One summer years ago, my brother, Tony, and I drove up to Arkadelphia to get some fluorescent lights for Dad’s shop. A law firm had bought this old church building, built its offices within the interior of the sanctuary and left the existing light fixtures in tact. They told Dad he could have them if he’d come take them down.
That’s where Tony and I came in. He sent us to Arkadelphia in a pickup truck to get them. Turns out, the ceiling where the light fixtures were hung was a good twenty high. We were going to need a tall ladder.
We didn’t want to drive all the way back to Hope, so we drove around the streets of Arkadelphia looking for a ladder to borrow. Sure enough, we found an extension ladder propped up beside a chain link fence in the back yard of an older home. It was just what we needed.
We stopped and knocked on the door. A woman came to the door, and we told her what we were up to and asked if we could borrow the ladder. Mind you, we were two college kids who’d shown up out of nowhere. We promised we’d bring it back as soon as we got the light fixtures down. She looked us over and said, “Sure, just be sure and put it back where you found it.”
We thanked her and took the ladder. By mid-afternoon, we had a whole truckload of fluorescent light fixtures to take back to Hope. We strapped the ladder on top of the truck and put it back where we found it up against the chain link fence. We knocked at the door and thanked the lady for her kindness and drove home. Nothing to it.
On the way back, the oddity of it all sank in: How amazing – to think that someone would just take us at our word and loan us a ladder out of the blue. We couldn’t help but think what her husband might have said if he’d come home early and seen that the ladder was missing: “You did what? Did you get their names? Did they leave a deposit? Woman, what were you thinking? Have you lost your ever-loving mind?”
Well, that was a long time ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday, especially when I read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry, where he told his disciples,
“Go your way into the village that is opposite you.
Immediately as you enter into it,
you will find a young donkey tied,
on which no one has sat.
Untie him, and bring him.
If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’
say, ‘The Lord needs him;’
and immediately he will send him back here.”
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“The Lord needs him.” That’s what I’d like for us to think about in the sermon this morning, the fact that the Lord needs the things you have – your time, talent, gifts and service – and the big question is whether or not you’re willing to let go and entrust them to him.
Just so we’re clear, at this point in the gospel story Jesus has left Galilee – the region up north where he’d grown up and spent his entire life – and reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. He’d been to Jerusalem many times before. According to Luke,
• He was dedicated in the Temple as a baby. (Luke 2:25-39)
• He came to Jerusalem with his parents when he was twelve years old – the time when he stayed behind to talk with the elders, and his parents had to come back looking for him. (Luke 2:41-52)
• What’s more, Luke says that Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem every year at Passover (Luke 2:41). We can assume Jesus came back to Jerusalem at least once a year; perhaps, more often than that.
But this time was different. He came not simply to celebrate Passover, but to atone for the sins of the world. In other words, he didn’t bring a lamb to sacrifice; he was that lamb.
And so, when he got to Jerusalem it was more than the end of a long journey; it was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of creation. He would arrive, not as a carpenter, and not as a preacher, but as the Son of God, the King of kings, the Savior of the world.
Thus, the donkey. It was to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, where he said,
“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you!
He is righteous, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding on a donkey,
even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Richard Donovan points out how important it was for this particular donkey to be one on which no one had yet ridden. He writes,
“The intent may be to provide Jesus with a special mount, never used by any other person—like the provision that will be made later for a tomb ‘where no one has ever been laid’ (Luke 23:53; John 19:41) (Evans, WBC, 142). It may also be related to the Mishnah instruction that ‘no one may use an animal on which a king rides’ (Evans, TLC, 267). In other words, Jesus is assuming a kingly prerogative by riding a colt that has never been ridden.” (SermonWriter, Volume 13, Number 25, ISSN 1071-9962.)
This is borne out in the fact that, as he came down the hill on the back of the donkey, his followers spread their cloaks on the road, rolling out the red carpet, as it were, for him to ride over. As he rode, they waved palm branches and shouted,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
that is coming in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)
Well, you know where the story goes from there: Jesus went straight to the Temple. But it was late. He looked around, then went to Bethany to spend the night. He’d be back.
For now, let’s go back to the donkey. Jesus told his disciples to go into the village and find this donkey on which no one had ridden, untie it and bring it to him. Some would call this borrowing without permission. Some would call it stealing.
Jesus knows this, of course. He even anticipates what might happen. He says if anyone asks what you’re doing, just say, “The Lord needs it and will send it right back.” Yeah, right.
They went to get the donkey and, sure enough, some of the people standing by saw what they were doing and questioned them, and they said, “The Lord needs him.” That’s all it took. Like the woman in Arkadelphia years ago, he said, “O.K. Just be sure to put it back where you found it.”
Doesn’t that just blow you away?
This is nothing new, as far as the Bible is concerned. For example, in the Old Testament God sent the prophet Elijah to a widow in Zarephath with a special blessing. When he got there, he found the woman gathering sticks. He said, “Bring me a drink of water in a vessel that I may drink.”
Well, he’d traveled a long way. Was that too much to ask? But he didn’t stop there. He said,”And, while you’re at it, bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
It just so happened that the woman was destitute. She and her son were on the verge of starvation. She said,
“As Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have a cake,
but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the jar.
Behold, I am gathering two sticks,
that I may go in and bake it for me and my son,
that we may eat it, and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)
You’d think that, upon hearing the woman’s plight, Elijah would’ve said, “Well, then, let me get you something to eat.” But no. He said,
“Don’t be afraid.
Go and do as you have said;
but make me of it a little cake first,
and bring it out to me,
and afterward make some for you
and for your son.” (1 Kings 17:13)
On the surface, it sounds preposterous: Feed me first. Turns out, it was a test of faith: Put God first and your needs will be supplied.
Well, she did as he asked. She fed Elijah first, and, sure enough, no matter how much cooking she did, her jar of meal never ran out, and her jug of oil never ran dry. (1 Kings 17:8-16)
That’s only one example. Remember the little boy who gave his sack lunch to Jesus? Jesus took it and, with only five loaves and two fish, he fed a multitude. (John 6:9)
And what about the widow’s mite? Jesus and his disciples were watching folks offering their gifts at the temple when this poor widow walked up and put in her last two pennies. Jesus said,
“Most certainly I tell you,
this poor widow gave more
than all those who are giving into the treasury,
for they all gave out of their abundance,
but she, out of her poverty,
gave all that she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)
It’s a consistent theme in the Bible: When you’re willing to trust God with what you have, God will bless you more abundantly than you can ever imagine.
In a moment of disbelief, Peter said, “Lord, we left everything to follow you, and what do we have to show for it?” (Matthew 19:27) Jesus said,
“Everyone who has left houses,
or brothers, or sisters,
or father, or mother,
or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake,
will receive one hundred times,
and will inherit eternal life.”
(Matthew 19:27, 29)
Put what you have in God’s hands, and God will bless you more abundantly in return. So, why don’t we do it?
I can think of a couple of reasons. One, the need is so great and we have so little, by comparison: Feed the hungry, house the homeless, save the lost? What difference will my paltry little contribution make?
The story is told of a young woman walking along a beach picking up starfish stranded on the sand and throwing them back into the water. A man saw what she was doing and said, “Young lady, there are hundreds of starfish all up and down the beach. What good is it going to do to throw a few back into the water?” She picked up a starfish and flung it out as far as she could and said, “It’s going to do a lot of good for that one.”
Never think what you have to offer isn’t important. Whether it’s your time, your talent or your money, every gift counts, however great or small. God isn’t asking you to save the world, only to be faithful and let him use what you have to his glory.
We hold back because we don’t think we have much to offer. That’s one reason. We also hold back because – well, to be honest – we don’t want to let go of what we have. Like a two-year-old, a little voice inside of us screams, “It’s mine, and you can’t have it!”
Why are we so possessive? I think it’s a combination of three things: Selfishness, fear of not having enough, and the false sense of security of being surrounded by all this stuff.
Whatever the reason, it comes back to the question of faithfulness and what you’re going to say when that little voice inside you whispers, “The Lord has need of it.”
This is what I hope you’ll take home with you today: When you’re willing to say yes to whatever it is the Lord may be asking of you, God will bless you in marvelous ways. Just ask Judson van Deventer. He’s the man who wrote the words to our closing hymn. He said,
“I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio … For some time I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all … I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, He caused me to sing.”
With that, Van Deventer penned these words:
All to Jesus, I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
The story doesn’t end there. He preached throughout the United States, England and Scotland, and along the way, became a friend and mentor to a young man just starting out. This young man would later describe Van Deventer as “a kind, deeply spiritual gentleman who influenced my early preaching.” That man was Billy Graham. Think about it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.
Copyright 2009, 2014, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.