Palm Sunday 2003

As the events in Iraq have unfolded this week, despite the relief that the war appears to be almost over, we have all been traumatized by the images of the awful suffering endured by the Iraqi people. Winning the peace will prove much harder than winning the war as, without an alternative leadership, the country is disintegrating into lawlessness and anarchy. What I found significant this week was the denial of defeat or any formal surrender by the Iraqi leadership. You may remember how last weekend Baghdad airport was captured and then on Monday the Coalition took over parts of the centre of the capital. With British and American tanks only a few hundred yards away, the Iraqi information minister was still giving defiant press briefings describing how his army was repelling the invaders. Then on Tuesday morning the journalists reported that their minders had not turned up for work. Then on Wednesday there was no press briefing at all. By Thursday the leadership of Iraq along with the police and the Republican guard had simply disappeared. There has been no formal surrender.

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.

Yet ironically, surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith, and this is graphically displayed on Palm Sunday.

“They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.37 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: 38 "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”40 "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." 41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 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. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 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 19:35-44)

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, just as I am sure he wept over Baghdad this week. There was deep symbolism in some of the acts we saw on our TV’s this week - from the US flag taken from the World Trade Centre in New York and placed temporarily over the face of the statue of Saddam Hussein until it was pulled down, to the way in which ordinary Iraqis removed their shoes and slapped images of their former leader - a deep insult in Arab culture. A powerful symbol of their shaking off 35 years of an oppressive and evil regime.

Similarly, there is deep symbolism in the acts 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 when some in the crowd recognized him as their Saviour they laid their coats on the ground to symbolize their surrender to him. Surrender is the natural 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 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. There are three barriers that block our total surrender to God: 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? (Philippians 2:1-2)

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 believed Jesus would deliver them from foreign Roman rule. Fear has gripped the Iraqi people. Are the Coalition forces liberators or colonialists? Who can they trust? On Thursday night I sat in a small circle with three people recently divorced, fearful of ever trusting someone with their life again. 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 perfect 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 in the Bible: God says you're never out of his sight; he cares about every detail of your life; 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.

“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 to surrender is fear. The second barrier is:

2. Pride - Who is in Control? (Philippians 2:10-11)

We don't want to admit that we're creatures and not in charge. It is the oldest temptation: "You'll be like God!"" Satan promised Adam and Eve. The desire to have complete control is the cause of so much stress in our lives. The power struggle in Iraq today is merely a graphic if tragic example of the wider struggle between the creator and his creation. Without a strong leader there is anarchy. Everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. Life is a struggle, but what most people don't realize is that our struggle, like Jacob's, is really a struggle with God! We want to be God, and there's no way we are going to win that struggle.

A. W. Tozer said, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us." We aren't God and never will be. It is when we try to be God that we end up most like Satan, who desired the same thing. We accept our humanity intellectually, but not emotionally. We deny our mortality and try and use science to stay young and live forever. When faced with our own limitations, we react with irritation, anger, and resentment. We want to be taller (or shorter), smarter, stronger, more talented, more beautiful, and wealthier. We want to have it all and do it all, and we become upset when we can’t, when others wont let us or it doesn't happen. Then when we notice that God has given others what we don't have, we respond with envy, jealousy, and self-pity.

I suggest this is part of the reason for the anger shown toward America in the Middle East at the moment, Besides the inconsistency over the way Israel is treated could it also have anything to do with pride and envy? Perhaps that is also one reason why there has not been a formal surrender by any Iraqi official. The Bible promises, however, that one day soon, everyone will be forced to surrender to Jesus, and those who have not done so voluntarily will be branded war criminals for waging war against God. Refusing to surrender to His majesty is rebellion.

So Fear and Pride are the two great barriers to knowing God. These often lead to a third.

3. Confusion - How can I know God? (Philippians 2:3-5)

Many are unwilling to surrender their lives to God because they misunderstand the process. What does it means to surrender to God? “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 give their lives for others as Christ did. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats. Likewise, it does not mean giving up rational thinking. God does 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 expect to 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."

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 were fully 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, or control the situation. You let go and let God - work.

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 or 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.

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, "Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine. 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, give me strength to persevere." This does not come easy. Surrender can be hard work. 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.

1. Peace

First, you experience peace: "Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you." (Job 22:21)

2. Freedom
Next, you experience freedom: "Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits.... [his] commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!" (Romans 6:17).

3. Power

Third, you experience God's power in your life. Stubborn temptations and overwhelming problems can be defeated by Christ when given to him. As Joshua approached the biggest battle of his life, he encountered God, 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. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said, "The greatness of a person is in the measure of his surrender." Surrendered people are the ones God uses. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, not because she was talented or wealthy or beautiful, but because she was totally surrendered to him. When the angel explained God's improbable plan, she calmly responded, "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants." Nothing is more powerful than a surrendered life in the hands of God.

Surrender is the best way to live

Everybody eventually surrenders to something or someone. If not to God, you will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to resentment, to fear, or to your own pride, lusts, or ego. You were designed to worship God - and if you fail to worship him, you will create other things (idols) to give your life to. You are free to choose what you surrender to, but you are not free from the consequences of that choice.

E. Stanley Jones said, "If you don't surrender to Christ, you surrender to chaos." Surrender is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live.

All other alternatives lead to frustration, disappointment, and self-destruction. Surrendering your life is not a foolish emotional impulse but a rational, intelligent and wise act. You cannot fulfill God's purposes for your life while focusing on your own plans. If God is going to do his deepest work in you, it will begin here. So give God your past regrets, your present problems, your future ambitions, your fears, your dreams, your weaknesses, your habits, your hurts.
Put Jesus Christ in the driver's seat of your life and take your hands off the steering wheel. Don't be afraid; nothing under his control can ever be out of control. You will be like Paul: "I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength into me, that is, I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency. " (Philippians 4:13).

Paul's moment of surrender occurred on the Damascus road after he was knocked down by a blinding light. For others, God gets our attention with less drastic methods. Regardless, surrendering is never just a one-time event. Paul said, "I die daily." There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is moment-by-moment and lifelong. The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, so you may have to re-surrender your life many times a day. You must make it a daily habit. Jesus said, "If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me." (Luke 9:23).

There is a health warning attached to this word surrender. When you decide to live a totally surrendered life, your 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, as David and Esther do now. It meant surrendering our lives on a daily basis, trusting the Lord to provide our needs. Founded by Bill Bright, God has used this organisation, through staff in virtually every country around the world, through the Four Spiritual Laws tract, and above all, the Jesus film (seen by over four billion people), it is known that more than 150 million people have come to Christ and will spend eternity in heaven. 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.


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 and for more information about this resource.