Who sits at the top of your pyramid of power?

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Over this past week, I have been pulled in three different directions at the same time. I started working with the team’s help over here on the Internet problems at 9:00 last Sunday and called every cellular provider in America to try to get our problems fixed, and we didn’t get this fixed until 9:00 last night with the help of my wife.

And at the same time, I have been trying to prepare for today’s sermon, and I feel like I was in the middle of these two things that were pulling on me, and no matter which way I went, I was going to end up costing in the other area.

If I spent time fixing last Sunday’s problem, I wouldn’t be ready for this Sunday, and then I traveled on Friday and Saturday to North Carolina. I was so stressed out that it was the first time that I got to the point where I was thinking, I’m going to call the pastor of that church, and I’m just going to tell him I can’t make it, there’s way too much happening here and if I go to North Carolina, I’m not going to be ready here on Sunday.

This was the first time that I got this close to calling and saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t make it.’ And I just felt like the Lord was saying, Jeff, you’re a man of your word, you promised to be somewhere, and you promised to do something. I want you to go to North Carolina, and I will take care of the internet problems.

When I went to North Carolina on Friday night and did this men’s event In Southport, North Carolina, over ten men gave their souls to King Jesus on Friday night. If it wasn’t for following through with what I really said, I was going to do it more than a year ago. I’m not sure that would have happened.

What I’m trying to describe to you is I was in one of those weeks where I felt like I was being pulled in three, literally three directions all at the same time, and no matter which way I went, it was going to be a huge problem on the other two. I know you’ve been in the circumstances like that. And when I was preparing for this Sunday’s sermon, I read this very famous passage of scripture.

If you’ve been in church, you’ve probably heard the story from Jerusalem on Jesus’ final days, what’s called Palm Sunday. But I don’t know if you recognize these three forces pulling against each other on the same day in the same city, and what imagery came to my mind is a pyramid. If you look back over history, one of the most powerful human structures of all time is these pyramids that are 5000 years old. This stuff has weathered year after year of storms, time, and everything else, and for almost 5000 years, they’re still standing.

I refer to these things as incredibly powerful structures because you get the base right, and you put the sides on it correctly, and the top is going to take care of itself. And if you look at those enduring things in human history, perhaps nothing that humans have created stands the test of time better than these pyramids.

Who sits at the top of your pyramid of power?

These pyramids kept coming to my mind as I read this passage, and it made me wonder if you’re being pulled in three different directions at once, which one is most powerful? Which one gets your attention? Who sits on top of the Pyramid of Power in your life? Who makes the decisions? Who calls the shots in your life? I’m using this language today because, at one moment in Jerusalem, three forces come together, and if you’re living in Jerusalem, you’ve got a choice to make. There are going to be three angles that we have to look at.

The Roman government

There are three sides to this power pyramid, and the first one is the Roman government. And actually, what I’m going to talk about is our human efforts to build a better society.

Look, I see people who get so passionate about politics and are so committed to trying to help make the world a better place. They want it to happen through the government. And I get it if you’re not a Christian and you’re far from Jesus, this is the thing that has immense power in your life. So certainly, you’re going to put a lot of time and a lot of energy into a government that will be good for you and good for the future.

The problem with this is there has never been a government on earth that has been able to create paradise or do good that lasts forever. Our best efforts are miserable failures when you look at them throughout eternity, and I totally get why people far from Jesus would be fired up about government.

What I don’t get is why Christians get so passionate about government, but don’t really have a lot to say about the gospel. The Roman government is a power player at this moment.

Here’s what the bible tells us in John 12. It says, the next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took up palm branches, and they went out to meet him. Now those palm branches are important. I’ll tell you why in just a second, and they shouted ‘Hosanna!’ and this is a very loaded word.

Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. They are declaring, “Jesus, we want to make you king.” And they’re using prominent imagery by these palm branches and this powerful word in ancient Israel.

John 12: 12-13

The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him. They kept shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

The word that we associate with palm Sunday can sometimes lose its significance. It is the Greek version of the old testament word. It’s actually a phrase Hoshiana; that phrase only shows up in one place in the bible. It is in Psalm 118 and this phrase is a desperate cry for help. It’s the word you would use if you were standing on the edge of the lake and you accidentally slipped and fell in and can’t swim.

If you were a Jew in the old testament, you would shout out Hosanna and the phrase means help me because I’m drowning. And the language that the crowd is using right here is loaded language they’re saying, “Help us, Jesus, we are drowning.”

This is the language that you hear from John when Jesus enters Jerusalem in his last week. He’s preparing himself for the cross but the crowds don’t recognize it. The crowds have heard about this rabbi who has the power to heal sick people and has the power to raise somebody back from the dead, literally, he has called Lazarus back from the dead and when they throw the palm leaves on the road in front of them, this is like a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

It’s like Jesus riding in on a great white horse, and they’re declaring, here he is, this is our victorious general. This is our commander, the one that’s going to lead us to freedom. I want you to think about it like the queen going on parade in an open carriage through the streets of London. That’s what this moment would have been like.

Now I need you to picture that you’re in Jerusalem at this moment. You see, at the same exact moment that Jesus is riding into town, there’s also another leader riding into town. He’s probably coming in on the other side of town, and he embodies the entire roman government. This is when the governor of the province, Pontius Pilate, comes into town to take over and start calling the shots in Jerusalem.

Now would you do me a favor? Just picture that you’re sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of Jerusalem, and you hear a crowd that starts to scream and yell from the right side of town; Hosanna! blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and you also hear a crowd that’s screaming and yelling on the left side of the town, hey here he is, the deliverers, the roman government has finally shown up and the leader of all of the most powerful government on earth is here. You’re stuck in that coffee shop, and while you’re doing that, here comes some pharisee who’s kicking rocks, and he’s got his head down because he wants everybody to be shouting for him too. And you are stuck in the middle of this three-way power play. Now you have to make a choice. Are you going to go to the right? Are you going to go to the left, or will you listen to the Pharisees?

Please hear me really quickly, you don’t get an option. You must make a choice, and the choice you make will cost you. You see, the very moment that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate was also riding into Jerusalem, and all of the power of the emperor of Roman, all of the awesome strength of the Roman government was on display when this leader came in on a horse, and Jesus is coming in humble and on a donkey, and when they scream Hosanna, the crowd is literally saying, here is our victorious general, he is going to lead an army that’s going to kick out Rome and they miss it. You can’t miss it any more than the way the crowds missed it.

The rightful King

When Jesus rode into town, it makes sense that Pontius Pilate would come in on a horse. Jesus comes into town on a donkey, and I think everybody in town missed it. In fact, John does something very bold for us and he is really honest, and he says, I even missed it. All of us, even the disciples missed what was happening when the rightful King came into town.

Zechariah 9:9 is the description of how God’s rescuer, God’s deliverer will show up, and instead of coming in on a horse, he’s going to come in on a donkey. Instead of riding in with a military army behind him in great power, he’s going to show up humbly, and he’s going to lead differently.

Jesus found a young donkey, and he sat on it just as it is written. This is the prophecy from Zechariah, don’t be afraid, daughter Zion. Look, your king is coming, he’s sitting on a donkey’s colt.

His disciples didn’t understand these things at first what John is saying here. There’s no question in my mind that God prompted John to write the bible because if I were John, there’s no way I would have admitted out loud what he’s admitting right now, “When we saw Jesus come in when we saw them shouting Hosanna and laying down palm branches, we completely missed the significance of what was really happening here.”

His disciples did not even understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. John is saying, everybody missed it, I even missed it, and I’ve been following that man for years, and I didn’t understand the significance of that donkey and those palm branches until after his death and his resurrection.

And I want to ask John at this moment, how did you miss the rightful King? What the Bible was saying is, Israel, you’ve been defeated over and over again. You were defeated by the Assyrians and taken into captivity and then Judah, you were defeated by the Babylonians, and you were carted off into captivity. It’s just been one oppressive government after another.

Now the Romans and every child that grew up hearing stories about the messiah in their minds thought he’s coming on a horse, he’s going to raise up an army, and he’s going to kick out the oppressor, he’s going to defeat the tyrant, and he’s going to liberate us. All of us thought that.

John 12: 14-16

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written: Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion. Look, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt. His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

John said until after he died on the cross, that radically shifted our idea of what he came to do in the first place. John is basically saying we thought he was here to create an army and take over and become king by kicking out our greatest enemy. But we didn’t realize that our greatest enemy is not the tyrant outside; it’s the tyrant inside us. We need someone to deliver us from us, and the servant came to deliver you from sin and hell. That’s an enemy that every human on earth faces, and there is only one that can conquer sin and hell, and he doesn’t show up on a white horse, he shows up humbly on a donkey.

This was a radical paradigm shift for the Jews and it was such a shift that John says, I totally missed it myself. All of us missed it.

I don’t know why I even found this article this week, but did you know that the scientific community just got turned upside down. Are you aware of what they just discovered on Friday in Illinois? For the last 50 years, physicists have been using math because every single time they’ve ever done physics on these small particles, they’ve always found the same particle in the exact same way meaning the same math formula. And then at this collider, this particle accelerator in Illinois this week, they found a particle called the W boson particle. The problem is that this particle is radically different than anything physics has ever seen before. And, of course, every credible scientist said well we’ve done something wrong; the math must be wrong. We’ve got to go back and look over our research and every time they did the research it all came back the same way and it was all radically different. The BBC reported on Friday that this W boson particle just threw everything that we know about physics out the window. In one day, they sent the math everywhere in the physics community. Everybody said we’re doing the math and it’s all coming out the same way. We just found something far heavier and far more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen in history. All of our 50 years of math are thrown out the window because of this paradigm-shifting W boson particle. Physicists are now going back and scratching their heads and saying we’ve got to pretty much start from the drawing board.

I’m telling you about this because I’m not a physicist or a science nerd. It feels like John is saying when I saw him hanging on the cross, I had to throw everything that I believed about the rightful King out the window because I thought he was coming with an army. I thought he was going to destroy the government and liberate his people, and then he died in front of me

The religious leaders

In fact, it isn’t until after his resurrection that it started to make any sense. You’ve got a roman government at a power play in Jerusalem, you’ve got the rightful King coming into town, and there’s a third party at play here. This third party has immense control over your life if you’re in Israel and this third party is, of course, the religious leaders.

John chapter 12 tells us what this moment looks like from their perspective. Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Jesus when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead. Look that should be all you need to know, but they missed that.

The crowd that had been around when that happened. They continued to testify; they continued to declare this Rabbi has power over life and death. And this is why the crowd met him because they heard that he had done this sign of bringing Lazarus back out of the tomb.

Now, here they are, the Pharisees said to one another, you see, like I told you this was going to happen, you see, you’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him. These guys, at this moment, cannot stand the fact that there are crowds of people shouting out Hosanna to the King of Kings, the Son of Glory. In fact, if you read this story in some of the other first four books of the bible of the new testament, you’ll hear that the Pharisees are so angry that they command Jesus to tell these crowds to stop what they’re doing and stop singing or shouting out praises. Jesus says if I were to tell the people to stop doing that, even the stones themselves would shout out the praise to the rightful King.

These religious leaders can only think about themselves, and they can only think about their own power and the fact that they’re losing grip over the people right now. How could they miss the sign that everybody else could see this rabbi has healed a man who was born blind. We thought that was impossible. God himself couldn’t do that, and he’s already done it. He has healed a man who was crippled for almost 40 years, and he has brought a man back from the dead, declaring that he has power over sickness and blindness and death itself. How could you possibly miss who’s standing in your midst, and all they can see is he doesn’t measure up to what they were looking for.

You see, they were really looking for a god that they could control. Somebody who, when they prayed, he’ll do what he asks them to do and when he doesn’t do it, it destroys your faith.

John 12: 17-19

Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. This is also why the crowd met him, because they heard he had done this sign. Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

I know that you’re aware of people who had these moments where they said Jesus, I need you to do X for me, I need you to give me that perfect job, or I need you to help me get that beautiful house. And when he doesn’t do it, their faith crumbles right underneath their feet. And what the bible is telling us is he’s the kind of Savior who when the great apostle Paul says I’m hurting God, and I need you to heal me and make the hurt go away. God says, no, I’m not going to do that. What I’m going to do for you is I’m going to give you my grace in the midst of your pain, and by the way, my grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians).

The religious leaders couldn’t see it because they were so consumed with control. And this is where it just hits home for all of us because there are denominations out there whose sole purpose in life is just to control you. So that another denomination won’t. There are religious leaders out there, there are pastors out there, that what they do is they preach a sermon every week on doing this and don’t do that, be a good girl, don’t be a bad boy. And God is going to let you into heaven. And what they’re doing is trying to exercise control over you.

So when you see our core values, and you read that phrase, living free, what we really mean is living free from the bondage of religion. Because all religion does is try to hold you under control and force you to follow a few rules, and maybe by following the rules, God’s going to love you, and he’s going to let you into heaven. This is what every false religion on the planet offers. If you do what we tell you to do, then maybe God will love you, and perhaps he’ll let you into heaven, and every one of them is just trying to control you and trying to force you to follow their rules.

Jesus came to liberate you from even these religious rules, that man-made religion, trying to earn our way into heaven.

As I’m reading this passage, I’m thinking about me standing in Jerusalem, and I hear the crowds shouting Hosanna over here, and I see them carrying palm branches, and they’re all saying that there’s a rabbi who’s coming into town who’s going to lead an army and going to deliver us from Rome. I hear the crowds shouting over here as the Roman government, with all of its power, starts to come into town, and I hear from behind me these religious leaders that are furious because they’re losing control on both the left and the right, and you’re stuck in the middle.

I’m stuck in the middle, and I have a choice to make. Am I going to go to the left and put my hope in the government? Am I going to go to the right and try to join a team with a general that will rescue me? And the chances are everybody in Jerusalem missed it that day because even Jesus will sit on the hillside, and he’ll weep over the city and say, I wanted you to see who I was and follow me, and you didn’t, you didn’t couldn’t see it.

Can I remind us of this struggle for control? There’s really no struggle at all. Can I remind you that there isn’t a power struggle going on here? God sent his son humbly as a servant on a donkey to deliver you from your greatest enemy, to deliver you from you, and only Jesus Christ can deliver you from you. Only his death and his resurrection can do that for you, but there is a moment where the Righteous King is coming back with all of his power and all of his glory. There will be a moment where he is coming back, and every eye will see him, every ear will hear his voice, and the bible tells us that every knee will bow and no one will be able to stand in his presence and grit your teeth and clench your fists, and you would not be able to stand against him. At that moment, when he comes back in power, everyone will realize who was standing on planet Earth at that moment.