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1st July 2001

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Scripture Reference

MATTHEW 21: 1-11

I cannot walk by Hyde Park, particularly near the Grove of Palms, without thinking of Jesus confronting the city. For nearly a quarter of the century I have stood in that great public park, by the large illuminated Cross we erect each Easter. There, supported by our members and the Wesley Institute Choir gathered on the lawns, I preach the good news of Jesus for our city. The Cross shines day and night reminding people that Christ is in the heart of our city. Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. He loved the city. He wept for that city. But the people of the city rejected Him, cast him outside the city walls and crucified Him. Jesus still confronts the cities of the world with good news, and still the cities of the world reject Him and crucify Him afresh.

The greatest movement in the world today is into the cities of every inhabited continent. One hundred years ago in 1900, only 8% of the people of the world lived in large cities. Most people lived in villages in rural areas. In spite of the growth of industries, 92% of people were still engaged in agriculture. But two world wars, transporta-tion, and a growing population able to be sustained in a city, saw, within one hundred years, more than half the people on earth living in large cities. Over three billion people now live in large cities. Urbanization has been the greatest story of the twentieth century. Yet the church denominational leaders still behave as if nothing has changed. They still organise the life of the church based upon state lines and a village parish system. The denomi-nations have not learned how to use the media to pene-trate the city and possess no strategy to penetrate the high rise apartment blocks.

They give token support to developing multicultural congregations and have no policy for influencing the so-cial, political and economic systems of our modern com-munity. Yet the city is the most important factor imping-ing upon the future of the church. In the next ten years we will add another billion people to the planet and most will live in our cities. Christianity will be successful only if it learns to capture the cities of the world. That is why twenty five years ago, before coming to Wesley Mission, I wrote what I intended to do in a book called, "Transform-ing The City Church." Urban Mission - the subject I teach in the United States to doctor of ministry students every year or so - is one of the most important subjects young ministers can study. It is yet to be taught in Australia. Our denominational training colleges are still in nineteenth century mode. 

Nations are altered by people who capture the streets of the city. The ideology of globalisation is today being fought in the streets of large cities. The people of Manilla overthrew the Marcos regime from the streets. So did the people of Selma, Jackson and Washington who marched behind Martin Luther King Jr.. The people of India filled the streets of Calcutta behind Mahatma Gandhi. The people of Paris overran the Bastille. The people of Beijing crowded Tienamen Square. So on throughout history. Premier Bob Carr should heed the lesson of history as he contemplates the angry crowds outside Parliament House in Macquarie Street. One key to changing history is to change the minds of people in the streets. Yet the city streets can also re-sound to the cries of children making their way to school, or chasing after each other in some game, or waving palm leaves in our march to Hyde Park.

Joan Ramsay, wrote of such a scene: 
"Today I saw a group of children running
Along the road with branches in their hands
That they were waving - green branches - 
and they were shouting as children have shouted 
and run in many lands, and many times; 
so it was strange that I kept thinking -
Watching these children, and listening to them -
Of those others who ran and shouted 
and waved green branches
One day, on the road into Jerusalem." 

Jesus was more used to the urban environment than we have supposed. Many people think of him as a Good Shepherd in a rural setting. But Jesus also knew the towns and cities of his land. Josephus, the historian at the time, tells us there were more than 200 cities in the time of Jesus in the area He traveled. Matthew, who was there, recorded the scene of Jesus confronting the city of Jerusalem. Matt 21:1?11. In his words I see:

Here clearly is presented the magnificent personal qualities of Jesus Christ. Matt 21:1 "As they approached Jeru-salem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Je-sus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.'" 

"The disciples went and brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them." Mark adds one word: the colt was unbroken - no man had ever sat upon its back. When this Palm Sunday narrative was read in one country Church, a farm boy afterwards said: "What wonderful hands He must have had." And when asked what he meant he replied: "If what you read is true, it must have taken a man with strong hands to do that. You say the colt had never been broken in? That it never once felt the burden of a man on its back? He rode that colt down into the city, with a great crowd of people shouting into its ears, and putting branches and palms in its way. To have been able to have kept that colt steady under those conditions, He must have had wonderful hands!" 

He took an unbroken, untrained, unkempt, ill-born shaggy colt of a donkey and did not despise to use it. In His hands it became changed, and became the means of baring His Master into the city. I know people like that: un-broken, untrained, unkempt, ill-born, shaggy - even pos-sessing the characteristics of a colt of a donkey! -yet in the Master's hands they have been changed, and have become the means to taking the Master to the people of our city. There was an expectation that a King would one day ride into Jerusalem on a colt of a donkey and people saw in Je-sus those personal qualities that stood Him out from the rest. Jesus had always been recognised for His kingly power. At His birth wise men came to find Him asking "Where is He who is born king?". They brought gifts that were fit for a King. After His baptism He was tempted by the devil concerning establishing His Kingdom saying: "All the kingdom of this world and their splendour I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." 

Following the feeding of huge crowd of 5000, the peo-ple wanted to make Him king. The mother of James and John asked Him "Let my sons sit in your Kingdom". Upon His entry into Jerusalem some cried out: "Behold your king comes." The Priests charged Him with being a King. Pilate asked Him "Are you a King?" The soldiers mocked Him by dressing Him in royal robes and by plaiting a crown of thorns. The crowds rejected Him with the blasphemy: "We have no King but Caesar." When He was crucified, it was beneath a sign which read: "This is Jesus the King of Jews". Upon the Cross He was taunted by the crowd: "If you are King, come down from the Cross." And in His last minutes a thief dying beside Him said: "Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingly power!" The majesty of the Master was there for all to see. And never so clearly as He rode in regal splendour upon the back of a donkey. 

Over the years the crowd who welcomed Jesus has been given short shrift by preachers. They do not warm to a crowd that could cry on Palm Sunday "Hosanna" and on Good Friday, "Crucify Him!". Thousands of preachers speak of the fickle crowd. But I want to say a word concern-ing the commitment of the crowd. v8-9"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!"" The people of Jerusalem that Palm Sunday knew the scriptures. They saw in His humble riding of a donkey into Jerusalem, the prophecy of 300 years earlier by Zechariah 9:9 coming to pass. 

Only after His death and resurrection did they fully realize that Jesus was the Messiah of God, an ideal King, a victorious conqueror, a humble hero, and a suffering ser-vant. He had come, not to bring political victory, but a reign of peace and righteousness with justice for the poor and humble. How they wished they had greeted Him with more commitment! I have always been captured by a line in the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." The Palm Sunday crowd is singing and waving to Jesus and as Jesus passed by they called out "Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?" Many in the crowded city that day waved, but Je-sus wanted devotion not greetings, commitment of the heart not waving of the hand. Even those who wept for Him later that Holy Week, were told not to weep for Him but for themselves. Jesus did not want tears of sorrow, but the toil of discipleship of those who would follow Him. 

His entry into Jerusalem was a direct challenge to all of the authorities - religious and secular, political and legal. His presence would lead to direct confrontation in the Temple, to unifying the opposition forces into a powerful clique that decided that Jesus would have to die. v10 "When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" The crowds answered, "This is Je-sus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." That is the chal-lenge: to present Christ to the city in such a way that crowds can answer that they know Him. We enter our city at every available point through the secret accesses of ra-dio as people listen in their bath or bed, their car or campervan. Every day. Every week. Through television we enter every city and town in this nation, into lounge rooms and kitchens, bedrooms and classrooms. Every week.

And through our services we challenge the people of our cities by lifting high Jesus Christ and saying: "Who is this?" I am never proud of the fact that across our land I am listened to by more people than any other preacher in our nation. That is not a matter for pride: Jesus has entered many cities on the back of a donkey! But even a donkey can be used to take the Master into the city! We spend our-selves to bring Christ to the city so that people will say: "Who is this?" Many will respond saying "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." Yet hundreds of thousands are yet to acknowledge Jesus Christ. 

Many in our cities have only luke-warm commit-ment. They know Jesus but do not follow Him. Jesus Christ asks that if you love Him to remember Him round the communion table and to share the bread and wine. They never attend worship. They simply call out "Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?" Jesus Christ asks if you love Him to take up your Cross and follow Him. Jesus Christ asks if you love Him to care for the poor and make a financial sacrifice. Few want to make a financial commitment. They call out "Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?" Jesus Christ does not ask for your admiration. He wants your commitment! Je-sus does not ask for acknowledgment. He wants your commitment. Do not say: "Christ, you know I loved you. Did you see I waved?" Say instead: "Jesus Christ, my Master, I'll take up my Cross and follow wherever you lead me." A wave changes nothing. Jesus wants to make dis-ciples who will be committed to turning the world upside down. He wants our city confronted, changed, turned around, converted! That means you! Turn to Him now!
"JESUS AND THE FORGOTTEN CITY: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus" Richard A Batey Baker 1991.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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