Palm Sunday

Based On: Mark 11:1-10

We don’t know what it is like to have a king.  It has been more than two hundred years since the original thirteen colonies separated themselves from the king of England and began ruling themselves.  We have long lost the sense of awe and reverence people once had for royalty.

Certainly the President of the United States gets very special treatment.  Whenever he goes anywhere there are many people preparing the way for him – in a sense, laying down their coats and palm branches before him.

But here in this country at this point in history we are so used to thinking of the President as someone no better than any of us that he gets very little respect.  In the past kings had more power and more control.  When Shimei cursed king David, one of David’s companions said, “Let me go cut off his head.”  You respected the king – not just out of fear, but also because of the blessings a good king could bring to you and to the country.

When Jesus comes into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people treat him as a king, we may find it difficult to imagine the feelings of awe, respect, devotion, and loyalty they would have toward their king.  But as we look carefully at what happened on that first Palm Sunday we will notice the short-lived devotion of the people and the irony of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.

The city was overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the Passover and so those welcoming Jesus that day probably numbered in the thousands. The journey was not a brief one.  Beginning at the Mount of Olives, going into and through Jerusalem up to the temple, with the crowds following him and running ahead of him – it could have taken the whole afternoon.  By the time Jesus was done, Mark tells us, it was late in the day and Jesus traveled back to Bethany.

To the casual observer it must have looked almost like chaos – all those people throwing their cloaks down in front of Jesus, picking them up after he passed, running into the fields to cut branches and laying them on the path, all those people shouting their words of praise.  Yet, there was purpose to all this commotion.  The Holy Spirit had moved the hearts of these people to recognize their king and to welcome him with their words and actions. 

The words they use are fitting for this king.  They shout “Hosanna!” which originally was an urgent plea, “Save!  Please!”, but now is a word of praise to the one who can and will save them. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The one who comes in the name of the Lord is the one who comes to carry out the Lord’s plan of Salvation.  This is why Jesus is in Jerusalem.  They shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.”  This king is the royal descendant of king David and has come to rule on his throne forever, just as God promised.

These common people could not praise him enough for what he was about to do for them.  They could not do enough to treat him as the divine royalty that he is, but they did what they were able to do and Jesus was pleased to receive this praise from them.

But how long did this last?  The honor they gave Jesus lasted for the day, perhaps they followed him through the week, but by Friday  the people of Jerusalem changed their shouts of praise into shouts of “Crucify!”  I am not suggesting that the crowd on Good Friday was the same crowd as Palm Sunday, but you know how people are – they will follow whatever fad is popular at the moment.  I suspect that there were some who were a part of both crowds, but if not, there were still many shouting praises on Palm Sunday who kept quiet on Good Friday, no longer acknowledging Jesus as king.

Have you ever noticed the same duplicity in you?  One day we praise God but the next we would rather not have too close a connection with him. We sing “Hosanna” – “Save! Please!” but when we need help with the problems of life, prayer is the last thing on our minds.  We prefer to find our own solutions.  We say “your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, but when it comes to reading God’s Word – the tool through which God’s kingdom comes – well, let’s just say the print in our Bibles is in no danger of fading because of too much light.

Then there is Jesus.  Do you see the irony of Palm Sunday – the contradiction in Christ’s kingly entrance into the Holy City?  His entrance into Jerusalem reveals only a shadow of who he really is, but this lowly entrance tells us about his purpose.

This is the King of kings and Lord of lords and yet he comes into Jerusalem on a donkey – not a horse or chariot, nothing extravagant, just a modest and common form of transportation.  And even the donkey was not his own, but the one who owns everything borrowed a donkey.

This was the King of creation who is in control of all things.  He could have easily commanded clouds to carry him into Jerusalem and thunder to announce his presence. But he simply commands this young, untested colt to carry him and the voices of sinful people declare his praise.

This is the God of Israel heading toward his temple, but the leaders of the city and overseers of the temple did not recognize him and would not have him as their king.  Instead, Jesus welcomed the praise of the common people and accepted their humble submission.

Why the difference between the great King who enters into Jerusalem and the lowly way he comes?  The way he comes is connected to his purpose for coming.

It is earthly rulers who prefer a grand entrance with a great show of wealth and power.  He did not come to rule over us in the earthly sense of the word.  He came to rule in our hearts.  He came as one of us, to be like us so that he could win the victory for us in our place.  To do that he went to the cross.  Here on Palm Sunday we see him enter Jerusalem in victory, but the real victory takes place on Good Friday where he takes the guilt of the world on his shoulders and all our sin dies with him.

Every thought, word, or deed that has put distance between us and God is now gone. The times we waver back and forth between faithful praise and keeping our distance, between asking for help and insisting on our own way – those sins have been defeated by our king.

Now, whatever good deeds you would clothe yourself with before God – throw them under his feet and let him trample them so he may give you the robe of his righteousness. 

One last contrast.  The Christian church has for many centuries used the palm branch as a symbol of victory – specifically of our victory over death.  Here you see those symbols of victory at the foot of this instrument of death.  Only through Christ’s victorious death on the cross do we have the victory over death.  Because of that cross we will one day wave palm branches before Jesus as part of the great multitude of believers in heaven.

Amen.

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