I am sure we all have memoriesofPalmSunday; whether from acting out the drama in Sunday School or processing it outside of the church.
I have two memories that come to mind :
Surprising the congregation by bringing a donkey into Church and re-enacting the scene during the singing of the final hymn ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty !’
But my most moving experience was walking down the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem and pausing to read the Biblical accounts. It was certainly an occasion I will not forget. We need not just to remember the scene, but to askitssignificance.
All four gospel writers include an account of the events of Palm Sunday. Their accounts differ in some of the detail, but the main thread of the story is similar. It is worth reading all four accounts ( Matt. 21 v 1-11, Mark 11 v 1-11, Luke 19 v 28-40. John 12 v 12-19.)
Jesus' journey into Jerusalem on this occasion is highly significant. Jesus himself had told the disciples that they were going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man would be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who will condemn him to death and turn him over to the Gentiles, to be mocked and flogged and crucified.
On the third day he will be raised to life. (Mark 20 v 17-19).
We need to remember that the gospel writers wrote their accounts many years after the time of Jesus, so they had had time to reflect upon all that had happened.
The accounts of Palm Sunday are referred to as the Triumphal entry of Jesus and the writers convey it as such and most of the crowd saw it in this way in the welcome that was offered. It was the welcome of a King, or a conquering hero, someone who had come to save them.
Several years before Jesus' time, Simon Maccabaeus had entered Jerusalem after defeating Israel’s enemies . They cut down palm branches and spread their cloaks on the ground to welcome their hero. This was a sign that they honoured and greatly valued the person.
On another occasion they hailed king Jehu with words from psalm 118 :
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’
These words were used again at Jesus’ entry. ‘He who comes’ was often used to describe the Messiah, so it was very appropriate to use them on this occasion.
People would also be aware of the prophetic words of Zechariah who said :
‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9 v9)
Palm Sunday wasn’t so much about words, but about actions. The fact Jesus rode in on a donkey spoke volumes.
Here was the Messiah, God’s Son, the Saviour, riding a donkey, a symbol of humility and peace . A donkey that had not been ridden before , set apart for a sacred use. The donkey was released for this task, when the disciples told the owner
‘The Lord needs it’ (Mark 11 v 3).
Much of Jesus ministry had been in Galilee, but now the time had come for him to journeytoJerusalem for the climax of his time amongst us. The time was now right to enter the city, not quietly, but in full view of everyone.
Jesus was throwing down the gauntlet and challenging people to believe in him and also going right into the heart of the Jewish nation, the city of Jerusalem and the temple.
The timing was significant. Crowds were gathering from all over to celebrate the Passover. The Passover lambs would be sacrificed, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus, whom John the Baptist pointed out as:
‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1v 29.)
Prior to Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, he had raised Lazarus from the dead at the house of Mary and Martha and when Jesus called again at the house six days before the Passover a large crowd came to see Jesus and Lazarus.
This didn’t please the religious authorities who increased their resolve to arrest and kill him when he came to Jerusalem. (Mark 12 v 9-11.)
Jesus knew he was about to enter a hornet’s nest, but he knew that God had set the path before him.
The crowd that went out to meet Jesus on that Palm Sunday were probably unaware of what was to follow, even though Jesus warned his disciples what to expect. It is interesting to see the reaction of the different elements of the crowd.
We are told that the crowd that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted
“Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest”
Words from psalm 118, a psalm of celebration, used at important festivals.
Luke describes this crowd as disciples, meaning not just the twelve, but all who had come to believe in Jesus and to follow him. Many had become believers after visiting the home of Lazarus and hearing about the miracle of him being raised from the dead. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah, although not fully understanding the role of the Messiah or about what was to happen. Indeed, John tells us that, at first, his disciples did not understand all that was happening. Only later, after the resurrection, would the truth dawn upon them. (John 12 v 16).
Some of the crowd came out of the city to meet him carrying palm branches with them and they joined in raising the praise. (John 12 v 12-14.)
This was a joyful celebration, despite the rumblings beneath the surface. We are told that some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus
“ Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
They were disturbed by the noise that was being made, but Jesus replied
“ If they keep quiet the stones will cry out” (Luke 19 v 39-40.)
This was an occasion to rejoice! The coming of the long awaited Messiah to bring peace and salvation, although the crowd at this stage saw 'salvation' as release from the rule of Rome. Other Pharisees said;
“See, this is getting us nowhere. Look, the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12 v 19).
At this point my mind goes back to the day Valerie and I followed the Palm Sunday route down the Mount of Olives. There were no cheering crowds waving palm branches and laying down cloaks. Instead there were many tourists for whom, like us, it was a very special experience. Ahead, we could see the golden Dome on the Temple Mount and the city wall with its sealed gate. It will only be opened when the Messiah comes.
We believe the Messiah has already come!
When I saw this view, some words from Luke’s Gospel came to mind, namely the description where Jesuswept over the city and said:
“ If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”
Jesus can see the days of destruction that will come upon them because;
“they did not recognize the time of God’s coming” (Luke 19 v 41-44 ).
It is likely that most people stayed in the city and were not moved to go and see Jesus' entry. Instead they got on with their normal lives. On the other hand Matthew tells us when Jesus entered Jerusalem that the whole city was disturbed and asked
The crowds answered “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matt. 21 v 10-11.)
There is no mention here of Jesus being the Messiah , the unique Son of God. No doubt many had become followers of Jesus. Others were not convinced, even by his miracles and the religious establishment felt threatened by him and were making moves to arrest him and have him killed.
The question ‘Who is Jesus ?’ is a critical and challenging one.
Who we think Jesus is affects our response.
Most of us reading this sermon accept whom Jesus says he is and what he has done for us. In other words we believe in him and he is a central part of our lives and has made a difference.
Sadly, Jesus doesn’t enter the minds of most people. They may come across him as a swear word, or on an occasional visit to Church for a funeral, or a baptism, or at a Carol service - so they are not challenged to ask
“Who is Jesus?”.
Thechallengefacingusas a Church, is to engage in God’s mission to make Jesus known so people can choose whether to believe and follow him.
No doubt Jesus is weeping today over the people suffering from the Corona virus and its impact on our lives. The vaccine has given us hope – light at the end of the tunnel, but the pain caused by the pandemic in millions of lives will affect us for years to come.
The comfort and healing that Jesus brings to our lives can make a big difference, but the majority of people are not likely to hear about Jesus unless his message is taken into the world, as he commanded us to do so. The message hasn’t changed, but the ways of communicating it have.
No doubt we have a story to tell of Jesus' influence on our lives and we have the Holy Spirit to help us share our story and the gospel message, remembering that the Holy Spirit is at work, touching the lives of those who have yet to believe.
Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem secretly and quietly, but his entry was a public declaration for all to see, despite the danger to his life.
May we be encouraged by this, as we seek to reveal the truth about God and Jesus.