Lay me down...
A lot of us grew up saying the children’s prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
I pray it with my own kids each night at bedtime.
It’s a prayer of comfort — to ask God to take care of us when we relent to the cycle of sleep in which we rest to be energized.
And we pray that God watches over us through the night while we reside in the utter vulnerability of being basically in an unconscious state in nearly total darkness for about eights hours.
But in that image of laying down to that utter vulnerability, that complete surrender — albeit temporary — I can’t help but think of the vulnerability and surrender that Jesus was most likely praying about upon that colt as he heads through the gates of Jerusalem, as we read in Mark 11.
It’s time, Jesus knows.
He’s been telling his disciples more and more frequently, as we learned during Gregg’s sermon last week.
And what is happening?
If we roughly split Mark’s Gospel in half, we would see Jesus in the first part of the book taking on corrupt structures in the world, teaching countercultural about what it means to have power, and calling out those who are supposed to be responsible leaders.
They’re supposed to be gentle shepherds. Instead, they’re thieves, murderers and snakes.
As we head into this latter part of Mark’s Gospel, we see all those consequences being played out.
Laying down the palms
So who is this Jesus of Nazareth, and why are throngs of people waving their palms then laying them down before him in what we call the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem?
They shout “Hosanna!” the word that in Hebrew means “Save Us Now!”
How did this happen?
You see, it’s the time of Passover, the most important festival for the Jews.
They are celebrating the passing over of God’s Spirit when the Jews were trapped in slavery in Egypt.
God tells the prophet Moses to make sure all the Jews — the Hebrews — smeared blood from a lamb over their front doors so that when the Spirit passes over their homes, God’s people would be safe from the death and destruction that God would bring on the Egyptians.
In essence, killing all the Egyptian firstborns — from livestock to human beings.
That was the final event that led Pharaoh — who watched his own firstborn son die — to set the Hebrews free.
So the Jews celebrated this Passover with sacrifices and festivals at the temple.
And there was only one temple, and that was in Jerusalem.
So the population of Jerusalem would swell during these weeks, as hundreds of thousands of Jews would come from all over Palestine to celebrate.
Except that in the time of Jesus, all of Palestine was under strict and oppressive Roman control and harsh dictatorial rule.
It was no coincidence that this Passover celebration had huge overtones of protest against Roman rule because the Jews were basically in bondage to the Romans.
Thus the Exodus story had a powerful meaning and connection for the Jews.
And along comes Jesus..
And along comes Jesus…
Remember, Jesus already had lots of followers.
He had disciples who would follow him to the ends of the earth.
And in Mark 11, beginning with Verse 1 and following, Jesus tells two of those disciples to go ahead and get him a colt that has never been ridden, and if anyone asks, tell them the Lord needs it.
And of course Jesus knows that’s exactly what will happen just as he said, Mark tells us, showing them that Jesus knows what is going to happen.
Why does he need a colt?
What is a colt?
Why did it have to be one that hadn’t been ridden before?
Because Jesus knows his Bible.
“Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy, but also making an intentional statement by saying “I am the messiah. The anointed one.”
And those who are anointed are kings. And EVERYBODY knows that in Palestine…
In Jewish custom and religious ceremony, you see, the king’s animal would never have been ridden by anyone before.
But in line with Jesus’s counter-culture teachings and examples, it’s not a big, black or white steed fit for a king.
But the lowest of the low.
And a very young one at that.
All these people who are heading to Jerusalem for Passover, who are lining the streets and hanging around the gates to the city KNOW exactly what that means.
And, again, Passover has become a protest against Rome.
Here comes the One the Scriptures testify to.
Here comes the One who the prophets foretold.
Here comes the One that John the Baptist — their hero — cleared the way for.
Here comes the One who has healed the sick, raised the dead and taken on squarely the very leaders and the very structures of a system that has oppressed and enslaved God’s people.
Jerusalem is a tinderbox ready to explode.
And here comes the messiah!
The people who have come from so far away and those who live within Jerusalem’s walls are all there now, raising their palms, then laying them down along with their cloaks as the king on the donkey approaches.
The blood of King David running through his veins!
“Hosanna! Save Us! Save Us Now!”
But Jesus is humble.
He goes through the crowd on the lowly beast.
Where is he going?
What will happen when he gets into the city?
Does Jesus even know how it’s all going to go down?
Because what happens when he gets there?
Verse 11: “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
No one was coming to arrest him.
The fervor was all outside the gates.
No one barely noticed Jesus.
So he turned around and went back to Lazarus’s place for the night.
Live to fight another day.
Laying down life
For those back outside the gate, I wonder what they thought.
Wasn’t the king going to liberate them from Rome?
The Jews had it wrong, didn’t they?
Jesus wasn’t going to blow up the city and save Israel.
He’s going to save us. And that looks very different.
David was a militant king.
Jesus obviously doesn’t have David’s kingly blood, does he?
Jesus isn’t going to rebuild the kingdom of Jerusalem; he’s preparing for God’s coming kingdom.
Then why go through all the effort of riding the donkey in and making such a statement only to turn around when nothing happens.
Why put that sign upon himself that says “I’m the messiah.”
See, Jesus offers himself as the messiah because he knows this will provoke the Jewish leaders to take action against him.
And it’s in that moment we see the beginning of how Jesus will save.
It’s not going to be a war.
It’s going to be a sacrifice.
The people laid down their palms and their cloaks.
But Jesus is going to lay down his life.
Laying down self
We opened this discussion today talking about laying down.
Like laying down to sleep.
We can say that laying down to sleep allows us to rise up energized the next day.
Sleep is temporary. We don’t stay asleep.
We rise back up.
Jesus is going to lay down his life for us.
We could say to energize us.
To free us from the corrosion that we call sin.
That which lays us down permanently.
Because “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6.23).
When Jesus relents, when he lays down for us, we are given new life.
God did that at Creation for us.
The theologian Jurgen Moltmann connects it with the ancient Jewish notion of zimzum — a sort of withdrawal into oneself.
A drawing inward…
Before there was creation, all there was was God.
All of it. God.
God had to make room for us.
And in order for God to make room for us, he had to withdraw a part of Godself.
When God sends God’s Son Jesus to the world to be annihilated for our sins, the same exact thing is happening:
God comes to earth as a lowly infant, grows up, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and while his ministry and teaching and miracles and discipleship all is expanding, it’s because he is contracting.
He is pulling inward.
To the point that God will watch as his own son is murdered on a cross. Eliminated. Fully contracted. Why?
For us. So that we can have eternal life with God, who cannot have sin among him.
So those sins have to be forgiven.
So that we can expand and be energized to have eternal life with God.
That all might have sounded pretty heady, but in reality, it’s very simple.
We see it every day in our own lives.
Or at least we should.
We contract. We’re less selfish with what we have and we’re more selfless in our giving.
This is the way the world should run.
We give of ourselves so that others can experience this energy.
We give our love, and it costs something.
It’s risky sometimes.
It’s giving up control of oneself and maybe one’s world.
It costs, and sometimes it costs a lot.
We don’t always have to lay down our whole lives, like Jesus did for us.
But we do need to lay down our lives for Jesus.
That’s something that we have to do.
That means we follow the hoof prints of his colt into those gates.
We have to follow his example and carry our own crosses.
We have to give a part of ourselves in order to energize others.
So that they can sleep peacefully and away energized, too.
So that when they shout “Hosanna! — Save Us Now!,” we can give them the answer of blessed assurance.
So that they can know the promise of eternal life in the kingdom to come.
And that they can know the reality of the promise of true life in the kingdom present through Christ Our Lord.
This is who we’re called to be.
This is who we’re created to be.
And this is what it means when we “pray the Lord my soul to keep.”