Jonathan Hemphill: The Passion Pandemic

I want to talk about “The Passion Pandemic.”

We are now entering the holiest of time in our liturgical calendar. Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus comes, in our text, humbly, into the city, riding in on a donkey and a young colt. Our text begins with what seems a simple ask of a donkey. While it seems like a casual animal and request, it is in fact a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah 9 that says the Messiah would come riding on a donkey.

Donkeys have great significance in the Old Testament. Many prophets rode donkeys. Solomon was anointed king on a donkey. Donkeys are symbols of service, suffering, peace, and humility. King David would only allow his bread for the palace to be delivered on a donkey. In our text a donkey carries the bread of life, the Messiah.

Just the choosing of an ordinary donkey seems unexpected to the common eye, but God is already setting up the case for the revelation of the Messiah. He is fulfilling purpose; he is speaking purpose and he is creating purpose. Everything about God is always on purpose. Things don’t happen just to happen, but it is all in God’s plan on purpose. God always has a plan and purpose for your life and my life. Purpose goes into action and is the fulfillment of redemption for all mankind, and is riding on a donkey.

Here, Jesus is coming into town where the same people who shout Hosanna on Sunday will yell Crucify Him on Friday. Here, Jesus is coming into the town where the same people who yell King of Kings, Lord of Lords will yell Give us Barabbas. The same people who praised him will point fingers at him. The same people who needed him will neglect him. The same people who received victory from him will vilify him. The same people he healed will hurl insults at him. The same people who followed him will forget about him. They will forget about how he delivered their family and friends; they will forget about how he gave them a buffet dinner of fish and loaves; they will forget about how he raised the dead, healed the sick, and made a way for them. They will forget! Oh, how often do we forget? How often do we forget that God has made a way for us? How often do we forget that God healed our infirmities and sicknesses? How often do we forget that God has provided for us when no one else could!

This Jesus that is the Bread of Life, riding on a donkey, speaks life and gives life. And now Jesus’ life is called into question, yet Jesus is still working miracles, and things are still happening around them and they did not even know. Things may seem bad in your life, but as long as Jesus is present, it is not as bad as it can be. You are going to be all right – the Messiah is riding on your behalf. He is riding on behalf of your pain, and your trauma, and your brokenness, and your disease, your disappointments, and your setbacks and derailments and suffering. King Jesus is riding for you.

This is all about love. Love for you and for me. Love that goes the distance, goes beyond. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

You may not get it, it may not make sense, it might not add up, your cognition may not comprehend it, but this is the extent of God’s love on display for us. He is going to lay down his life in exchange for your life. He is going to give up his life for your life - all because he loves us and desires to be in relationship with us.

The Passion Pandemic is about God realigning the world unto himself. Jesus’ death on the cross did not just affect those in Jerusalem. The world will quake, the veil in the temple will be torn from the top to the bottom, the sins of the world will be forgiven once and for all. Jesus’ passion is for the world - for the world to know that God loves unconditionally no matter who you are, where you are from, or what you have done or failed to do.

We are living in a broken and fractured world. Wars edged out by perpetrators who are lawless, food insecurities, social injustice, climate neglect, racial tension, the disparity between the haves and have nots - we are in a pandemic of ambitious proportions beyond Covid-19. We are in a life pandemic, one in which we need to find humility for humanity and appreciation of all the human soul to love and to live and to be again. And this text speaks to us and tells us that the thing that will drive out hate is love. The very thing that will drive out division is humility. And the thing that will dispel fear is service. Jesus is riding on a donkey.

The Passion Pandemic is an upset to the realities of disconnection and disunity. It breaks down hostility and enmity. It reduces strife and hatred to rubble. It is a seismic reality that causes relationships to align, brothers and sisters to make up, friendships to come together, and the lion and the lamb lie down together.

Here is my encouragement, beloved. We have lived through too much. We have seen too much. We have experienced too much. Our story is not in past tense, but it is in present tense. And I believe that the Son of God that delivered us before is going to deliver us again today, tomorrow and forever. And the Psalmist declares that God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.

The Passion Pandemic is all about God loving the world so much that he gave his only son that we might have life eternally - forever. The word pandemic is two words put together: pan means all and demos means people – all people. Jesus says in John 12:12, “if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people unto myself.” If what we are facing today in the world around us is not drawing people to Jesus, I don’t know what will.

I believe in the power of the cross. I believe that the blood that was shed on Calvary is the same blood that covers us today. We are living through times like we have never seen, but we have a Savior that sees all, endures all, and is with us through all. Amen.

Let us pray together.

Almighty God, thank you for the listeners and those who hear this message. Thank you for the opportunity to share this message with others. It is our prayer that hearts will be open, lives shaped, and minds made curious by our presentation of the Gospel today. Bless this program to continue its work around the world. As we are now in Holy Week, guide us to the cross, beyond the cross and toward the jubilant shouts of hallelujah on Easter Sunday. In Jesus’ name, Amen.