Palm Sunday (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 17, 2011
A few years ago I was at Noah’s Ark Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells with a youth group. They dared me, and so I had to try it. I had to try the Point of No Return, a waterslide that’s 10 stories high and has a nearly vertical drop. You walk up the stairs, with open views of the entire waterpark, the wind blowing, the sun shining down on you. When you get to the top, you can only see the very beginning of the slide. Otherwise, it just drops out of sight.
You lay down in the top part of the slide, cross your legs and your arms, and you have this feeling that you need to press your back into the slide, very much hoping that gravity will keep you on that slide. The lifeguard gives you a push, and down you go—straight down.
Well, that’s what I had been dared to do, so I gathered up my courage and walked to the top of the slide. Borrowing a phrase from Isaiah, I set my face like flint, laid down in the slide, and trusted gravity to do its work.
OK, so actually, I was completely scared, and my face probably showed all of my worry and anxiety, but still I had to lay down, trust gravity, and ride the slide for five seconds of terror and adrenaline.
Jesus had to face His own Point of No Return on Palm Sunday, riding the slide into Jerusalem. He set His face like flint and trusted God the Father. Jesus, though, wasn’t freaking out; He really set His face like flint, was stone-faced, faced the terror that awaited Him. Jesus trusted the Father, laid down His life, and rode that donkey toward a punishment that would seem to last an eternity.
Jesus trusted gravity, so to speak. Like trusting that gravity will bring you safely through a near vertical drop, Jesus trusted the Father. Jesus trusted that the Father would bring Him through this week of Passion, this week of being betrayed, rejected, arrested, beaten, and killed, trusted that the Father would bring Him through death and give Him life again.
The words of trust in Isaiah 50 could’ve been on the lips of Jesus on Palm Sunday. The words of Isaiah 50 were written about Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the Anointed One who would come to rescue God’s people. The words of Isaiah 50 could’ve been on the lips of Jesus as He laid down, trusted gravity, and rode that slide into Jerusalem, they’re words of trust:
The Lord God will help Me.
I will not be disgraced.
I will not be ashamed.
He will justify Me.
No adversary will come near Me.
No one will condemn Me.
That trust, that trust placed in the Father, that’s why Jesus is able to go forward into Jerusalem today, that’s why He is able to ride that donkey, that’s why He is able to go to Jerusalem even though He knows it means certain death, He’s able to go forward because He trusts in the Father. He lays down, trusts gravity, and rides that slide. He lays down His life, trusts the Father, and rides that slide into Jerusalem.
That trust, that trust placed in the Father, that’s why Jesus can say the other words of Isaiah 50, the words about what He was willing to endure. He can say:
I was not rebellious,
Nor did I turn away.
I gave My back to those who struck Me,
And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.
Therefore I have set My face like a flint.
Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem—stone-faced, as in, determined, resolute, resolved, not turning back. Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem, faces the terror, lays down His life that day knowing that He’s riding toward arrest and trial and execution. Stone-faced He rides into Jerusalem, stone-faced because He trusts gravity to bring Him through that 10 story, near vertical drop, stone-faced because He trusts the Father will bring Him through that passion and death.
He goes stone-faced to His death for us, goes stone-faced to save us from death, goes to give us the hope of living after death, goes to pay for our sins, goes for us.
So setting His face like flint, it’s not so much as an example to us. I mean, it is an example, it reminds us to lay back, trust gravity, and ride the slide, the way Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday reminds us to set our face like flint, to be resolved and determined, to lay back, trust God, and ride the slide of life.
But more than that, Christ set His face like flint as a gift for us. He did it to give us eternal life. He did it for us. And because of what Christ did, because Christ was stone-faced, because Christ was determined, that’s why I can lay back, that’s why I can trust God, that’s why I can ride the slide of life, that’s why I can trust Him to hold me safe through this near-vertical drop of terror.
Setting His face like flint—that’s Christ as gift, that’s Christ for us.
So it’s not just about mustering up the courage ourselves to go down the Point of No Return in life. It’s not just about mustering courage to face ridicule or mistreatment or even death. It’s not “buck up, little camper, have the courage of Jesus.”
No, it’s seeing that Jesus already did this for you. He went down the Point of No Return, the actual Point of No Return, He laid down His life, died on the cross, was separated from the Father, for you. Jesus mustered the courage to face death, He did this for you.
Today is about what Christ has done for you. Today—Palm Sunday—is gift! Today is about what Christ endured, so we don’t have to. Today is about Jesus going down the Point of No Return so that we don’t have to, so that we can go to the Point of Return, so that we can have life after death, so that we can praise Him forever, praise Him with Hosannas forever. Because of today, because Jesus rode into Jerusalem to face death, because of that, we don’t face an eternal Point of No Return. We have a Point of Return in the cross, we have a Point of Return, eternal life, we will be raised again to new life.
Think about it this way: How many of you have NOT gone down a near-vertical water slide? Raise your hand. You all can live vicariously through my experience, or the experience of someone around you that has gone down one of these water slides. We can tell you all about it, and you can live vicariously through what we experienced.
How many of you have NOT set your face like flint when facing certain death? You can live vicariously through Christ. He laid back and trusted gravity; He laid down His life and trusted the Father. He did that for you. He did that to give away the effect, give the effect to you as if you had done it yourself. Because of what Christ did, what Christ did on the cross, well, it’s like you were there, it’s like you suffered and died too, it’s like you paid for your sins, but Christ did it for you because you never would’ve survived the drop, never would’ve survived death, never would’ve been able to live again. Christ did it for you, on your behalf, rode that slide in your place, and then gave you the effect. The effect is that death is canceled, death is defeated, death cannot hold us any longer. The effect is that there is life after death. Jesus gave you that effect, that gift, that blessing. That’s what it means to live vicariously through Christ.
So the reason I can lay back and trust God is because Jesus already did it for me. When I’m facing the challenges of life, a challenge to my faith, when I’m facing a crisis of faith or when I’m facing my own mortality, well, it’s not all up to me to make myself strong, to make it through this Point of No Return.
It’s really about what Jesus already did for me. He laid back and trusted the Father, He laid down His life, His work on the cross has meant that my salvation is secure, my life is in His hands.
So what is your Point of No Return, what are you going through that feels as if you’re sliding off a near-vertical drop? What’s got you going over the edge, afraid that you’re just doing a free fall? Where do you need to lay back and trust gravity? Where do you need Jesus to lay back and trust the Father for you? Where do you need to live vicariously through Jesus? Where do you need Jesus to set His face like flint for you, to be stone-faced for you, to face the terrors of life on your behalf?
Maybe it’s with your health, facing some tough things. Maybe it’s with your mental health, what’s going on with you emotionally. Maybe it’s a crisis of faith, struggling to believe. Maybe you’re facing your own mortality, wondering what it means that life is short.
Whatever you’re facing, whatever is the 10 story, near-vertical drop that you’re facing in life, well, the tremendous news from Isaiah 50 is that Jesus has already been there, already been through the crisis, already gone down the slide of life and death, already survived and rose again for you. The great news is that Jesus did more than set us an example, did more than just showing us how it’s done. The great news is that Jesus rode out the terror for us, rode that slide of life and death, rode it and rose again so that we can live again through Him.
So it’s not just about trying to follow His example, it’s not about trying to trust the Father like Jesus trusts the Father. It’s about the fact that Jesus already did it for you.
What’s the crisis you’re facing? What’s the 10 story, near-vertical drop you’re facing in life? Jesus took that Point of No Return and made it into a Point of Return. We may go through challenges, we may face terrible challenges, but there’s this promise: the cross of Jesus is our Point of Return. We will not be left for dead. We will not find a Point of No Return, a place where we can’t be back with God. The cross of Jesus is our Point of Return. The cross of Jesus brings us through all of the challenges of life, even brings us through our own mortality, and will bring us to everlasting life. And not because of what we do, not because we’re so great at trusting gravity as we go down that drop, not because we’re always confident. No, we’ve got that Point of Return because of what Christ did for us.
So today, ask God to help you trust gravity, ask God to help you set your face like flint, ask God to help you trust Him as you face challenges in life.
But more than that, realize that Jesus has done it for you. He rode that slide for you. He rode into Jerusalem for you. He went to face death for you. He set His face like flint for you. You couldn’t do it yourself, so He did it for you. He did it for you so that you can have eternal life, so that you can have a Point of Return.