Time to Celebrate
Over the last few weeks at Melbourne Heights, we’ve been working our way through a series of sermons called “Imprint.” And throughout this series, we’re talking about life lessons that were first imprinted on us when we were kids. And there were a lot of valuable lessons that most of us learned when we were younger. By the time you learned how to tie your shoes, you also learned how to share, how to play fair, and how to clean up after yourself.
But throughout this series, we haven’t been talking about lessons that your parents tried to teach you or things that you learned at school. We’ve been talking about lessons we learned in church. And it doesn’t matter if you learned these lessons in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, it doesn’t matter if you learned these lessons at church camp or during a church service; there are life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
There are life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
And to help us all remember these lessons that were imprinted on us when we were kids, throughout this series, we’ve been taking a closer look at Bible stories that most of us first heard when we were little. So over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the story of Jesus’ birth and been reminded that when things seem dark you just need a little light. We’ve read the story of Zacchaeus and been reminded how important it is for us to get along. We’ve looked at the story of Jesus dying on the cross and seen how we can comfort people who are sad. And last week, we read the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch and were reminded that when people are in need we should help them.
Well, today we’re wrapping up this series. And that means that we have one more Bible story that most of us first heard when we were little that I want us to take a closer look at. And the story I want us to look at today takes place at the very beginning of a week that we in the church refer to as Holy Week – which is the week that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection.
But before we can get into this particular story, we need to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what happened before Holy Week. And about three years before Holy Week, Jesus began his ministry on this earth.
Now we don’t have enough time this morning to dig too deep into the ministry that Jesus did over those three years. So I’m going to just cover it with some pretty broad brushstrokes, but we need to know the basics to really appreciate what happens as Holy Week begins.
So during his three years of ministry, Jesus primarily travels around the northern part of Israel. And everywhere Jesus goes, a crowd seems to follow. And there are two reasons why these crowds always seem to show up no matter where Jesus goes. First, Jesus’ message is different. The Gospel of Matthew – or Matthew’s biography of Jesus – flat out tells us that Jesus teaches like someone with authority and not like the legal experts of his time. And Jesus does this by reframing a lot of things the people of Israel have been told for years. Like Jesus will say, “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And his message of God’s radical love draws people in.
But that’s not all. The other reason why people flock to Jesus wherever he goes is because of the miracles that Jesus performs. Throughout his ministry, Jesus feeds the multitudes, he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk and the mute to talk. He brings the dead back to life. So people follow Jesus wherever he goes because they want to experience some of these miracles for themselves.
So, as Holy Week begins on a day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus isn’t some new kid on the block. For three years he’s been doing ministry. For three years he’s been drawing a crowd. And for three years word about who Jesus is has been spreading throughout Israel.
But knowing what Jesus has been doing in the years leading up to Holy Week is only part of what we need to know to understand what happens during Holy Week. The other thing that we need to know happened about ninety years earlier.
In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey leads an army into Israel and he conquers Jerusalem. And after conquering Jerusalem, Israel becomes an official client state of Rome. So the people of Israel no longer have any say in who their political or religious leaders will be. They are officially under Roman rule and Roman occupation.
So, as the events of Holy Week begin, the people of Israel have been living under Roman rule for nearly a century. And it’s safe to say, that after nearly a century of Roman rule, the people of Israel are ready for a change. They are ready to be free.
So this is what’s been happening prior to the events of Holy Week. The people of Israel have been living under Roman rule for decades and they’re ready to be free. And now Jesus – someone who has been building a following for three years, someone who has a reputation as a miracle worker – is on his way to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem just so happens to be the political and religious capital of Israel.
So, with all of that in mind, let me encourage you to grab your Bible and turn with me to Mark 11 so we can all see what happens next. So this is Mark’s biography of Jesus, and this is what Mark tells us happens when Jesus comes to Jerusalem. Mark 11 and we’ll start reading in verse 1. It 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)
Now, even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard this story, it’s easy to see that Jesus receives a pretty warm welcome when he enters Jerusalem. But, like I said a few minutes ago, for many of us worshiping together right now, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story. A lot of us first heard this story when we were little, and we’ve heard it over and over again in the weeks leading up to Easter just about every year since we were kids.
So we know this story. We know about Jesus sending his disciples off to find a donkey that he can ride into Jerusalem. We know that as Jesus enters the city that the crowds have gathered. We know that these crowds are singing and shouting. We know that they’re waving leaves from palm trees in celebration and that they’re laying their coats across the ground for the donkey to walk on. We know this story.
And because we know this story, we don’t spend much time thinking about what actually happens in it. But almost every detail in this story is meant to tell us something about who Jesus is. And that’s because almost every detail in this passage relates directly to something we find in the Old Testament about Israel’s kings.
Just take the donkey that’s mentioned in this passage as an example. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on this colt – which is the term used to describe a male donkey that’s less than 4 years old. And according to the prophet Zechariah, the king of Israel will come riding triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a colt. And it’s something that one of Israel’s greatest kings – Solomon himself – does in the book of 1 Kings. But that’s not all.
How does Jesus get this donkey? He sends his disciples out to requisition the animal from its owner. And in 1 Samuel 8, the prophet Samuel predicts that Israel’s future kings will, “...take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work.”
And how do the disciples go about acquiring this donkey in the first place? Well, they untie it...which is related to something that Jacob predicts about Israel’s anticipated kings at the end of the book of Genesis.
And that’s just about the donkey. We can also talk about the way that people spread their garments out before their king which is something that happens in 2 Kings 9. Or the way that their shouts of “Hosanna!” come from a Psalm that was used when a new king took his place on the throne. Or the way that palm branches were used to welcome another conquering hero into the city of Jerusalem.
And when you put all of these things together, it becomes clear that Mark wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just a teacher who’s been traveling through the northern part of Israel. And Jesus isn’t just a miracle worker who has been healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. Mark is making it clear that Jesus is the king the world has been waiting for.
So this is something the people of Israel should be celebrating. They have been under the rule of the Roman Empire for almost a century, so they should be celebrating the arrival of their new king. They should be dancing in the streets, and waving palm branches, and screaming their heads off. This is a major moment the people of Israel have been waiting for…so it should be celebrated.
But when I read this story, I can’t help but wonder how many other celebrations were put on hold while the people of Israel were waiting for their king to come? How many times did the people of Israel overlook what God was doing for them every single day while they were waiting?
And how often do we do the same thing? How often do we overlook God’s blessings because we’re waiting for something bigger?
How often do we overlook God’s blessings because we’re waiting for something bigger?
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit it happens way too often. We tell ourselves that once we land our dream job, or find our soulmate, or start a family, or save up enough to retire then we’ll celebrate what God has done in our lives.
But this goes against an important lesson that we all learned when we were kids. When we’re kids we learned that we should never hesitate to celebrate.
We should never hesitate to celebrate.
I mean, just stop and think about everything that you celebrate when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid you celebrate every time you lose a tooth or find a toy that you misplaced. When you’re a kid you celebrate the first day of school, the 100th day of school, and the last day of school. When you’re a kid you celebrate the birthday of every one of your classmates because life doesn’t get much better than when someone’s mom or dad shows up at your classroom door with a big old box of cupcakes. When you’re a kid you can’t wait to get a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, or go egg hunting on Easter, or wave sparklers on the 4th of July, or trick or treat at Halloween, or overindulge on Thanksgiving, or open presents on Christmas. When you’re a kid life seems to be filled with celebrations.
But that changes when you get older. When you get older you stop celebrating all the small things and you start waiting for those major moments to come. Instead of celebrating every birthday, you really only celebrate the ones that end with a zero. Instead of celebrating every holiday on the calendar, you become convinced that greeting card companies keep making up new holidays just to make you buy another card.
But God’s blessings aren’t just found in major moments. God also blesses us with small things that happen every single day. God blesses us when we see the smile of a loved one. God blesses us when we feel the warmth of the morning sun. God blesses us when we hear the sound of laughter. God blesses us when we sit down to share a meal with friends.
So we shouldn’t wait for extraordinary circumstances to celebrate and praise God. We should be thankful for the blessings that surround us every single day. As kids you realize that life is filled with incredible moments and experiences, and every day is an opportunity to celebrate and praise what God blesses us with.
It’s like the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 when he writes:
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (Common English Bible)
As followers of Jesus, we should always be able to rejoice because of the blessings God has given us, and we should always be thankful for everything that God gives us…not just when the big moments happen. So, as we finish up this series where we’ve been trying to remember lessons that we first learned as kids, let’s not forget about being grateful.
So take a little time every day to reflect on the small blessings in your life. Give thanks for the seemingly insignificant moments that bring you joy and peace. Let your heart overflow with gratitude as you celebrate the faithfulness of our God, who graciously blesses us with both the big and the small.
And remember, you don't have to wait for big things to happen to celebrate and praise God. Because God isn’t a God who is only present in the big moments. God is a God who blesses us all every single day.