who Jesus really is…and Simon is the only one who became more like Jesus in these stories.

The question you have to ask yourself is are you more like Simon or the rest of the crowd? Do you keep hoping that Jesus will become more like you and want the things that you want, or do you want to become more like Jesus and do the things Jesus calls you to do?

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