Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday: Welcoming Jesus, 5 April 2020

Palm Sunday: Welcoming Jesus
Matthew 21:1-11

Big idea: We choose each day whether to welcome or reject King Jesus in our lives.

I’ve lived my entire life in the Midwest, where winter means snow, summer means swimming in the lake, and spring and fall are cool and crisp.

I’ll never forget my first moments in California. I was a young boy, our family got off the plane and we exited the airport. The warm air was a sharp contrast to the Michigan weather I left behind. But the thing that was most memorable was seeing palm trees.

One feature of humans is we tend to take things for granted. If you’re watching this from Florida or California or a tropical climate, you probably don’t even notice the palm trees that dot the landscape…any more than I notice the oak, maple, and pine trees in my neighborhood.

Palm trees are special to me because they signal a special place, usually a vacation in a warm climate. Israel is a warm climate and it’s full of palm trees.

Hopefully the drama gave you a clear explanation of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week which includes Good Friday—the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross—and Resurrection Sunday, the greatest day on the Christian calendar.

Palm Sunday is a fascinating story of a crowd in Jerusalem and their reception of Jesus the Messiah.

Image about two million people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover celebration. News about Jesus had spread far and wide. The religious leaders were trying to kill him. Many of the people loved him, especially his miracles. The story of him raising Lazarus from the dead was especially captivating.

Jesus is with his followers and…

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matthew 21:1-3)

This is an interesting assignment. Jesus usually walks, but now he tells two of his disciples to go steal two animals, a donkey and her colt! No, it wasn’t theft…but an interesting loan, to say the least. Then again, if someone told you LeBron James or the Pope or Taylor Swift needed to borrow your car, you probably wouldn’t argue. But there’s more to this request than random transportation.

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:4-5, quoting Zechariah 9:9)

In this scene, there are two animals. Jesus sat on the colt and (foal) and the mother donkey walked beside. People often note how Jesus entered on a lowly donkey but will return someday on a white horse (Revelation 6:2; 19:11). A donkey was actually the royal animal of Jewish monarchs (1 Kings 2:32-40). It was a symbol of peace. A horse was associated with war (and there weren’t many horses in the area).

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. (Matthew 21:6-7)

The book of Mark (11:2) tells us this colt had never been ridden, yet King Jesus was able to control the beast. But notice the first sentence:

“The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.”

They didn’t protest or complain, they simply obeyed Jesus, even though borrowing a donkey and a colt may have been an unusual request. Since there was no saddle, cloaks were placed on the animals for Jesus. Now the story gets especially interesting:

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:8)

There’s the palm branches! A similar incident had occurred about two hundreds years prior when the victorious Judas Maccabaeus arrived in Jerusalem after defeating Israel’s enemies.

A path of cloaks is laid before Jesus, much like the actions taken for the anointing of King Jehu (2 Kings 9:12-13). It’s also reminiscent of a tale regarding Sir Walter Raleigh who may or may not have taken off his coat and placed it over a muddy path so Queen Elizabeth I could walk without getting dirty.

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)

The people didn’t just sing, they shouted. They declared Jesus the Son of David…in the city of David! They were waiting for hundreds of years for the Messiah to rescue them from Roman oppression. The people were suffering…for generations. They wanted a Savior. They were desperate for help. We sang “Hosanna” earlier. It means, “Save now!” This was another ancient prophesy fulfilled. Psalm 118:25-26 says,

LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:25-26)

Later in the week, Jesus will quote Psalm 118:22-23; Matthew 21:42).

I used to think the crowds who welcomed Jesus were the same ones who would yell, “Crucify him” days later. Actually, there were at least three different groups of people in the crowd: the people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18), the crowd from Galilee, and Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Jesus is the most controversial figure on earth at the time…and still today!

Some wanted him king, some wanted him killed. Make no mistake, Jesus would triumph (that comes next Sunday!), but only after a shocking and horrifying week.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10)

This is the question. Who is Jesus? There might not be a more important question in human history, including today.

The Jews failed to recognize their Messiah. Many wanted him killed…and they got their wish! The subject of hundreds of prophecies enters Jerusalem on a colt, yet some have no idea what’s happening.

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:11)

It’s an amazing scene, and yet I wonder what would happen if Jesus were to arrive on our planet today. Would we welcome him or reject him? N.T. Wright notes,

´╗┐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. Church attendance goes up in leaps and bounds when a major crisis strikes – a war, say, or an earthquake. Suddenly everyone wants to ask the big, hard questions. Suddenly everyone wants Jesus, in terms of this story, to ride into the city and become the sort of king they want him to be. Give us peace, now! Pay my bills, and hurry! Save the life of my sick child, and do it right away! Give me a job by this time tomorrow! And – perhaps the most common prayer of all – Help!

Fortunately for us, Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, the broken, the sick, the messed up. He is a God of love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion. But He’s God…and we’re not. He will not always do what we want, when we want…not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does. He has a plan. It doesn’t always make sense to us. Good Friday certainly didn’t make sense. This king the people welcomed into Jerusalem would be hanging on a cross less than a week later, dashing all of their hopes and dreams…until…

The people made demands of Jesus: save now!

We make demands of God, too. Heal now! Get rid of the virus now! Get us back to work now!

So What?

Palm Sunday is really about the tension between our expectations and God’s actions. Perhaps you’re watching today because God’s got your attention. You’re bored, you’ve watched everything on Netflix, every place is closed, …and maybe you’re getting desperate. Maybe you’re asking bigger questions than, “What’s for lunch?” or “What shall we buy on Amazon?”

Jesus
did save, but not in the way they expected. They wanted Jesus to take over the government…and someday the King of kings will rule and reign forever.

What do you expect from God? Are you blaming Him for the problems in your life? Have you lost your faith? Are you filled with questions and doubts? That’s ok. Tell Him! He’s listening! But remember, He’s God and you’re not. Yes, He wants to save, but He also wants to be LORD. Leader. God!

We choose each day whether to welcome or reject King Jesus in our lives.

Moses’ successor, Joshua, once made this famous declaration to the people of Israel:

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD
.” (Joshua 24:15)

Will you be like the crowds, demanding God operate on your terms? Or will you be like Joshua, seeking to serve the LORD, to worship God, to welcome King Jesus into your life?

Credits: Some material from N.T. Wright and Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
  • Lovers, Haters & Consumers, John 12:1-19, 24 March 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus’ critics and crowds grow increasingly passionate. Which are you?

    Introduction

    We continue our series on the Gospel of John, a biography written by one of Jesus’ best friends. His purpose in writing can be found in chapter 20:

    Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

    The first eleven chapters have presented Jesus as a controversial figure, attracting great crowds through miracles and teachings while creating great hatred among the envious, legalistic, judgmental religious leaders.

    March Madness

    This is one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans—March Madness. This is the season of brackets, of picking winners and losers in college basketball’s championship tournament. 63 games are played over the course of a few weeks until a national champion is crowned in two weeks.

    One fascinating feature of March Madness is the emotion involved, both among the players and the fans. There are certain teams the some people love and other despise. There are also fair-weather fans that root for a team one year and root against them the next. On April 8, many in our nation will be divided between two teams. Hopefully it will be Michigan against Ohio State!

    The Setting

    In many ways this is similar to our place in the Gospel of John. There are people that love Jesus and those that hate Him. Tension surrounds Him. Actually, there are three types of people: the type that hate Him, the type that truly love Him, and the type that love Him if He will do what they desire. Let’s call them haters, lovers, and consumers.

    Last week we looked at Jesus’ miraculous healing of Lazarus from the dead. You would think everyone would rejoice over this incredible event, yet John 11 says


    Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (44-46)

    A few verses later we read

    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?” But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him. (11:55-57)

    Do you feel the tension?


    Extravagant Love

    Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (1-3)

    This was extravagant love! In the midst of a special dinner in Jesus’ honor, the three siblings—Mary, Martha and Lazarus—are present, possibly at Martha’s house. Nard was a precious spice from northern India that smelled like gladiolus (gladiola). Matthew tells us it was worth one year’s wages for a day-laborer (20:1-16) so today that would be around $15,000 or more! Furthermore, by letting her hair down in public—something done only in the private presence of one’s husband—she was acting with reckless abandon.

    When is the last time your worship was extravagant? When is the last time worshipping Jesus really cost you anything more than an hour of sleep on Sunday morning or a few bucks in the offering plate? Seriously. How often have you truly demonstrated your love and devotion to Jesus?

    Of course, the aroma filled the house.

    Criticism

    But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

    “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “ [It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
    (4-8)

    Jesus welcomed the love He was receiving, not because He had an ego, but because He knew His days were numbered. He also recognized the sincere faith of Mary, something that was rare among His fickle followers.

    Some have taken this response of Jesus to mean that we should do nothing about the poor since there will always be poor among us. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

    I read a story this week about a minister in Cleveland, Ohio who spent decades in the inner city. Throughout his years, a series of associate pastors would work with him, only to quit after a year or two, discouraged by the great need and limited resources. When asked about his perseverance, he said referenced this passage, saying, “What I understand Jesus to say is that I will never be able to eliminate poverty. Therefore, when I cam here, I had no expectation that I was going to solve all these problems. I never thought I would eliminate poverty or get rid of the drug traffic or end unemployment among my parishioners. I realize that for every person that is brought out of the ghetto, more are brought in. If we get one person off of drugs, five more get hooked here. My mission isn’t to get rid of the poor or to get rid of all these problems y mission is to minister to people who are suffering from these things while they are here and while I’m here.”

    I’ve struggled with stewardship. While resources are limited, I’m rich compared to most of the world. In fact, as I once mentioned before, I’m the 1% that Occupy Wall Street talked about—well, I’m not among the wealthiest 1% in the USA, but I am among the top 1% in the world. Should I give money to Scio, the Salvation Army, Starbucks, or my savings account? Yes! As a church, should we use our income to serve the poor, fix our parking lot, or support international workers? Yes!

    I don’t know about you, but I definitely would’ve questioned the wisdom of dumping that expensive perfume on Jesus, but that’s just exposing my wicked, judgmental heart. It was so impractical and wasteful—not unlike God’s grace which is lavishly given to unworthy sinners like Mary, you and me.

    Today, Jesus is not here, but the poor are. How is your love for Jesus reflected in your concern for the poor?

    Mary loved Jesus. He was not only a friend, He had just brought back her brother from the dead! Like John the Baptist who was not worthy of Jesus or even untying His sandals, Mary knew she was in the presence of One worthy of total surrender.

    I often lose that sense of wonder and throw only money in the offering plate when I need to put my soul and body in, too.

    Now it was Jesus who would soon be buried, and there might not be time for proper anointing of His body as was the custom. Whether Mary knew it or not, she was preparing Jesus for the tomb. It was enough to embalm. It is possible that there was so much nard on Jesus’ hair and body that it could still be smelled as He hung on the cross days later.

    Crowds

    Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (9-11)

    The only way they can control Jesus and this story about Lazarus is to kill them both!

    Consumers

    The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (12-15)

    This large crowd, most say, was at least 100,000, but possibly as large as two million or more. This is the famous palm Sunday scene, but this is an odd scene. You might not realize it, but there are many things out of place in this scene. Palm branches were a part of Hanukkah, the celebration of Judas Maccabaeus defeating the pagan invaders in 164 BC. Palm branches don’t fit the springtime. Later, in fact, the Jews would revolt against the Romans and mint their own coins with the image of a palm branch, their national symbol of victory.

    Then there is the issue of the word “hosanna.” The Hebrew origin means, “save now.” It can be found in Psalm 113-118. The cry is literally one of rescue and deliverance.

    Also, Jesus was welcomed as king. Kings ride on horses, not donkeys. Although the donkey was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 centuries earlier, this form of transportation was odd and unexpected. This wasn’t a donkey like we often see, a small horse. Donkeys in the Holy Land are much smaller. In fact, grown men have to bend their knees when they ride so they don’t drag on the ground!

    At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. (16)

    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. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (17-19)

    Jesus is no longer a local or national celebrity. He has gone global! Indeed the whole world went after Him because He came for the whole world—for God so loved the whole world that He gave His one and only Son (John 3:16).

    The same people who cheered on Palm Sunday yelled for Jesus’ blood days later when He didn’t meet their expectations of governmental overthrow. They wanted a political leader and, instead, got a humble Messiah. It is ironic, however, that as they shouted “save now” He was preparing to do just that—on the cross.

    So What?

    There are three types of people today—those that love Jesus, those that hate Jesus, and those consumers that want to use Jesus. We could add a fourth category—those that don’t know Jesus at all, a tragic reality that provides us with an incredible privilege and opportunity in letting the whole world know about our amazing God and King.

    Chances are, you are not a person that hates Jesus. You certainly aren’t out to kill Him since He’s already “been there and done that!” If you knew nothing about Jesus an hour ago, you now know a bit about Him. That leaves two categories—lovers and consumers.

    Are you with the shameless Mary, passionately worshipping Jesus with everything you’ve got, your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are you extravagant in the giving of your time, talents and treasures? Are you willing to look foolish for a God who gave everything—even His own life—for you?

    Or are you cautious and prudent like Judas and many in the crowds on Palm Sunday, using Jesus for your own purposes, following Him as long as He makes you happy, answers your prayers instantly, and keeps you safe and comfortable?

    Do you truly love and trust Jesus or do you approach Him with an agenda?

    Are you a lover or a consumer?

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