Which Messiah is Receiving Your Praise?

Matthew 21:1-11

March 24, 2013

Sometime back in the early sixties, one of my favorite relatives and a friend decided to go to the annual Alabama and Auburn football game. The game is affectionately known as the Iron Bowl because of its years of being played on a neutral field in Birmingham. But, the problem that year was that my relative and his friend didn’t have any tickets. And, as you can imagine, much like the Clemson-South Carolina game, the Iron Bowl is usually not an easy ticket to come by.

When they arrived at the stadium there were even fewer tickets floating around for sale than they had anticipated and that is when they gave in to temptation. The only way into the stadium that they could find was via a guy selling counterfeit tickets. You see, this man was in cahoots with one of the ushers taking tickets at a particular gate. One member of the twosome was selling the fake tickets and directing all buyers to enter the stadium via his accomplice at his particular gate. Once you arrived there, his cohort accepted the fake ticket and waved you in. Back in those days there was a track around the stadium where the game was played and people often stood along the fence and watched the game, so, the fake ticket got you into the game and it didn’t matter that there really was no seat for you.

Once my family member and his friend had paid for their fake tickets they headed for the aforementioned gate. But, right before they were to hand their bogus tickets to the shady usher, the police showed up and carried him away. As a result, while their counterfeit tickets cost them all they had to spend on the game, in the end they were still left standing outside the gate!

This family story is very much like life itself in my opinion. It is not uncommon for us to invest ourselves, our energies, our time and our resources in things that promise to deliver certain results to us only to fall far short of our expectations in the end. As a result, it is so critical that we make sure that we give ourselves over to those things and those people who can truly do for us what they promise.

I say all of this in light of our text for this Palm Sunday of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The scene is that of Jesus entering the city on a colt and of his followers lavishing him with their praise. Now, to be sure, many of these same people would ultimately struggle with their obedience and their faithfulness to Jesus in the days ahead.

But, at least for the moment, they were behind him all the way. Of all of the people and of all of the things in their lives, they had chosen him as most praiseworthy. Of all of the people and of all of the things in their lives they had proclaimed him to be their Messiah. In a nutshell, what their praise and palms suggested in that moment was that they had decided that Jesus was the one person in their lives who could provide them with the direction, meaning and hope for which they longed. He was their Messiah. And, make no mistake, they had chosen well.

We all have a Messiah—let us be clear about that. The truth is that there truly is no such thing as having not decided or still being in the process of deciding. We have all chosen something or someone as most capable of giving us the hope, direction and peace that we long for in our lives. Sometimes those are intentional decisions and sometimes they are unintentional but the fact remains that we have and continue to make such decisions. The question is not have we chosen a Messiah. Rather, the real question is have we chosen well in the Messiah who is receiving our praise, our attention and our resources. Have we chosen Jesus? Or, have we chosen a counterfeit version? Have we chosen the one who will ultimately gain us entrance to the Kingdom of God? Or, have we chosen a fraud, like my relative, that might get us to the gate, but that will never, ever produce for us the things that we really long for.

After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his body was loaded onto a train that traveled from Washington to his final resting place in Illinois. Along the way, the train made 180 stops in both large cities and small towns. In each location, the body was removed from the train and taken to a public place for viewing so that people of all types could pay their last respects to the fallen leader. A story is told of one such stop where an old slave came with a small boy to see the President. Because of the crowd, the older slave lifted the boy up and put him on his shoulders so that he could see. As he did, his rich baritone voice could be heard above the crowd as his said to the little boy, “take a long look. Take a long look son, he died for you.”

On this Palm Sunday, we too are called to take a long look. On this Palm Sunday, the question that is confronting all of us is which Messiah, is truly receiving our praise. Have we given ourselves over to the one who died for each of us, or, is another receiving our devotion? Having we chosen well, or is our Messiah a fraud? Amen.