Do You Carry a Branch or a Cross?
“12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”[f]
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” John 12:12-19 NIV
I’ve always liked the part of the Jesus movies when Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem before He goes to the cross. What an exciting time it must have been to stand by the side of the road and cheer Him on as He entered Jerusalem. The atmosphere must have been electric to see Messiah pass by as He moved toward His greatest mission. It was probably a fun and joyous time for the Jews to wave their palm branches at Jesus and to welcome Him as their King. Since the palm branches were a symbol of Jewish nationalism at the time (kind of like our American flag), this rally was undoubtedly a patriotic rally. The crowds around Jesus yelled out, “Hosanna, hosanna,” which meant, “Save now, save now!” Surely they thought of Jesus as a Messiah who would soon take political power and deliver them from Roman oppression. The Jews carried and waved their palm branches high. The palm branches they carried were small, easy to hold onto, and even a child could do it. It is not challenging to celebrate Jesus, sing songs about Him, and even to welcome Him as King. The challenge from the Word today is that following Jesus must be more than waving my palm branch and expecting God to do what I want. The main point is this. It is good to carry our palm branches for Jesus. It is better to carry our crosses for Jesus.
Jesus wanted committed followers much more than He wanted a crowd of fans! There are many who would not mind being a part of a crowd for Jesus. The crowds cheered Him on. The crowds were there for all to see. The crowd was eager to celebrate together. The crowds were like a great array of fans of Jesus. They applauded Him. They liked Him. They probably spoke very well of Him. Jesus however, was never into attracting fans. His ministry was built upon committed followers. It was the committed followers that would be with Him to the very end. It was the committed followers who would carry His message to the ends of the earth. It was the committed followers who went anywhere for Him even when no one was looking and no one was cheering.
In Luke 9, Jesus tells what a disciple looks like.
“23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” Luke 9:23-25 NIV
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that I must also must be willing to suffer and lay down my comforts, my time, my will, and my resources for the salvation and benefit of others. Being a disciple means that I am to deny myself and take up my cross daily. It means that I am committed to seeing Jesus and imitating Him. Someone once said it this way:
“Christianity, in its purest form, is nothing more than seeing Jesus.
Christian service, in its purest form, is nothing more than imitating Him who we see.
To see His Majesty and to imitate Him: that is the sum of Christianity.”
This week there has been some major leaks at my workplace at probation after a downpour of rain. The water leaked through the roof and onto the white drywall panels beneath the concrete portions of the roof. Some of the drywall panels came crashing down. Since the drywall panels are similar to cardboard, when they get wet, they change color and begin to warp because of the rain coming in and soaking them.
One of my co-workers said that the problem would be fixed by our maintenance taking off the wet and moldy panels and replacing them with new white drywall panels. I laughed at the idea because that would not really fix the problem. It would just be a cosmetic, cardboard fix. While we wouldn’t be able to see the leak for awhile, the water would still be coming through and it would simply be a matter of time before it leaks through the panels again.
Sure enough, the next morning, workers came in, removed the old wet panels and replaced them with brand new white panels! It is a cardboard fix! To be fair to our maintenance people, in light of furloughs, budget cuts, and layoffs in the state, we just don’t have the money needed to reroof and take care of the repairs that need to be done. Because we don’t pay the price for real change, we settle for a cardboard fix!
Too many people back in Jesus’ day (and today of course) settle for Cardboard Christianity. We want to use Jesus as a cheap fix, when instead He wants to bring radical and total transformation. Far too often, people come to Jesus and don’t want to pay the price for real change so they seek simply a cardboard fix. We think that just coming to church and agreeing that Jesus is God is enough. It is not. I have a family member who readily agrees that smoking is bad for her health. She would discourage anyone from smoking, but in the end, she keeps doing it. Does that help her health any? Nope!
I must not settle for Cardboard Christianity. I will not simply carry my palm branch. I will take up my cross and follow Him. I will settle for nothing less than a radical transformation! Amen.