Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Are You Doing This?

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
April 1, 2012
When Jesus sends His disciples to untie and retrieve a donkey that is not theirs He tells them that they may get asked why they are doing this. He gives them a simple response and it does the trick: they are to say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”

I wonder if the disciples asked Jesus, Why are You doing this?, when He asked them to get a donkey. There’s no indication given that they thought this unusual. The plan for Him to ride into Jerusalem on that donkey seemed to accomplish what He set out to do. The crowds seemed to know what was going on, what with their putting their coats and branches on the ground. What with their quoting Scripture and their praises of this one coming in the name of the Lord.

It doesn’t appear that they were asking Jesus why He was doing this. They seemed to know. But the Scriptures tell us they didn’t know; at least, they didn’t fully comprehend who Jesus was and why He was coming into Jerusalem. The Scriptures tell us the disciples didn’t even know. The religious leaders certainly didn’t know. Who knows, maybe the people who owned the donkey did know. There was a reason they had that donkey upon which no one had ever sat. But everyone else didn’t know.

What about you and me? Do we know? Why was Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why was Jesus even in a position to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? That is, Jesus being God, how was God in a situation in which He was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? That He was shows us that He was a man. We know this of course. We’re Christians. We believe Jesus is a man. We believe also that He is God. That He is God and that He is a man shows us something that is at the heart of who He is. We might take a cue from those who asked the disciples why they were untying the donkey and ask Jesus, Why are you doing this?

Why did You become a man? Why were You born? Why, since You were, were You born in such remarkable circumstances; that is, in such a lowly fashion? Why did You confine Yourself in Your life here on earth to such a small area of the globe? Why, in the same fashion, did You confine Your life here on earth to such a small period of time; namely, about thirty years, and only about three of those in actual ministry? And toward the end of those three years, why did You ride into Jerusalem on that donkey?

Jesus did many things after being born. He grew up as we all do. He was in the care of His parents, Joseph and Mary. He went to school. He probably worked with His dad after that. Why did He do these things? Was He just killing time before the big thing—you know, the one where He died for the sins of the world? Why, when He left His carpentry tools behind, did He spend three years in ministry? Was it just a warm-up for the main event, where He suffered on the cross? When He was in His ministry, why did He do all those things He did, the teaching, the healing, the miracles? Why did He heal some and not others? Why did He show some His powers and conceal it from others?

It’s perhaps a little dangerous to bring up all these questions when there’s not time in one sermon to answer all of them. But questions are good. The purpose of questions can be to stretch us, not necessarily to get answers in a neat and tidy way.

Even so, all these questions can be answered in a straightforward way. What Jesus did on Palm Sunday teaches us why Jesus did what He did. He rode into Jerusalem on that donkey to fulfill Scripture. He rode in on a donkey to make His way to the place where He had always planned on going, Golgotha. Everything Jesus did, from being born to being raised by His parents, to being in ministry where He healed and taught, to riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, all was for the purpose bringing about salvation. Scripture foretold it in the Old Testament, Scripture shows the fulfillment of it in the New Testament.

Nobody seemed to be asking Jesus on that day, Why are You doing this? Why are You riding into Jerusalem on that donkey? They seemed to know. But they didn’t know. They didn’t ask because they thought they knew. We know, but we should ask. Jesus, why did You ride into Jerusalem on that donkey? The words of Zechariah in the Old Testament reading tell us. The words of Paul in the Epistle reading tell us. The words the people who hailed Jesus in the Gospel reading tell us. He rode into Jerusalem in order to fulfill Scripture. He did it in order to go to the cross. He did it in order to be the King and Savior that He is.

We know this. We know why He did it. But we need to ask. But why? Why do we need to ask our Lord why He did that? Because we need to know why He continues to do what He does. It’s one thing to know what Jesus did. It’s equally vital to know why He does what He does now.

So often our questions to God are like this: God, why are You doing this? Why are You guiding me in a way I don’t want to go or don’t understand? Why are you allowing me to suffer through difficulties? Why do You seem so distant if You are always with me? Why is it so hard to talk to others about You when it should be the easiest and most natural thing in the world? Why do You come to me in the ways you do, in ways that seem not to be very compelling, such as water and bread and wine?

One thing we can know is that it’s not a bad thing to ask God questions. He invites them. What we must learn is that we should ask them in humility and faith. We must learn that our asking God why He does what He does should not be to question Him but to seek His will.

In this way we can ask our questions. Jesus, why are You doing this, coming to me in the way You are, in the waters of Baptism? Why are You coming to me through simple bread and wine? Why are you using a man who is just as sinful as I am to proclaim the Gospel to me and absolve my sins? Why do You use me, an ordinary person, and one who doesn’t always know what to say to others, to make known the Gospel to the people in my life? Why not just use those who are really good at communicating and relating to others?

When you look at the way God did things as shown to us in the Scriptures you begin to see the way He does things today. Why He does them is also shown. Why did God become a man? He certainly did it for us. We, the people He created, removed ourselves from His care and so He came to us in a way in which He could restore us to His care. Why was He born in the way He was, humble and to insignificant people? We, the people of this world, placed ourselves above our status and so He came to us in humility, lowering Himself to be our servant. Why did He come into Jerusalem that day on a donkey? Zechariah in the Old Testament reading said that God would come as Savior, lowly and riding on a donkey. He did not enter in power but in peace and salvation.

The Epistle reading shows the true power and glory of God in that Jesus is fully God and yet took the form of a servant. He even placed Himself in submission to His Heavenly Father, becoming obedient to Him. His obedience was not just doing what we ought to do and have failed to do in keeping the Ten Commandments, it was becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Everything else Jesus did was for the purpose of carrying out His obedience unto death, specifically, His death on the cross.

That explains a lot in regard to why He does what He does today. Why does Jesus first come to us in water? Just as God’s Word went forth from the formlessness and the void bringing about creation, everything that we see, so God’s Word goes forth and is connected to that water that is poured on you in Baptism. You are now re-created in Baptism. You are now given new life in Baptism. The water was one of the things He created at the beginning, it is one of the things He uses to bring to you His Son, Jesus Christ, in order to give you new life.

Why does Jesus come to us often in bread and wine? Bread and wine are also ordinary things God created, just like water. Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word that God spoke at creation was brought forth in His Son when Jesus became a man at His birth. On the night before He went to His death on the cross where His body would be given and His blood would be shed Jesus gave bread and wine to His disciples in a meal. It was a memorial meal, no doubt, Jesus says that Himself. This Memorial Meal was unlike any other, however, in that in the bread He gave and in the wine He gave He gave His very body and His very blood.

It is in the things of creation God’s Word is at work. It is in ordinary things Jesus comes to us. No longer should it seem strange to us that He uses us also, the crown of His creation, as the vessels through which others hear about Christ as we talk with them and serve them. That He used a donkey doesn’t seem all that strange after all when you consider that He is the one who created donkeys in the first place. And when you consider that He also created water and bread and wine it’s perfectly natural that He would use those things as well.

If you every wonder, Lord, Why are You doing this?, just think about what occurred on that day when Jesus posed that some might ask that question. It was about the donkey. That donkey ended up being the vehicle which carried Jesus on His way to the cross. In the same way, the water of Baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, are vehicles carrying Jesus to you. Amen.


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