Zechariah 9: 9-12 (page 797 in our pew Bibles) A prophesy of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which symbolically challenged all the power structures of both his and our day.
Romans 7:15-25 (page 943 in our pew Bibles) The spiritual war I preached about last week rages within Paul also. The power of sin can corrupt anything, even someone with the noblest and truest of intentions so makes Paul's assertion in Romans 8:1 of the utmost importance to Christians. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (page 816 in our pew Bibles) John is dismissed as a crazy ascetic and Jesus as a self-indulgent libertine by the critics who are compared to children squabbling in the playground by Jesus. But the wisdom of Jesus is recognised by people with other child-like qualities - sincerity and honesty - rather than the too clever by half scribes and Pharisees.
The backdrop for the two New Testament pieces this morning is one of the best known prophesies in the Old Testament because it is quoted as being the prophetic backdrop to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
So why is it given here?
Well for one thing, the backdrop to all our own spiritual stories as Christians is the nature and character of Jesus himself and here he is presented as being eternally just and having salvation, and humility, and is a bringer of peace – not just peace between nations but that peace which reigns in our hearts also.
It is the nature, being and purpose of Christ in whom Paul invests his whole theology that says in Romans 8:1 that “Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”
Which is just as well because Paul admits here to the internal spiritual warfare going on in own body today.
He tells us that he doesn’t understand his own actions.
He says he doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but he keeps on doing what is evil.
He has the desire to do what is right but he lacks the ability to carry it out.
And don’t we all know just exactly what he means?
If only I could have all my good intentions written on my tombstone instead of what I had actually done – warts and all, It would read a lot better, but not just for me, for every single one of us.
Hidden within this morning’s readings is the fundamentally Christian way of understanding the human condition which is that we are all intrinsically flawed - sinners who need forgiveness.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that has no need of Christianity. If you think you have nothing that needs forgiving you’re wasting your time in a church, because fundamentally the cross offers you forgiveness of your sins and with your sins forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, joyful union with God, so that reconciled with him, you now call him Father.
Possibly the biggest barrier to growth in the church in Western Europe is not atheism or secularism per se but that western cultural shift that underpins them. The belief that we are born perfect and unsullied and are just marred by our environment is the dominant worldview nowadays. Modern society tends to believe that if we could control environmental factors, we would all live perfectly moral lives in perfect peace.
But while the Christian view has fallen out of favour, the idea that good and evil cut through every human heart, just by dint of being human, one brief look at the state of the world is in itself enough to make our case that belief in the sinfulness of humanity and therefore our need of a redeemer is sound.
Our greatest evangelist St. Paul in a moment of clarity describes how morally corrupted he feels.
It is the power of sin in his life that makes him do such things. And It is the power of Christ that redeems him from this morass and sets him upon a hill.
It is the power of Christ that can reach into everyone’s soul and separate the wheat from the chaff in our own bodies.
And the gospel story today tells us that it is only those who come to Jesus as a child – open eyed, ready to receive in sincerity and truth – that can embrace this truth.
The wisdom of the worldly wise was no good then and it is no good now. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t get it. The cleverest people of their generation were mostly on the outside of the kingdom looking in. Shut out by their own cynicism, arrogance, and learning or their power and wealth.
We are invited to come to Jesus with open hearts and open hands, ready to receive all the gifts that Jesus has to give. That is the only way you can gain access to the Kingdom.
And in that kingdom, we do have a master, but one who stands alongside us also, with whom we can battle against the power of sin. It is that same Jesus who sits alongside us and leads us. Yes, we have a yoke – remember last week I said that Paul’s insight is that we are all a slave of something or someone – but his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
"Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."