Around Easter time, a few years ago, I found myself in Bethlehem. I planned to spend the day with a Christian family in a village called Beit Jala near Bethlehem. Their land had just been confiscated. Their beautiful old olive trees are being bulldozed to make way for the 8 metre high Separation Wall. It was going to come within 3 metres from their front door and not only cut off all day light, but cut their whole village in half. The Hafrada or apartheid wall (that is what it means in Hebrew) has been ruled illegal by the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. But few are doing anything about it. So we did. But we never got to see the family that day.
As we walked down the hill towards their property we came face to face with a line of soldiers with guns and tear gas and sound bombs. And they were not about to let anyone through. They tried to scare us off by lobbying few sound bombs at us. And they succeeded in scaring us, temporarily. But we carried on walking toward them until we came face to face with these young soldiers. We assured them that we were unarmed and had peaceful intentions. We were not there to hurt them. We disagreed with what their government is doing. We wanted to see our friends on the other side of the road – please. They said no and after an hour or so we went home. I came back the next day with a friend and we managed to see the family and take these pictures.
I am still working through the rights and wrongs of civil disobedience. What do you do when you see people made homeless, widowed, orphaned? When you witness deep injustice, theft, exploitation? When you see a State abuse its power? And Christians justify this theft of land in the name of God? What would you have done? More importantly what would Jesus have done? I can tell you what he would not have done. Would he have picked up stones and thrown them at the soldiers? Would he have taken up a gun and forced his way through? No, of course not. But would he have ignored the suffering? Would he have walked by on the other side? I don’t think so. What was the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan? If you are not sure, you need to watch our film With God on our Side.
Confronted by something like this, we typically react in one of two ways. With resignation or retaliation. When faced with evil of this kind we are tempted to look the other way and do nothing. To excuse ourselves. To say Christians should not get involved in politics. And we turn our backs on our brothers and sisters pain. Or we are tempted to retaliate vocally or violently. Both are forbidden to Christ followers.
In Matthew 5, when Jesus instructed his followers to turn the other cheek he was not advocating resignation or retaliation. Think about it, when you stand in front of someone and they hit you and you turn the other cheek what are you doing? What are you saying by standing in front of them. Neither recoiling or retailiating? When you offer them your other cheek you are defying them – you are resisting them. You are not backing down. You are not walking away. But you are not fighting back. You are doing something much more powerful, much more profound. You are acting like Jesus. You are not surrendering yourself to evil passively or engaging in evil actively. You are surrendering yourself to the will of God and leaving the consequences to him. You are saying defiantly, “whatever you choose to do to me I am not backing down, I am not going to become like you. I am not walking away but I am not going to treat you the way you are treating me.” That is the power of non-violent resistance.
Martin Luther King Jr once said “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” Surrendering to the will of God. That is what we did in Beit Jala two Sundays ago. We don’t actually have to ask “What would Jesus do?” Because we know what Jesus did. He surrendered to the will of God. That is what Jesus did on Palm Sunday two thousand years ago.
Now its true, “surrender” is an unpopular word, disliked almost as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes the unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in – so we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, surrendering is unthinkable. We would rather talk about winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering than yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. Ironically, surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith, and none more graphically displayed on Palm Sunday. Jesus came on a donkey not a horse. It symbolized his coming in peace not war, in surrender not in victory. He came voluntarily, to surrender his life, to be their Passover lamb. To make atonement for them with God. And some in the crowd recognized Jesus as their Saviour.
They laid their coats on the ground to show they were surrendered to him. Surrender is the supernatural response to God’s amazing love and mercy. We give ourselves to him, not out of fear or duty but out of love. Why? “because he first loved us.” True worship – bringing God pleasure – happens when you give yourself completely to God. Offering yourself to God is what worship is all about. This act of personal surrender is called many things: consecration, making Jesus your Lord, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit. What matters is that you do it, not what you call it. God wants your life – all of it. Ninety-five percent is not enough. But there are three barriers that block our total surrender to God: They are: fear, pride, and confusion. We don’t realize how much God loves us, we want to control our own lives and we misunderstand the meaning of surrender.
1. Fear : Can I trust God?
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40)
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke his disciples for fear that they would cause a riot. Some of the people were crying out ‘save now’ ‘save now’. They saw Jesus as someone who would deliver them from foreign Roman rule. As we began to walk down the hill in Beit Jala toward the soldiers I was gripped with fear and I sensed what Jesus must have felt riding down the hill of the Mount of Olives into the hands of the authorities.
The question in my mind was “Can I trust God in this situation?”
Maybe you also have a hard time with the same question. Can I trust God? Trust is an essential ingredient to surrender. You won’t surrender to God unless you trust him, but you can’t trust him until you know him better. Fear keeps us from surrendering, but love casts out all fear. The more you realize how much God loves you, the easier surrender becomes. How do you know God loves you? He gives you many evidences: God says you’re never out of his sight; he cares about every detail of your life;’ he gave you the capacity to enjoy all kinds of pleasure; he has good plans for your life; he forgives you; and he is lovingly patient with you. God loves you infinitely more than you can imagine. The greatest expression of this is the sacrifice of God’s Son for you. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’
If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Christ with his arms outstretched on the cross, saying, “I love you this much! I’d rather die for you than live without you.” God is not a cruel slave driver or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn’t try to break our will, but woos us to himself so that we might offer ourselves freely to him. God is a lover and a liberator, and surrendering to him brings freedom, not bondage. When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus, we discover that he is not a tyrant, but a savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.
Perfect love casts out fear. The Apostle Paul writes,
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2)
The first barrier is fear. The second barrier is pride.
2. Pride – Who is in Control?
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)
A second barrier to total surrender is our pride. We don’t want to admit that we need rescuing. We like to think we are in charge of our destiny. It is the oldest temptation: “You’ll be like God!””
Satan promised Adam and Eve. That desire-to have complete control – is the cause of so much stress in our lives. Jesus wept for Jerusalem because they thought they had it made. They were Abraham’s children. They lived in the City of God. The God of the universe dwelt in their Temple just a few hundred metres away. With God on their side, they were invincible.
They were arrogant and proud. And the majority rejected Jesus because they didn’t think they needed saving. So they did not see what was coming. They did not see what Jesus saw. What made Jesus weep. That is why we called the film “With God on our Side” because that is the primary reason the conflict in the Middle East continues. It’s the reason why so many are disinterested in the gospel. They think God is on their side not their enemies.
”while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. (Joshua 5:13-14a)
The question is not “Is God on our side” but are we on God’s side? Have we surrendered to Jesus? The Bible promises that one day everyone will be forced to surrender to Jesus. Those who have not done so voluntarily will be branded war criminals for waging war against God. Refusing to surrender to Jesus is rebellion. So Fear and Pride are the two barriers to knowing God.
3. Confusion – How can I know God?
“As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:33-38)
There was confusion on Palm Sunday because there was a mixture of ignorance, pride and prejudice. Many are unwilling to become Christians because they misunderstand Jesus. What does it means to surrender our lives to God? Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Surrendering to God is not passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness. It is not accepting the status quo. It may mean the exact opposite: God often calls surrendered people to do battle on his behalf. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats. Likewise, it does not mean giving up rational thinking. God would not waste the mind he gave you! God does not want robots to serve him. Surrendering is not repressing your personality either. God wants to use your unique personality. Rather than its being diminished, surrendering enhances it.
C. S. Lewis observed,
“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because he made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
Surrendering is best demonstrated in obedience. You say “yes, Lord” to whatever he asks of you.
To say “no, Lord” is a contradiction. You can say “no” or “Lord” but not in the same sentence and get away with it. You can’t call Jesus your Lord and refuse to obey him. After a night of failed fishing, Peter modeled surrender when Jesus told him to try again:
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
Surrendered people obey God’s word, even if it
doesn’t appear to make sense. Another aspect of a fully surrendered life is trust. Abraham followed God’s leading without knowing where it would take him. Hannah waited for God’s perfect timing without knowing when. Mary expected a miracle without knowing how. Joseph trusted God’s purpose without knowing why circumstances happened the way they did. Each of these people surrendered to God. You know you’re surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don’t have to always be “in charge.” The Bible says, “Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7). Instead of trying harder, you trust more. You also know you’re surrendered when you don’t react to criticism and rush to defend yourself. Surrendered hearts show up best in relationships.
You don’t edge others out, you don’t demand your rights, and you aren’t self-serving when you’re surrendered. Paul writes,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The supreme example of self-surrender is Jesus.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7).
The night before his crucifixion Jesus surrendered himself to God’s plan. He prayed,
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36).
Surrender is best demonstrated in your obedience and trust. Jesus didn’t pray, “God, if you’re able to take away this pain, please do so.” Instead he prayed, “God, if it is in your best interest to remove this suffering, please do so. But if it fulfills your purpose, that’s what I want, too.” Genuine surrender says, “Father, if this problem, pain, sickness, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another’s,
please don’t take it away.”
Maturity does not come easy. In Jesus’ case, he agonized so much over God’s plan that he sweat drops of blood. Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature. If these are the three barriers to full surrender, fear, pride and confusion, what are the blessings of surrender?
The Blessing of Surrender
The Bible is crystal clear about how you benefit when you fully surrender your life to God.
“Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.” (Job 22:21)
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey…You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:16, 18)
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Not may but ‘will’. What ever you are facing right now. Submit to God and resist the devil. As Joshua approached the biggest battle of his life, when he realized he had encountered God, He fell in worship before him, and surrendered his plans. That surrender led to a stunning victory at Jericho.
This is the paradox: Victory comes through surrender.
Surrender doesn’t weaken you; it strengthens you. Surrendered to God, you don’t have to fear or surrender to anything else. But let me warn you: When you decide to live a totally surrendered life, that decision will be tested. Sometimes it will mean doing inconvenient, unpopular, costly, or seemingly impossible tasks.
It will often mean doing the opposite of what you feel like doing. Back in the 1970’s Joanna and I served with Campus Crusade for Christ. We lived by faith. It mean’t surrendering our lives on a daily basis, trusting the Lord to provide our needs. Founded by Bill Bright, God has used this movement. With staff in virtually every country around the world; through the Four Spiritual Laws; and through the Jesus film around four billion people have heard or seen the gospel. Its believed that more than 150 million people have come to Christ as a result. Someone once asked Bill, “Why did God use and bless your life so much?” He said, “When I was a young man, I made a contract with God. I literally wrote it out and signed my name at the bottom. It said, `From this day forward, I am a slave of Jesus Christ.”‘ Have you ever signed a contract like that with God? Or are you still arguing and struggling with God over his right to do with your life as he pleases? Now is your time to surrender-to God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s wisdom. What better day than Palm Sunday to surrender to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.
I am indebted to Rick Warren and his book, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan), and especially chapter 10, ‘The Heart of Worship’ for much of the material used in this sermon. See www.pastors.com and www.purposedrivenlife.com for more information about this resource.