CROWN OR CROSS?--Courage to Be (Palm Sunday, 2005)

Palm Sunday, March 20, 2005

Text: Matthew 16:21-26



          Jesus was just as human as we are: he was tempted in the same way we are: he became tired; he became thirsty; he was hungry; he wept; he even got angry; I believe he also fell in love.

          On Palm Sunday as he entered the city of Jerusalem, he was met with the common people and hailed him as the king of Israel; “they took the branches of the palm trees, and went forth to meet him and cried out, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

          It was here on Palm Sunday that Jesus had the greatest temptation of his life


          You recall at the beginning of his ministry he was tested by the three greatest temptations of that this world can offer: Physical fulfillment, Popularity and Power. He overcame these temptations by putting God’s will first: “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”


          A. Jesus had to make the greatest courageous decision of his life--To be Crowned King or be Crucified--Crown or the Cross?

                    1. In his great love and courage we hear him crying over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.” We hear him pray: “Father, if it is possible remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”

                    2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived life to the fullest, drank the cup to the final drop, lived and suffered and died. He wrote: “In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. . . . I never experienced the reality of God without the reality of the world or the reality of the world without the reality of God. . . . Sharing with Christ we stand at once both in the reality of God and the reality of the world.” (Ethics. p. 6) In the reality of this world and the reality of God, Bonhoeffer courageously took the way of the cross.

                              3. The camp doctor of Flossenburg on the morning of April 9, 1945 recorded this impression of Bonhoeffer’s death: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this loveable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of the execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and

composed, his death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”


          A. The challenge of Palm Sunday is the challenge of courage, the courage to be the courage to take up the cross instead of merely receiving the benefits of the Cross.

                    Bonhoeffer (Life Together, p. 2) writes: “Cheap grace has brought chaos to the church. . . . Intellectual assent to a doctrine or idea; justification of the sinner without a corresponding change in his ethic. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”

                    1. This is the meaning of the incarnation-“word made flesh”. It is the reality of God in the reality of this world. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

                    2. Dr. George Younger speaking about the sermon Jitsuo Morikawa delivered at the Riverside Church in New York, heard Dr. Morikawa preach: “The incredible fact of the incarnation is that God totally immersed himself in human history, in its tragedy, its sin, its realism and culture. . . . God is most truly God when immersed in the reality of the world, contrary to our notions of God as removed, transcendent high and lifted up in the heaven, remote from human history and global disorder. Therefore, if we are to meet him and to know him and thus become truly human, we can meet him and know him only as we embrace and accept the full reality of the world and live a life of fullness in the fullness of the world, a life of holy worldliness.” 

                    3. The reality of the world for me and 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII was the forced evacuation and incarceration in America’s Concentration Camps. We were jammed into tarpaper barracks, seven or more in a room, 20 x 25 feet sometimes with strangers. Dr. Morikawa speaks of his dear wife, Hazel. “We were recently married and there were seven of us in this room. We had the privacy of using army blankets held up with clothespins. With the 120 degree summer heat of Arizona, I was afraid my wife would soon be buried in the desert sand.”

          This was the reality of the world in which we endeavored to live by the reality of God. The real meaning of the incarnation is to live by the reality of God in the reality of the world.

                    4. Jesus was immersed in the reality of the world and the reality of God. The incarnation was the reality of God in Jesus in the reality of the world. In the reality of the world one of his disciples betrayed him; Peter denied him; the rest of his disciples disappeared when he needed them most. But the reality of God caused Jesus to cried, in the midst of his suffering and isolation on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

                              Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Christian theologian, dares to write that the death of Jesus on the Cross and his forgiveness, must have been the power of the resurrection, and not so much the supernatural miracle of the empty grave.


          A. Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus’ decision of the cross instead of the crown is the decision of Christian discipleship in the reality of the world.

                    1. Caught in the reality of the world and the reality of God I had to make one of the hardest decisions I ever made. For draft age Japanese Americans, we had to answer two questions (Selective Service Form 304A): Question 27. Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered? And: Question 28. Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization? These two questions could not have been more disruptive and divisive than anything else the government could have done. Most parents could not become American citizens, while their children were considered

dangerous and placed in US government concentration camps like prisoners of war. After much prayer I make a decision to volunteer as a chaplain in the United States Army while in America’s Concentration Camp. I was rejected, as I did not have any seminary training. But this led me to make plans to marry Florence, travel to St. Paul, Minnesota to enroll at the Bethel Baptist Theological Seminary, and welcomed as the house-guests of Dr. Rueben and Edith Nelson. Dr. Nelson was the Executive Minister of the Minnesota Baptist Convention and later the General Secretary of our American Baptist Churches, USA. Later, they may have moved from St. Paul because they were considered “Jap-lovers” by their neighbors for having a couple of Japanese Americans in his home. They were willing to take up the cross instead of the crown.

          B. Palm Sunday is truly a critical Sunday, a decisive Sunday, a Sunday that calls for the courage to be. It defines the meaning of the incarnation—of drinking of the cup to the final drop, of taking up the cross instead of the crown.


          The Gospel record concludes with the challenge for you and me as it did for Peter. The risen Christ confronted Peter with a very personal word: “Do you love me more than the rest of the disciples?” Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. After the intimate personal confrontation, Jesus said to Peter “Follow me.”

          The reality of the world and the reality of God challenged Peter. But he wasn’t ready to confess that he loved Jesus more than the rest of the disciples, and said to Jesus, pointing to John, “What about this man?” Jesus replied, in the parlance of our day, “Never mind John. You follow me.”