April 17, 2011
Sermon for Palm Sunday
Our Ransom and Example
April 17, 2011
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Mercifully grant that we may…follow the example of His patience.” Both our Epistle and our collect for Palm Sunday remind us that our Lord is both our ransom and our example. We are accustomed to thinking about Christ as our ransom, but not so comfortable talking about Him as our example. Perhaps this is because many today spend so much time talking about Him as our example, they forget, or deny, that He is also our ransom. To them Christ is merely an example of generosity and self-sacrifice, who teaches us to give to the poor, care for the sick, and be kind and generous to people. I am sure you remember the lapel pins that said WWJD? What would Jesus Do? It is important to remember that these are things Christ refused to allow to define Him during His earthly ministry. He refused be defined as a healer, as one who feeds the hungry, or as a social reformer. The miracles by which He fed the hungry and healed the sick were signs and wonders which revealed His deeper and more primary purpose, which was to heal and feed our souls with the Balm of Heaven and the Bread of Everlasting Life. So, they err who say the Church is a social service organization whose primary service is to offer soup kitchens and free clinics and clothes closets.
It seems that a minister of the Gospel of Christ would not need to say such things, but in fact it is necessary to repeat them often, for the “Social Gospel” has become a dominant theme in much of the contemporary church. It seems to me that most of the contemporary church has fallen into two schools of thought, both of which are deviations from Biblical Christian faith. First, found chiefly among the more conservative groups and based upon the trends and ideas of the revivalist movement, is the idea that excitement and experience is the primary focus of Christianity, therefore, the primary mission of the Church is to provide excitement and experiences for people. To such people, the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith is used as a tool to give people experiences, and worship is reduced to psychological/emotional manipulation designed to work people into a mental state of euphoria, which, they are told, is the Spirit of God working in them. The second school of thought, usually found among the more liberal groups, is the “Social Gospel” view that the Church exists primarily to feed the hungry and work for social peace and justice. Recent years has seen a curious blending of these two views into a nebulous kind of “spirituality” loosely combining Christian terminology, with social liberalism or self-help/self-improvement. These churches span the theological spectrum. Some, generally found in the “mainline denominations,” are very liberal and have renounced most of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Thus, they are left only with a sentimental religious feeling. Others claim to embrace the foundational Christian doctrines, but spend their time and efforts on pop psychology and emotionalism. Neither of these movements really follows Christ as their example. I say that with sorrow, and I prefer not to disparage other people’s religion, but a pastor must show error as well as truth if he is to faithfully serve the people of God.
So let’s talk about Christ as our example. What does the Bible mean when it speaks of this? It means first that Christ is our moral example. Christ lived an absolutely sinless life. Imagine that. He never had an unkind thought. He never acted out of revenge. He never lost His love for people. He even prayed for the Roman soldiers and the religious leaders who tortured and executed Him. He is our perfect example of life lived according to the law of God. I do not say He is merely an example of keeping the letter of the law. He kept the letter perfectly, of course, but He also kept the spirit of the law, and it is that example that I want to emphasise. Think with me about the well known words of 1 Corinthians 13, if I “have not charity, I am nothing.” Charity, love, is the spirit of the law. Not the emotion, but certainly a sense of good will and compassion toward others, a sense born out of the realization of God’s good will and compassion toward you. Christ personifies this sense. He personifies love, and it is because He loves that He kept the letter of the law. Because of His love He did not lie, steal, fornicate, or covet. Because of love He did things that were positive and good. Because He loved, He acted lovingly. So it is not enough to simply refrain from theft, for example, and say that is love. We refrain from theft because we love, and Christ is our great example of love.
Second, Christ is our spiritual example. He teaches us how to walk with God. In the Bible we see Christ as a Man of prayer. He was known to rise early for prayer, and to gently chastise the disciples for their shortcoming in prayer. Christ was faithful in public worship. We are told that attendance in the services of the synagogue was his habit. It was a disposition of His life, and He ordered His life and duties in such as way as to make time for the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. We find that Christ was a student of the Scriptures. I use the word “student” cautiously here, for Christ is the Word of God. Yet, when He became a Man He willingly laid aside His Divine knowledge so He could live as a real man. So He had to learn to walk and talk, and read, and learn the Bible just as any other person has to do. And He applied Himself to the Scriptures diligently. His knowledge of them was impressive. He could quote them in time of need, as His responses to Satan in His temptation show. But He also knew their meaning. He knew when Satan misused them and twisted them, and He could quote them back to Satan or to the Doctors of Theology in their right context and correct meaning. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart.” Psalm 1 says the righteous man meditates on the law of God day and night. Jesus is our perfect example of this.
Third, Christ is our example of God’s unbounded love for us. His sacrifice on the cross is the example, or, more properly, the demonstration and revelation of God’s love for you. You will recall the words of Paul in Romans 5:8, “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Recall the words of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And remember the words of Christ Himself; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). I think the words of our reading for last night, from John 13, express very well the great love of our great Example.
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Jn. 13:1).
There are many in this world whose lives and thoughts make them worthy of our admiration, and even our emulation. Some of them are famous men and women of history. Others are unknown outside of a small circle of friends and family. They are the ones who worked faithfully to provide a home, sat up with sick children night after night, and poured their lives and souls into the welfare of others. They are fathers and mothers and husbands and wives, and sons and daughters, and friends, and, maybe even a minister or two, to whom we owe more than we can ever know. But, wonderful as these are, and thank God for them, there is One who is greater than all of them. His love is greater, His life is more worthy, and He Himself is greater as the artist is greater than the art. He is the one who came from Heaven and went to the cross. He is our great example. May His mind, His nature be in us, and may we follow Him as our great example.
“Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon Him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
~ Collect for Palm Sunday