Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017

Palm Sunday
Series: A Love That Never Dies
Matthew 21:1-11

Series Big Idea:
Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

Big Idea: We can shout, "Crucify," "Save us now," or praises.

Matthew 21:8-11

Today is Palm Sunday, the remembrance of an interesting parade in Jerusalem, a procession planned centuries earlier. The prophet Zechariah wrote

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

(Zechariah 9:9)

What was the meaning of this assembly? What’s the big deal with Palm Sunday?

Have you ever been to a parade? There’s something exciting about marching bands, floats, waving celebrities…and candy. Don’t forget candy. I think that was my favorite part, as a kid, racing to pick up candy off the ground!

This parade was not announced with TV ads and Facebook invitations. It wasn’t an annual festival like the 4
th of July or Memorial Day. The setting was the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was attracting crowds, teaching the scriptures like no other rabbi, infuriating the religious people, and healing the sick. His name was a lightning rod of controversy, perhaps not unlike Trump, Obama, or Putin today. You loved him or you hated him. Rumors spread about his friend, Lazarus, being raised from the dead (John 12:17-19), and the crowd was hoping to see this dead man walking. Wouldn’t you? Matthew chapter 21 begins…

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)

I love this! In our day, it might be, “Hank and Ryan, go to the Ford dealer up the street, tell the owner you’re borrowing a Mustang for the Lord, and drive it here.”

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)

Don’t miss this! One of the reasons we can fully trust Jesus and the Bible is prophecy. Jesus himself fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies stated centuries before his birth. Here’s one. Zechariah prophesied Palm Sunday.

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. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:6-8)

The people made way for this processional. There was no police escort or blocked-off streets, but the crowd made their own path to welcome Jesus into the city.

King Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a donkey centuries earlier, lowly transport for a king. Jesus was even more powerful than Solomon, yet the ultimate demonstration of humility.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

This is our God. This is our King. Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem with an everlasting love, a love that would not die. He looked into their eyes. He heard their cries.

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)

This was likely not the crowd who would yell, “Crucify him!” This group seems to be spontaneously assembled, more like those Jesus called “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” They were desperate. “Hosanna” meant “save now,” a plea for help, salvation, and rescue, though it seems to have an element of praise and adoration in this scene.

The road would have been rough and rocky. Even today it is anything but smooth. Jesus was a celebrity, riding on a donkey, jostling from one side to the other.

Jesus knew the road ahead, not just the path of the people but the path to the cross, the instrument of death he would face days later. Yet Jesus did not weep for himself. He was sad for the city, for Jerusalem, for its people, it children. He knew the crowds were looking for freedom, deliverance from Rome. They were probably less aware of the oppression of their sins, but they sought a savior from tyranny.

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

The whole city was stirred. Children were especially noisy and excited. Perhaps they heard of Jesus’ great love for kids in a world where only men were given respect and honor. We know the religious leaders were greatly disturbed by the cheering of the children, maybe aware of how kids often bring their parents to faith.

I want to camp out for a moment on the city’s question, “Who is this?”

The people did not have access to 24/7 news channels, billboards, newspapers, or websites. Even if they did, photography had not yet been invented! It was natural for them to wonder who was drawing such attention.

Who is this? This may be the most important question in human history.

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

Who is Jesus? A prophet? A teacher? God? Human? Messiah? King? Savior? Lord?
Who is Jesus? That’s what you and I must answer.

Last week we read about a sign placed above his head, “King of the Jews.” Is he your king?

Just as his donkey stumbled on the rough road, he knows our road can be difficult. It can be rocky. There can be unexpected surprises, both good and bad. There are joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments. Where is he when things get tough? He is with us, Emmanuel, God with us. I realize this is bittersweet—comforting to know he is present but frustrating when he doesn’t intervene and fix everything broken in our world. “If you’re here, prove it!”

I don’t have easy answers. I don’t understand a lot of things in this world—death, loss, pain…but he does. Jesus is not a fairy tale character. He’s not a superhero who flew above the storms of life. He experienced temptation and trials. On purpose! He chose to suffer. He went from the streets of Jerusalem to the way of the cross, from palms to passion, from agony to death…and then from death to resurrection. But that’s next Sunday.

So What?

The crowds had expectations for Jesus. They wanted him to rescue them from Roman rule. They wanted him to heal their sick. They had plans for him!

What about you? What expectations do you have for Jesus? A pain-free life? Happiness? Financial prosperity? Instant answers to all of your prayers?

Jesus knew the hearts of the crowds who shouted, “Hosanna! Save us now!” He knew the hearts of the crowds who would shout, “Crucify him!” He knows your heart and mine, our selfish impulses, our hopes, our dreams, and our secret sins. Yet he loves us. He forgives us for our misguided motives. He washes our sins white as snow. And that gives us reason to sing, reason to rejoice. Today we praise Jesus because he is worthy. He is alive. He demonstrated his love for us. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. He heals diseases and broken relationships. He provides peace, hope, and joy. We love him because he first loved us.

Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Rebel (and spend less), 11 December 2011

    Big Idea: one way to make this Christmas season different is to spend less and give more.

    We are in the most chaotic season of the year, businesses are doing whatever possible to lure us into their stores or onto their websites, credit cards are being used more than snow blowers in Alaska, and calendars are filled with parties and special events. So much for, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

    We continue
    Advent Conspiracy. The conspiracy is to do the season differently. The celebration of a king’s birth, lying in an animal food trough on a silent night has become the most stress-filled, debt-producing, narcissistic season of the year. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Each week we are focusing on one word. Last week it was
    worship. We said to do the season differently we need to worship more, focusing our attention on the one who is worthy and deserving of our affections and attentions—Jesus Christ.

    Today’s word is
    rebel. Does this surprise you? What comes to mind when you think of rebel? I don’t think most people in our culture would think of Jesus-followers as being rebels, yet for centuries, many have led radical, counter-cultural lives. The context of Jesus’ birth itself was filled with rebels.

    Rebellion is part of our tradition as followers of Jesus. I often talk about the importance of context when reading the Bible, and the Advent narratives are no exception.

    We talk a lot about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but one of the dominant characters in the story is Herod. Herod was a nasty man. Actually, there several people named Herod as there were several names Caesar or the Pope. Herod was a governor appointed by the Roman Empire. He began his rule at age 25. He was obviously a friend of Rome and extremely insecure about his empire. He killed three of his sons, a wife, his mother-in-law, siblings, and even one of his key advisors. His empire was built on power and might. Even though he wasn’t Jewish, he held the title “king of the Jews.”

    He was an impressive man. He built stadiums and coliseums. He built a palace on a huge hill that he had built even higher. He even rebuilt the temple, super-sizing it and placing a Roman eagle on it. The temple then became a huge business, with people selling sacrifices. Do you remember the story? Jesus goes postal and knocks over their tables.

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
    (Matthew 7:1-6)

    We looked at this passage last week. Jesus had the right to be on the throne according to the genealogies in Matthew, so rather than seeking Jesus to destroy, he kills all baby boys.

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:7-12)

    Jesus is very aware of Herod, his power, and his influence. His cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded by Herod.

    At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

    He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
    (Luke 13:31-33)

    Jesus knows He is going to die a political death. He is aware of Herod. We need to be aware of Herod. We need to be aware of our culture. Jesus wants us to pledge allegiance to a different empire. Which kingdom will we pledge allegiance to? That is the real question today. We can follow Jesus—the real King of Kings—or we can follow the kings and rules and marketers and leaders of this world.

    Christ-followers for generations have been rebels. They have lived radical, counter-cultural lives. Many have given their lives for their faith, refusing to bow down to the idols and gods of this world.

    What about us? Do we worship the idols of our world—money, success, power—or humbly surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?

    On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

    When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.
    (Luke 23:6-9)

    Herod wants Jesus to entertain him!

    Zealots were activists. They were protestors. Jesus did not join them.

    How do we ignore the kingdom? We focus on another Kingdom.

    Jesus ignored Herod because He was living for a different Kingdom.

    My challenge to you is ignore Herod and our materialistic culture that says more and bigger is better. Do you need all of that stuff? Do you need to buy all of that stuff? Do you need to go into debt to get all of that stuff?

    I’m not going Scrooge on anyone! I love to give and receive gifts. In fact, I’ve already done my part this year to stimulate the economy, but I’ve also done so challenged by the idea of spending less.

    Are there gifts I can offer that aren’t found at Target? Can I give my presence rather than just a bunch of presents? Why do I give gifts? Really.

    In 2007, film maker Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame made a movie called “
    What Would Jesus Buy.” It’s makes quite a statement.

    An article in this week’s noted that the
    Prosperity Gospel preached in many churches is to blame for some of the overspending. According to a Time magazine survey, more than 60 percent of Christians agree that “God wants people to be financially prosperous.”

    Let’s be rebels this Christmas. Let’s be radical! Let’s give thought and care into not only what we buy, but why. Will it matter in six months? Will we still be paying for our gifts in six months? 50% of the people charging their purchases still owe for last year’s Christmas! Despite the recession, “
    the average American plans to spend $751 on gifts this year, up 22 percent from last year’s spending plans.”

    Here’s a few questions to think about the next time you’re at the mall...

    - why am I here?
    - do I need this?
    - how will I pay?
    - what if I wait?
    - where will I put it?

    I want to offer two gift suggestions that will not end up in next year’s garage sale.

    The first is a gift to
    Hope Clinic, our local ministry partner. We have catalogs of gifts you can purchase—everything from hot meals to medical care to prescriptions for needy in our community.

    The second is clean water. Thousands of men, women and children die every DAY just because they lack clean drinking water. A
    gift to The Water Project can literally save lives.

    We can serve MasterCard or the Master.

    We can serve the king of this world or the King of kings.

    We worship and live radical lives because He is worthy of our complete and total devotion.

    Let’s worship more, spend less, give to Hope Clinic and the Water Project, and make this Christmas matter.

    You can listen to the podcast