This message was given by Rev. Ifor Williams, a respected minister in Brecon (many would know him through the Brecon Beacons Filling Station). It speaks directly to the present pandemic, and the anxiety that affects all of us for a variety of different reasons. There is something in this Scripture and in this message that we can ask for, and receive, as Ifor explains very clearly.
Palm Sunday, April 6, 2020
Our Palm Sunday reading is from Luke 19:29-42. Why not pause and pray before you read further, and ask God to speak into your heart and your life. God’s word is not irrelevant to our daily life, and today, when so many people are deeply worried about their health, their families and friends, their jobs and incomes, their present and their future, let’s pray that God will speak peace into our hearts in the midst of the coronavirus storm that is raging across the world.
29-31 As [Jesus] approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “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 it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32-34 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35-38 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When 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:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!
39-42 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.”
The inner peace the donkey recognised
Thirty six years ago, in 1984, Penny (my wife) and I took our two young children to a local agricultural show. There was a special challenge in the main ring. The challenge was to ride a young donkey, and stay on its back for 60 seconds. The prize for anyone succeeding was £5. That year I took out a mortgage on a bungalow which was valued at £21,500. Today it would be worth ten times that amount. Using the same equation, the £5 prize money would be worth £50 today. Not surprisingly there was a long line of eager hopefuls queuing up to have a go at winning the prize money. Some stayed on the donkey’s back for 10 seconds, some 20, 30, even 40 seconds, but no-one managed to stay on for a whole minute. Sixty seconds is a long time on a donkey that’s never been ridden before.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus instructed the disciples to fetch him a young donkey (a colt is a young male donkey) which had never been ridden? Most of us would have ended up on the floor in a matter of seconds, yet Jesus rode this young donkey into Jerusalem, through streets crowded with thousands of people shouting praises to God, and waving palm branches right under his nose. And the donkey carried Jesus without even fidgeting! How did Jesus do it?
The answer is that Jesus was full of inner peace, and the donkey knew it. The sort of inner peace which calms others, and calms nervous animals, and can even calm a raging storm. Once, when Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a small boat, a fierce storm sprang up, and the disciples, experienced fishermen among them, thought they were going to drown. Where was Jesus? Asleep in the bow of the boat. How could He sleep in the middle of a raging storm? Because He was full of inner peace. When He stood up and said to the storm, “Peace, be still!” He spoke the peace that was in Him, the peace in His mind, heart, soul and body, into the storm. And the storm immediately died down, and the disciples were afraid.
For all of us who have fears and worries about coronavirus, may God speak his peace into our hearts and minds even now.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem, He came to die on the Cross and then rise from the dead. He came to take our sin upon Himself, and in so doing take our sin away from us. When our sin is taken away we have peace with God, which manifests itself in a deep inner peace. Paul says in Romans 5:1, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When Jesus came to Jerusalem He wept over the city, and said in effect, “If only you could see what would bring you peace — but you just can’t see it.”
What would bring them (and us) peace is to acknowledge Jesus Christ as King and Lord in our lives, and then to trust Him daily. Jesus had entered Jerusalem many times before, but when the crowds saw Him coming on a young donkey, they remembered the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice… Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
A king riding a donkey was not only prophetic, it was highly symbolic. In those days if a king came in war, he would ride on a war horse. If he came in peace he would ride on a donkey. For Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a young donkey symbolised that He was indeed the long awaited Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour promised from long ago.
The crowd recognised the symbolism immediately, and cried out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowd also recognised He was coming in peace to save them and cried “Hosanna!” which means ‘save us’. Yet despite their excitement and enthusiasm, the crowd didn’t get it. They thought the occupying Roman army was what they needed saving from, and they thought Jesus was going to lead a revolution and drive out the Romans and so bring peace and prosperity to Jerusalem.
Within a week, when it became evident that wasn’t His intention, they were crying, “Crucify him!”
Today it’s not the Roman army that is the foremost problem in peoples’ minds, it’s coronavirus. If only we could find a vaccination or somehow get rid of coronavirus we would be safe. Or so we think. We could start repairing the mess of the last few months, and hopefully see peace and prosperity return. The message of Palm Sunday is that if we want real inner peace, and the prosperity that comes from a just and fair society, then we need to acknowledge Jesus as King, as Lord and Saviour in our hearts and lives. Only then will we find that deep inner peace, the peace of God which transcends all understanding.
On Palm Sunday Jesus presents Himself as the Prince of Peace and the King of kings. The king who comes in peace to bring peace to those who accept Him and trust Him. Jesus comes to you today on a donkey. God comes to you in Jesus, humble and gentle, and says, ‘Will you accept Me as your King? Will you believe what I have done for you on the Cross and in the Resurrection? Will you trust Me, even in the midst of coronavirus, when you worry for your health, your family, your income, your future? “Seek first the kingdom of God” – accept Christ as your King and acknowledge Him in all your ways – “and all these things will be given you.”
Don’t just get excited and wave palms on Palm Sunday. Pause, be still, give him your heart, and acknowledge Jesus as your King. Receive the peace of God into your heart, the peace of knowing that God is on the throne — and then turn to a world full of anxiety and worry, and speak peace into the storm.
— Ifor Williams