From Sunday to Thursday
If you are like me, you are often amazed at how new understandings about the Bible keep coming up. The Bible does not change, but it seems that many times when a passage is read or a section of Jesus’ ministry is reviewed, there are new understandings that emerge.
Such was the case for me recently as I began preparing for today’s Palm Sunday message. I have read through the Bible a few times and specifically the Palm Sunday account many times, but this year as I have done that, it suddenly occurred to me how many things happened between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a Sunday and the night of His arrest the following Thursday, the arrest leading to trials that led to His crucifixion on Friday.
For instance, Jesus spent time teaching, including through a number of parables. He predicted what the future would hold. He warned against following false teachers, that coming after He was hassled, at least twice, by Jewish leaders. He observed a poor widow giving what He termed a great gift to God. He attended a banquet. He allowed Himself to be anointed.
Today we will remember Jesus’ entry in the first part of this message. We will consider something Jesus did right after He entered Jerusalem. Then we will think about just a bit of what happened between Sunday and Thursday. We will consider three parables Jesus taught, all of them with a very, very important point. A point important back then. A point equally critical now.
Remember that when Jesus approached Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, there was great excitement. Thousands and thousands of people lined the road Jesus was on.
Some of the people threw down palm branches to pave the road for Jesus. Palm branches, were, in that culture, symbols of liberty, victory, and joy, gifts they attributed to Jesus.
Others threw pieces of clothing on the road. That was a sign of their willingness to be subject to or subservient to the one riding past. It was a sign of willingness to be involved with the one riding through the area. If a person’s garment was touched by the animal someone was riding, in this case, the colt ridden by Jesus, there was a feeling of connection with the one riding by.
Just about everyone in the crowd that day shouted, blessing God and asking Jesus to save them.
It was a great event that happened on Palm Sunday. Jesus was at the center of all the excitement. However, there was one involved that day who was not overjoyed or overly-excited. There was one who was not overly-impressed. That one was Jesus, who actually displayed dismay shortly after entering Jerusalem.
Remember what happened? Jesus went to the Jewish Temple and saw three things that greatly upset Him.
He saw tables set up at which men were changing money from normal currency to Temple money. Temple money was needed to pay Temple taxes, which means currency exchange was fine, but the tables Jesus saw were inside the Temple, and those doing the exchanges were cheating people.
Jesus also saw tables set up for the selling of animals needed for sacrifices. Sacrifices were an important part of worship, so selling sacrificial animals was fine, but those tables were also inside the Temple. Those doing the selling were also cheating people.
Then Jesus saw some others who seemed to be simply passing through the Temple, not intending to pray or to worship, but using the Temple as a short cut to wherever it was they were going. That, too, was improper use of the Temple.
Those three things caused Jesus to be angry. In His anger, coming right after being lauded by thousands and thousands of people, Jesus went into action, overturning the tables of the money changers and the sellers of sacrificial animals.
He might have rebuked the ones using the Temple as a short cut. We know He had something to say to those who now stood beside the overturned tables. Jesus said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Jesus made His point very forcefully, by both His actions and His words, which made His enemies among the Jewish leaders even more upset. Their anger continued to build until they were, by Thursday night, able to arrest Jesus and, the next day, achieve killing Him.
However, as mentioned, there were many things that occurred between Sunday and Thursday. Some of those things were parables, which is what most of the rest of this message will center on.
One of the parables is recorded in Matthew 21:28-32. Jesus told it to the chief priests and the elders of the Jewish people. There were no doubt many common people in the area as well, but the main audience were Jewish leaders.
Here is what Jesus said.
What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” That son answered, “I will not,” but afterward he repented and went to work. Then the man went to his second son and said the same thing. That son answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?
The response from the leaders? They said, “The first son.”
Remember I said earlier that the three parables to be discussed in this message all make a very, very important point. The point is that faith must be real. As Jesus taught specifically in this parable, faith must be more than just saying the right things. Faith must be doing the right things,. the right things being knowing and doing what God teaches.
What was Jesus’ implication?
It was simply that the Jewish leaders had, throughout His ministry, said the right things about being devoted to God, but their actions did not match their words. That extended all the way from them sometimes being arrogant to what had just been witnessed, which was cheating people inside the Temple. Now it included their increasing interest in eliminating Jesus. In killing Him. They said they wanted salvation, but they were continuing to refuse to recognize God’s gift of salvation. A gift given through Jesus.
On the other hand, think of the people who had, throughout Jesus’ ministry, accepted His love, and therefore been like the first son who did what his father said to do.
Just a few of those are Matthew, who was a tax collector before being called to be a disciple, a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery,and another woman who had been a home-wrecker. She had married and divorced five times and was, at the time she met Jesus, living with a man who was not her husband.
Matthew and the two women, along with many other people who were known to be sinners, listened to Jesus. In some cases, we do not know the end result of their listening, but they were almost always more interested in learning than were the religious leaders. The hope is that they did what Jesus taught. At the least, it is suspected they did more to obey than did the Jewish leaders.
Therefore, according to Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
Ouch. That certainly did not please the Jewish leaders. They were already angry with Jesus. They had been angry for quite some time as He had attracted so many common people to Him. Then on Palm Sunday He had cleansed the Temple. Now He insulted the leaders, which increased their intent to get rid of Him.
But Jesus had some more to say. The parable we just considered involved two sons. Another one involved 10 maidens. It was told to Jesus’ disciples, which of course included His 12 closest followers, but perhaps some other followers as well. It is recorded in Matthew 25:1-13.
Then the kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
This refers to a wedding custom at the time of Jesus. It was common practice that a groom and his bride would be accompanied by at least some of the people of the town to what we would call the wedding reception. A reception, at that time, included a great feast.
Such receptions were wonderful parties that everyone wanted to be part of. In the parable, it was the walking to the feast for which the 10 maidens were waiting. The only problem was that it was not announced at what time the groom would show up.
Five of the maidens were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept, but at midnight there was a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom. Come out to meet him.”
Then all the maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you. Go rather to the dealers and buy oil for yourselves.”
There was, of course, one problem, which, of course, Jesus knew. Back then they did not have stores on so many street corners that were open 24 hours a day. Maybe the foolish maidens could pound on the doors of shop owners and try to convince them to sell them some oil, but even if that would have worked, it would have taken a long time.
While the foolish maidens went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the groom replied, Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Remember the common point in the three parables to be discussed in this message. The point that faith must be real. As Jesus taught specifically in this parable, faith needs to be directed to being ready for Jesus when He comes.
What was Jesus’ implication?
For those who first heard the parable, the implication was that they should be more interested in Jesus’ plan of salvation than following all the rules and regulations their Jewish leaders had developed. The leaders taught that their rules and regulations should be the basis of faith. Jesus said that was not the answer. He said spiritual attention should be devoted, not to rules and regulations, but to God’s love. That was to be the basis of their faith.
For us, there are so many things that can attract our attention. Things other than spiritual things. Things that can be entertain us, thereby taking us away from what is truly important, that being to know and follow Jesus.
How sad it will be for those who neglect spiritual things until Jesus comes again. How sad because then it will be too late to accept Him.
Do we get it? The teaching of the parable is that if we are not ready, the penalty is missing out, not on a wedding feast, but salvation. That is what Jesus taught in the parable.
And what a great way to describe Heaven. A great feast denotes a wonderfully joyous place.
In the first of the parables in this message, the teaching is that faith needs to be, not only spoken, but lived out. Lived out by doing the right things. In the second parable, the teaching is that faith needs to be lived out all the time.
And listen. If you have not yet accepted Jesus’ invitation for you to have faith in Him, or if you have accepted, but are not yet living your faith, or if you are not yet devoted to being ready for whenever Jesus comes, it is not too late. In fact, that is why Jesus spoke these parables. He spoke them to give the Jewish leaders and Jesus’ followers - and us - yet other opportunities to come to faith in Him and to live accordingly.
It is not yet too late. But one day it will be too late. Therefore, even now - even as we begin Holy Week - make sure you have accepted Jesus. Make sure you are living out your faith. Make sure you are continuing to be ready for His return, including two wonderful ways to be ready, which are to read the Bible and pray.
Even now be like the five wise maidens. Why? As Jesus concluded the second parable for this message, He said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The first parable in this message involved two sons. The second one involved 10 maidens. The third involves an unspecified number of people. It was spoken to a combination of Jewish leaders and common people. It is recorded in Luke 20:9-16.
A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while.
The man in the parable stands for God. The vineyard stands for Israel, designed and planted by God. The tenants stand for the rulers of Israel.
When the time came, the man sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard, but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.
And he sent another servant. Him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.
The man sent yet a third. This one they wounded and cast out.
The servants stand for the many Old Testament prophets who had spoken the word of God, the hope being that the people of Israel would follow God.
Over and over again, so many of the Old Testament prophets were beaten, wounded, treated shamefully, cast out. Over and over again, the people who God dearly loved rejected the call of God to be like the son in the first parable who did what he was supposed to do. To be like the five wise maidens who were prepared when the groom approached. Over and over again, God’s messengers had been mistreated and/or ignored.
Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. It may be the tenants will respect him.”
But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, “This is the heir. Let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.” And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
What an accurate prediction of what was about to happen. What would happen when, shortly after this parable, Jesus would be arrested, tried, then crucified.
That is what was going to happen, which the Jewish leaders in the crowd were happy to hear, but Jesus continued.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.
When all who heard that, but especially the leaders who heard it, they said, “God forbid.” They could not imagine anyone but the Jews being God’s favored people. To hear that others might be blessed by God was beyond their comprehension, but that was Jesus’ prediction.
* * * * *
Remember the three parables in this message all make a very important point. The point that faith must be real - that faith must be more than just saying the right things, but also be doing the right things, all based on knowing and doing what God teaches, that faith needs to be directed to being ready for Jesus whenever He comes, and, from the third parable, that since the Jews, as a whole, rejected Jesus, we were given the opportunity to accept Him.
May we do differently than so many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. May we accept Jesus as the Savior He became during Holy Week almost 2000 years ago.
Many of us have already heard and positively responded to Jesus. May we continue to know and do God’s teachings. May we continue to be ready for whenever He comes. And let’s honor those who speak for Him. Let’s work together on those things.
If you have not accepted Jesus, please know there will be a time when it will be too late to change your mind. That time is not now, but it is coming. Know that He is available for you to accept. He will be very happy if - when - you do accept Him.
Please, if you have not accepted Jesus, do so, even now. To help with that, what follows is a prayer. Let’s say it together.
If you are not a Christian, please use the words of the prayer as your acceptance of Jesus. And remember the point that it is not enough to just say the words. Mean them.
If you are a Christian, use the words of the prayer as a reminder of your faith.
Let’s pray together. Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I need You to help me break my sinful habits. I believe You died for me, and I want You to come into my life and take charge. Please help me become the kind of person You want me to be. Thank you for loving me, forgiving me, and accepting me into Your spiritual family. Amen.
Accept Jesus. Then show your acceptance by what you do so that you can and will be blessed now and be ready whenever the Lord returns. Please take advantage of His desire to have you be part of His family. Do that to show that your faith is real.
The closing song is a short chorus. It is Thank You, Lord, which expresses gratitude for the salvation Jesus accomplished.
If you have been saved from your sins, please sing.
If not, one more time, it is not yet too late. You can accept Jesus now. You can then use His strength to make your faith real - to live out your faith. Continue to pray about that if you need to.
Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul,
Thank You, Lord, for making me whole;
Thank You, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.
Lord, thank You being the Savior. Thank You for how hard You worked to give people more and more chances to accept You as the Savior. Thank You that Your work continues.
For those of us who do know You as Savior, thank You for leading us to that decision. For any who do not yet know You, help their hearts to be melted so that even today they will gladly join Your spiritual family and then make their faith - may we all make our faith - real. As that happens, it will be for Your glory. Amen.