Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11; Mark 15:16-39;
MESSAGE: HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
It was just a week really. Things change so quickly. From Palms to Passion.
- A year ago we went into a level 4 lockdown after two days’ notice. It was the anniversary of that day on Thursday. Things change very quickly.
- Many things have changed.
- Successful businesses are gone.
- Long standing meaningful jobs have disappeared.
- Around the world families have been devastated as people of all ages and stages have died.
- Families have been torn apart. A friend of mine landed in the country a couple of days before lockdown and hasn’t seen his wife and children since. They are stuck in another country with all the family’s possessions in a container going nowhere.
- Hopes have been dashed.
We deliberately have both the so-called palms and passion stories on this 6th Sunday in Lent.
In many churches there is a celebration with children waving palm branches.
A friend of mine had a couple of addresses to go to this week to take Palm branches from people’s homes – to decorate their church. I guess It’s best to get the addresses right, otherwise you could be in trouble for wrecking people’s gardens.
The jump from Mark 11 to Mark 15 is a few chapters, but not many days and a whole shift in the balance of power.
In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. Quite a bit of the passage is about Jesus telling the disciples exactly what to do to set up this provocative procession. The first six verses are all about the task given to these two disciples to get the right colt for Jesus to ride on.
Mar 11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, Mar 11:2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. Mar 11:3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly. ‘”Mar 11:4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, Mar 11:5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” Mar 11:6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
The actual Palm Sunday procession is just recorded in a couple of verses:
Mar 11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Mar 11:9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mar 11:10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
And then there’s this brief look around at the Temple in verse 11:
Mar 11:11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
The reading for Passion Sunday is much longer of course.
From Palms to the Passion – things change so quickly.
How did it come to this?
If you think about it, like two acts of the same play, all the characters are there throughout.
- The authorities on Palm Sunday – Roman soldiers would have been keeping an eye out for trouble at the festival.
- The religious authorities when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem – they would be there looking over their domain where they had such powerful influence and vested interest.
- And the people were there. The crowds. Adulation and great excitement.
In Act 1 there is a king riding into town, cheered on for the good he had done.
In Act 2 there’s a man suffering and dying on a cross between criminals, convicted of doing nothing but good really.
- Acclaim turns to mocking.
- Honour to humiliation.
- The bright light of Palm Sunday is snuffed out by the darkness of that Good Friday.
What were they doing in the days in between?
What will we be doing in the days in between?
I remember years when we had services of some sort every day through this week. It was called Holy Week. We were quite willing to go each night and reflect.
On The Friday we used to have a morning service and then a shared three-hour one from midday to 3.00pm. Three hours in church is not nearly as challenging as three hours on a cross.
- Easter Saturday was fairly subdued.
- On Easter Sunday we got up early and rode on our bikes to the beach to greet the risen Son again.
These days we might get the same 20 to 30 loyal people at Tenebrae.
More on Good Friday – although because it’s not the same as the years before, many might just do their own thing.
And another group of loyal people will be up at dawn on Easter Sunday..
In that first holy week I imagine that in the days in between some people would have been oblivious of what was happening behind the scenes. The plotting and the scheming. I doubt the idea of paying Judas to betray Jesus was the only way they thought of to capture him. People go to great lengths to retain power and control, and keep themselves out of harm’s way.
The characters on Palm Sunday all turn up at his Passion.
- Soldiers spit and strike and spurn.
- Passers by shale their heads and mock.
- The religious rulers taunt him.
- There are the few loyal ones there too. Women mainly.
- A poor African man called Simon is forced to carry Jesus’ cross – he is coerced and must have wondered what he had done to get that lousy job.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
Do we take it all seriously?
And in our own lives and our church life, when people lose interest and enthusiasm, when they forget all that Jesus went through for them, the same question can always be asked
- How did it come to this?
- Many have drifted away over the years and months.
- They no longer make special preparations to gather here and in local churches around the world.
- Through the COVID year they have fallen out of good worship habits.
- The King is still here. We still meet with Jesus the king.
And there are also some questions that even the Palm Sunday passage asks us today.
- Are we ready to put our property at his disposal? (The Lord needs it)
- Will we obey even if the orders puzzle us? (Wander in and take the colt you find and walk away with it? Like my friend this week randomly going into people’s gardens and cutting up Palm leaves from their plants.)
- Will we go out of our way to honour him? (branches and our clothes spread on the road to welcome him?)
- Do we still welcome him in our lives today?
There’s a great Graham Kendrick song we’ve sung a few times here over the years.
Make way, make way, For Christ the King In splendour arrives
Fling wide the gates and welcome Him Into your lives
It has this last verse:
We call you now to worship Him
As Lord of all
To have no gods before Him
Their thrones must fall!
Do we take it all seriously?
Or following Tom Wright’s questioning, has our Christian commitment become domesticated and trivialized in our devotion to Jesus, that we him mainly as someone to help us get what we want, or do our own thing with a little comfort thrown into the picture?
Jesus still claims us for his own and calls us to follow him.
Life is just as challenging for us. There are still soldiers who abuse their power and bully and torment or make fun of people – just as there are bullies at school and at work. And religious and state leaders who cling to power.
He has a claim on all of them too. Whether they see him on a donkey or on a cross, the question is: what will they do with Jesus the Son of God?
And those characters in the story at the cross. What were they thinking?
Who stands out in the account for you?
Tom Wright also says this: The Roman centurion becomes the first sane human being in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus God’s son, and mean it. Yes, says Mark to his possibly Roman audience; and if him, why not more? (Wright, N. T. Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
- In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. With every breath he pushes on in obedience to Jerusalem and his cruel end.
- By the end of Mark 15 he has relinquished all control, and his breathing his last. Heaving his body up for each rasping breath.
- But without jumping the gun, three days later there was a rush of air and life-giving oxygen into his dead lungs, and he roared to life again like a fire that appears to be dead but rages when the bellows pump in new oxygen to burn.
Through this week we will focus on the struggle unto death.
On Easter Sunday we will see life again and reflect on the implications of resurrection for us. The next Act of the play – The story of this King.
What will you do with this Jesus?
Reading: John 12:12-19
So – its Easter morning. You would have expected a service at sunrise. When you were small you might have had an Easter egg hunt in the garden.
You climb out of bed and go downstairs.
And you see a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, with Easter eggs hiding behind them.
You rub your eyes, scratch your head – and go back to bed thinking this is a dream.
Try again 10 minutes later – and yes, it’s true. Someone’s got Easter and Christmas muddled.
You wonder why. What does this mean? What are they trying to tell you?
That’s exactly what makes Jesus’ triumphal entry so interesting.
It was the spring – it was Passover time. There were things you did at Passover – remembering the rescue from slavery and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost which saved people from death – and you celebrate their rescue from bondage.
And Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and people are waving palms.
This is a mid-winter thing happening in the spring. Like Christmas and Easter together.
Although it’s the wrong time of the year, the symbols of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem go with Hanukkah– which John has already mentioned in 10.22. (Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter)
When Judas Maccabaeus defeated the pagan invaders and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, his followers entered the city waving palm branches in celebration (1 Maccabees 13.51; 2 Maccabees 10.7). (Tom Wright)
We were talking about these extra books called the apocrypha just recently – a whole series of them you don’t find in the Protestant bible.
Here’s the passage from the second book of Maccabees chapter 10, reading from verse 7:
2Ma 10:7 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 2Ma 10:8 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
After the temple was cleansed in 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus and his family became kings of Israel.
Jesus and his followers were combining Hanukkah and Passover – declaring that Jesus was the true King coming to claim his throne AND at the same time he would really set people free. He is the new Passover lamb as well – they just didn’t know it yet.
And the final sign that sealed the matter was the raising of Lazarus. He was set free from death!
That’s why the two verses before this passage and the last three verses of today’s passage are so important:
Joh 12:10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, Joh 12:11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Joh 12:18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. Joh 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
The raising of Lazarus was the last sign and the hour had come. We talked about that last week.
Palm Sunday seals the destiny of Jesus.
People connected the dots because of the palms. Not just the Jewish community who would have remembered Hanukkah, but the Romans and Greeks would have all recognised the significance of the Palms as a sign of a victory parade.
Like a flag raising parade when the battle is won – it has huge significance. The enemy’s flag is lowered, and the conquering army’s flag is raised.
It’s a powerful provocative statement. And on a donkey – not a huge white horse. They would have remembered the prophecy in Zechariah 9:
Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Palm Sunday is the triumph of the love the God – yes.
But the means of victory – we know looking back the way of achieving victory would be painful to say the least.
FOCAL POINT TODAY
I’d like us to focus on one verse today:
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
Witnessing is a central part of discipleship – of following this amazing man called Jesus of Nazareth.
Giving testimony to what he has done.
Spreading the word.
- Have you testified this week?
- Given testimony?
- Have you been a witness?
V17 – they bore witness to Lazarus’ raising –
Do we talk about the resurrection?
It is the separating point between us and other religions– the dividing line – the ultimate sign of Jesus’ power and authority, his divinity, his supremacy – and of course it leads to his ascension when he is enthroned again on high.
It’s the greatest story worth telling.
Because it brings the greatest sense of hope.
Are we ready always to give a reason for the hope we have?
Our Mission in the newsletter these past weeks has been this; “Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have”
Hope – in the face of the greatest enemy – death.
WE DO THIS IN WORSHIP EACH WEEK
- We wave Palms every week!
- We cry Hosanna!
- Worship is exactly that – celebrating King Jesus
– Celebrating the triumph of the cross
– Celebrating the power of the resurrection
– Celebrating the glory of the ascension.
– Celebrating the love of the Father
– Celebrating the promises that apply to us – our inheritance that will outlast all the other shiny things that fascinate us.
Peter puts it like this (we shared this in our call to worship today):
1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Palm Sunday takes us into this week called holy week.
I’ve asked today how we can make this a different week.
I don’t know how you’re going to do that.
But you can’t ignore the power of the events.
I hope that you take the time to remember at the various opportunities we have to remember what God has done for us to establish this inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
I pray that we can really discover for ourselves that he was and is the true king, the true rescuer, the bringer of true freedom.
As we watch his progression into Jerusalem, and on to meet his fate, we must ourselves be drawn into the action, and the passion, that awaits him.
And we must ourselves become part of the means by which his message goes out to the world. (Tom Wright)
The victory was won for us by a young man nearly 2000 years ago.
Our closing hymn captures the profound nature of this day.
1 Ride on, ride on in majesty
as all the crowds ‘Hosanna!’ cry:
through waving branches slowly ride,
O Saviour, to be crucified.
2 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumph now begin
with captured death, and conquered sin!
3 Ride on, ride on in majesty
the angel armies of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.
4 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
the last and fiercest foe defy:
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.
5 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!
Robin Mark has a song that helps us anticipate and appreciate what he has done as we close:
READING: Luke 19:28-44
Did you bring a coat today? What kind, you say. It doesn’t matter. Rain coat. Warm coat. Wind breaker coat. Trench coat. Detective’s coat.
If you read the bible reading today – people had coats when Jesus came riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey. O wait – let’s watch the little guys’ story about the donkey. Then we’ll go back to the coats.
Cool story. Three famous donkey’s hey. Yes. Dave. Dave’s grandad. And the other one. What? Two? Okay but the third one could really speak. (verse Numbers 22:28-31 Balaam’s donkey)
Okay no Palms. A donkey and coats. Coats are good. You could put them on the donkey of you didn’t have a saddle. You could lay them on the floor – if you didn’t have a red carpet. Like that famous man, Sir Walter Raleigh. He put his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. Cool hey!
I reckon you have to do that for Kings and queens. And Jesus was and is a King. Best listen to him when he speaks!
Or just be a donkey carrying Jesus around. So people can see how great he is.
(Prayer for children as they leave)
Talking about coats, I remember very clearly the picture of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak down over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. There it was in our history notes – that picture has stuck with me.
Trouble is it probably never happened. Blame Historian Thomas Fuller who liked to embellish facts. Walter Raleigh did get his head chopped off after his second holiday in the tower of London. During his first stay in the tower he wrote his first volume of his “History of the world” which was 776 pages long. On the grisly side, his head was embalmed and his widow carried it around with her for the rest of her life.
Now you’re wondering if that’s true. The coat and puddle story sounds more believable.
So, if we didn’t have John’s gospel, we wouldn’t have Palm Sunday. Only coat Sunday at best.
The point is that the genuineness of the accounts of Easter by the four gospel writers supports the historicity of the event. There is no attempt like witnesses protecting each other to line up their versions of the story with each other.
Only Matthew mentions the fulfilment of the prophecy from Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “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.’ (Matthew 21:4-5)
Only Matthew has this dramatic line like a Greek chorus calling out:
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (21:10-11)
Only Luke seems to hint that there were Pharisees in the crowd of disciples. It changes we see the way they try to tone things down. Perhaps they were really concerned that this procession declaring Jesus as King could have dangerous repercussions. Remember in Acts 15:5 that there were Pharisees who became Christians. (It would have been like Christians today belonging to the Green Party or New Zealand first!)
The two things that really stand out in the reading from Luke today are FIRSTLY the words of those calling out:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v38)
And then the warning to Jerusalem that Jesus gives after weeping over the city:
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.” (v44)
- The first one links the proclamation on Palm Sunday with the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth. We are reminded that this is all the same story of Jesus (God Saves) Emmanuel (God with us) Messiah (anointed one) who comes to rescue us. Luke alone spells it out here:
“Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
His readers would make the connection. Remember how Herod the Great responded to the wise men’s news about the birth of a king?
Infanticide. The murder of the innocents. Boys up to two years of age.
This time round, we can’t expect anything different. Herod’s descendants are ruling a carved up holy land. Pilate has replaced one of them in Judea.
The power play will unfold. The authorities do not approve. Like Walter Raleigh in the tower of London waiting for his execution for treason, Jesus would be a threat to the rulers of the day once more.
A new king could only mean civil unrest, and Pilate could not allow it if he wanted to keep his job. Yes, he sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, but Antipas has his own agenda. This encounter is portrayed very simply in the film “Jesus”. And in the Passion of the Christ we see a better portrayal of Antipas in my view. You’ll have to read the subtitles as they are speaking in Aramaic. Or Latin.
Perhaps you’d like to watch this extract. It’s actually quite well done.
The Passion of Christ – the events of holy week – are deeply political.
- The second unique passage in Luke about this Coat Day is his response to the city of Jerusalem and his prophetic word about its destruction:
We pick it up in verse 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.
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.” (v44)
Again, its deeply political. The Romans would always put down revolts. You only had the peace of Rome as a privilege – safety, good roads, aqueducts, protection – if you towed the line.
It’s the rejection of the visitation that is fascinating. (v44) Jesus says this:
They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
The original text does not have the word “God” in it. It’s simply a visitation.
Of course, its Jesus who is visiting. Messiah has come.
And they reject him.
The Jewish historian Josephus blamed the nationalists, the Zealots for the demise of the Jewish nation.
Jesus gives another reason of course. By rejecting him, Israel has chosen the way of judgment. It has missed the day and the moment.
What was true of the Jewish nation can also be true of individuals. To miss Jesus is to miss the time of visitation and face accountability before God.
So – consider this. Jesus comes marching into your life today.
- Riding on a donkey.
- Or on a bus for that matter. He visits you either way.
What are you going to do?
- Shout Hosanna?
- Hail Him as king?
- Try to go for a softer option – don’t shout too loudly, you might upset the authorities. Hush!
- Or will you miss his visitation altogether?
The consequences of ignoring who he is and what that means for our lives, our priorities, our decisions, our relationships, our finances, are all challenging. This is a great time to reflect on where Jesus is in our list of priorities.
There are a whole series of opportunities this Holy Week to gather and reflect on what it means for us now, and in eternity.
- We call it holy week. It must grab our attention.
- Our Korean friends who pray every morning up in the lounge have asked to move to the church at 5.30am each morning this Easter week. They take it seriously.
- We have options to reflect on Jesus’ coming on Tuesday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, and Sunday at Sunrise.
I’m not a prophet, but each year I can predict who will be at which service.
His is my 7th Easter. Go on. Surprise me. Come to something different.
This is about Jesus’ visitation – riding into our lives and being welcomed as King.
How about it? How do we welcome Him? Or are we just not too fussed about it all.
Readings: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-13
Sermon Palm Sunday
I wonder what you thought about the cricket world-cup spectacle. Especially during the matches where there is great fanfare and celebration at the end of play. Whoever wins at the end of the day – there are fireworks and loud music plays. All the modern trimmings of a victory parade. A spectacle. Interviews – reports – and assuming that the black caps have won (I am writing this before knowing who will face them in the final – blue or yellow) – great celebration and jubilation!
There have been other spectacles this week. Including the tragic crashing of a plane – where the pilot is alleged to have said: “one day I will do something that will change the system… and everyone will know my name and remember me.” A tragic spectacle and way of being remembered.
And then there is an interesting spectacle in the form of a bye-election result over night in Northland! Say no more! Political grandstanding can also be a spectacle – an event of sorts. With their own victory parades.
So back to the cricket final later today. The headline I saw was this: “Black caps captain Brendon McCullum leads his men into battle against Australia today in a historic cricket world cup final.” The black cap captain put it this way in an interview: it “creates the greatest stage we can ask for.”
These are spectacles – great events involving public statements and celebrations or commiserations.
Palm Sunday was a bit like that. Except there were no fireworks and no TV coverage.
Loyalty and recognition are central in these things. Which brings us to the Palm Sunday crowd. Where would you have been positioned on that day?
THE CROWDS on Palm Sunday
Traditionally we have given them a hard time. Not really a good thing to be cheering for Jesus and then calling for his execution a few days later. Even though it preaches well. I have told children’s stories with this line – “yay for Jesus! Away with Jesus!” Such fickle people! I have preached along those lines many times on Palm Sunday.
But is it true? We gloss over the text (as preachers) – and often miss on the subtleties.
It seems actually that we are dealing with two groups of people – the crowds who came along with him (likely to be his followers and especially those who were touched by him and healed), and the city – meaning the people of Jerusalem who were kind of perplexed. Who is this and what is this all about?
We see this in verses 10 and 11: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I am sure that even those who were healed and obviously over the moon about Jesus would not really understand what it meant when he was received as a King.
But they were happy with the notion of a prophet (who speaks and acts for God) and they seemed okay that he was from Nazareth (not a great pedigree!).
The disciples had other ideas about him being King. Just in the chapter before (Matthew 20) Jesus had to remind them of the nature of his kingship. James and John’s mother is asking for favours for them. Have a look at the chapter before our reading for today:
Mat 20:20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
Mat 20:21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Mat 20:22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.
Mat 20:23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
Mat 20:24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Mat 20:25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mat 20:26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mat 20:27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— Mat 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The disciples knew – or should have known better – that his kingship was different.
The crowds were moved, however. One way or the other this was a significant moment. They responded!
But a crowd involves individuals making choices. It was still a personal response. We should remember that they would only have had one cloak – which they spread on the road.
They would have known an example of this from their bibles – one hopes – for example when Elisha sent one of his team to anoint Jehu as King in second Kings – this is what happened: 2Ki 9:13 They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Tom Wright also says this: In the long folk-memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10.7). And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years. Indeed, the Herod family had intermarried with the Maccabaean family, and the chief priests claimed a similar status.
People who throw down their cloaks like that are actually making a statement about what they think is going on. There is loyalty involved! And royalty! The person welcomed and hailed as king or conqueror would have to be worthy of the honour and sacrificial response – especially of laying down your only cloak in his path. I can’t think of a modern equivalent – except perhaps at a concert when people throw things onto the stage?
Of course there is the more recent (than Jesus) story of Sir Walter Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth the first so she didn’t have to walk in the mud!
It doesn’t happen often today for leaders and politicians. They usually have a whole team organizing those kinds of things.
SIGNS OF A KING – albeit a different one.
There were clear signs of a King. The fulfillment of prophesy is there. And the key title that crops up: “Son of David!” Jerusalem had been his capital city a thousand years earlier – and they were hoping for a King like David to rescue them from oppression.
And to be fairer to the crowds who hailed him as King (perhaps some of his actual entourage did run away) – it’s not that easy when your leader is arrested. The Roman armies were pretty savage – and not to be messed with. If you see savage armies at work today (and we do daily on our TV screens), you may get a sense of how frightening it would have been.
But the expectation was there – for Him to be King on their terms – in line with the hope that they would be liberated eventually. They had very different expectations. He was not coming to win a war – but to be killed.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
I think we sometimes want Jesus to be available on our terms according to our agenda as well. Tom Wright puts it this way: The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today. People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are.*
* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 69). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
OUR RESPONSE as individuals and a group – some final thoughts.
- What would we need to lay down before Jesus today? (Individual answers will be unique really) – sacrificing in some way? Laying down your only cloak: – sacrificial living and giving?
- Is there some other way we need to give honour to Jesus? What kind of King is he to us today?
- Are we afraid too? Referring back to the “fickle” crowd. They would have been afraid when Jesus was arrested.
- Remember the cry “Hosanna” – Hoshiana (v25 of Psalm 118) – which means “save us!” It has become a praise word. It is a song of Passover, which included the line – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. What do we need saving from? Only you can answer that.
- Do we allow him to be a prophet to us? Speaking into our lives and cleansing our temples? Is our church also used as a pious hideout while needy people are outside on the margins.
And then the consequences in the temple are worth noting: Mat 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Mat 21:15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. Mat 21:16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
- He turns the temple into a place of healing (the blind and the lame would have been excluded from the temple). With Jesus in the temple worship becomes truly life giving. Is Jesus’ reign manifested beyond our church – where people are really transformed – by the life giving words?
- The children cry out – and the authorities are rattled by that. Are we? It’s a threat to the chief priests and the scribes. “Do you hear what they are saying” – he responds with Psalm 8:2 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
- He is the king who saves instead of oppressing. Heals instead of exploiting! This is a totally different Kingship in every sense. He is the Saviour King.
So do we acknowledge him – wave branches and declare his praises – in our lives? We would do well to go back to Matthew 10:32-3 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
He still makes claims on our lives. Let’s listen to Him especially through this Easter week.
Reading: Mark 11:15-19
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Message – Easter
Easter is just around the corner. It’s been closer than you think for some months – considering how early Easter eggs appear on the shelves in our shops.
In the story as Mark tells it, Jesus had come into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and had gone out again to Bethany. The next day he comes back into the city – it’s a kind of sortie into a dangerous place really. The authorities would be aware of him – considering all the fuss when he road into the city on a donkey. And now he comes to the heart of the nation – the temple. Well listen again:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
We sometimes think it’s just about the money – that they were cheating the poor when they sold animals for sacrifices to them – or exchanging money and giving them a bad rate.
The thing is – He wasn’t really changing the system – the trading would have carried on the next day.
The real challenge was to the heart of the nation. Listen again:
17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
The real issue was that God was not stuck in the temple and fussing over them alone as the chosen people. Even Solomon when he built his temple said this: 1 Kings 8:27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! That was on the day of the consecration of the temple!
It was more the teaching that stirred up the opposition. It was a threat. The house of prayer “for all nations” sounds like a real concern for others outside of the family of Israel. And it wasn’t just about the money tables, as if you can separate money from spiritual things.
The chief priests and teachers of the law begin looking for ways to kill him – because they feared him. They didn’t want the crowd to follow him because they would lose control. It was all about power.
How strange that they “feared him” – this man of compassion and love who healed the sick and taught them about God as Father.
Jesus saw through their hypocrisy of course. Tom Wright says this about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple:
But Jesus’ protest was far deeper, and if we applied it today it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the lawcourts and legislative assemblies, the royal palaces and banking centres, the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outwards in generosity towards the world. That’s where Jesus wants to stride today, to turn over tables and drive out traders. *
* Wright, N. T. (2004-01-01). Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 153). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
Reading: Luke 19: 28-40
What an interesting name – Palm Sunday! Some have suggested PARADE SUNDAY! For good reason – Palms are not even mentioned in the account in Luke. Cloaks are – people lay them on the ground. It’s festive. Crowds shout out!
Today people are not that sure about what it means – hence the Palm Sundae picture above!
So what’s the most important thing today?
Kids love animals – so donkeys have featured on Palm Sunday services. There are some serious logistical problems about that when you have donkeys in church!
Palms are good – they are mentioned in three accounts! Not in our Luke reading though! Cloaks are also laid down.
Praise is good! Psalm 118 is quoted – a processional Psalm welcoming the one who comes “in the name of the Lord”.
Stones are referred to. People write whole sermons on the stones
Either way they work up to Easter!
So many options!
So for the sake of the Donkey watch this creative take on Palm Sunday:
Great questions –
- Why is this day so UNLIKE every other day!
- Why is Jesus so UNLIKE every other bloke!
Good questions! I loved the donkey’s ability to resist stopping at the burger king!
THE BEST NAME FOR THE EVENT IS THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
The name “Triumphal” entry is deceptive – it underscores the challenge of who wins in this story – of who has the real power.
Crowds cheer – in Luke disciples are praising Jesus. “Deeds of power” or miracles are the reason given for this celebration! His miracles and healings have impressed people. One has to ask – are people still looking for the wrong things (like the food he provided when he fed the 5000?).
The words “Blessed is he who comes” in Psalm 118 – which welcomed pilgrims – become in Luke’s account here: “Blessed is the King who comes…”. Jesus is more than a pilgrim here. He is a humble King fulfilling the prophecies of one riding in like this, on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). On the other hand Pilate – when he came in to town – would have been on a horse – with soldiers – showing his power as a warning to the masses! Jesus is on a humble donkey’s foal.
One way or other JESUS PLANNED HIS OWN PARADE! He tells them where to go to get the foal. He has no problem with them putting him on it. And the parade begins! The disciples cry “Peace in heaven!” which is fascinating as at his birth the angels sang “peace on earth”! Why is the glory here in the highest heaven? There’s an old song we sing sometimes: “You are the king of glory” which includes the line “glory in the highest heaven – for Jesus the Messiah reigns”.
The focus is on heaven probably because this is not an earthly king or an earthly Kingdom! At an earthly level, from a human political point of view, they kill him! The real power is the power of the Kingdom – seen in the mighty deeds – which were healings and exorcisms mainly, restoring people’s bodies and minds! The real power will be seen on Easter Sunday – when he is raised from death.
So following our English donkey in the Donkey Cam video – he is unlike any other bloke!! He is unlike any other King!
What kind of king is this? Triumphant? – not really on the day. Certainly not on Good Friday. Definitely victorious on the third day when he is raised.The route he takes to his victory is profoundly challenging. Read Isaiah 53 to get a sense of what he went through as the suffering servant.
He is prince of peace – but his parade is not on a horse and has no soldiers. In fact Luke seems to de-politicise it by not referring to Palms and not even using the word “Hosanna” – they both had political connotations.
What kind of King do you want? (I’m referring to you today as you read this). Someone powerful who will vindicate your cause and change your circumstances, like those who wanted him to overthrow the oppressive regime of the Romans?
In the Easter events the efforts of Judas (to force Jesus’ hand?) and the violence of Peter when Jesus is arrested (drawing his sword and attacking someone) speak of the human ways of achieving power.
We get Jesus of Nazareth – someone so different – “Unlike every other bloke” – and we are to become like Him! Strength in weakness and humility are his way of dealing with his enemies.
A King unlike any other!
This King – Jesus of Nazareth – laments over the city. Read beyond the verses set for today and you will see this.
He does not weep for Himself, even though he knows he faces a certain death. He laments the fact that they miss out again on the opportunity that God gives them to find true peace.
He cleanses the temple! The real issue is not the political power, but the hearts of the people of God who had taken a wrong turn! He stops first at the religious establishment and tries to get them to refocus. Perhaps today he would do the same.
What is God’s word for us today in the light of these events?
There is something about Palm Sunday that warns us about offering Hosannas without counting the cost of the Jesus’ way! It’s easy to deride those same crowds who within a few days would be shouting “crucify”! But would we have been any different? Are we any different?
On that day the Pharisees tried to silence the praise. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is profound: We read in Luke 19:38-39 ‘… saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (v40).
What was happening had consequences for the whole of creation.
Jesus was content to be declared King on that day. We as Christians should still be declaring him King today.
He rides into Jerusalem courageously. We have to be courageous too as we own him as King in our lives.
That is God’s challenge for us today!
The issue is Jesus is King! We have to say it! Declare it! The early Christians did (rather than Caesar is King) and died for their faith!
Say Jesus is King today and they will try to shut you down! To silence you like the Pharisees on that Palm Sunday. It’s the most challenging generation in which to really follow Jesus, put him first, and SAY blessed is the King!
Here is something to consider today: Where are the most difficult place for US to declare Jesus as King (and live it out?). Here are some of them I have thought of. You can add your own:
- Bridge club? Sports club?
Who will shut us down there? Who will say “you need to really top talking about this Jesus bloke. It’s not PC you know!” or words to that effect.
So as we end, we go back to our first outline.
What is the main thing today? Donkeys? Palms? Praises? Stones? Working up to Easter? People regard this Sunday as the “official” start of Holy week – which it is! We are however actually still in Lent – the last Sunday of self – reflection or introspection… the period of those “How am I doing” questions.
How am I doing when it comes to declaring Jesus as King in my life? Am I happy to shout “Hosanna” on Sunday and then be silent on Monday and the rest of the week?
Or am I a secret Christian? Self-appointed underground for God – just too deep underground?
Are we brave and courageous like Jesus on that Palm Sunday? Are we courageous enough to declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus in our lives each day? Or have we worked it all out so that we can remain silent?
May you find grace and strength to make Him Lord of every day. May this Holy week be a time when you discover that you have a story to tell about this Jesus who was “unlike every other bloke”and whose kingship changes our lives today.