Okay, I had to apologize to everyone this week because I ended up talking about Palm Sunday a week early. Palm Sunday lands on April 9 this year, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to actually cover that in Mark and then cover Resurrection Sunday the next week, since there are four whole chapters between the two events in Mark’s Gospel record, and we’ve been trying to conscientiously follow the narrative flow of the story.
So... we talked about Palm Sunday this week in our service, even though it wasn’t Palm Sunday yet. If you find that confusing, you’re not alone.
But we did find a consistent theme running through both Sunday School and the service -- and one that none of us planned on in advance. It’s just that our discussions opened themselves up to it, and God led the rest. But we talked about the nature of true, genuine worship -- that it’s a combination of reverence and intimacy. Intimacy without reverence isn’t worship, because that’s just being in a relationship with someone. Reverence without intimacy isn’t worship, because that’s just being at least a little bit intimidated by someone. But when you feel intimately close to someone whom you genuinely revere -- when you are in a personal relationship with a God whom you hold in sincere awe and esteem -- then you can be said to begin to understand what worship is all about.
And that’s part of the problem with what happened on that first Palm Sunday in Mark 11. See, we tend to love the trappings and pageantry of it all -- the palm branches, the cries of “Hosanna!” from the crowds, the Lord riding into town on the colt of a donkey like a victorious kind, the quoting of Messianic psalms, etc. -- and we love to honor those things in our traditional Palm Sunday services (and there’s nothing wrong with that). But then we wonder how the people of Jerusalem could have slipped so quickly and so easily from that worship time into calling for Christ’s death five days later. But that’s just it -- there was no real worship on that first Palm Sunday.
People were making noises that sounded worshipful and performing actions that looked worshipful, but did they have that crucial combination of reverence and intimacy?
Had they truly drawn close to Christ and sought a relationship with the Lord? No.
Had they laid their lives before the Lord in reverent fear, pledging to change their hearts to honor Him? No.
It’s telling that in the midst of all of these good-seeming but hollow acts of non-worship that Jesus cleansed the Temple and cursed a fig tree. See, from a distance, the Temple looked impressive (it impressed the disciples), and the fig tree looked full and healthy... but upon closer examination, the Temple was filled with corruption, and the fig tree bore no fruit. Over and over again in Mark’s Gospel, we’re reminded that Jesus was disgusted with our outwardly righteous but internally selfish hypocrisy -- and that’s why Paul reminded us in Romans 12:1-2 that we need to be continually letting God transform our minds from the inside-out, because the world is continually trying to conform us from the outside-in.
So let’s all of us take a moment today to lay ourselves before God and ask Him to show us what’s really going on inside of our hearts, and how we can worship Him more and more in spirit and in truth. And then let’s do the same thing again tomorrow...