Today is the final Sunday of our sermon series on what it means to follow Jesus but I do want to remind you that there is one more message in the series and that will be given on Thursday night. Thursday is the night we remember the last supper of Jesus so we will not only share in communion, but we will also learn how following Jesus requires us to lace up some work boots and get ready to serve. Today however, is Palm Sunday and we are going to look at what happened to some of the people who waved palm branches and welcomed Jesus as King as he entered into Jerusalem – because while they followed Jesus that day, they were not willing to follow him five days later.
We hear the Palm Sunday story from John 12:12-19.
Each year at the Passover crowds came to Jerusalem to celebrate and this year as Jesus made his way into the city crowds gathered and followed him waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. They were ready to make Jesus their king. The palm branches were signs of victory and by riding a donkey into the city Jesus was saying that he was coming to be the Messiah so everything looked like a coronation of Jesus being king. The crowds were with him, but let’s fast forward a few days.
Four days later Jesus had betrayed by Judas and arrested by the religious leaders. Those leaders held a trial and found Jesus guilty of blasphemy but since they didn’t have the authority to have Jesus killed they handed him over to Rome which did have the power to execute criminals. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, didn’t want to kill Jesus because he was concerned about an uprising at the time of the Passover so he gave the crowds an opportunity to release Jesus. During the Passover there was a tradition that the Romans would release a prison to the Jewish people so Pilate took Jesus and another prisoner, a man named Barabbas, to the people and asked them which one he should release. John 18:38b-40.
When the people cried out for Barabbas to be released, Pilate went back to the crowds and asked them again what he should do with Jesus and they said Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him! Every year when I heard this story I ask myself how people who praised Jesus on Sunday could call for his death on Friday. What happened during those days that caused people to turn from Jesus? If we at look at what happened during those four days we see that Jesus did a lot of teaching in the Temple and some of his teaching got both the religious leaders and the crowds upset. Jesus said that the people should pay their taxes to Caesar. He talked about the coming destruction at the end of the age and even said that the Temple in Jerusalem would be torn down.
None of this made the people nor the leaders happy. The crowds wanted Jesus to lead a movement that would overthrow Roman rule and establish Israel as a strong and mighty nation so to talk about paying taxes and the destruction of the Temple did not make people happy. Add to this what Jesus had been saying to his disciples and followers about denying themselves and carrying a cross and suddenly being a follower of Jesus wasn’t much fun and it certainly wasn’t rewarding. As long as Jesus gave people what they wanted – people were eager to follow, but when his teaching got difficult, people were quick to un-follow.
Something similar happened earlier in Jesus ministry as well. After Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 people, the crowds wanted to make him king right then but Jesus was clear that following him wasn’t just about free food and miracles of healing, there was sacrifice involved so Jesus taught the crowds some hard lessons that unsettled them and they started to grumble and question Jesus, John 6:60.
Then we hear that some people turned back, John 6:66.
When things got too difficult the people un-followed.
When the going got tough, these followers got going in a different direction. The same was true for the crowds in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. When the teaching of Jesus got difficult and the political winds turned against Jesus the people started going in a different direction. The truth is that when things get difficult in our own lives and in our faith we are also tempted to get going in a different direction.
There are key times in our lives where we are tempted to un-follow Jesus and it is important to know what those times are so we can keep our faith strong and our feet ready to follow when they come.
There are three key times when we are tempted to un-follow and the first is during times of transition. This could be a transition in school, jobs or in relationships, but when we transition from one place in life to another it opens the door for us to un-follow. We see this clearly when we see students transition from one school to the next. Whether it is Junior High to High School or
High School to College, these times of transition are when youth and young adults un-follow.
Internally we see a drop off in our youth ministry from Jr. High to High School and statistically there is a dramatic drop off when students go to college. Close to half of all youth who were involved in youth group – so these are fairly committed students – will unfollow when they get to college and there are many reasons for this. One is that in their new environment following Jesus isn’t cool and when students suddenly realize that they don’t need to follow Jesus or go to church anymore, they don’t. Sometimes in higher education following Jesus is looked down on and the Christian faith is challenged or ridiculed and so suddenly students question whether there is any real point in following Jesus or whether Jesus is even real. I had a professor in college who was pretty clear that he didn’t believe in God at all and while he wasn’t arrogant about it, he was clear and that witness makes an impression and those influences can be strong.
The transition from College to the work force is also a time when people un-follow, I know it was for me. In college I was very active in a campus fellowship and that was my circle of friends. When I graduated and started a job I realized how hard it was to meet people in the church. I worked nights so couldn’t attend many of the bible studies or small groups and making new friends in a new community when you don’t have roommates and classmates is hard and religion and faith are not things we often talk about at work so I wasn’t making friends in a church and getting connected to the church. For the 3 years I worked in the movie theater I am embarrassed to say that I did not really attend worship. I would attend different churches for a time, but never got involved – it was too hard. I didn’t give up on my faith but for a while I hit the un-follow button.
Transitions in jobs or moving to new communities are also times we are tempted to un-follow because as we settle into a new place and maybe don’t go to church for a while we begin to think that maybe we don’t need to go at all. And if we move to different regions of the country – faith is lived out very differently and church involvement may not be prioritized. In the south a lot of people’s social life revolves around the church but in the north it revolves around the schools or sports. In the south one of the first questions new friends and neighbors ask is where you go to church, but in the north you might never talk to your friends or neighbors about church. So during that transition it is easy to un-follow.
The transitions that comes with a change in relationship are also prime times to un-follow. When we get married or divorced we might find that worship and church involvement just doesn’t seem the same and sometimes to attend alone or with someone new is too hard and uncomfortable so it’s easier to stay home. So times of transition are times we un-follow, but so are times of temptation.
Many temptations cause us to turn away from Jesus. Maybe it is that relationship we have just entered into. The person we are dating might not go to church and we might begin to think that maybe faith isn’t that important when we are in love. The temptation might be our career and making money so that becomes the priority in life which often means there is no time or space for Jesus. There are temptations in this world that pull us from Jesus and those are times we have to stay focused and committed so we don’t un-follow.
The third key time when we often un-follow is during times of trouble. When things in life fall apart it is easy to think that God has left us so why should I go to church or even pray.
When prayers haven’t been answered our way and in our time we begin to ask ourselves, what good has it done? When Christian friends or the church has let us down in some way as we have gone through difficult times it’s also easy to question God and why we should follow. When life and faith get’s hard it is easy to think about turning away.
During times of transition, temptation and trouble it is easy to say, what’s the point, or what difference does it make and hit the un-follow button and go in a different direction, but if we are going to do that we need to know one thing clearly, if we un-follow Jesus it is because we are going to start following someone or something new. If we turn way from Jesus and if we turn away from our Christian faith or the church then we will be following someone or something else, because we are always following something. Even if we are just following ourselves, we are following the idea that we are the best and brightest and smartest around so we should go in whatever direction makes the most sense to us. We are always following someone or something and if we go back to Palm Sunday story we see this truth at work. The crowds weren’t just un-following Jesus – they were following something or someone else.
Some of the crowds that turned away from Jesus turned toward the religious leaders and listened to what they had to say. They believed that Jesus wasn’t who he said he was so they opted to go in a different direction. Some in the crowd turned toward Barabbas and when they cried out for his release they were following the way of rebellion and violence in this world. Today we would consider Barabbas to be a terrorist. Barabbas was known as one of the sicarii, which literally means dagger men because they would walk through crowds and kill people to try and bring about political, social and economic change. When people un-followed Jesus and called for Barabbas to be released they were saying we would rather follow the power of this world than the power of God.
During times of transition, temptation or trials when we are tempted to turn away from God and not follow Jesus will be following someone or something else so we need ask ourselves:
If not Jesus, then who? If not Christianity, than what?
The crowds during the week of Passover said – not Jesus but Barabbas. Not the ways of God but the ways of the world. The disciples faced these same questions when people turned away from Jesus earlier.
When the crowds were leaving Jesus after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus asked his disciples if they were going to leave too and their response was, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. The disciples knew that there was no one but Jesus and no message but His. His words, His wisdom, His power and His grace and love were all there was for them to live for and there was no one and nothing else. They didn’t unfollow then and they didn’t really unfollow after Jesus was arrested.
While all the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested and they didn’t follow him to the cross, they didn’t turn to anyone or anything else. We know this because on the third day after Jesus death, the disciples were still together and they were sill in Jerusalem and they were still in the place where they gathered with Jesus, the upper room. The disciples didn’t return to their homes and their old lives and jobs and they didn’t turn to find another leader. For 3 days they stayed in the city and stayed together so that when Jesus rose from the grave he found them almost where he left them. The disciples may not have been the most courageous – but they didn’t un-follow.
During times of transition, temptation and trouble when following Jesus is hard, it’s tempting to take off our shoes and look for something new or head off in a new direction, but if what we believe about Jesus is true, that he is the Son of God and the Savior of the World, then who else would we follow and where else would we go? If we believe that there is something special about Jesus, if we believe that he is from God then who can top that? What person or what religion or world view or social norm can top Jesus?
Every one of us will go through difficult times where it will seem easy to un-follow. You may be considering that today – why do I need to follow Jesus, what difference does it even make? We follow for the same reason the disciples did – because we know that Jesus has the words of eternal life and we have come to believe and know that he is the Holy One of God. If we know this, if we believe this, if we even just think it might be true then we need to point our feet toward Jesus and follow. If you want to know if it is Jesus that has the words of eternal life and if you want to check him out to see if he is the Holy One of God, then I invite you today to follow. You don’t have to perfect. You can take just a simple single step forward, but follow. Follow.
Follow ~ Un-follow
1. Was there a time of transition, temptation or trouble in your life where you un-followed Jesus? Why did you make that choice? Who or what did you follow during that time?
2. Looking at your family and your future, are there times of transition, temptation or trouble coming where you or someone in your family (children) might turn away from Jesus? Identify these situations and be prepared for them.
3. When we un-follow Jesus we are following something else. If you feel yourself turning away from Jesus ask yourself these questions.
• If not Jesus, who?
• If not Christianity, what?
Can you think of anyone or anything else worth following?
4. It didn’t take long for the Palm Sunday crowds to un-follow Jesus. Keep yourself following Jesus this week through prayer, the study of scripture and worship.
Scriptures to read this week (The story of Jesus crucifixion)
• Matthew 26:17 – 27:66
• Mark 14:12 – 15:47
• Luke 22:1 – 23:56
• John 18:1 – 19:42