Readings: Ps 118:1-2, 19-end
The last time I stood here, I mentioned that I’d spoken on The Transfiguration so many times, I was going to do something different. Well, the same goes for the Triumphal Entry. All we need to know about the actual happening is in this morning’s Gospel Reading. So I’d like to look at something different that’s also mentioned there. In verse 3 the disciples were worried about what someone might say, when they took the donkeys. Jesus said simply, “…tell him, ‘The Master needs them’”. When you think back to a time of your own personal need, what is it that springs to mind?
A friend of mine and I were once stuck in a town called Tororo, just under 300 miles north of our destination, the British Military Hospital in Nairobi. We were returning from a tour of Uganda. I’d known Harry for 2 years but hadn’t known before this trip that he was a ludomaniac.. No, he wasn’t mad on board games but a compulsive gambler, who’d lost all his money on a horse in Kampala, on our outward journey. So, we’d very little cash and a car that had one tyre with its side wall showing the inner canvas over an area of about 6” x 2”. Not good on those roads.
We found a garage but it was closed for the night. By sheer luck, we found the owner in a bar. I explained our plight to him. He opened his garage, put a new tyre on the car and told me I could send the money on to him. I don’t think I’ve had another experience quite like that in my whole life. My need was great and it was met. I wasn’t a believer in those days. I look back now and think that if God’s hand wasn’t on me, then it must have been on him.
That’s the great need I think of, when I read this account in our Gospel reading of Jesus, the donkey and its foal. All the disciples had to say was, “The Master needs them” (vs 3).That’s what I’d like us to think about this morning, the fact that the Lord needs the things we have – our time, talents, gifts and service. That’s why He gave them to us. The big question is whether or not we’re willing to let go and entrust them to Him.
Just so we’re clear, at this point in the Gospel story, Jesus had left Galilee – the region up north, where He’d grown up and spent His entire life – and reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times before. (Luke 2:25-39), (Luke 2:41-52). So we can assume He came back to Jerusalem at least once a year; perhaps more often than that. But this time was different. He came not simply to celebrate the Passover, but to atone for the sins of the world. In other words, unlike everyone else, He didn’t bring a lamb to sacrifice; He was that lamb.
And so, when He got to Jerusalem, it was more than the end of a long journey; it was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of creation. He would arrive, not as a carpenter, and not as a preacher, but as the Son of God, the King of kings — the Saviour of the world.
Let’s go back to the donkeys. Jesus told his disciples to go into the village and find this donkey on which no one had ridden, untie it and its mother and bring them to Him. Some would call this borrowing without permission. Some would call it stealing.
Jesus knew this, of course. He even anticipated what might happen. He told them that if anyone asked what they were doing, just to say, “The Master needs them and then he will let them go at once.” They went to get the donkeys and, sure enough, some of the people standing by saw what they were doing and questioned them, and they said, “The Master needs them.” That’s all it took. Doesn’t that just blow your mind?
So why were the donkeys important? It was to fulfil Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, when he said,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9).
Author Richard Donovan points out how important it was for this particular donkey to be one on which no one had yet ridden.He writes,
“The intent may be to provide Jesus with a special mount, never used by any other person—like the provision that will be made later for a tomb ‘where no one has ever been laid’ (Luke 23:53; John 19:41) (Evans, WBC, 142). It may also be related to the Mishnah instruction that ‘no one may use an animal on which a king rides’ (Evans, TLC, 267). In other words, Jesus is assuming a kingly prerogative by riding a colt that has never been ridden.” (Sermon Writer, Volume 13, Number 25, ISSN 1071-9962.) [The Mishnah, published at the end of the second century CE, is an edited record of the complex body of material known as oral Torah, that was transmitted in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE].
Xerxes, ruler of the vast Persian empire, gave great honour to Mordecai the Jew, by allowing him to ride in a procession on a horse that only the king had ridden (Esther 6:1–11).
This is borne out in the fact that, as Jesus came down the hill on the back of the donkey, His followers spread their cloaks on the road, rolling out the red carpet, as it were, for Him to ride over. As He rode by, they waved palm branches and shouted,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NIV)
Well, you know where the story goes from there: Jesus went straight to the Temple. But it was late. He looked around, then went to Bethany to spend the night. He’d be back.
This is nothing new about needs being met, as far as the Bible is concerned. For example, in the Old Testament ,God sent the prophet Elijah to a widow in Zarephath with a special blessing. When he got there, he found the woman gathering sticks. He said, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” But he didn’t stop there. He said, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” (1 Kings 17:10, 11 NIV) Well, he’d travelled a long way. Was that too much to ask?
It just so happened that the woman was destitute. She and her son were on the verge of starvation. She told him that she only had enough for her and her son to have one last meal, then die of starvation (1 Kings 17:12 NIV).
You’d think that, upon hearing the woman’s plight, Elijah would’ve said, “Well, then, let me get you something to eat.” But no! He said, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” (1 Kings 17:13 NIV) On the surface, it sounds preposterous: Feed me first. Turns out, it was a test of faith: Put God first and your needs will be supplied. Well, she did as he asked. She fed Elijah first, and, sure enough, no matter how much cooking she did, her jar of meal never ran out, and her jug of oil never ran dry (1 Kings 17:8-16). Elijah, the woman and her son each had a desperate need and the Lord met them.
That’s only one example. Remember the little boy who gave his packed lunch to Jesus? Jesus took it and, with only five loaves and two fish, He fed a multitude, who were in great need (John 6:9).
And what about the widow’s mite? Jesus and his disciples were watching folks offering their gifts at the temple when this poor widow walked up and put in her last two pennies. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44 NIV).
It’s a consistent theme in the Bible: When we’re willing to trust God with what we have, God will bless us more abundantly than we could ever imagine. In a moment of concern, Peter said, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”” Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:27, 29 NIV)
If we put what we have into God’s hands, He will bless us more abundantly in return. So, why don’t we do it? I can think of a couple of reasons. One, the need is so great and we have so little, by comparison: Feed the hungry, house the homeless, save the lost? What difference will my paltry little contribution make?
You may well have heard the story told of a young woman walking along a beach picking up starfish stranded on the sand and throwing them back into the water. A man saw what she was doing and said, “Young lady, there are hundreds of starfish all up and down the beach. What good is it going to do to throw a few back into the water?” She picked up a starfish and flung it out as far as she could and said, “It’s going to do a lot of good for that one.”
Thinking of the widow’s mite, we must never think what we have to offer isn’t important; whether it’s our time, our talent or our money, every gift counts, however great or small. God isn’t asking us to save the world, only to be faithful and let Him use what we have to His glory.
So we hold back because we don’t think we have much to offer. That’s one reason. We also hold back because – well, to be honest – we don’t want to let go of what we have. Like a two-year-old, a little voice inside of us screams, “It’s mine, and I need it, so you can’t have it!”
Why are we so possessive? I think it’s a combination of three things: Selfishness, fear of not having enough, and the false sense of security we have by being surrounded with all this stuff. Whatever the reason, it comes back to the question of faithfulness and what we’re going to do or say when that little voice inside us whispers, “The Lord has need of it.”
There’s one more thing about giving our money, our time, or using our talents for God; we don’t boast about it. If it’s possible, we don’t even let others know about it. Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV). Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 NIV) When we do work or perform functions in the Name of God, it’s just between us and Him. Of course for those whose roles are, of necessity, up front to be seen, it just has to be done in all humility.
Jesus also said, “… when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret (Matthew 6:2–4 NIV).
I’m most happy when the only person who knows about my giving is the Treasurer. I suppose if the system dictates that someone else has to know, then that will have to happen.
Another saying of Jesus was, “… when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5 NIV). I suppose the main time we see this happen is during our Intercessions. Then one person is praying to God on behalf of the whole congregation and so should be given our full attention. As it should be for anyone whose contribution to the church means they have to overcome their nerves and perform the task God has set for them up front. The prayers are for the Church and for the world, so they can’t be all that short. But the Intercessors at Christ Church don’t go waffling on in flowery language. They bring to God urgent pleas to Him about our real concerns, for Him to hear us and to take action if he thinks it’s appropriate.
Finally Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:16 NIV). So, if we are fasting for Lent or for any other reason, again – that’s between us and God and it negates its purpose for others to know.
It’s of no consequence who we are, it’s not about our age, our qualifications, our physical strength or beauty, our health or lack of it, our shyness, our position at work or in public life. God has need of something we have. When Gideon wanted power to do the mighty thing God had asked of him, ‘The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have ... Am I not sending you?”’ (Judges 6:14 NIV)
It doesn’t matter if we’re brave enough, strong enough, clever enough, speak with the wrong accent or, like Moses, speak with faltering lips (Exodus 6:12). Each one of us has something God needs and can use in the expansion of His kingdom and He says to us, “Go in the strength you have… am I not sending you?”
Can you think of a time when an urgent need was met and one that wasn’t?Was there a difference between these needs and how you dealt with them?
Aren’t all things possible with God? (Matthew 19:26). So why does He need us to give of our time, work and money?
Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit urging you to do something and you’ve resisted?
What would your reaction be if you were standing astride your bicycle chatting to another cyclist and someone came up to you and told you the Lord needed your bike?
What do you think is your greatest obstacle to performing a task for God?