During Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowd shouted “hosanna,” meaning save us. They wanted and expected their Messiah to save them from Roman occupation and taxation. In other words, they said, “Save us, Jesus, but only a little.” They didn’t realize how much they needed salvation—that if Christ was going to save them, he was going to save them all the way. They needed—and we need—to be transformed them from the inside out.
Do we want a little bit of Jesus, or are we prepared to surrender everything to him?
Sermon Text: Mark 11:1-18
Right-click here to download an MP3 version of this sermon.
The following is my original sermon manuscript.
So… Is it white and gold? Or blue and black?
In case you you’ve been living under a rock, the internet broke last week, as millions of us wondered what color this dress is! The image in the middle is the actual image. The image on the left is the way I saw it—white and gold—which is the right way. And the image on the right is the way other people mistakenly saw it. Raise your hand if this dress is white and gold… Now raise your hand if this dress is blue and black? Of course, I liked this meme that Georgia Tech shared.
I read in Wired magazine that, as hard as it is for me to comprehend, the actual dress is blue and black—and the reason so many of us see it as white and gold has something to do with the way our brains process colors. Our brain is playing tricks on us.
The point is, we’re all looking at the exact same picture, yet our responses to it are drastically different. That’s not unlike people’s responses to Jesus in today’s scripture. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowd praises him as king and Savior. So that’s how one group of people viewed Jesus.
But the very next day, this other group of people, in verse 18, views this same Jesus as not only wrong about being king and Savior, but dangerously wrong—so much so that they want to get him killed.
So it’s one or the other… Which is it?
Of course, most people in this crowd didn’t know what kind of king and Savior Jesus was going to be. When they cried hosanna or “save us,” they mostly meant “Save us, Jesus, from Roman occupation, and let us have our own kingdom again!” “Save us from these high taxes that the Romans are imposing!”—those were the Republicans in the crowd. Others said, “Save us from this unjust economic system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer!”—those were the Democrats in the crowd.
In other words, it was as if the crowd were saying, “Save us from this particular problem, Jesus, and then we’ll be O.K.”
Are we really so different today? Like this crowd, we often say, “Save us, Jesus… But save us just a little.” “Save me, Jesus, from this problem I’m having paying the bills this month. Save me, Jesus, from this problem I’m having with my child. Save me, Jesus, from this problem I’m having at work! Save me, Jesus, from failing algebra! Save me, Jesus, from this illness that’s threatening my life.” Save me, Jesus, but just a little. Do me this one little favor, and I won’t bother you again for a while, I promise.”
Well, you know if you’re guilty of this… When do you pray? Do you pray even when things are going well. Or do you wait until you’re facing some big crisis, and you cry out, “Save me, Jesus”?
Just last Friday, I met a man named David when I was volunteering for security at the racetrack. David used to be a very successful banker, but he got hooked on drugs, and they very nearly destroyed his life. Now he is a recovering addict—six months clean. He said he tried to kick the habit in the past but was unable to. The difference this time, he told me, is Jesus. He said he thought he was a Christian before, but he never before understood that Jesus demands everything. He said, “I thought I could give him just a part of my life—50, 75, even 90 percent. What I realized,” he said, “is that anything less than 100 percent isn’t enough. Jesus wants it all. He wants everything.” He said, “You can’t just say to Jesus, ‘Help me with this addiction’—I surrender this part of my life to you—and expect to be successful until you’re prepared to surrender everything to him.”
What David was saying, in his own way, was that Jesus can’t fix the problems in our lives, until Jesus fixes our lives. We shouldn’t expect Jesus to fix our problems until we’re prepared to let him fix us!
This is the point of Jesus’ words about the fig tree in verses 12-14. Jesus isn’t merely telling a parable; he’s acting one out. The tree looked perfectly healthy on the outside, from a distance. It was green and leafy; by all appearances, it looked like it should bear fruit; but it wasn’t bearing fruit. Which was a sign that the tree had a disease deep within—and it needed to be transformed from the inside out, or else it would wither and die.
Just like a church: we churches can be so busy attending to the business of the church—making sure the institution survives, so that we can pay our pastor, pay our staff, keep the lights on, get a new coat of paint when we need it. And we say things like, “We need our numbers to grow… We need to bring the young families in… We need to offer this program, or that ministry, so that more people will come to church!” I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. We need to grow.
And I’m like, “No we don’t. We don’t need to grow… We don’t! Not for the sake of making sure that this institution can survive. Not for the sake of being able to pay our bills or even pay our pastor—as important as that is. God can get along just fine in this community without Hampton United Methodist Church!” No, we only need to grow as a church because there are so many people outside our church walls, in this community, who need Jesus Christ! And Jesus is calling us to play an important role in reaching them! That’s our goal! That’s why we’re here! Amen? If we’re not about transforming people’s lives, then we may as shutter our doors and windows tomorrow!
Tim Keller shares an insight in his book on marriage that relates to the importance of inward transformation. He says we often want Jesus to fix our marriages. But what we usually mean is, we want Jesus to fix our spouse. He or she, after all, is the main problem. Right? But Jesus says, “No, the main problem isn’t someone or something else out there—with that other person, with that other situation…the main problem is right here, in your heart. That’s what needs to be fixed first!” Let our Lord heal your heart first, and then your marriage suddenly has a real chance of being healed, too.
I thought about my own experience with marriage: for most of the first 20 years of my marriage, I lived as if the demands that Christ makes on my life didn’t really apply once I crossed the threshold of my home. I mean, sure, I know I’m supposed deny myself and take up my cross, to die to myself, to serve others unselfishly, to put the needs and interests of others ahead of my own needs and interests when it comes to people out there, in the world… when it comes, dork example, to loving my neighbor in the Dominican Republic this summer. But when it comes to my marriage? No, I need my wife to serve me, to meet my needs, to make me happy! I never considered that my neighbor was also this person who lived under my roof, the neighbor with whom I raised a family, the neighbor with whom I shared a life, the neighbor with whom I shared a bed.
Do you see what I was doing? I wanted a little bit of Jesus to save my marriage when I really needed everything he had to offer—including dealing with all that ugly and selfish garbage inside of me!
We need to be transformed from the inside out! And that’s what Jesus will do for us if we let him. If we’ll surrender our lives to him today!
Within days of graduating from the Candler School of Theology in 2007, I attended a debate at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta between an outspoken atheist and bestselling author, the late Christopher Hitchens, and my Christian ethics professor, Tim Jackson. Hitchens was on a book tour to promote his new book, God is Not Great, and he was debating people as he went from town to town. I thought Dr. Jackson, my professor, mopped the floor with Hitchens, and I was inspired by his ability to defend the Christian faith the way he did. In fact, the experience of watching that debate planted a seed that ultimately led, two years later, to my starting a blog. One purpose of my blog is to defend the faith—to help Christianity make sense to others.
But the debate did something else for me: See, here was Hitchens, mocking and ridiculing the Bible—speaking as if only a complete idiot would actually take it seriously. And here was my professor—defending God’s Word, showing Hitchens that he was wrong.
This convicted me, though, because I thought, “I sincerely believe Christopher Hitchens is wrong about the Bible. But if you look at my life… I may as well have been mocking and ridiculing scripture for all that the Bible mattered to me—for all the difference it was making in my life at the time. Honestly, I’m ashamed to say it, but I had become, by that point in 2007, a professional Bible reader. I was only reading the Bible for church—to prepare sermons and Bible studies, or to get an “A” on an exam or an essay I was writing.
I wasn’t submitting to God’s Word! I wasn’t letting it change my life! When the Bible said something that I disagreed with, well… I would try to find wiggle room. “Here’s why it doesn’t really mean what it says. Here’s why God isn’t really saying this… Here’s why Jesus didn’t really mean that…”
Praise God that he rescued me from that! I read the Bible every day now—and not just because I’m a pastor! John Wesley said, “I am a man of one book.” I have a long way to go toward living out God’s Word, but, praise God, I’m getting better every day!
A part of what it means for Christ to be king over all our lives is to submit to God’s Word!
We preachers often look at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we point out that here we have Jesus’ followers giving what they have in service to the king: giving the colt to be used by the Lord; throwing their own cloaks on the colt’s back; spreading their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to ride over; cutting leafy branches from their own fields to throw down in the path of Jesus. What they have, they give to Jesus.
And of course that’s a good application. We need to give everything we have in service to the Lord.
And yet, how much of our lives is actually spent serving the Lord?
Unlike me, it’s not like you guys have jobs at church. You don’t spend most of your time at church or doing mission work. You have secular jobs and families. Most of your life is spent outside of church. Even if you read the Bible and pray every day—and you should—chances are it’s only a small fraction of a typical day.
My point is, Jesus is supposed to king over all our lives, we’re supposed to give Jesus everything—including our time. Yet so much of our time is spent on non-Jesus related things, if you know what I mean. How can we say that Jesus is king over all our lives when we only spend a few hours a week, in a typical week, serving him?
Maybe it’s time to think about what it means to serve the Lord? In Colossians, for example, the apostle Paul is speaking to a group of bondservants—or what we might call today indentured servants—people who have basically sold themselves as slaves to someone else in order to pay off a debt. I’m sure much of the work they had to do was menial, small, insignificant, unimportant. But Paul says something remarkable to them: He says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Whatever you do… it is the Lord Christ you are doing it for. When I was a kid, back in the ’70s, I used to see a bumper sticker that said, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” Here’s some scripture that says that that’s almost literally true! Whatever we do—when we go to work, when we go to school, when we’re home with kids, when we’re doing laundry, when we’re running errands, when we’re hauling kids around to ball practice or piano lessons—we are doing it for Jesus! Let that truth sink in for a moment!
Twenty years ago, when I took the introductory electrical engineering class at Georgia Tech, I had a professor named Dr. Whit Smith. He was brilliant, of course, but he was also an unusually kind man—a patient man, a compassionate man, a humble man; he genuinely seemed to care about his students. There was just something about him. It was noticeable. About five years ago, I was talking to a fellow pastor who, upon learning that I was a Georgia Tech alum, said, “Oh, I have a parishioner at my church who’s a Tech professor. Maybe you know him?” And I’m thinking, “There are a lot of professors at Georgia Tech.” He said, “His name is Whit Smith. He teaches EE.” And it all fell into place. Of course he’s a Christian! And my colleague went on to say, ‘Yeah, he considers his work a ministry. He feels called by God to do this work.”
Dr. Smith isn’t only a person whose life is bearing fruit for the Lord: he’s someone who understands that during those 50, 60, or 70 hours he spends “at work” each week, he’s working for the Lord—every bit as much as when he’s at church or on a mission trip! He understands that those 50, 60, or 70 hours a week also belong to Jesus his king. What a great attitude! If Jesus is truly the king of our lives, we’ll want to have the same attitude about the work we do! We’ll give him everything, including our time!
If you understand who you’re truly working for, whose approval you want more than anything, whose treasure you’re seeking above all other compensation, well… You’ll never be able to say you don’t like your boss again! Because we should do everything for Jesus!
Last Sunday at the 9:00 service, Matthew sang a song called “Jesus, Friend of Sinners.” And it included these lines: “Jesus, friend of sinners/ The truth’s become so hard to see/ The world is on their way to you/ But they’re tripping over me.”
The world is on their way to Jesus, but they keep tripping over us, his followers. I live in fear of the fact that someone might be on their way to finding Jesus, but because of my own terrible witness at times, my own sinful words and actions, I would actually be an obstacle to their finding Jesus… God forbid it! And God forgive me for falling short!
You see, today’s scripture also has to do with witnessing. This is one important reason Jesus overturned the money-changers tables and drove out the people selling livestock in the temple. There was nothing wrong, per se, with the service that these merchants and vendors were providing to all these Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem from far distances to celebrate Passover: They needed to buy animals for sacrificing, since they couldn’t have easily traveled with their own livestock.
The main problem wasn’t what the merchants were doing, it was where they were doing it: In the Court of the Gentiles. This was only place in the temple where non-Jews—i.e., the rest of the world—could come to pray and worship and encounter the one true God. But like the song says, they couldn’t do that because they would literally be tripping over these “church people” who were getting in their way.
By clearing out these vendors and merchants, Jesus is saying to the people: “I came so that all the world could have eternal, everlasting, and abundant life—both right now and for all eternity. I came that people would find God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy. I came that everyone in the world would have the opportunity to repent of their sins, place their faith in me, and become a beloved child of God! Don’t get in the way of that happening. Become part of making that happen!”
Isn’t that why we’re here?
[Invitation. Write down the name of one person you know who needs to find Jesus. Bring to altar.]
 Colossians 3:23-24