Palm Sunday: Following the crowd

James Tissot: The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

James Tissot: The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

Did you shout “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday? Good for you. But what are you going to say on Friday? It’s easy to praise God when the crowd is doing the same. When it isn’t Palm Sunday, though, and the crowds are calling for a crucifixion, what will you say?

Have you sworn your unwavering loyalty to Jesus? Good for you. That’s easy to do when you’re in the upper room surrounded by friends. What will you say later, around the fire, when devotion has a price?

When we are in our church clothes surrounded by people who share our beliefs, there isn’t any reason to hide our faith. We can sing praises without judgment. There is little chance of being called ignorant or intolerant. The test comes, though, when we go out into the community and the workplace. Because there, we might face judgment. We might encounter rejection. Some intellectuals may think us simple. Some will call us bigots because of a stance on social issues. There is a price, as there always is, when we proclaim Christ in  a world that hates Christ.

It isn’t always going to be Palm Sunday, and following Jesus isn’t always going to be popular. We aren’t always going to be in the upper room where it’s easy to pledge commitment. The depth of our commitment is shown in those times when it isn’t easy.

Sometimes the crowd gets it right, like they did on Palm Sunday.

When the crowd turns on Jesus, as crowds always do, where will you be?

For when I am weak, then I am strong

I am the vine you are the branchesWe love to root for the underdog. We cheer when a little school defeats a powerhouse program in the NCAA basketball tournament, or when a lone advocate convinces a corporation to redesign a dangerous product. Maybe it’s because we so often feel like underdogs.

In “David and Goliath,” author Malcolm Gladwell says that we often get underdog stories wrong. Many times, what we see as great strength is really a weakness, and what we deem a weakness is really an advantage. He tells fascinating stories of people who overcame great odds, like the surprising number of CEO’s who grew up with dyslexia. This “weakness” forces people to develop other strengths – good listening skills, for example – that make them successful. It isn’t just in spite of the difficulty, but because of it, that they rise to the top.

No doubt that is often true. Gladwell writes of “desirable difficulties” that can make us stronger and, in the end, become an advantage. So many times, Goliath isn’t as fearsome as he seems.

david and goliathBut when Gladwell applies this thinking to the original David and Goliath story, I think he misses the boat (although he was not trying to write a religious book). Gladwell writes that Goliath’s great size probably came from a disorder that also gave him poor eyesight and made him slow, and that slingers like David, small and quick, had a natural advantage over sword-fighters like Goliath. In other words, David actually had an advantage over Goliath, and we should not be surprised that David won the battle.

But in spiritual matters, that’s not what the Bible teaches. God doesn’t choose things that people think are weak, but that are really strong. He chooses things that are weak, period:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Co. 1:27-29)

He does it so that when the deed is done, everyone will know that God was at work. When Gideon set out to defeat the Midianites with 32,000 men, God narrowed it down to 200. Not so that Gideon would have an elite, nimble fighting force that would have a tactical advantage, but so that they would be absolutely helpless without God. He did it “in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her.” (Judges 7:2)

When it comes to doing God’s work in God’s way, we are helpless. It reminds us that we need him. He equips us to do the assigned task, and when it is accomplished, all glory should go to him. We are to work “not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zec. 4:6)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

This isn’t bad news at all. Do you really want to try it on your own when the Creator of the universe, who was able to return Christ from the dead, will indwell you and work through you? We ought to be glad when we feel helpless, because then we are ready to acknowledge our need for God and allow him to act through us.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Co. 12:10)

“David and Goliath” is a fascinating book, for those of us who love to root for the underdog. Gladwell is right that when we are forced to overcome adversity, it makes us stronger. If you read it, though – and I hope you will – remember that Gladwell isn’t addressing the work of God. When God is in the picture, the news is even better: We are absolutely hopeless without him, but with him, we can accomplish anything within his will.

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Tissot.Confession of the Centurion.the most important thing he ever said

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