Today is Palm Sunday. From a Christian standpoint, it is a very significant day. It marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when he was greeted like a visiting king. It was a time of celebration and joy. The people waved palm branches and tossed their cloaks on the road in front of him. They shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was great day of rejoicing.
But it was also something else. Palm Sunday also marked the beginning of the last week in Jesus’ earthly life. Five days after the welcoming parade, Jesus would hang crucified on the cross of Calvary. A man who did no wrong would die a painful death at the hands of the very people he was trying to save.
Sometimes, I think to myself: Jesus must have seen how it was going to turn out. He had to realize what was going on. He had to know what awaited him at Calvary. No one would have wanted to have to go through that. But nonetheless he rode on. He rode into Jerusalem. He rode on towards his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. He rode on to the trumped up trial at the hands of those who wished him ill. He rode on to his cruel death on the cross. And I ask myself, “Why did he do it? Why did he ride on? Why didn’t he just turn around and go back to Galilee and live out his life as a humble carpenter?”
There are at least two reasons why he rode on. The first one was that he had a clear understanding of his mission. He knew what he was supposed to do. He understood his place in God’s plan of salvation. Only he, as the Messiah, could reconcile the world by giving his life as a sinless sacrifice. Only he could do that and he was determined to fulfill that highest of callings.
The second reason why Jesus rode on – and this is the more important one for us today – was because he knew he did not journey alone. He knew that in life, when the tough times came, God would do one of two things. God would either deliver him from his suffering or God would carry him through it.
That’s the message that I want us to remember today. When the tough stuff come our way – and I can guarantee you that they will if it hasn’t already – then God will do one of two things. God will either deliver you from your trouble or God will carry you through it. Let’s take a look at each of these.
DELIVERED FROM THE TOUGH STUFF
When the tough times come our way, sometimes we are blessed because God delivers us from them. What that means is that, God sends his angels or his Spirit to guide us away from the things that will cause us pain and sorrow.
We can see examples of this in Jesus’ life. In John 8:39-58, Jesus debated with some of the Jewish authorities in the Temple. In the end, the authorities were so angry with Jesus that they were going to stone him for blasphemy. But Jesus avoided all of these men and was able to leave the Temple in safety. God delivered him.
Look at what happened to Peter in Acts 12. He was in prison, bound with chains. There was no way he could have escaped but an angel came to him in the middle of the night. His chains fell away, the prison gates opened and he walked out into the streets of Jerusalem. Peter acknowledged that God rescued him from those who would harm him.
There are all kinds of other examples in the Bible where God delivered the people from the tough stuff. Has anything like that ever happened to you? I imagine that it has. When was the last time something horrible happened and you avoided it by the hairs of your chinny chin chin and you thought, “Wow, I could have been there in the middle of that!” Maybe you were driving someplace and you were late because you were in the biggest traffic snarl the world has ever seen. Later on you discovered that if you had been where you were supposed to be at the time you were supposed to be there, you may very well have been involved in a multi-vehicle car accident. And you thought, “Thank you God for helping me avoid that one.”
Think about the people who didn’t make it to work on time on September 11, 2001 because they were stuck in traffic or because they missed the bus or because they had a medical appointment that meant that they weren’t in the World Trade Centre when two passenger jets slammed into them. I’m sure those people were glad that they were held up.
We have a bit of family lore on my mother’s side that reminds us that my grandfather had booked passage on an ocean liner to immigrate to Canada from England in 1912. He was poor and had paid the lowest possible economy fair that was available. But the agents had overbooked the ship with higher paying passengers and he was bumped to another ship. The ship he didn’t take was the Titanic.
I wonder how many people who were late for work on the morning of 9/11, or how many other people besides my grandfather who were bumped from the passenger list of the Titanic saw the hand of God in those events? I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m pretty sure most of them said a silent prayer of thanks for not being in the wrong place at the wrong time especially when they were supposed to be there.
Now, I know that someone will ask the question, “Ya, but what about the people who were there? What about those didn’t get to avoid the disasters?” To be honest, I don’t have answers to those question because God hasn’t chosen to reveal those things to me – and that’s probably a good thing. All I know is that people do give thanks when they know that they have been delivered from tragedy.
Sometimes God delivers us from the tough times. God acts to help us avoid a place or situation that will cause us pain. The irony is that we have no idea how many times that happens. God just does it and we are totally unaware. But what a gift it is.
CARRIED THROUGH THE TOUGH STUFF
Sometimes God delivers us from the tough times. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we can’t avoid the struggles of life. We feel pain. We experience suffering. We grieve the loss of loved ones and we mourn for that which could have been but never will be.
When that happens, often a person’s first thought is, “Okay God, where are you now? How come I have to go through this? It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It’s too much to bear. So please, O God, deliver me from this hardship.”
And even though your prayers were earnest. And even though you’ve given your life into God’s hands. And even though you’ve done absolutely everything you can do to deal with the situation, you discover that you’re still in the pain. The tough times are staring you in the face and you have absolutely no idea how you will ever get through it. You understand what David meant when he wrote about walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Psalm 23. It is in those times that you realize that God has not delivered you from the tough times and you wonder what God could possibly be thinking.
It is in those times that we discover that God has another gift for us. He may not always deliver you from tough times but he will carry you through them.
That was certainly true in the Bible. God did not always make it possible for the people to avoid hardships. Sometimes they had no choice but to walk through them. Right at the dawn of creation, Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. They were tossed out into the cruel world and they had to learn to live out there by the toil of their hands and the sweat of their brows (Gen. 3:14-19). The people of Israel, in their Exodus wanderings, had to deal with hunger, thirst, disease and death. An entire generation had to die before they could enter the Promised Land. King David, as a boy, faced the lions and the bears when he protected his father’s sheep. Later, as a young man, he had to face a giant named Goliath (Ex. 17). None of these people were delivered but they were carried.
Even Jesus had to endure his times of suffering. Before he began his ministry, he suffered temptations for forty days (Luke 4:1-13). He wept over the death of his best friend Lazarus (John 11:1-16). On the last week of his life he struggled with his calling and asked the Father if it was possible to take away his cup of suffering (Luke 22:42). None of his sufferings, however, could compare to the cross. That was the ultimate travesty. That was the cruelest death that anyone could ever die.
Where was God when all of that was going on? Where was God when the faithful people struggled with the tough stuff of life? The answer to that question is simply this: God was there. In those situations, God may not have delivered the people from their hardships but God was certainly going to carry them.
We forget that sometimes. We are tempted to think that just because we aren’t delivered from hardship, God doesn’t care. But that’s only the Devil yanking at our chains tempting us to turn away from the only one who can truly enable us to rise above the hardships of life and walk in victory.
It is in those time of hardship that we need to stand in faith and trust God. I know that it is easier said than done but it is also a statement of faith. I know the power of doubt and the temptation to fall into despair. But I also know that power of the Holy Spirit working in my life. Like you, I’ve lived through the tough stuff; we all have. I’ve walked through that Valley of the Shadow of Death and wondered how I was ever going to get through it. And the truth is this: I wouldn’t have come through some of those things apart from faith. As difficult as those situations were for me, I had the assurance of God’s presence with me. That made all the difference. When I could no longer carry on of my own accord, Jesus picked me up and carried me to where I needed to be to find healing and hope.
The words of Isaiah make sense. He wrote:
It is the sovereign LORD who helps me.
Who is he that will condemn me?
God’s help is there and there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. I don’t know what struggles you have. I don’t need to know. But God knows. God knows where you are hurting. God knows your fears and your worries and you scars. God sees the tears that you cry and God listens to the your deepest needs and longings. That’s the kind of God that we have. Always remember that just because you may not feel him, that doesn’t mean that he is not there. He is there. Whether he delivers you from your struggles or carries you through them, he is there along every step of your journey.
GROWING THROUGH THE TOUGH STUFF
The last point that I want to make this morning is this. Times of struggle are not easy. They are hard. They are demanding. But they are also an opportunity. They are opportunities for growth. Think about it. Look back at your life and think about the times when you grew the most in faith and in character. I will guarantee you that it wasn’t during the easy times when life was a bowl of cherries. It wasn’t when life was grand and you had the world by the tail. It was in the tough stuff that you learned the true meaning of faith and how important it is in your life. It’s when you became strong like steel tempered in the furnace.
As hard as it is to sometimes consider, especially when we’re going through it, there can be a redemptive element in suffering. We can learn. We can grow. We can begin to understand where Jesus is in the midst of the hard times. It is those times when we learn just how strong we can be. It is those times when we learn just how much we can rely upon God.
The parable of the sower contains a lesson about this for us. If you know this story, you’ll remember that the sower spread seeds over many places. The ones that landed on shallow rocky soil were the first to sprout up because the rocks held the most heat in the springtime. But even though they grew quickly, they didn’t last very long. When it got a bit too hot and the rains didn’t fall quite so regularly, when times got tough in the garden, those plants withered in the ground. They were not strong enough to survive the tough stuff because their roots did not grow deep enough. Farmers today will tell you that they worry when there is too much moisture in the spring because when there is a lot of water near the surface, the roots are not encouraged to grow and that can spell disaster in the heat of summer.
In the same way, we don’t grow much in the good times. We might enjoy them and but we don’t often learn to rely upon God when everything is rosy. I once heard someone say that the toughest person to share your faith with is the person who has no needs. I think that’s true. When someone has good health, a well paying job and loving family, when the bills are paid the kids are all doing well in school and grandma still bakes the best peanut butter cookies ever, it’s really difficult to convince someone that he or she needs Jesus.
But sometimes it all seems too much.
I’m pretty sure that all of us have had the experience of everything going wrong at the same time. Has that ever happened to you? Everything was wonderful and then within six months you smacked up the car, got two traffic tickets, the hot water heater busted and flooded the basement, your daughter broke her wrist when she fell out of a tree chasing the cat, you attended four funerals, and the hamster died. You could have come through one or two of those things, maybe even three but when they all started to add up you said to God, “Okay, Lord, I know that it is in the tough times that I grow in faith but I think I’ve grown enough for a while.”
All of us will go through seasons when our lives seem to be falling apart. When those times come to you, remember that God is there. God has delivered you from more things than you could possibly know. He might not deliver you from all your hardships but the ones that he doesn’t deliver you from, he will carry you through. That’s his assurance. That’s his promise. On that we can rely and stand firm in faith.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we come with our prayers of thanks. We thank you for signs of spring. Crocuses are popping their heads above the frozen ground in shades of purple, white and green. Tulip leaves are sprouting. The first green grass is starting to grow. We see the geese in the air as they make their way north in flying vees.
We thank you for the warm rains which wash the dirt and salt from the land. And still, we thank you for the snow of winter which will help to raise the water levels both in the lakes and rivers and in the ground water. You, O God, refresh the earth and make it bloom with new life.
Thank you, especially, for the covenant relationship that you have made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. We want to know more of that covenant and what it means to our lives here on earth and into eternity. May we never take for granted the price that you paid for us to be in right relationship with you. May we always honour and cherish your sacrifice above all else.
We pray for the people of Ukraine as they struggle for freedom and self-determination. We pray for the end of needless war and unnecessary bloodshed. We pray that your peace and justice may reign.
We also pray for the sick at home or in hospital. We ask that your Healing Spirit be upon Carol, Mark, Ron and Pauline that they may know the comfort of your love and the presence of your peace.
Gracious God, it is a comfort to know that, even though we sometimes go through difficult circumstances, there is always the hope of healing and peace when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Help us to see beyond the difficulties and experience the joy that you have promised. Give us the strength that we need to confidently trust in your unfailing love. We lift these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 10, 2022 / Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Luke 22: 14-23: 56 (or 23: 1-49)
Liturgy of the Psalms – Luke 19: 28-40; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Open, O God, the gates of your Temple.
ALL: We shall enter and give thanks to God.
ONE: A simple stone was rejected by the builders.
ALL: It has turned out to be the most important of all.
ONE: This is the day of God’s victory!
ALL: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
We come to you, O God of Creation, on this day of celebration. It is a day of palm branches and parades. As the people of Jerusalem shared their jubilation, so do we worship with joyful hearts. Come into our lives, Lord Jesus. Fill us anew with your presence. Speak to us of your saving love and the empowerment of your Spirit. Rejoicing, we come to you. In faith, we trust in you.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to you, O God of Forgiveness, on this day of sadness. We see the excitement of Palm Sunday. But we know that, in a few short days, Jesus will hang crucified on the Cross of Calvary. We mourn that he had to die. We confess that we, your people, did not have the courage or the conviction to follow in his footsteps. Enable us, God, to live lives that will respect your sacrifice. Place before us our sinfulness that we may truly repent.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In the midst of the darkness of life, there is a light which shines God’s love. Our light is in Jesus. Our hope is in Christ. When we honestly repent of our sins. God will forgive and, in forgiving, will give to us a place in the procession to God’s heavenly kingdom.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
What could we give that would adequately convey our need of you? What could we provide that is not already from you? Your generousity is beyond our need. May all of our lives and resources be set aside for the sharing of your Good News.
Jesus died as he lived – with great passion. Go now, and live with that passion. May our lives and our actions proclaim the Gospel which is for all Creation.