One in A Million
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Palm Sunday, 24th March 2002
One of the things that strikes you when you visit places like Hong Kong, China, Japan or India is the sheer number of people around, often in a relatively small space or area.
One of the Roman historians who was alive around the time of Christ, Josephus, tells us that each year over 1 million people went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (Wars 6:9:3).
That's a lot of people! Especially when you think that the population of Jerusalem today is only about 650,000. In Jesus' time it is estimated that it would be more like 60,000 - 100,000.
The place would be heaving - there would be people all over the place - to say nothing about the thousands of sheep that would be needed for the sacrifices.
It would be like Christmas shopping in Milton Keynes and the River Festival all trying to fit into the church in one go. All the car boot sales together in one go.
The army were on special standby outside the city and there were regulations regarding how many people could meet together in one place in a bid to keep control.
And into all this excitement and fervour Jesus rides slowly into Jerusalem on a donkey.
He's just one in a million other Jews heading into the city.
He's doing what thousands of other Jews were doing, and had done for hundreds of years, He was going up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, for the Passover, just as His parents had done when He got lost and they had to come back looking for Him.
Yet out of this ordinary act for a Jew, extraordinary things were about to happen, because Jesus was no ordinary Jew.
Yes, Jesus in obedience to the Jewish Law, and to His Father, has gone to celebrate the Passover. But this year wasn't going to be like every other year.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on the very day that the lambs were taken up to prepare them for the sacrifice - the date is no coincidence.
An entry which in itself is a fulfilment of an OT prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerucalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9 v 9)
An entry which tells us far more about the nature of Jesus; not just the nature of His Kingdom.
A donkey like the Judges of the OT rode; because He was coming as a Judge to confront the religious authorities.
In fact the book of Judges tells us that Judges rode on asses, their sons rode on colts, perhaps no coincidence again as an ass and her colt are mentioned, the Judge, in the very nature of His Son had come to judge
A donkey as Kings rode on when they were on missions of peace; because He was coming in humility and peace.
And as He enters, as many others would be doing at the same time, the crowds began to stir, this was going to be different, there's a sense of excitement and anticipation. Even the people who don't know Him begin to ask 'Who's the guy getting all the attention, what's special about Him?'
The crowds shout Hosanna 'Save (us)', and waved the fronds of palms, the sign of victory, the sign the Roman army would be very used to and tell the others that this is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth who's come to Jerusalem.
And suddenly Jesus is more than just one in a million.
As he rides slowly into Jerusalem He's surrounded by large crowds in front and behind Him and as peaceful as He's riding, its like an earthquake hits the town. Jerusalem is literally shaken to its foundations. There's going to be a spiritual showdown, a confrontation, and all of the physical universe will be shaken to the core.
Jesus' Galilean ministry is at an end, the journey to Jerusalem is complete.
The Messiah, the servant King of Isaiah, rides into town.
And like any king on a visit, His first call is to the seat of power, only for Jesus this is not the Palace, but the Temple, where He causes havoc by throwing out the money changers and merchants. Not exactly a low key thing to do in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem during the Passover preparations. Not the kind of thing to endear Him to either the Temple authorities or the Roman army, who are standing by on red alert.
But the ordinary has begun to turn into the extra-ordinary and as the next few days unfold the Jews, the temple authorities, the Romans and the crowds who cry Hosanna one day and Crucify the next, will all begin to realise what kind of Messiah Jesus is,
But if Jesus is one in a million, doing an ordinary thing, how on earth can he have such influence?
He has such influence because He's a man on a mission.
His determination to accept His fate, a fate which He's spelt out to His disciples on the journey to Jerusalem, reflects the determination of God, His Father, to enter this world, to enter our suffering to save us.
Jesus, a man of supreme holiness, the perfect Israelite, the Messiah, the suffering servant, the one who frees all people has come to fulfil His calling.
Jesus is obedient, even to death on the cross because of His care and compassion for us. He's not motivated by some political ambition or some quest for personal power. He has no real vendetta against the Romans, or even against many of the devout Jews.
But He wants His kingdom to break through on earth in a new and vital way.
And as we look towards the events of Holy week God's desire for His people is still the same: that His kingdom would break through in a new and vital way to those around us in our community.
Sometimes we feel that we're just one person in a million others. We're just an ordinary person living an ordinary life.
With God, there are no ordinary people, there is no ordinary life.
Just as because Jesus was no ordinary Jew we are no ordinary people.
We may feel like we have no influence on the world around us. We may feel that we're not going to have any effect. But that's not what God calls us to or promises for us.
He calls us to be doing ordinary everyday things, to speak ordinary words; but just as when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, extraordinary things can happen. Just as we have compassion on those around us, as we challenge the things which are not in line with God's will. As we overturn the tables of the money changers in our own lives, the things which need challenging in our lives and our own faiths. As we determine to be obedient to God and His will for our lives. So we take our part in changing the world and bringing about God's kingdom.
When the crowds replied, 'This is Jesus' to the onlookers who enquired, 'Who is this?' they thought they were making a simple statement. In fact they were speaking the voice of God, as ordinary people so often do.
Now it may be that what we say and what we do won't be as earth shattering as the events of Holy Week were. But it could well be that in doing the ordinary, like taking a bus into town or a donkey into Jerusalem, we suddenly become one in a million for someone else, saying God's word and doing His will.
Sam Cappleman, March 2002