2021-03-28 Palm Sunday
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
The scriptures paint the incredible picture of what Jerusalem was like on this day of days some 2000 years ago. The city of David and her ancient gates were filled to the brim with enormous crowds of people! Perhaps even a million by some estimations gathered in the eternal city. Old people slowly getting around on crutches and canes and staffs, young people zig-zagging this way and that way underfoot causing their parents much grief. The hustle and bustle of that day was almost more than one could bear. Every year though, year after year faithful Jews and God-fearing Gentiles made their way up to Jerusalem to gather together for the Passover – that sacred festival that celebrated and recalled the mighty works of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob saving and delivering His people from slavery and captivity in Egypt.
The scriptures record the arrival of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem. The huge crowds that were there for Passover and those who had heard that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead all ran out to greet Him waiving the now iconic palm branches for which we now call this day Palm Sunday. The palms were readily available in the area to be sure but they carried a far greater meaning than simple convenience. They represented triumph and victory - military might - from back in the former days of Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus. He was an inter-testamental time guerrilla warrior who rose up against the Seleucid empire, and reclaimed the Temple, cleansing it of false gods. This was the type of guy people could support and rally behind! Make God’s people’s enemies a footstool under their feet! Be a military, conquering Messiah, freeing the people from oppression by gentile overlords!
These were the “Messiah-goggles” that the Passover pilgrims had on when it came to Jesus. They’d seen His miracles, heard His teachings, watched as He beat the Scribes and the Pharisees like a rented-mule! And now, here He comes, the mighty Messiah coming into Jerusalem on a glorious war-horse driven chari..ot … er, OK a donkey?! Whatever! The crowd begins to shout loudly “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (JN 12:13). It is a greeting fit for a King. Hosanna literally means “Save us now!” But the giant crowds of people really didn’t know what they were asking. They had an idea in mind all right. They wanted the nice, clean-cut and handsome Kosher King, someone who would come in like Rambo kicking down the door and getting rid of those pesky pig-eating Romans! They shout “Save us now, O Schwarzenegger-Savior!” Save us from this embarrassing oppression! We’re God’s chosen people after all! Make these gentile overlords suffer!
The donkey probably should have been the first clue something wasn’t adding up. The “Messiah-goggles” they had on were blinding them to what God was revealing before their very eyes. The promised Messiah wasn’t going to be a guerrilla warrior in an earthly sense. Into town He comes, riding on a donkey, clippity-clop, clippity-clop. Humble and lowly is He. And the establishment is right ticked off. The beaten-down Pharisees and Scribes sought revenge. They had already made plans to kill Jesus, way back in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel (11:53). They now see the enormous crowds going insanely ga-ga over this Jesus and they loathe everything about Him. Their hatred and envy blind them to the truth of God’s Word which proclaims “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech 9:9). They do not rejoice at the coming of the King of the Jews.
Palm Sunday summons us too to behold our King as He is revealed in the scriptures. He is not a made up figment of our imagination. He is not the Rambo-Messiah. Instead, He will be the Suffering-Servant. Before He wears the crown of gold, He will wear the crown of thorns. We simply cannot understand our Lord’s kingship apart from His Holy Passion. Filled with an infinite love for the Father and the Holy Spirit and for you and me, our Lord Jesus will accept the infinite degradation of the cross. He will accept us. He is the Lord who bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He is wounded for our transgressions and makes Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53).
“Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!” the huge crowds shout! Our Lord is famous and the capacity crowd pushes on to greet Him. The establishment watches with hatred in their eyes, jealous beyond words “Look, the world has gone after Him!” (JN 12:19) they scoff. This becomes an eternally humbling thought, when you consider the Scriptures that boldly proclaim “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). For the joy. How truly amazing this is for us to realize that the Lord’s joy is … you. You. With all your short comings, sins and imperfections, transgressions and faults, gifts and abilities - the King of Kings and Lord of Lords goes to the emblem of suffering and shame, the cross, for you. He readily embraces suffering and misery because He knows that through it there is a brighter future waiting.
But we look to our Lord’s cross and we see that from that cesspool of desolation and iniquity comes incredible blessing! The salvation of the world for all who believe the promise rises 3 days later. Death doesn’t win. The invisible enemy of evil doesn’t win. Sin doesn’t win. God wins! His victory is rock-solid and sure. For “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (JN 1:5)! The darkness of this sin-sick world will not conquer us, friends! For we belong to the very light of the world! Our Messiah has come that we may be free and truly free we are! The freedom we have in our resurrected Messiah cannot be contained.
St. Paul writes in Romans “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:18, 37-39).
This victory of Holy Week we keep firmly before our eyes. For in a few days time the palms will be gone. The joy that ran out to greet the coming King will fade away. The grand procession that lead into Jerusalem will transform into a somber funeral procession out of Jerusalem. The joyous shouts of “Hosanna!” will be exchanged for calls to “Crucify!” And yet, our humble King goes uncomplaining forth. Not for the glory. Not for the fame and glam. Not for celebrity photo-ops. Rather, dear friends, He goes for the joy that was set before Him. He goes to the cross willingly, for you. Keep your eyes on this prize now and forever more! Amen!