Come with us now to those exciting days of yesteryear. Where out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. "Hi Ho Silver, away! The Lone Ranger rides again!" Now cue the William Tell overture. "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. And able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" And let's not forget "Jack Armstrong. Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy!"
These old radio programs are part of the American landscape; and for those of us who listened to them ardently in some profound way they shaped us. In the evenings, my family would gather around the radio as some families gather around the TV today and listen to the new episode each week. We all had our favorites, and we would make sure it was included on the family program list that evening.
The favorite of my mother was a little different than the favorite of the rest of the family. She liked Queen for a Day. My stepfather and I would begrudgingly give up some of our favorites to indulge her. The plot of her program always centered around finding a woman living in difficult conditions and making her Queen for a Day. After she was selected for this honor, she would be picked up by a chauffer-driven limousine and taken to a Beverly Hills salon and given a complete makeover, then she would be fitted with a new wardrobe and taken to a celebrated restaurant escorted by some Hollywood celebrities. For the night she would stay in a penthouse at a luxury hotel, but the next day she would be taken back to her small apartment and returned to her former life. She had been Queen for a Day.
The story that confronts us in Luke's Gospel that we call the Triumphal Entry upon close examination could be renamed King for a Day and demonstrates the fickle nature of those who would follow Jesus. Now listen as I read the account of this in Luke's Gospel:
28After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29As he approached Bethpage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, "Why are you untying it?" say, "The Lord needs it."
32Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, the owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
34They replied, "The Lord needs it."
35They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.
36As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37When he 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.
38"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."
40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, "If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and circle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
There were two and a half million people in Jerusalem that day. They had returned from all over the Mediterranean Basin for the Passover Feast. This was the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Masters rolled into one. They knew that Jesus was at Bethany and what he could do. It was expected that he would proclaim himself Messiah sometime that week. Earlier he had grabbed their imagination by raising Lazarus from the dead. With Jesus in town, this was going to be a Passover to remember.
His disciples had borrowed a donkey for his ride into the city. That alone told the people that he was a man of peace and that he was not in the mold of the Roman generals who always rode into town on a warhorse. He was a servant. As he rides into the city of Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, the people crowd the streets to hail him Messiah: "The One who comes in the name of the Lord!" They placed palm branches in his path, and they give every indication that they know he fulfills the picture of the Messiah found in Zechariah 9:9. But they melt away as they see that during the week he is not going to fit into their popular image of the Messiah; and by his teaching and action, he calls them to make difficult decisions about himself and about their own lives. This was theatre--theatre on a grand scale.
On this day he leaves Bethany, which is a small village just outside Jerusalem, and rides across the Mount of Olives, which is a long range outside the city and then down a path through the Garden of Gethsemane and crosses the brook Kidron and into the city through the golden gate. And that gate is closed today.
This event begins Holy Week. This week is eventful and revealing. In it we can see how the tide of popular opinion turns against him as the week progresses. On Monday he cleanses the temple of the money changers. This violent scene provokes the Jewish leaders to intensify the effort to get rid of him. On Tuesday he engages in discourse with the Jewish leaders and curses the fig tree for being barren, a clear message to Israel. Wednesday, he was anointed in Bethany much to the discomfort of Judas. And Thursday, which we call Maundy Thursday, he was preparing for Passover. It was also the evening of the betrayal, arrest in Gethsemane and the beginning of the trials. The crowds call for his crucifixion. Friday was the day of the crucifixion. Saturday was in the tomb and Sunday the day of the resurrection, the day of victory.
The same crowds that cried "Hosanna" on the first day of the week cried "Crucify him!" at the end of the week. Why? Could it have been because they wanted an instant kingdom, and he offered them an eternal kingdom? Or could it have been because the crowds wanted entertainment, not enrichment? Or simply, when during the week, they saw the demands of his kingdom and they were not willing to change their lives, much less their lifestyle for him?
It is very simple. Jesus resisted any attempt to make his message or ministry a handmaiden to the culture, to the government, or any other religious group. As this became clear, the crowds began to melt away. They were not much different than we are. A religious commitment that will not support my political view or my economic opinion is not for me. Any faith that claims first place in my life is not acceptable; after all, my faith should support me, my world view, and demand nothing of me.
We live in a day of instant everything, from instant cake mixes to information and entertainment. We no longer can wait for anything. We are like the lady who prayed, "Lord, give me patience--and I want it now!" We no longer have the patience to let character develop, or to postpone gratification.
A God who does not give us what we want now is of no use to us. The idea of a church service that is not immediately translatable into four useful ways to do or not do something on Monday morning is a waste of my time. I pray and I expect God to jump. For many in our culture, religious commitment is an add-on to our lives, such as an accessory to a new car. Will it be leather or velour interior? What is your preference--standard hubcaps or deluxe chrome? The idea of a God who does not give us short, immediate thrills will not have us for very long. Music that will not compete with Saturday night we will not have on Sunday morning. Truth presented to us not supported by an opinion poll has no claim on us.
Jesus would not adjust his message to the popular ideas of the messiah that prevailed in his day. He called his disciples to a life-time commitment and not to a short-term ministry. He would not adjust his message to their whims or gain following by stroking their prejudices.
However, we like the crowds on that Jerusalem street, are no different.
- God calls us to repentance. We want to make a deal.
- God says his kingdom is forever, and we say it is as long as I need it or can use it.
- God says all things are mine. We say try and get them from me.
- God stretches us. He does not stroke us.
I do not think God is particularly concerned with our happiness, but I do think God is very concerned with our holiness. He is concerned with our commitment and not our pleasure. A math teacher is not concerned with whether or not her students are happy the night before a big test, but the teacher is concerned with the students being committed to learn math. He is not interested in being king for a day, but he does want to be Lord of our lives.
Several years ago my wife and I were in Hong Kong. It was a long flight from our home in Atlanta, and we were tired and very disheveled when we arrived. After some rest Carolyn went to the hairdresser in our hotel. She noticed that the operator helping her had a beautiful cross hanging around her neck. Carolyn admired it and asked, "Are you a Christian?" while pointing to the cross. "No," she replied, "it's only for fun."
The sad part of this is that there are some things that can only be known by commitment. We don't know the joy of loving and being loved unless we are committed to the one we love. We don't know the satisfaction of serious accomplishment if we have not committed ourselves to the challenge. The long-term results of investing in our children can't be known by a short experience with them. Christian faith can only be understood when it is a life-time commitment. This serious commitment leads us through the moments of temptation when we are tempted to be less than we are made to be. It takes us through the valley of doubt when we see the futility of the uncommitted life and ask, "Is this all there is?"
Holy Week invites us to look deeper at our commitment. It invites us to decide. The Bible is sure in its assertion that commitment is the way of faith. It calls our first-rate commitment to second-rate causes into question. For many, our commitment to our favorite football team or secular club or political party or country club receives more from us than our commitment to the faith we proclaim we profess. A "Happy Days" faith is no match for the entrenched evil in our world. The apostle Paul calls us to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. The first Psalm tells us that the one who is planted by the rivers of waters brings forth much fruit. He is not scattered like the leaves which the wind drives away.
The triumphal entry invites us to re-examine our understanding of the mission of Jesus and our commitment to him. As we see the crowds melt away as the week becomes more difficult and the challenges to commitment become more intense, we must ask ourselves, "Have we made him king for a day or Lord of our lives?"
Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide.
In the strife of Truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight.
And the choice goes by forever "twixt the darkness and the light."
To every man there openeth
A way a ways and a way,
And the high soul treads the high way
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
Now what will it be? King for a Day or Lord of your Life?