Today is Palm Sunday!
It was the day when Jesus came to Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.
He arrived, and people shouted praises to God and words that honored Jesus.
We don’t have palm branches here, today, but we do have coats.
People took their coats off and laid them on the road for Jesus to ride a donkey over.
That was a huge sign of respect.
The road was dirty, and the donkey would be dirty, if you know what I mean.
I have a Palm story to share.
In our house, currently three small house plants. One was given to us about a year ago.
Strangely, it IS still alive J
We used to have green plants in our home a lot. Often they would become brown, but they’re still, considered house plants. J
We used to have a small palm in a large pot. It was nice, and made us feel good back when we lived in Kazakhstan and had winters that lasted for 5-7 months (actually, we seem to be having longer than usual Winters here, now).
Once we looked in the pot with the palm tree and found a new plant that had grown up with it.
This provoked several questions:
- What happened?
- What was it?
- How did it get there?
Plants come from seeds or from the roots of other plants.
A few weeks ago we looked at the parable of the sower.
Today, we have three more parables to consider.
Let’s look at Mark 4:21-34.
21 [Jesus] said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” [Jesus] continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
26 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. Mark 4:21-34
We thank You for Your Word, O Lord, and we ask You to speak it to us, today, in Jesus’ Name, amen.
- The Kingdom Revealed
There may have people in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday who didn’t know about Jesus.
People who would have wondered,
“Where did this guy come from?”
And yet, suddenly, it was as though the Kingdom of God had arrived.
It was so exciting, with people taking off their coats and waving palm branches, shouting “hosanna!” which means “The Lord Saves!”
But, as exciting as that day was it was nothing like what the actual Kingdom of God truly is.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is
- like a sower sowing seed.
- It is like a lamp that is lit and must be put in an unobstructed location in order to be seen, properly.
- It is like a seed that grows under the ground.
- And, it is like a mustard seed: small, yet compact, powerful and full of potential that is hidden from view.
Where did Jesus come from?
He came from the beginning, in fact He existed from before the beginning.
And He came to earth in order to help us to understand the Kingdom from which He came.
The Kingdom that he represented on that first Palm Sunday,
and the Kingdom that He described through parables.
What are the principles that we see in today’s parables:
- A lamp is not meant to be lit and then hidden.
- It is meant to be lit for the purpose of giving light.
- It is meant to be revealed.
Matthew records this parable, also, and gives an additional teaching by Jesus:
…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven
I envision River of Life being a congregation that is
- full of people
- who like lamps
- illuminate this community and beyond.
In 2008 we began to help at a Special Needs Orphanage in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
It was our son who, first, encouraged us to serve there.
He was, also, recruiting kids from the school to join him.
Suddenly, there were a dozen high school kids from around the world going to this orphanage to make friends.
I became a de facto leader, cause I drove the kids,
And, as such, I began to meet with the orphanage director, the head nurse and others.
At first we were only playing with the children on the playground, and it was fun.
But then the Muslim month of fasting, called Ramadan, started that year, something changed.
When multinational group of teens arrived, we saw no kids on the playground.
I enquired and learned that an Imam (a Muslim pastor) had come to the orphanage, and all of the able-bodied children were taken to the auditorium to pray with him.
I asked the director,
“How often will he do this?”
“Every day,” was the response.
“But you can visit with the children who are bed-bound.”
Now. Not everyone can reach out to special needs children in an orphanage, but meeting them on the playground was the easiest way.
I remember how the kids would hug with a full body hug, and they would grab us by the hands and take us around.
We were welcomed like Jesus. It was like Palm Sunday.
But now, we were not allowed to be with those kids, but told to go and be with the kids who could not move.
Honestly, they were so pitiful, and not all of our teens could do this.
You know, when we first heard about Kazakhstan, it was called the forgotten mission field.
Now we found ourselves among the forgotten children of the forgotten field.
Though we had not asked God to send us to these kids, we recognized that He had sent us.
We sat with children. Some of whom would die within a few months due to the severity of their needs.
But 3-4 days a week we went to see these kids.
Each time the able-bodied ones were in the auditorium with the Imam, while we went to the bedridden children.
The smells were awful.
I hurt for these children, and knew that all I was able to do was sit with them.
After about a month I called to a meeting with the director and her assistant.
They began to ask why we were coming, and what did we hope to accomplish.
In my typical way, I shared about how much we loved Jesus and that we were there because we know He loves those children.
“Are you trying to save yourself by helping the kids?” They asked.
“No,” I responded, “but because of Jesus, I am saved, therefore I want to help these kids.”
Before I knew it, the time had gotten away from us. It was time to go home. I said my “good-byes” and then stepped into the hallway.
There was the Imam. He was a man in his 60’s and a very happy man.
He was a jolly as Santa Claus and a nice fellow, really.
He saw me and did something that I did not expect. He said to all of the staff,
“Look, this is Our American Kazakh, who loves our children. May Allah be praised!”
“Praise God!” many of the staff said in response.
I had no idea that I would get an endorsement from an Imam.
But the first thought to come to mind was what Jesus said about shining our lights so that men would praise God.
And from that point on, we had an open invitation to work in that orphanage.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God would be revealed.
As well, He said it would expand.
- The Kingdom, Expanded
By expand, I refer to the parable of the mustard seed and the growing seed.
What starts as a seed, becomes something more. So much more.
A mustard seed is a small seed, yet it can become a huge plant like a tree.
Jesus said to pray, “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
And I could see that Jesus’ kingdom had come to that orphanage in a special way.
I had known about the orphanage for about 12 years before serving there.
The power of God’s kingdom was wrapped up inside of us ready to come forth.
For the next few years we brought in hundreds of volunteers to serve those kids and the workers, too. We were given many opportunities to share the Word of God with them, too.
Our church grew when we began to minister at the orphanage.
None of the orphanage workers or the kids even came to our church, but the community began to see how we were working together to bless these kids, and our church grew.
Other churches became involved as well, and in fact they still reach out to the orphanage.
You remember that palm tree in our home? I mentioned that there was a second plant that looked different than the palm and I wondered where it had come from?
While we were talking about it, our son began to laugh and then he said,
“I did it.”
“You did what?” we asked.
“I planted a bean to see if anything would happen and look, it grew.”
As hard as life is, Jesus wanted people to know that the Kingdom was coming and is already here.
In fact, no matter what difficulty we may face, God wants us to remember that His kingdom is here, all of the time.
It might be hidden, like inside a seed, but it will be revealed like a lamp, and it will expand like a seed and be fruitful, too.
- Eyes Open to the Kingdom
What is sad is that all around Jesus were those who also rejected his kingdom.
They rejected Him, too.
To some it was obvious that Jesus had come from God, and yet to even more, it seemed, there were those who rejected Him.
This rejection is found in the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim worlds as well as among atheists.
In the book of 2 Kings chapter 6, there is the story of Elisha and his servant. One day the Arameans had surrounded Elisha and his servant. The servant was afraid, but Elisha said this:
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16, 17
God’s kingdom is not visible to the naked eye, and we don’t need to see it in order to believe it.
I have a friend who works in the Muslim world.
He told a story, recently, and I want to share it briefly.
A Muslim background Christian traveled to another Muslim country for a Christian conference. After the conference, he hoped that God would send him somewhere in the city to reach out to somebody.
He walked and prayed, but didn’t find anyone. So he went into a mosque to pray (praying as a Christian), and after few minutes he wanted to leave. But as he tried to stand, some invisible force kept him down. So he sat and waited.
After several minutes a muslim man from this man’s home country tapped him on the shoulder, and asked him to meet with him and his wife. The force seemed gone, so he stood and walked over to meet the man’s wife.
Then the couple began to tell the Christian man that they had had fled as refugees with a strong dislike for Islam. Together, they had a vision in which they saw him (the Christian) in this particular mosque. In the vision, light came from the ceiling toward the man and then shone out his back.
So, every day, my wife comes to this mosque to look for you. And when she saw you, today, you were about to stand and leave, so she prayed, “God, keep him from leaving,” and then you stayed on the floor.
“Can you tell us what this means?” they asked the visitor
And from 6 pm that day to 6 am the next day, the Christian man told them all about Jesus and eternal life, beginning with the prophets and going through the beginning of the Church.
This is the Kingdom of Jesus in the Muslim world. Muslims have an incomplete understanding of Jesus, and they don’t believe that He is God’s Son, nor that he died on the cross, thus they don’t believe that He was resurrected.
Let us be people who set our eyes upon the Kingdom of God that will be revealed and is already expanding.
Let us set our eyes upon Jesus.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, and He invites us to be part of His Kingdom.
If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then today is the day to do it.
I want to ask you to bow your heads and close your eyes.
I want to ask if there is anyone who does not know Jesus as Your Lord and Savior, would you raise your hand. I want to pray with you.
Let’s stand, and continue to worship.
If you prayed with me, or if you have another need, I invite you to come to the front and we will pray with you.