God’s Will when we are Not willing

March 25 – Palm Sunday

by Pastor Pete Scheele

Read Mark 11: 1 – 26

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Grace and peace to you as you let God’s Will work in your life, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

How often have we been here with Jesus on Palm Sunday? How often have we joined with the whole crowd of disciples and proclaim, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of the father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:9-10) As we echo the message of the angels who first sang those words at Jesus’ birth we are reminded that Jesus has come to Jerusalem with a purpose. How often have we been here with King Jesus as he comes to Jerusalem to be crowned with thorns and to ascend to the throne of the cross where He brings us into the kingdom of salvation and peace He has purchased and won for us.

Many of us have been here so often that the details of the different accounts in the Gospels has become blurry and blended all together. So, what is the difference about Mark’s account of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for His last Passover? Well, it’s the missing the account of the children sings Hosanna and the leaders of the temple asking Jesus to tell them to stop, that’s found in Matthew. It’s missing the account of Jesus stopping just before entering Jerusalem and weeping over the city because the people wouldn’t come to Him to receive His protection, that’s found in Luke.  Yet on this day when Jesus finally comes to Jerusalem the words of praise ring out and we find ourselves caught up in that joyous moment praising Jesus while Jesus longs for His Father’s will to be done in our lives. In Mark’s account of these last days of Jesus life we are shown by an example from nature about our lives and the lives of the people living at that time. Mark tells us, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if He could find anything on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard it.” (Mk. 11:12-14)

In the spring around Jerusalem fig trees start to leaf out and they also contain green nodules or spring figs (the Arabs call them taqsh), these nodules ripen in May and drop off so that the real fig can form and ripen later in the summer.  If a fig tree doesn’t have any of these early nodules or spring figs, they wouldn’t have any figs that year at all, for these nodules show that the tree is healthy and can produce fruit that year.  It was common for the people going to the Passover in Jerusalem, if they were hungry, to go up to a fig tree and pick off these small spring figs because they weren’t harvested. These nodules would be formed on a healthy three-year old fig tree and it would produce fruit that year.

The Evangelist Luke tells us a parable of the fig tree that Jesus used to tell us about our healthy life of faith.  Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Lk 13:6-9)

For three years now Jesus has been coming to Jerusalem with His disciples and each year He finds the same evidence of the lack of healthy faith.   For once again as Jesus comes into the temple to teach the people and pray with them in preparation for the Passover, He finds the temple filled with sellers and money exchangers.  The Evangelist Mark tells us, “And they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And He was teaching them and saying to them, “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.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy Him, for they feared Him, because all the crowd was astonished at His teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.” (Mk 11:15 – 19)

It’s always easier to see someone else’s unwillingness to live with God’s will being done in their life, isn’t it? After all, we’re disciples and would never willingly reject and oppose God’s will being done in our lives, would we?  Yet, Peter didn’t think so and he rejected God’s plan to send Jesus to the cross. It took Jesus calling him Satan before he saw his unwillingness. Paul, who often lamented Israel’s unwillingness to live with God’s will being done in their lives, had directly rejected and opposed God’s plan for our salvation through Jesus Christ and needed a blinding light and scales on his eyes to understand. What are the fruits of faith that need to be growing in our lives?  Are there any or is our life restricted to looking out for the profit or the small moments of joy we can find in this life? Do we need to let God dig around and prune our lives so that the fruits of faith can grow?

For some of us, Jesus sees our unwillingness to be reconciled with a person whom once we deeply trusted. They hurt us so badly that we can’t imagine feeling safe with them again. So, we wander further each day from the peace and protection that Jesus came to give to us. How often He extends His healing hands to us only to watch us hold on even tighter to the hurt. Jesus is hurt by our unwillingness to receive His peace in our life. He knows it doesn’t have to be this way. Yet, it’s hard to let God’s will be done in our lives, isn’t it?

For some of us, Jesus sees our secret, the one that we wish we could be free from, the path that we tried to leave before it destroys everyone around us, but we keep going back. As hard as we try we can’t leave it and the truth is we don’t know what life would be like without it. How often Jesus has extended His transforming grace to us, only to watch us choose to be chained to that burden once again. It’s hard to let God’s will free us from those burdens, isn’t it?

For some of us, Jesus sees how hard we are trying to manage yet another situation as if we had the power to control the universe. How often He has poured His grace upon us when we find yourself helpless to make our plans work and yet we reject His will being done in our lives! He wants nothing more than to enable us to let go of the struggle and to live in His freedom, to rest in His peace. It’s so hard to let God’s will go to work in our lives when we turn our back and take the reins yet once again, isn’t it?

We all have some place in our life where we are unwilling to be conformed to the will of God. That unwillingness is all wrapped up into what Jesus is doing for us, especially during the Holy Week. How often Jesus has been here, with us, with His people, and with this world and yet we don’t want Him. We are powerless to change our unwillingness and to put our trust into His healing, His mercy, His path of life and His freedom.  So, Jesus comes to us and says, “Have faith in God.23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mk 1:22 – 25)

 [Turning to the cross] Can you see it? Jesus is stretching out His arms further than it seems possible, to his own discomfort and anguish for you. So, stretched out are the arms of Jesus for us that it took nails to hold Him outstretched. So, unwilling is Jesus for each of us to perish in our sin that He submits to His Father’s will being done in His life. Standing in the shadow of those blood-stained arms on the cross, we see the full fury of divine punishment fall in a deathblow, not upon us, but upon Jesus who received every last ounce of the Father’s judgment for each and every one of our sins.

It’s true that Jerusalem is the city that kills the prophets. Yet, those slain prophets, like Isaiah, published words of hope in the midst of lament: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more… Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Is. 65:19, 24).

So, strong and eager is the will of God to restore His creation and rejoice over each of us that He would strike His Own Son in judgment and death for us, but that’s only the beginning! For after three days in the tomb, God’s love for us caused Him to raise Jesus from the dead. On that great day of resurrection, Jesus, is raised to life to usher in for you a new day and a new creation in the face of our sin and unwillingness.

So, if you see a pathway of unwillingness that you’ve walked down too many times—bitterness, self-control, hiding in the darkness of sin—and you feel helpless to do anything about it, lean into what Jesus is doing for you today, because you can’t change it on your own. As you lean into Jesus, you’re leaning into Jesus’ love, peace and joy for you and you will discover, again, that His arms, His Words, His actions are there to help you. They have been there all along, and in His arms, you will find you are no longer in the struggle of this world alone. Today, on Palm Sunday, as we sing and celebrate the coming of Jesus, our King, who ascended the throne of the cross, we confess our own unwillingness, but even more, we ask God to help us trust in the love of God, through Jesus that is relentlessly pursuing each of us. We need to lean into Jesus’ arms of love, peace and joy again and encourage other to join us. Amen.