Not Unlike Church

GlobalGathering 2009

Today is Palm Sunday!

It’s today we celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

I assume we’ve studied the Passion Week enough to know what this symbolizes. I also assume that we’ve spent the majority of our study on Jesus and His crosswork.

But have we given much thought to the crowd?

Even deeper still, have we found our place in the crowd?

In my study last week I was drawn to the observation that the crowd that surrounded Jesus that Sunday so many years ago is Not Unlike the constituents of the modern Church.

Let’s see if we can gain some life-altering clarity.

The Believers

The Worshipper

“Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.” John 12:3

True, costly, extravagant, intimate worship. She didn’t care about anyone else. All she wanted was to show in a small way her deep, undying devotion to her God!

The Hiders

“Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” John 12:42-43

This group of men believed in Jesus, but were afraid of losing their position.

The Unbelievers

The Betrayer

“‘Why was the perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” John 5-6

This man was no more than a thieving, lying, self-worshipper.

The People of the Palm

“[They] took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” John 12:13

This is probably one of the most exciting parts of of the Passion Week. Finally, all of the people in Jerusalem saw Jesus for who He was and were welcoming Him into the City to take His rightful place as Lord of their lives!

But that’s not what this was. The Palm Branch was the political symbol for a group of religious extremists called the Zealots. This group may well be compared with our modern day terrorists. In fact, many believe the Barabbas who had been recently imprisoned had been the zealots’ leader.

Their belief system saw Jesus as the man who would overthrow the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. Hosanna means “save, we pray.”

The Sight-Seekers

“For this reason [they heard about Lazarus being raised from the dead] also the people went and met him, because they heard he performed this sign.” John 12:18

This Jesus guy sounds like something we should check out! This will be cool!

The Pharisees

“You see that are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” John 12:19

We’re all to familiar with this group. These popularity-seeking religious leaders who saw their own laws as more holy than than Torah could not abide Jesus undermining their “righteousness.”

The Greeks

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:21

These Greeks had come to Jerusalem to participate in the passover. They were clearly proselytes, seeking salvation through Judaism.

The Religious Rejecters

“Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered.” John 12:28-29a

God the Father audibly spoke from Heaven to confirm the words of Jesus, and there were those who explained away the supernatural with a natural solution.

The Spiritists

“Others were saying, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.” John 12:29b

This group denied the direct revelation of God in their own way by making it fit into their own spiritual-system.

The Confused

“We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?”

This is the group that likes to the throw the spiritual leaders under the bus. “Yeah, but this other guy said . . . .” This is also the same group of whom it is said,

“But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet there were not believing Him.” John 12:37

What About Our Churches?

Mary – We all like to think we’re Mary, but of the ten groups mentioned in John 12, only 1/5th were believers, and only 1/10th glorified God through her worship and service. They had God incarnate physically present! What makes us think the statistics are any better today? I believe all true believers have moments like this, but are we consistent? This group is generally the 10% that gets he work done.

Camo-Christians – These Christians see the significance of worshipping God at church, but living out that faith at work is something completely different. They lack the faith in God to do the extravagant.

Judas – We would be foolish to believe there aren’t scoffers in the church. Of course, they talk a good talk, but their motivations are anything but sanctified. For this group, church is a place to get, get, get. They’re the pretenders.

Zealots – This group is passionate . . . but they’re passionate about all the wrong things. Social injustice, grass-fed beef, and free-trade coffee beans are wonderful and all, but do those siren calls drown out the real truth of the gospel? There are whole congregations who’s real bond is their shared belief in feeding the poor, not serving the Savior. People in this group can be saved, but often they accomplish little eternal good.

Sight-Seekers – Pick a church at random, and you will find it filled with people drawn for the party, the spectacle, the adrenaline, or maybe even the miracle! Church is better than 6 Flags, man! If this is the only goal for church attendance, there’s legitimate concern that real spiritual life may not be there,

Pharisees – This group is passionate too, but their fervor is rooted in standards designed to quantify spirituality. Their self-worth and others-judgementalism is born from a personal code of religious conduct, not God’s truth. These people like church because it gives them a forum to work out and parade their own “goodness.” Legalism is a spiritually dead religion.

Greeks – Though the historical narrative focuses on their race (non-Jewish), the group they symbolize for us are those trying to find salvation by the wrong means. Many today go to church to follow the dead traditions created by the legalist. Some have a half-knowledge that tells them “church is good,” but never drives them to understand what they’re supposed to be doing at church. They too, are unsaved.

Rejecters – These like to see a spectacle, but like a heckler at a magic show, they always seem to have a scientific/philosophical/anthropological explanation for everything. This groups is very similar to the self-professing atheist who attends church because they were invited or because they were tricked into thinking this group was just meeting to play basketball, but a preacher showed up!

Spiritists – This group loves believing in the supernatural, but the clearly revealed truth of God through the Word of God isn’t fantastical enough for them. Revelation must be miraculous! Tongues, visions, angels, and demons are far more interesting than doctrine! The Bible doesn’t say anything good about people who miss the truth of God for a “spiritual experience.”

Confused – “But the last guy said . . . .” This group defines the majority of pew-sitters these days. They listen and take notes, but personal study and real understanding are asking a little too much. That’s why we have a pastor, right?

What About You?

No one’s around. It’s just the two of us. Which one are you . . . really?

What’s your motivation for going to church? Is it really because God is the sole-center of your entire existence? Is church a place for service, corporate sanctification, one-anothers, praise offered for an audience of one, and learning more about your God who is all and in all?

Or are there other motivations? Is church a social club, an entertainment hot-spot, or supernatural spectacle? Does church represent a place to get, get, get for self or to give, give, give to the wrong cause?

Does church seem like a “good idea,” but you’re not really sure why? Is it too confusing to really give deep thought to?

Are you go just hoping to see the “magician” mess up, so you can continue on in life without having to believe in God?

1/5th will stand before God and be ushered into glory.

1/10th will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

No one’s perfect, but may this glimpse into the Triumphal Throng shake us out of the mindset that just because we’re gathered with a bunch of other people who seem really excited/interested in this Jesus guy, that doesn’t mean we have a saving relationship with the Messiah.