The Right Side of History
(Mark 11: 1-11, 14: 1-11)
You want to be on the right side of history on this issue, or how do you think history will judge you on this fifty years from now? Two phrases you may have heard from time to time when somebody is about to make a very important decision. Essentially, it means your decisions has to be for all the right reasons no matter what short-term grief you may have to bear. Your decision is not one of expediency. It’s a matter of doing the right thing, no matter how unpopular it might be at the present. I think the last time I heard it was on a political talk show. The political expert was saying that the politician who was in the hot seat had a tough decision to make but that he or she really needed to be on the right side of history on this one because if they didn’t it wouldn’t bode well for their future or their legacy. Teresa and I were recently watching a special on The Kennedys when I saw what I thought was a pretty good example. It involved the Rev. Billy Graham who recently passed after a long life of faithfully serving God for which he will always be honored and revered. However, in this segment, John Kennedy was making a run for President of the United States in 1960. One of his perceived shortcomings was that he was Catholic. Billy Graham and other protestant leaders came out actively against Kennedy saying that, if elected, the White House would be controlled by the Pope. In a debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy handled the issue well by pointing out that being Catholic didn’t seem to bother the U.S. Navy when he went off to war, being Catholic didn’t seem to make a difference when he ran for U.S. Senate, and being Catholic didn’t seem to matter when he ran for Congress so it shouldn’t make a difference now. Rev. Graham, a good man, ended up on the wrong side of history.
As a part of my New Testament Challenge, I read the whole gospel of John which primarily focused on Jesus’ ministry from his baptism to his crucifixion. And, in preparation for this sermon, I’ve read Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the events leading up to and including his crucifixion. I’ve often thought, what if I had been present for the triumphant entry, had observed the intervening events of his accusation and trial and then the crucifixion, would I have had the courage to stand up and speak out or would I end up on the wrong side or history.
In our earlier scripture reading we learned of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem. When they got close, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the nearby village where they would find a colt that had never been ridden. He told them to untie it and bring it to him and that if anyone questions them to say; “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” They found the colt as Jesus had said and were indeed questioned by some bystanders who let them leave with the colt. They brought it to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it. Jesus mounted the colt and headed towards Jerusalem. Along the way people lined the streets spreading their cloaks and leafy branches on the road. Those that went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. At that point, it would have been easy to have been a part of the cheering crowd. Everyone loves a parade especially when the person leading the parade is talking about setting you free. So far, so good, but how quickly things would change with the cheers turning to jeers.
As Paul Harvey would famously say, now for the rest of the story. It was now two days before the Passover and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. They couldn’t be open and bold about it for they feared a riot among the people due to the popularity of this most unconventional rabbi. They didn’t want this thing to blow up in their faces. While they’re trying to come up with a fool proof plan we learn that Jesus is staying at Simon the leper’s house in Bethany. While sitting at the table a woman comes up and anoints Jesus with some very expensive ointment. This drew protests from some of the disciples who viewed it as a waste and better sold to raise money for the poor. Jesus chastised them saying they would always have the poor but that they would not always have him and that she had prepared his body beforehand for burial. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, as he went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus. Jesus, it appears, is not what Judas had in mind for a new king and ruler.
We next learn of Jesus and the disciples gathering in the upper room to celebrate Passover. After they had all taken their places at the table and had eaten Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Well, you can imagine how that went over. The disciples became distressed and asked Jesus whether or not it was them. All he told them was that it was one of them, one of them who was eating with him, and “woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” At that point they had what we now know as communion where he broke the bread, told them to eat and then gave them the cup of wine telling them that it was his blood of the covenant which is poured out for many. After that, they went out to the Mount of Olives so Jesus could pray. Jesus told them before it was all said and done they would desert him. It was at this point that Peter said he would never desert the Lord, to which Jesus responded that before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times. We all know how that ended. After Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, Peter followed them into town where he had three opportunities to speak up for Jesus, denying knowing him three times and then hearing the rooster crow. Fortunately for Peter, he was forgiven and redeemed. Good news for us.
Jesus prayed in earnest to God praying; “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Shortly after that, Judas and the arresting authorities arrived and, after a brief scuffle, took Jesus into custody. Jesus was taken before the high priest, all the chief priests, the elders and the scribes where it was decided he would be taken before the Roman authorities to be dealt with. They took him to Pilate and presented their case and was accused of many things. Pilate asked Jesus if he were the “King of the Jews” to which Jesus responded, “You say so.” Pilate saw through what was going on and realized that it was out of jealousy that that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him for punishment. Pilate found that Jesus had done nothing wrong and wanted to release him but the chief priests, in not so subtle fashion, implied such a decision would not sit well in Rome. Pilate caved to the pressure and gave them a choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, a common criminal, at which point they cried for Jesus to be crucified. So, Pilate wishing to now please the crowd, released Barabbas and after having Jesus flogged handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers took him, mocked him, scourged him, put a crown of thorns around his head and then led him off to be crucified. He was nailed to the cross with a sign posted over his head proclaiming: “The King of the Jews.” As he hung there, people passed by shaking their heads and deriding him mocking him by saying that Jesus claimed to tear down the temple and build it up in three days but he couldn’t even save himself. The chief priests along with the scribes also mocked him saying, he saved others yet he cannot save himself. They taunted Jesus by saying, “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.”
Around noon a darkness came over the whole land and it was about three o’clock when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some in the crowd thought he was crying out to Elijah to save him and said to wait to see if Elijah would come and take him down. Jesus gave out a loud cry and took his last breath, at which point the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who was guarding Jesus saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Later that evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and received permission to take Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial, which he did, along with the assistance of Nicodemus who, as we know, was a Pharisee who supported Jesus. After Jesus’ body was prepared for burial a large stone was rolled against the opening of the tomb.
What a story! Where would you have fit in with this story? I would like to think that we might have been some of those people in the crowd who were so excited to see Jesus as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I would like to think that we would have been some of those people who stood helplessly by watching the torment and humiliation of Jesus as he was wrongfully accused and sentenced to death and recoiled in horror as those around us yelled for him to be crucified and for Pilate to release the criminal Barabbas. I would like to think that we were the ones who stood on the hill below the cross with tears streaming down our faces as we watched the life drain out of our savior, as we watched our hope die a cruel, inexplicable death. I would like to think we would be been on the right side of history.
The good news is that we are on the right side of history because Jesus gave his life for us so we could do the will of the Father. We are on the right side of history because we gather as a people to continue the ministry that Jesus started two thousand years ago that was carried on by his disciples and all those who have followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus Christ, our Savior, did not die in vain. The work of Jesus Christ continues despite of the efforts of those who oppose us, those who want to maintain their status quo at the expense of others. Jesus Christ lives because he lives in us. Because he lives in us and we are people of the resurrection, we are on the right side of history.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and wonderful God, how overwhelmed we are at the sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ, and all he willingly did for us. What an honor and privilege it is to be counted as a member of the family of God, a brother and sister in Christ and of Christ. When we survey the wonderous cross we do not see an instrument of death and humiliation. We see a magnificent symbol that represents all we have gained through your endless love, mercy and grace. As we look up at the cross our eyes fill with tears of joy and gladness in the realization that all is forgiven and that anyone who comes to the cross and accepts your free gift of salvation is guaranteed a life in eternity with you. Give us the strength, courage and resolve to follow in the footsteps of your loving son as we labor to continue the mission he began in your name. In Christ’s name, we pray, Amen.