Palm Sunday…Preparing The Way Of The Lord…..
By Pastor Charles Elliott
My text today is taken from Mark 1:3 (the message bible) “Watch closely I’m sending My messenger ahead of you… to Prepare for God’s arrival, prepare the way of the Lord, clear the way and make His paths straight”!
In the time of John the Baptist, when a king would travel…. his elite and trusted guard, would go out well in advance to prepare the route by which the King would come. They removed obstacles along the way, they eliminated any anticipated problem spots, and secured the area. They were authorized to do whatever was necessary to prepare the way, in order that the King’s travel, his destination and his purpose would be fulfilled.
Mark begins his gospel with a word picture of an unorthodox evangelist named John the Baptist, who lived in the wilderness, dressed in a camel’s hair garment, and ate locusts and wild honey, crying out repent, prepare the way of the Lord…. to be honest, many might be thinking…. “Really Lord, is this the best, prepare the way person, you could find?”
Certainly someone who fit in a little better, who wasn’t such an isolationist, and had better communication skills, could do a much better job…and what are those things crawling in his beard….Lord, At least get this guy a better outfit and some deodorant might help as well!!
But then, wait a minute….. God chose us…. FIGURE THAT!!!! HE EVEN CHOSE US!!! With our past, with our failures and our mess….Just as he chose the least likely, when he called fishermen, a tax collector and a political zealot… We have been chosen, authorized and uniquely equipped and positioned, to be the forerunners and advance team of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To prepare the way, wherever we are, so that His purposes can be fulfilled. Our clear mandate is spelled out for us in Matthew 6:10 “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”……..
I came across this poem again as I was preparing, which I thought would fit into our subject of “preparing the way of the Lord”….
O Lord I'm your willing servant, You know that I have been so, for years. I'm here in this pew every Sunday and Wednesday, I've stained it with many a tear. I've given you years of my service, and I've always given my best. I've never asked you for anything much, So Lord I deserve this request. Please don't send me to Africa, I don't think I've got what it takes. I'm just a man, I'm not a Tarzan, don't like lions, or rivers, or snakes. I'll serve you here in suburbia, In my comfortable middle class life, but please don't send me out there in the bush, where the natives are restless at night. I'll see that the money is gathered, I'll see that the money is sent, I'll wash and stack the communion cups, and I'll tithe 11 percent. I'll volunteer for the nursery, and I'll go on every youth retreat, I'll usher, I'll deacon, I'll go door to door…. Just let me keep warming this seat!
When the people asked John the Baptist, ‘What shall we do, to prepare? His answer revealed that our preparation would move out into and touch every area of our lives…. he told them: ‘He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise’. To the tax collectors he said, ‘Collect no more than is appointed you’. He told the soldiers, ‘Rob no one by violence or by false accusations, and be content with your wages’. There is no area left untouched, no stone unturned, when the King makes His way into our hearts….and into the mainstream of society.
We prepare the way for the Lord to come into our family, our community, and our job, by our words and actions….. We prepare the way of the Lord through our kindness and compassion to others…..We prepare the way of the Lord by speaking the truth in love…..We prepare the way of the Lord by living in an attitude of repentance and righteousness….. We prepare the way of the Lord by living in God's grace and forgiveness and by giving grace and forgiveness to others…. We prepare the way of the Lord by submitting to His ways and His will…..We prepare the way of the Lord by who we are, where we are and by understanding why we are gifted uniquely as we are…. We prepare the way of the Lord through the Life university of spirit led living…..
You see, life is my college, heaven is my citizenship, Jesus is my principal, the Holy Spirit is my teacher, angels are my class mates, the Bible is my study book, trials and temptations are my exams, winning souls is my assignment, prayer is my attendance, a crown of life is my degree, praise and worship is my classroom, and grace is my tuition!
Following a great sermon on lifestyle evangelism one family thought they had better do something to witness for Jesus. So they invited their new neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came time to eat, the wife was anxious to show their neighbors that they followed Christian standards in their home. So she asked little 5 year old Johnny to say grace before the meal. Little Johnny was feeling a bit shy, since there were strangers at the table. "I don't know what to say" Johnny said…There was an awkward pause, when mom gave a reassuring smile and told him…."Well darling, just pray what Daddy said when we had breakfast this morning." Trying to be Obedient, once again the boy bowed his head and repeated with the same tones his dad had used, "My God, what are we doing, inviting these awful neighbors over for dinner tonight?" (OOPS! Wrong quote)
The Christian Church has always believed that Jesus who first came at the time of Augustus Caesar will come again at the end of the age, but we also believe in the continual coming of the Lord by the Holy Spirit into the hearts and lives of the people of earth. This is foundational evangelism at it’s very heart and core.
We cannot fix or predict the times of His continual visitations, for He always comes unexpectedly and suddenly when hearts are ready to believe and receive Him. But the fact that he tells us to prepare the way of the Lord, indicates that so much of what we do, as we simply live our Christian lifestyle, in the who, when, where, what and why of our journey, becomes the prerequisite to His showing up, again and again in behalf of ourselves and others! Have you ever wondered why the folks that are so sensitive and easy to get their feelings hurt, are so impatient and judgmental of others?
But when Christ becomes incarnate in us, He brings a reset program in our lives…..there comes a realignment of priorities, principals and purpose…. A rebuilding of dreams, hopes and destinies….a release of strength, clarity, and giftedness….A renewal of dependency upon Him, His power, His word, His plan…. and less dependence upon other things. Dependencies on the wrong kinds of things, that’s ll the thingswe so quickly and easily see in the lives of others, but they are things we are blind to in our own lives….
An airline in a third world country had experienced a terrible shortage of pilots, which meant long lines and a lot of angry, frustrated passengers. The airline was desperate to hire any pilot with experience. So as everyone boarded a plane, two men dressed in pilots' uniforms walk up the aisle of the aircraft. Both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a guide dog, and the other is tapping his way along the aisle with a white cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin, but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up. The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some kind of a sign that this is just a little practical joke.
The plane moves out on to the runway, and begins to accelerate faster and faster down the runway, and the people all realize they're headed straight for the water at the end of the runway. Just as it begins to look as though the plane will plow straight into the water, loud, panicked screams erupt, filling the cabin.
At that moment, the plane lifted smoothly into the air. The passengers begin to relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon all retreat into their magazines and books, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands, and is now being flown by computer.
Meanwhile, in the cockpit, one of the blind pilots turns to the other and
says, 'You know, Bob, one of these days, they're gonna scream too late and we're all gonna die'!!
People want a guide they can trust!!!!! Who not only will talk the walk, but walk the talk!!!! The messenger cannot only effect the message, but destroy it’s credibility entirely!
Some folks actually think that John the Baptist was an evangelist for the Baptist denomination…. But he was more than that, Peter was not Catholic, James was not Presbyterian, Luke was not Lutheran….and Matthew was not a Mormon…. Not only that, Jesus was not Jewish in religion, he was only Jewish in nationality. The problem we sometimes have is that we want to change the gospel into our image, instead of allowing it to change us into Christ’s image!...,Often our denominational label becomes more important than our message of redemption and eternal life in Christ and the resurrection reality….
So, how do we begin to prepare the way of the Lord?
One thing we don’t do is, we don’t throw up our hands and say, “Let’s wait until He gets here and then He will change everything that needs to be changed.”……we are often like the disciples, who were waiting for Jesus to overthrow Rome, the way He turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple…YEAH, GO JESUS….YOU GET EM GOOD LORD!!!!
Becoming part of God’s advance team, is not always convenient. It’s not always comfortable. It’s not always what we want to do. Usually it takes us on a path we would never expect or choose. The reason they had foot washing services in the early church, is because they got their feet dirty carrying the gospel message…..That message is that God replaces fear with faith, pain with purpose and obstacles with opportunities…
His advance team is the place where people look around, see what they think Jesus would be doing if He came back today, and then do it in His name and by His grace and power.
They look around and see darkness and bring light into it….they look around and see sorrow and they bring comfort and hope into it…. they look around and see strife, and bring peace into it, they see loneliness and bring friendship into it….they see sickness and disease and bring healing… they see bondage and bring liberty and release….They are waiting for Christ to come again, but they aren’t content to just sit by and cross days off the end time calendar, and count end time signs like prisoners in jail waiting for their release day, they get involved now.
Isaiah 57:14, the prophet cried out….. “Prepare the way, Blast open a road! Open up a way! Make room for God! Push over the mountains! Raise up the valleys! Smooth out the rough places!” In other words….“Lead, follow, or get out of the way!!!!....Get out of the way and let God lead. Set aside whatever gets in God’s way and let God have His own way. Even the great apostles Peter and Paul had to learn that to prepare the way, meant to get out of God’s way.
Remember what happened when Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where his enemies would crucify him? Peter rebuked Jesus! No, this couldn’t possibly be the way! “Crucifixion must never happen to you, Lord!” Peter wasn’t just speaking for himself there…..he spoke for all who expected the Messiah to be a conquering hero, which was just about everybody. No, the way of the cross couldn’t possibly be the best way that God could come up with!!!
Jesus turned and said, “Get out of my way! You are a stumbling block, you’re an obstruction to me.”
Later on, there was another well known occasion when Peter again found himself dismayed at the direction God was choosing to go in. In the book of Acts, God was making it clear that the gospel was for Gentiles, as well as for Jews. And this meant that Peter and the others would have to give up their squeamishness about coming into fellowship with people they had grown up believing were unclean and were outsiders.
Peter saw a vision of unclean animals being lowered down to him on a sheet, along with the command to take and eat. Immediately he exclaimed, “But Lord, I’ve never eaten anything that is unclean and not kosher!” This happened three times, and Peter finally understood what God was getting at. The church’s barriers of clean or unclean, us and them….had no place in the church Jesus was building, and it needed to be removed out of the way, so the gospel could move forward. Peter and the others were going to have to let go of the way they were raised as Jewish followers of Jewish tradition, and think and view Gentiles differently and no matter who they were or what they had done, to welcome them as Jesus welcomed them.
It has been well said that “To those who have faith, no explanation is necessary. To those without faith, no explanation is possible."
When Saul, later known as Paul was persecuting the church, his teacher and rabbi, whose name was Gamaliel , advised him that he might well be fighting against God! If this movement is of God, you can’t stop it, he said! And when Saul, had his encounter with the risen Christ, who appeared to him on the road to Damascus, the first words of Christ, were.... “Saul, Saul, why are you fighting against me”?
That’s what John the Baptist was telling the people of his day…. “God is on the move, God is about to come to you, so let’s Get out of His way!!!
An atheist was getting enthusiastic in his presentation at a national conference of atheists….when he said "It's great to see so many highly motivated atheist here today". A voice from near the front said "I'm a Christian”. Seeing an interesting discussion which could add to his presentation, he turned to the man and said "Why are you a Christian? The man said "Because my father was, and my father was because his father was". This wasn't quite what the speaker had been aiming for, so he tried a different way: "What if your grandfather had been insane? And what if your father had been insane as well?". "Well", came the reply from the Christian "I guess I would be an atheist then."
We are where we are to prepare the way of the Lord….
Our own wants and hopes and dreams, no matter how good and noble they are, must take a back seat and second place….when God shows up, and begins to call us into our greater purpose.
Psalms 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. v11 Cast me not away from Your presence; and take not Your holy spirit from me. v12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with Your free spirit”.
Let’s not be like the church that had a man die from a heart attack during the service. When the ambulance arrived, they checked half the congregation before they discovered who the dead man was… (give out a good amen or hallelujah once in a while, so the paramedics will know you’re still alive!!!)
inspection creates expectation. Take your weight for example; until I stepped on the scale, recently, I thought I was 180 lbs. Once I weighed myself I was no longer in denial about my actual weight, it changed my thinking, and my actions began to match my expectations.
Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans, and doing other things…so be sure to put God first when you’re making your life plans and choices ….and doing your everyday life stuff!
Palm Sunday, is a marker in the triumphant journey of Jesus…. On this Palm Sunday, I am picturing in my mind, a high mountain that must be overcome in order to continue our journey…It may be mountains of sickness, or mountains called the burdens of life, or perhaps they are mountains of life’s pressures and responsibilities, which we all must deal with, that stand in our path….and they must be climbed….
When mountain climbers are moving toward the top of a mountain, they often come to a sheer rock face, with no footholds or handholds for the average climber to find. An expert rock climber will go before them, with a rope and a clip filled with pylons. As he moves up through those places where it looks unclimbable and impossible, he drives the pylons, into the cracks and crevices and secures a rope to them, so that others can climb up and over the places, they never could have gotten over and beyond before…..
Palm Sunday, which is referred to as the triumphant entry, was one stop in Jesus triumphant climb as He conquered the mountain of sin, sickness, bondage, and death…which he alone could climb and be the path finder for all of those who would follow…..and the pylon which He drove into the top of that mountain was a blood stained cross….
Isaiah 22:22 And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. v23 And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to His father's house. v24 And they shall hang upon him all the glory of His father's house, His offspring and those who follow Him.
Now, speaking of overcoming the mountains that stand in our way…this scripture really excites me with it’s power and promise of victory to every offspring, born of the Spirit, in Christ Jesus…..
Ezra 9:7 Since the days of our fathers we have been in a great and desolate place because of our sins, even unto this day, and for our iniquities, we, our kings, and our priests, have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. v8 And now for a time, grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a way of escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our God may open our eyes, and revive us in our bondage.
But most important, do we really understand that we are where we are right now in our lives, living on the street where we live, working at the job we work at, connected with the people we are connected with, in the city, the state, the country we are in, to prepare the way of the Lord?
How many people have died not knowing that they could spend eternity in heaven instead of missing it forever, because Christians haven’t understood their greatest calling and purpose? You are at just the right place at just the right time… to simply look around you, be aware of your environment, and find a need and filled it….And as you give that unto the Lord, God will bless it, and enable you to populate heaven and empty hell!!! The young 26 year old pilot, who took 149 people to their death as he crashed the plane at the foot hills of the alps, lived around Christians who could have changed his destiny. Instead, 150 people, on a normal day, going to meet family, enjoy vacation, and just enjoy a great day of life, They were scheduled to land at 11:20 am….but they crashed at 10:39….
the dead included 16 German schoolchildren on an exchange trip to Spain, two teachers, two babies and two leading opera singers. Maria Radner, was travelling with her husband and baby. Fellow performer Oleg Bryjak, who interprets, also died. Carol, 68, and her son Greig, 29, were enjoying a European trip together. These folks probably worked with Christians, lived in the same neighborhood, on the same street, but for many, no one ever cared enough to tell them about Jesus, the Palm Sunday path finder….
Luke 14:23 “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled”.
Witnessing isn’t done in the church, the church is where we come together to celebrate and rejoice and acknowledge what Christ has done and is doing, in and for us. This is where we get encouragement and teaching on how to live a purpose filled life. Remember that Moses started out as a basket case, himself, so be encouraged!
Like John, we have a single all-encompassing mission and calling while here upon the earth…. “Preparing the way of the Lord”….
We have an incredible message to share, that our God is bigger than your past, stronger than your depression, more powerful than your pain, your hate, your anger, your doubt, your fears, your shame, your guilt, your disorders, your self-destructive patterns, your loneliness, your scars, and He’s bigger than all the cares of this world!!!
People will hurt you, God will heal you…People will humiliate you, God will honor you…People will judge you, God will justify you.
Our God is entirely predictable in fulfilling His word to us, for He holds time itself accountable to His will and purposes…He died on the Feast of Passover, He was buried on the Feast of Unleaven bread, He rose from the grave on the Feast of Firstfruits, He sent the Comforter on the feast of Pentecost, He will gather us at the Feast of Trumpets and we will celebrate with Him the Feast of Tabernacles for a perpetual Feast of Sabbath Shemitahs!
To walk by faith means to see opportunities in the midst of opposition. A pessimist sees only the problems; an optimist sees only the potential; but a realist sees the potential embedded in the problems.
Paul did not close his eyes to the many dangers and difficulties he would face in ministry, but he did look at them from the divine point of view and saw them as awesome opportunities.
Faith simply means obeying God's will in spite of feelings, circumstances, or consequences. There never was and never will be an easy place to serve God…but great opportunities often come, disguised in the form of great challenges.
Isaiah 59:19 declares, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.”
The standard God has raised up and given unto us has a name….that name is Jesus, our pathfinder…. His love is unquestionable, His power is unconquerable, His impact is unmistakable, His meaning is undeniable, His mystery is unexplainable, His sacrifice is incomparable, His sacrifice is unimaginable, His depth is immeasurable and His absence is unthinkable! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, would never die, but have eternal life!” OOOOHHHH….WHAT A GOD, WHAT A GIFT we are privileged to follow and walk in triumph as He leads us!
Congregational Prayer of agreement….
Lord Jesus, help me this day with a new attitude and plenty of gratitude. Let me make the best of each and every day to clear my mind so that I can hear from You and prepare the way of the Lord. Please open my mind and my eyes so that I can see and understand that You are working through all things in my life. When I sin, let me repent, and confess with my mouth as I believe in my heart, and receive the forgiveness of God, even as I forgive others who have transgressed against me.
And when this world closes in on me, let me remember Your example Lord, to slip away and find a quiet place to pray, when I'm pushed beyond my limits. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your Spirit of life that surges throughout every cell of my entire being, strengthening me and restoring me to complete wholeness. I release and cast away any undue worry or concern. Continue to use me to do Your will. Thank You for Your blessings that allow me to be a blessing to others. Keep me strong that I may help the weak.
May I grow in faith, that I may have words of strength, hope and encouragement for others. May I be one who daily prepares the way of the Lord, for those that are lost and can't find their way. For those that are misjudged and for all those that are lonely and misunderstood and for those who don't know You, personally and intimately. Help me to replace any wrong thinking and wrong doing in my life, with thoughts and acts based on your Greater redemptive truth and purpose…
Help me to refocus on the future, and the plan and purpose that You have for my life. I recommit myself to you, Lord… and I open my heart and life, to Your redemptive sacrifice, that connects me with all that you offer to me, including the perfect, custom plan for my life. I am in the right place at the right time. I declare, that You have made it possible for me to life a life of triumph, according to Your word, and that I am whole and well in mind, body, and spirit….In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.”