April 13, 2014, Palm Sunday© 2014
During Lent the Gospel will be read as a dramatic dialog before the sermon. This week the congregation participates in the voices of the people welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem.
Narrator: When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
Jesus: “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
Narrator: This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
People: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Narrator: When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking,
People: “Who is this?”
Narrator: The crowds were saying,
People: “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
“On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. [The Guide] decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing.” This processional with palm branches and music is reported in 1 Maccabees 13:51-52. Simon Maccabee was welcomed into Jerusalem after liberating Judah from the invading army of Trypho around 142 BCE. Most of the people of Jerusalem would have known this important event in their history when Jesus rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. But Jesus did not come as a military conqueror. Jesus came as the upside-down King who turns arrogance into humility, hostility into harmony, and grumbling into exaltation.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell the story of Palm Sunday from the perspective of the disciples and people who accompanied Jesus as he approached Jerusalem. John’s Gospel tells it from the perspective of the people of Jerusalem who heard Jesus was coming and ran out to greet him.
Like Mark and Luke, Matthew tells how Jesus staged this pageant by sending two disciples to get the donkey for him to ride. Like John, Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9 to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem. But only Matthew reports the conversation between the people coming into Jerusalem with Jesus and the people coming out of Jerusalem to greet Jesus.
When the people coming out of Jerusalem saw and heard the entourage accompanying Jesus, they asked, “Who is this?” Those coming with Jesus answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
By quoting Zechariah 9:9, Matthew affirmed that Jesus was not just a prophet but the Son of David, the Messiah King. If we read Zechariah 9:9-10 together we can see Jesus as the upside-down King who turns arrogance into humility, hostility into harmony, and grumbling into exaltation. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Yes the Messiah King is triumphant and victorious but not arrogant. He is humble, riding an ordinary beast of burden. Matthew specifies a mother and colt, not because Jesus was straddling two animals like a circus acrobat, but as a demonstration of gentleness with the animals at a time when they would not usually be carrying loads.
Yes the Messiah King is triumphant and victorious but not a military conqueror. No majestic war horse or chariot, but a donkey. No battle bows or spears but cloaks and branches. He commands peace.
Yes the Messiah King is triumphant and victorious but not exclusively for Israel but for all people. He commands peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The shouts of the people welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem came from Psalm 118. Did you recognize them in this morning’s invitation to worship? “Blessed in the one who comes in the name of the Lord” is pretty obvious. But did you know that “Save us, we beseech you. O Lord!” is “Hosanna?”
Before Jesus’ time “Hosanna!” had come to be used as an exclamation of praise, but it is actually an appeal to the Messiah King to “save us.” “Hosanna” is much more than “save us from our enemies.” It implies “save us from ourselves.” It acknowledges that we need help from someone outside of our situation, someone more powerful than we are, the Messiah King, to rescue us.
The Messiah King comes in the name of the Lord. He gets our focus and orientation off ourselves and onto God. He comes in the name of the Lord, with the authority and power of God to save us.
The people shouted, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” The Messiah King transforms our cries for redemption into praise. He reorients our lives from sinking into our problems into glorious worship.
When Jesus is our upside-down King turning arrogance into humility, hostility into harmony, and grumbling into exaltation, we are elevated into the Messiah’s Kingdom.
Competitive pride is replaced with gratitude for the gifts we have received from God’s hand. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land where they would prosper, Moses warned them in Deuteronomy 8:17-18, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul wrote, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have seen the re-eruption of violent ethnic and tribal rivalries in areas formerly under communist domination. Similar hostilities fuel violence in Africa, the Middle East and the Muslim world. In our own country the social, political and even religious landscape is characterized by “polarization.” The Messiah King not only teaches us how to love our spiritual brothers and sisters but instructs us to love our enemies as a sign of his Kingdom.
Our relentless pursuit of happiness has left us with the bitter fruit of discontent that is fed by advertising and inequity. When we get caught up in exuberant praise for the Messiah King, as those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem did, our grousing and griping are washed away by thanksgiving and worship. Our discontent is replaced with joy.