Holy Week, Palm Sunday
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our triumphant King, dear friends in Christ, In the 4th century BC Alexander the Great marched thousands of troops over Asia and North Africa to create an unprecedented rule over the much of the world. In the 1200s Genghis Kahn led his army on many raids expanding the Mongol empire through a substantial portion of central Asia and China. In the late 1700s and early 1800s Napoleon marched hundreds of thousands of troops into the heart of Russia in his attempt to expand his empire. Throughout history military masterminds have led great marches into battle and conquest. But here’s the problem: where are they today? Where is all that they fought so hard for today? Governments come and go, leaders come and go, nations come and go. Our world has seen some very powerful people come…and go. The real problem is that anything in this world, in this life, on this earth is not lasting. We need a better king and a better kingdom.
And that’s why we needed Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. It’s the tenth day of the month so 4 days before the Passover celebration. This was the day that all the Jews had to bring their lamb to the temple to be inspected to make sure that it was without blemish or defect. So, Jerusalem would have been busting at the seams with people. Some estimate that Jerusalem was normally around 20-30,000 people, but at the time of the Passover that number would increase to at least 200-300,000 people, and some estimate even more. So Jesus leaves Bethany which was about 2 miles from Jerusalem, we’re told that there are people following Him, people ahead of Him and John tells us that people came out from Jerusalem to meet Him, so there’s likely thousands of people surrounding Jesus.
And what are they doing? They’re celebrating, they’re honoring Jesus. Many people laid their cloaks on the ground and others cut down palm branches and laid them on the road so that the donkey that Jesus was riding would not have to walk in the dirt and the dust! This is the age-old custom of honoring someone by rolling out the red carpet so they won’t have to walk on the ground. And what else are the crowds doing? They’re praising Him: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
They’re celebrating, they’re honoring their leader, they’re honoring their King. But why? What’s behind all this celebration, these praises? No, we aren’t told what they were thinking nor can we read their minds, but we do know what was often the attitude people had of Jesus. Remember how Jesus’ own disciples James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom? Remember how Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about suffering and dying and how Jesus then had to rebuke Peter? Remember how Peter was ready to fight when Jesus was about to be captured? We know that the disciples themselves often had ideas about Jesus being a great earthly ruler or leader.
And what about the crowds of people? Why were they cheering Jesus’ on? Well, what did they know about Jesus? They knew that He miraculously fed over 5,000 people at one time, that he cured the lame, healed the sick, gave hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, cured leprosy, could walk right through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff. And remember what the crowds of people wanted to do when Jesus fed the 5,000? They wanted to make him their king by force. Add to all of that, that Jesus is coming from Bethany which is where Jesus not too long before this had raised Lazarus back to life. If Jesus can fix our problems, give us free food, and even bring us back to life from death, then certainly He’s the leader we want! Certainly He’s the one who will restore the glory back to Judah like in the good old days of King David! Certainly He can be the one who can free us from the oppression of the Romans! And now Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, this is going to be great! And it’s Passover time! It was like their independence day when they remembered how God mightily and gloriously delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. Was that why they were excited and celebrating?
But what happened to these shouts of acclamation and praise later on? Were these same people disappointed by the end of the week? Were they disappointed that there was not a confrontation with the Roman powers? Were they disappointed when they saw Jesus wearing not a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns? Were they disappointed that Jesus was on a cross with criminals instead of in a palace with rulers? I’m guessing quite a few were quite disappointed.
What about us? What are our expectations of Jesus? What kind of a King do we want Him to be? No, I’m guessing most of us aren’t looking for Jesus to be an earthly, political king, but what do we expect of Him? You know, it’s pretty easy to praise Jesus when things in life are going well, isn’t it? It’s pretty easy to praise Jesus when our investments are growing, when we’re in good health, when we get a pay raise, right? But what about when life is difficult and hard? It’s pretty easy to praise Jesus when life is smooth and going well, but what about when the road is bumpy or full of pot holes?
You see, our praises to Jesus can also be rather earthly focused. Try praising God on a bad day and you can begin to see what a struggle it is and how easily we begin to focus on earthly stuff. But that’s why we’re so thankful that Jesus wasn’t just some Napoleon, Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, or any other ordinary earthly ruler!
And Jesus shows it in a number of ways in our text. First, did you notice how Jesus directed His disciples at the beginning? He told them how they were going to find a colt tied up in the village ahead of them and He told them what to say when someone questions them and He even told them it was a colt on whom no one has ever ridden! How did Jesus know those things? Jesus knows all things! That means He knows your life. Jesus knows what’s coming in my life. Jesus knows when the challenges are going to come, the good times are going to happen. Jesus knows how He will use each thing that happens in my life to serve my eternal good! That’s the King Jesus is!
Look at something else here when Jesus directs those disciples He tells them when they get the colt, “If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” Literally the Greek says, “The Lord has need of them.” The Lord has a need!! And what does he need? A donkey? Really! Think about that! What amazing humility and lowliness! The Lord…has lowered himself to what extent? That he has need of a donkey!
But it was all according to God’s plan as we heard in our first lesson: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Our God rides into Jerusalem not in pomp and glory and strength and might, but in lowliness and with gentleness. And that’s exactly the kind of King us sinful people need. For God could deal with us with anger and power and give us what our sins deserve. But he doesn’t. He deals with us with gentleness and graciousness. He lowers Himself so that He needs a donkey so that He could lower Himself even further to die on a cross for your sins and mine!
And finally, notice what the crowds are saying, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest.” The Hebrew word Hosanna literally means, “Save us, we pray!” That’s what the crowds were saying to Jesus. And that’s exactly what they needed Him to do! They needed Him to save them, to pay for their sins in full, and that’s exactly why Jesus came, to save them, not from the Romans, but from eternal condemnation.
Palm Sunday is somewhat of a weird day, isn’t it? We’ve been focusing the last 5 weeks of Lent on our sins and the suffering that it caused our Savior. As we look forward to this week we’ll see that suffering come to a height. But today we celebrate and rejoice. And it’s appropriate. Why do we praise God? Why do we celebrate? You see, at the end of our lives when we’re getting ready to leave this world, things will become quite clear, it’s not going to matter how much we achieved in life, what great things we’ve done, or how healthy or unhealthy, popular or unpopular, rich or poor we are. Those are all things of this earth.
But you and I will be celebrating. Why? Because you have no ordinary King. You have a King who knows you through and through and who guides all things for your good, you have a King who deals with you with gentleness and grace, who lowered Himself to needing a donkey so that He could lower Himself to go to a cross to win your forgiveness. You have a King who rode into Jerusalem gently, humbly, knowingly and willingly to do what no other King could do: open the gates of heaven by paying for your sins in full! So, rejoice! You have no ordinary King! Amen.