March 31, 2021
Some places on Earth have meaning beyond their mere physical features. Their very names conjure up images and feelings and emotions. Think of them: Mount Everest. The Sahara Desert. The Mississippi River. Some human constructions have reached the level of geography, too. The Great Wall of China. The Eiffel Tower. The Pyramids. And of course, Jerusalem.
As it does now, Jerusalem stood at the crossroads to the ancient world. Africa to the southwest, the Arabian peninsula to the southeast, Asia to the east, Europe through Asia Minor to the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. As it is now, Jerusalem and the whole region of the Levant was much sought after real estate. As it is now, whoever controlled this area controlled the flow of goods and trade to every corner of the globe. You can’t help but notice Jerusalem.
And because it was the crossroads of the ancient world, everybody is there. Think back on the cast of characters we just encountered in the passion gospel. There’s Pontius Pilate, the imperial official stationed in Jerusalem, fourteen hundred miles from Rome. The soldiers of the Roman legion are there, too, often drawn from every territory in the empire. We heard about Simon of Cyrene, who has come in to Jerusalem from north Africa. We read about the women disciples from all over Galilee. We hear from the priests whose power was centralized in Jerusalem. And on a special day of pilgrimage like Passover, as it is now, Jerusalem was inundated with pilgrims, tourists, and foreigners.
But of course, on that day, everybody’s attention was on one man. Think of it – this representative cross-section of the world gathered in the city of Jerusalem is all thinking about one man – Jesus of Nazareth. Everybody has Jesus on their mind. Everybody from the random servant girl in the courtyard, to the captain in the Roman legion, to a wealthy man from Arimathea, all irresistibly drawn to Jesus.
That is the power and the drama of Palm Sunday. The Lord God demands our attention. No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, of high estate or low we cannot help but notice what one man is doing. It is not Jerusalem that stands at the center of the world, it is Jesus dying upon the cross that stands at the center of everything.
We cannot help but notice. The work of Jesus Christ upon the cross is irresistible. Certainly, some will scoff. Others will mock. Many will simply pass by. As they did then, so they do now. But they will notice. And how could you not notice? How could you not notice a man, stripped of his clothes and of his dignity, dying a lonely death? How could you not notice the commotion around this man? How could you not notice the arrest, the strange trial by night, the passerby compelled to carry the cross? How could you not notice the cries of agony, the weeping mother, the astounded soldier? How could you not notice the one man who has become the center of attention at the crossroads of the world? All eyes are on Jesus.
As it was then, so it is now. It is my firm belief that eventually, all people, whether in this life or the next, will come to notice Jesus. The scandal of the cross is irresistible. Take this for the good news that it is. Not one person will be able to look away from the irresistible love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with his arms stretched wide upon the cross. That scene at Golgotha – with all its attendant agony and horror, with its heart-rending compassion and grace – is so compelling that all will stop and notice. The words of our Lord are true when he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). We simply cannot look away. God demands that we notice.
And notice they will. In some ways, modern Houston is like Jerusalem of old. Our city is a cross-section of the whole world. As you know, Houston is the most diverse city in the United States. Even on my sleepy suburban street, every continent of the world is represented. And Houston is like Jerusalem of old on that Passover, when everybody noticed Jesus. See, a few years ago, we had a funeral at Holy Comforter for one of our founding members. After the service in the church, we all climbed into our cars to drive to the graveside service down I-45. And would you believe it, they shut down the entire freeway for us. I had never seen a thing like it. Not a single car could pass the funeral procession. In the middle of the afternoon in Houston, Texas they closed down 45 south. Believe me, everybody noticed. Some were mourned with us, some scoffed, some honked. It was a Palm Sunday procession of sorts. But it demanded everybody’s attention.
And that is the image I want to leave you with today. A hearse carrying the body of a beloved brother in Christ, shutting down one of the busiest freeways in the most diverse city in the country. It was a thing to behold. You could not help but notice. The eyes of the world were upon us that day, as the eyes of the world were upon the cross of Jesus two thousand years ago. The crucifixion of our Lord at the center of the world was the defining moment in all of human history; you cannot help but notice. As he is lifted high upon the cross, the whole world is drawn to Jesus.