This sermon is part of the sermon series "Cross Roads". See series.
There are times when the greatest power to change the world proceeds not from an act of forceful self-assertion, but from an act of gracious self-denial. Sometimes it is only by voluntarily surrendering the very rights, desires, and comforts this world tells us to hold fast to at all costs that a longer-term victory is won. We are taught this lesson most vividly through Christ's example on the Cross. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once summed up the contrast between the approach to power commonly taught by the world and that modeled by Jesus: "Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality."
Forgetting and asserting himself
It must be said, however, that walking the Cross Road is not always about yielding or surrendering. There are also times when walking the way of Jesus means standing up and speaking out in a manner that might seem too forceful for some people. This is the stretch of the road where we meet Christ and his disciples on the day of Christ's triumphal entry.
It is helpful to know that 500 years before these events, the prophet Zechariah had foretold the coming of a Messiah in these terms: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea."
In Luke 19 we see this prophecy coming true. Jesus approaches Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Recognizing his kingship, people spread their cloaks on the road in front of him and wave palm branches. Verse 37 says: "When [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles." They had seen all the evidence of Jesus' spiritual power—the healing of diseases and the withering of trees with but a word or a touch. They'd seen him calm storms and scatter demons. They had heard Jesus speak "as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." Jesus had not only made messianic claims; he had displayed messianic authority and power. For this reason, the crowds begin applying the words of Psalm 118:26 to Jesus. This Psalm was a classic prayer for the coming of the Messiah that had been sung for centuries at the time of the Passover. Luke 19:38 records the song: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
In verse 39, trouble begins to brew. Luke writes that "some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'" But Jesus will have none of it. All of history has been moving toward the moment when the Messiah would be publicly recognized in Jerusalem, so Jesus utters those famous words: "'I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
When stones speak
Jesus' words remind us of how important and natural it is for Christians to engage in what I have termed "Cross Talk." To be a follower of Jesus means to speak with passion about the Savior we know, even when it's met with the rebuke of the world.
By Cross Talk, I'm not talking about shoving one's faith down the throats of others. The Chicago Tribune carried an article in which author Walter Wangerin rightly chastised some representatives of Christianity on this matter. Wangerin notes that far too many Christians "have neglected and even repudiated the example of Jesus Christ, who eschewed coercion in favor of quiet persuasion and whose method of acting was his willingness to die for those who would not die … [When Christianity seeks to] arrogate power to enforce its righteous principles upon the whole world, it is in no way dying. This is in no way sacrifice."
The world does not need more Pharisees who speak with a sense of smug superiority about spiritual matters. It does not need more religious zealots who compel others to their viewpoint by force. Our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and assembly halls need more disciples whose most potent force is a humble, self-giving love modeled by Jesus on the Cross. To say, "I believe that Jesus is the Savior I need and the hope for the triumph of love and peace in this world," is not arrogance; it's an affirmation of reality and the praise Christ deserves. None of us can compel someone else to embrace this truth for himself, but it is nonetheless a reality that will not be silenced. All of creation declares the glory of God and of his Christ.
How are you joining in with the sacred cry? How has God's truth stirred or shaped you over the course of your life? Where have you experienced a touch of grace too remarkable to write off as chance? What is it about the life of Jesus that inspires or confounds you? What is it about the call and ethic of Christ that offers hope and help to this world? Most importantly, where, how, and to whom are you talking about these things? This is the first sense in which I believe this world needs some Cross Talk.
When authority upsets the table
There is a second way to engage in Cross Talk. On that first Palm Sunday, many people were ready to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Jews gathered in the streets of Jerusalem to hail Jesus as their Messiah that day. They expected that he was going to usher them into a new age of health, wealth, and prosperity. They had a hard time even imagining a Messiah whose role was larger than satisfying these familiar wants. Can you relate to that in any way?
When I was a small child, I looked at my parents as Messiahs. On Christmas mornings, my Dad would stand outside the folding doors that led into our living room and ceremoniously cut the ribbon or string that held us back from the bounty that lay within. He looked like "God with scissors" to me, and I would have followed him anywhere. I think of how my mom would announce that the Thanksgiving feast was ready. It might have been the crystal chandelier playing tricks on my young eyes, but it was as if there was an actual glow of glory about her head as she welcomed us to the table.
It was not hard in those moments to say, "Blessed be the name of Mom and Dad." They were giving us exactly what we wanted. It was much harder to acknowledge their authority and goodness, however, when they were asserting exactly what we needed. When it came time to learn the discipline of cleaning up or of sharing—when we needed to learn to eat vegetables, let our siblings go first, acknowledge that we'd been selfish in taking so much for ourselves, or that growing up means learning to give away—Dad and Mom looked more like meddlers than Messiahs.
This is why the same people who cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday could turn on him by Good Friday. Jesus was trying to usher them into the living and dining rooms of the household of God. He was offering them a seat in the Kingdom of God. He wanted them to see that membership in his family required an internal revolution without which there could never be a lasting external revolution, so he gave the people of Jerusalem not only an encounter with God's amazing grace, but also with his piercing truth. As Messiah, he behaved in such a way that many felt he was just meddling.
It came to a focus during Holy Week, when Jesus entered the great temple at Jerusalem and challenged one of the most accepted practices of his day. The commercialism of the surrounding culture had crept into the spiritual life of God's people. Merchants had gained space in the temple courts and were playing on the monopolistic advantage they had over thousands of Passover pilgrims by selling sacrifices at rip-off rates. The temple had become just another one of those places where you came with great hope for God, but got sold a bill of goods. It is an understatement that this made Christ cross—so much so that he both talked and acted in highly assertive terms. Luke 19:45 records the events: Then Jesus] entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling." The other gospel writers tell us that Jesus actually overturned the tables of the money changers and drove the sheep and cattle out of the temple with a whip: "'It is written,' he said to them, '"My house will be a house of prayer," but you have made it a den of robbers."
This was not the only time Christ engaged in some very cross talk with people. Jesus spoke sharply about the way his society was ignoring and damaging children. He challenged the liberality by which divorce was being practiced. He named the prejudicial and abusive way people verbally slashed one another and commanded people to stop. Jesus talked pointedly about the casual acceptance of lust in the culture, the disregard for prisoners and the poor, the easy hypocrisy and materialism by which so many people lived their lives. Jesus stood up, spoke out, and actively strove against what was going wrong in his world. This Cross Talk had a remarkable effect on those who heard it. Luke concludes the passage as follows in verses 47-48: Every day [Jesus] was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.
Hanging on his words
Isn't this a fascinating dichotomy? On one side you have people who hang on Christ's words because they recognize that even in the sharp and uncomfortable truth Jesus speaks, a higher love is reaching out to them. On the other side, you have people who want to hang Christ for his words. C. S. Lewis once noted that if you speak about goodness, truth, beauty, or about God as a great spiritual force of some kind, people will greet you warmly. But the temperature drops considerably when you begin to discuss a God who gives definite commands, who does definite acts, and who has definite ideas and character.
It is a definite God that you and I are called to talk about. As I hope I've emphasized sufficiently, we ought to do our talking with personal humility and respect toward others. The most definite of all God's commands is the command to love. But here is the question that I want to leave with you: As you look around your home, church, community, workplace, or world, are there any tables that need overturning? Is there any accepted reality or ingrained injustice—any familiar wrong or damaging pattern—that you and others have been too silent about for too long? Is it time for some Cross Talk?
Standing up, stepping out, and speaking forth could upset some people. It might even make them want to hang you for your words. But here's the core truth: when you come to a place where "the way it is" is not the way it should be, and you choose to speak out instead of being silent, you are on a Cross Road—and this road leads from death to life.
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.