Join us for a special Palm Sunday message from Pastor Terry to start our Holy Week and help prepare our hearts for Easter.
It’s so good to be able to be here together to share this time today. It’s not just any Sunday, it’s Palm Sunday. It’s the day that we join with millions of people all over the world to start the celebration of what is known as the Holy Week. The week that leads us into Good Friday and then finally into Easter Sunday where we mark the ultimate victory of God’s love. In fact, in my mind, I’m just delighted to be able to say that our focus is the breakthrough of love. That’s to me, what the cross is really all about, the breakthrough of love.
I mentioned that last week. If we can think of the sacrifice of Jesus as the breakthrough of love, then we can think of the resurrection of Christ, the empty tomb, as the breakthrough of life. These, to me, are the two great themes that we should be sitting with most of all. For God so loved the world he gave us his only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish, but have everlasting life, the fullness of life, the overflowing life, life now and yet to come. These two themes, beautifully wrapped in this verse. Life and love, love and life, the cross and the resurrection.
I really do want to encourage all of us to be extra intentional about creating some time in some special way to ponder the cross and the depth of God’s love for us. I think that’s something we need to be contending for. The spiritual breakthrough that the Lord wants to work inside of us is uniquely made available at this time. If we would but soften our heart before the Lord and turn our eyes towards Him, we will see that God has something unique for us to hear and to be experienced.
Part of that is because people all over the world, from every corner of the world, in every great city and in obscure villages, in the east and in the west, in the north and in the south, in places where worship is still relatively free and in other places where the love for Christ must be expressed in hidden ways. There are so many people turning their hearts and attention towards the love of Christ and the cross. To the victory of the resurrection, that there’s an accessible blessing that is unique at this time. I want to encourage all of us to take advantage of what is sitting right there.
Even now, Lord, I pray over this word and I pray over this week. I really ask that you would use this word on this Palm Sunday to set the table for what it is you’re trying to say to us. That we would say, “Lord, yes, my ears are open towards you.” Please bring dimensions of life and breakthrough. That is our prayer in Jesus’ name, amen. In John 12 verse 12 “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast,” the Passover feast in Jerusalem, “heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” In anticipation of Jesus’s entry, it says, “There were a number of people who took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel, the promised one, Messiah Jesus.'”
This was a spectacular moment as people gathered in the great city, the city of David, to honor the Lord on the Passover. The most sacred day in Israel’s history, reminding them of the great deliverance, and the blood of the lamb put on the doorposts as God delivered them out of Egypt with a mighty hand. It’s not a coincidence that Jesus came into the city. He who would be the ultimate Lamb of God. For if you recall, the opening invitation or acknowledgment on the part of John, John the Baptist, was, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus made his way into the city, and it must have been amazing. It was electric, on what is known as Palm Sunday because they were waving a palm. Imagine the people waving palms as they were connecting back with scriptures and prophetic promises, crying out as the streets were lined. Many of the people were believers convinced that Jesus was indeed the promised one. Others were caught up in the euphoria of it all and were willing to jump in. Yes, let him prove himself. It’s Jesus, and they were crying out as well.
For the disciples, it must have been beyond anything they could have imagined. This was what they were hoping for. Now, it was happening. It’s the reason they had left everything to follow him. They knew he was the king. To hear others proclaiming him as such was fantastic. I can imagine them just bursting with deep satisfaction and excitement themselves. The joy that they had, they shared, was palpable and, electric. There were other people watching as well. Some of them were ambivalent, others intrigued.
Others had very little knowledge of Jesus, but clearly, there was something going on here. They wanted to know what it was about. Of course, there were others, the Jerusalem authorities in particular, who were displeased. Not all of them, but the vast majority. They were threatened. They saw Jesus, not as the Messiah, but they had come to the conclusion that whatever power he had, and he had some, that they couldn’t explain, not all of them. He may even have said some things from God.
In their mind, he was more of a problem that needed to be dealt with, than a prince of peace that needed to be embraced. They had made a determination for the sake of the nation, that this man must die. There was already a lot of thought going into how they could get rid of Jesus. His popularity had made it challenging, for he was popular. They saw openings, and they were looking for more. Of course, they would end up finding one before the week was out, in a just insidious way.
They would find one of his own, none other than Judas, to betray him. At the time, that avenue was not clear. What they did know is that Rome had given them a kind of understanding, an agreement. They had been given tremendous amounts of autonomy and power. They were basically told that “If you agree to this bargain, we will give you more freedom than we give to most. You can govern yourselves. You can keep your religion in a way that is unique to you, with just a very few minor details that we are going to require.”
“One is that you allow the Roman flags to fly, two, that you pay your taxes, and three, that you remember that authority, ultimately, of life and death is Rome’s alone. No one can be put to death without Rome’s approval.” That will explain later on, why the authorities cannot just have Jesus put to death. They needed Rome to agree, go along, and push it through. That would become in the final analysis, Pilate’s great dilemma. We all know what he ended up deciding.
That said, it was an exciting day, Palm Sunday, as many celebrated what is known now as the triumphal entry of Jesus. Look at verse 20, though. There’s an interesting little detail in the 12th chapter that is included in John’s account. It says, “Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast to celebrate the Passover, there were some Greeks.” And they were men of the West. If you think about this, they had no doubt, they were there to celebrate Passover. Probably believers in the faith of Israel. But Greek by locale and ethnicity.
The Greeks had heard the buzz and their curiosity was stirred. They wanted to meet this Jesus. It had been noted. By the way, I think some of us are aware of this as well. Think about when the life of Jesus starts, when he’s born in Bethlehem. Who came? Later as he begins to grow, who come to honor him, but the wise men of the East? Now, here at the end, right on the edge of what will be his final days, a group from the West comes, also wanting in their own way to meet Jesus. So we see this beautiful coming together.
Jesus’s birth, visits from wise men in the east. Ends with an inquiry from men from the West. A reminder that all nations would be drawn to him. If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me, all peoples will be drawn to me. But these Greeks, these Gentiles, evidently, these came to Philip. They wanted to meet Jesus. They decided that they would ask one of the men that seemed to be recognized as representing him. A man named Philip, who was from Bethsaida, in Galilee. They asked him, “Sir, we wish we could see Jesus. We wish to see Jesus.”
I’ve always loved this, by the way. I love it like a prayer. May that be our prayer, that we may see Jesus. To see Jesus, to see him more clearly, to love him more dearly. How good is that? It says that Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. I love how that works together. Philip, he’s not sure, so he goes and finds Andrew. Then they decide, let’s both of us go and talk to Jesus. They team-up. When we’re not sure, sometimes it’s good to go to a brother or a sister.
That’s how the kingdom works best, doesn’t it? I love the minuteness of the detail. They didn’t know what Jesus might say to it. What he did say was actually, very unlike anything they could have anticipated. Initially, maybe they thought they understood. Jesus would go in a direction that left them wondering, what is he getting at here? Again, in our mind’s eye, let us imagine them coming and saying, “There are some men. There is a delegation of sorts, Jesus. They’re from Greece. They’re here celebrating Passover and they would love to speak to you.”
“They are men who seek wisdom. They perhaps were already believers in the one true God of Israel.” That part we’re not quite sure of, but what we do know is that Jesus answered them by saying, verse 23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now, maybe initially, they thought, “Oh, Jesus, is appreciative of the honor.” But Jesus was actually saying something far more different. It’s as if he is saying, and if we can use the language that we’ve been sitting with, the language of breakthrough, now is the hour for breakthrough. That’s what I hear Jesus saying.
The door is about to open, the bridge for all to cross. The breakthrough anticipated by the prophets down the centuries, and the fulfillment of which began at my coming is about to happen. Yes, it is. The Father’s song is about to be sung. I see Jesus just maybe even glancing above, and maybe he looks above and he whispers to himself, “But the way it will happen will be very different than the way that people think.” The glory is inevitable, but the pathway is suffering. He alone knew this.
Hebrews 5:8-9 tells us, “Though he was a son,” look at this, “yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. Having been perfected, he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Again, back to verse 23, “Jesus answered them. He said, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'” But then, look what he says, “And truly, truly I say to you,” not bring them in to see me, no, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
As MacLaren, the great commentator just described it, “The only way to make rain produce fruit is to bury it in the ground.” The trivial request was his narrow window through which Jesus’ yearning spirit saw a great expanse, nothing less than the coming of myriads of Gentiles, the much fruit of which he immediately speaks. In other words, Jesus saw in this request, the yearning of the Gentiles down through the ages. Then Jesus uttered this statement. We almost are caught off guard by it. Why does he say it?
“Whoever,” Jesus then says, “loses his life.” Remember, all this just started with a question. Some men would like to see you. Are you open to it? Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life, that is more than the will of God, loses it. Whoever hates his life, that is willing to surrender and give it up to God’s will, in this world, will keep it for eternal life.” That is the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus. Do we see it? This is what Jesus was about to do himself, surrender his life to give us the overflowing life, the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say, in verse 26, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me. Where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me,” look at this, “the father will honor him.” Never let us forget that Christ’s servant must be Christ’s follower. Always. “Now is my soul troubled. No. But what should I say, Father? Save me from this hour? No.” Should I look for an escape hatch? To find a way out? No. “For this purpose, I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Again, all of this started with just a question.”
Andrew and Philip are there, and they were the ones who had asked it. I don’t know who else was there. But all of a sudden after Jesus’ declaration, “Father, glorify your name, bring breakthrough,” the voice comes from heaven, “I have glorified it. And I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there, we’re told, heard it, that it had thundered. It clearly wasn’t decipherable, but it seemed powerful. Some people said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus said this one more detail.
God’s word throws in for us, “The voices come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world.” Now. There is so much going on here. Do we see? Do we even catch some of it? This is layered. “Now is the judgment of this world. Now, will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Again, it all started with a question. This is where Jesus goes. It’s like what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia. “Like Aslan, who is aware that the decisive battle is about to play out, and that the claim of the evil one is about to lose its grip, even though it will cost everything.”
Jesus connects right into it. Look what he says. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,” the breakthrough of love, “I will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show, by what kind of death John writes parenthetically on the backside, by what kind of death he was going to die. That’s John’s way of saying, he was speaking about the cross that none of us understood, but he himself had seen already. The cross will become the vehicle of the breakthrough. Some of us may recall a few weeks back, we were sharing around Joseph and his damaged life.
We said this phrase, that the broken places can become the golden places. The broken places can become the golden places. Certainly, this is true of Jesus, isn’t it? It will be out of his brokenness that we will live. Every time we receive communion we’re going to be doing that together. Albeit it in a slightly different way, but we’re going to be doing it together for those who choose to participate. I hope that’s all of you on Good Friday. When we lead that through, when I lead it through what we are celebrating, yes, that’s the right word, and honoring, is the fact that we are living out of His brokenness.
The only reason that Good Friday is Good Friday and not Bad Friday, is because of the life that comes through the brokenness of Jesus, the breakthrough of his love for you and me. I thought that’s also true for us. Just as your broken place became our place of saving grace, the broken places, which to me, speak of the shameful places of our lives. Do you have any? Do we have any? I probably have had a few. The damaged places, more than a few. The sin impacted places, no question. Yet, because of Jesus, because of Christ, those places, the shameful, damaged, sin-impacted places, can become the golden places of life as the grace of God rises to meet us exactly where we need it most.
It’s because of Jesus. I was thinking about His transforming touch. The way He heals and the way He brings life in the places of brokenness. I thought, “That’s just what Jesus does. That’s one of the reasons I love Him so much.” A few months ago, I remember I was listening to a community chat. Our church has been doing that throughout the year at different times, hosted by one of our pastors, Pastor Anh and Chloe Cahill, our Outreach Director, also the mother of Micah, the baby, who makes his appearance frequently at the end of our time together.
They were interviewing in one of our community chats back at the very end of November. They were interviewing actually, a pastor whose name is John Kelly. John was representing one of the organizations that our church has committed itself to partner with in 2021, Prison Fellowship. I’m really excited and delighted about that. We will have even more particular ways that our church is going to be able to give itself to those who choose to respond or hear that call. We’re going to try to create avenues for more engagement with Prison Fellowship.
As I listened to John Kelly, though, I was thinking about this. At the end of November, I remember listening to him and I was moved. I was really moved. I remember tears actually filling my eyes. I was deeply moved as this Pastor John, who ministers out of Chicago and represents Prison Fellowship, which is an amazing organization, shared how he had come to know Jesus as his savior. Why he is so committed to helping prisoners and their families. You’re going to see that it beautifully connects to what I’ve just been sharing with. I want to share just a small portion of that chat, as he shares a portion of his story. As we listen, listen for the Holy Spirit. Let us be reminded of the transformative love and touch of Christ. Here is Paster John:
Life was pretty good as a young kid. I can’t complain. My family was into selling drugs and stuff, but they kept me pretty sheltered from that. Life really went downhill for me when I was maybe eight or nine, and my parents, my mom, and stepdad divorced. When they divorced, everything changed for me. He wasn’t around as much anymore. We were in kind of a middle-class area in West Philly, but we moved to a really just poor, impoverished area.
Dinner was a mayonnaise sandwich and sugar water, you’re trying to do whatever you can. That’s when I really started to get into a lot of trouble. It was around that age that I actually started selling crack. I started selling crack when I was 10, 11, 12, somewhere around there. In and out of crack houses to try and make some money to help my mom. She didn’t know what I was doing. I’d lie and say I found the money. But I ended up getting arrested. The first time I ever got arrested, I was 13 and got convicted of aggravated assault.
Unfortunately, I spent at least two-thirds or three-quarters of my life in the criminal justice system. Most of my teenage years were in and out of juvenile detention centers, and so I wasn’t home a lot. I mean, I was home, but I was always getting locked up for something. I really put a lot of stress on my mom. She did the best she could. She was a single mom trying to go to school and better herself, and work two jobs to take care of her kids. It was me and my little sister.
But she had a son who was always in jail, always high, always getting shot at or shooting at somebody. I failed the seventh grade because I didn’t go to school half the year. Then my freshman year at high school, I went to literally four different, no, three different high schools in my freshman year and I got kicked out. I dropped out. And so I dropped out of high school after my freshman year.
If you could think of a very young, angry teen that is very reckless and violent, that would be how it was. Unfortunately, it didn’t change much. Went from selling drugs to robbing drug dealers. That’s what we started doing in the neighborhood. We would rob different drug dealers. Unfortunately, when I turned 19, a group of friends and I, went to the home of one of the drug dealers in our neighborhood and was robbing his house. One of my friends shot and killed him. We all got arrested.
I was 19, sitting in prison. I remember that was my first time in an adult prison. There was so much violence in the city of Philly at that time, but they didn’t have any room on the maximum-security block. So they sent me to solitary confinement. It was known as the hole. So, that was my introduction to adult prison. I was in a room probably twice the size of your bathroom, if you have a standard-sized bathroom, for 23 hours a day. No human contact and you get to come out one hour a day to either make a phone call or take a shower.
You’re handcuffed and shackled for that hour, then you go back in for 23 hours. They call it 23 and one. 23 hours in your cell, one hour out. I was in that cell and locked out for about a year, a year, and a half, so I didn’t know anything that was going on in the world. But we were all in prison and they were trying to give us all the death penalty. They were like you wanted to kill him over drug turf, which wasn’t true. I didn’t know that that was going to happen. I did a lot of crime and a lot of wrongs, but I surely didn’t go that night to take a life.
I didn’t know my friend was going to shoot him. But still, I’m still an accomplice and I own that. So we were looking at the death penalty or life in prison. It was my first week in prison when a Christian prison guard would walk around and do the cellblock checks. He would talk to me every day. I’m in the hole, I’m in solitary confinement, so I’m bored. And I was like, “Man, you got anything to read?” And he was like, “Well, I can get you a Bible.” And I was like, “Whatever, just give it to me.”
About two hours later, he came back with an NIV Bible, the kind with the New Testament and the Proverbs, and the Psalms a little. On the cover, it said, “There’s hope for you. Jesus cares.” I sat on my bed in my cell, and I began reading the Gospel of Matthew. I don’t know how long it took me, but I read all the way up to Hebrews. I believe it was chapter three or four where it says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” And right there in a cell, I gave my life to the Lord, and haven’t been the same since.
A couple of things. If you want to listen to the entire chat and be inspired, well, we posted it on the website. You can do that at any time you want to. Did you also hear that there was a person that God used? I noted it. It was the guard who gave John the New Testament. A few months ago, I asked John about that guard. I said, “John, have you ever had a chance to build any kind of a relationship with him?” He said, “I never really got to know him. I never really got to know him.”
Then John said to me, and he probably has no idea because I don’t recall seeing him again, he says, “Probably after some time had passed, he probably has no idea of how God used him to affect so many people.” How could that guard have known that the simple, compassionate act of giving him a Bible, and it wasn’t even a full Bible, it was just the New Testament, the Psalms, and the Proverbs, with a little reminder of how much someone is loved. All it was, was that invite, that giving of the gift, the giving of the Scripture that changed a man’s life. Then ended up affecting so many lives.
I think we understand this, but the Gospel’s impact should never be underestimated. It is like the seed that when it’s harvested into the ground, it can bring forth a harvest 30, 60, and 100 fold. Certainly, that is what Jesus did when he fell into the ground, broken. Out of his brokenness, out of his death comes the harvest of life. The message of the gospel, the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is powerful. It’s simple. It’s unpredictable and untameable. It’s the greatest thing in all the world, and it’s why we are committed to it. When you have the Lord in your life, you have the pearl of great price.
Whereby the acquisition of which if you think about it, as Jesus taught us, you would sell everything else to possess it. For it is the one truly great thing in life. I’m reminded of that, how blessed we are, how truly wealthy we are if we know the Lord. Then that is not meant to be kept within, but to be spread abroad. That’s what we’ve been called to do, to share His love and life wherever we go because we are people of the breakthrough. We’re all part of an eternal story, aren’t we? The center of which is Christ Jesus, who loved Himself and gave Himself for us.
For we are, as the scripture reminds us, His workmanship. Yes, His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared, God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. What we’re going to do right now is to take a little shift here and share a song. This is the time when I get to remind everybody about our giving. I’ve been saying this now week in and week out, that it can almost sound like I’m just continuing to praise you, but the church has been remarkable. Through all the ups and downs of what we’ve been walking through, we’ve made this journey together, especially during this particular unique trial of national travail that began for us in March of 2020. We’re still working through it, but you’ve been an amazing church. You have been remarkable. You have been beautiful. You have given faithfully to God.
I do want to remind everyone that you can continue to do that. You can send it to the offices, the more traditional way. You can give on your app, that’s what I do. Or you can go directly to our website. Whatever it is that works best for you. The key is always to give our hearts. I do have one more thought, in addition to a final blessing that I want to share. It’s connected to something about brokenness. So we’re going to come back to that. But right now, Lord, we’re just asking you to bless this song that we offer in your name. We’re going to come back around and share some closing minutes together. So be with us right now in Jesus’ name.
This is our rescue story, isn’t it? The Lord, we are so loved. I keep thinking about how God restores, how God heals, and how God transforms through his touch. How He takes the broken things and brings life, and makes them beautiful. I remember reading about how in Japan, value objects are sometimes repaired with gold when they’re broken. I’ve always loved this. I think it’s just an amazing illustration. Frequently, when something of value is broken, what they would do is fill it with gold.
The broken cracks, the broken places would be touched and filled with gold. They say it would only add a story to the piece. So the piece became even more valuable because the broken places have been filled with gold. Do you see that? They said it created a unique beauty like no other. Honestly, I can think of no better way of describing what God’s grace does in a life of a believing man or a woman. No better way of describing what happens when we surrender in our place of brokenness to His love.
Maybe that’s where some of you may find yourself right now. If you’ve never allowed the Lord into those broken places and spaces, I would just encourage you to do that right now. In fact, if you’ve never welcomed Him into your life, and maybe this is the first time you’ve ever really considered it, I would just say, “Jesus, come into my life and turn my broken places into your golden places.” There might be others of us that we might be thinking, “Lord, we really need your touch right now, because we just feel broken and we need you to do something to help us here in this week.”
We’re just open. We’re open, Lord. We’re so open. If we can let Him fill that place with what the gold, actually, life becomes a story of the master’s touch. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works. We become part of the exquisite beauty that is unique only to that one piece because there’s no one like you in the Lord. No one. The broken places can actually become the grace space. That’s what we talk about because that’s what God did for His world, this world, through his son.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that’s what He wills to do in us. The broken places can become the golden places. Oh, I’m thankful for that, Lord. You’re so good. You’re so God. You want us to so good, and you want us to so God. So may He keep your spirit, soul, and body. Let’s have an amazing week as we ponder the relentless love of our savior. Lead us to the cross, Lord. Our eyes are upon you. Be blessed this day, my friends, brothers, and sisters, in Jesus’ name.