Zechariah 9:9-11; John 12:12-16
March 29, 2015 Palm Sunday
After World War I and the Great Depression, people world over were looking for leaders who could rescue them from global chaos. Some were evil and others noble: Hitler, Hirohito, Mussolini, Franco, Haile Selassie, Stalin, de Gaulle, Churchill, and in this country Franklin Roosevelt.
Today, the whole world is looking for someone to rescue us from the chaos of Iraq, Iran, Syria, ISIL, et al. You will hear presidential candidates promising solutions, but I am fully certain none of them will be the American messiah.
At the time of Jesus, Rome’s oppression was brutal. Messianic fever was high, hoping for a rescuing hero.
That is essential to John 12:12-16’s Palm Sunday story. Summoned by his friends, Jesus came to Bethany, near Jerusalem, and raised Lazarus from the grave as a sign of resurrection. This threatened Temple leaders who plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus withdrew to the safety of a remote area but returned for a dinner when Mary anointed him, which he said prepared him for his burial.
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” 14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
The differences in John’s Palm Sunday from the synoptic Gospels emphasize Jesus’ leadership of humility and peace.
The synoptic Gospels tell of those who came with Jesus, some from Galilee, but John tells it from the perspective of those who were in Jerusalem and went out to meet him.
Only John specified palm branches, symbolizing victorious Hebrew royalty. Two centuries earlier, Simon Maccabeus was welcomed with palms after liberating Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:7).
Hosanna was not an acclamation of praise but an appeal to be rescued by a conquering hero, which came from “save us” in Psalm 118:25 from our call to worship.
John quoted the people as adding “the King of Israel” to “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Sometimes John is accused of anti-Semitism because he used “Jew” in ambiguous ways. “Jew” was actually shortened from Judah and was used in a derogatory way by their oppressors: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. John consistently used “Israel” with positive connotations. By adding “King of Israel” the people were hoping Jesus would be the conquering hero to rescue them from Rome. But by Friday, Jesus was condemned by Pilate as “King of the Jews” not “King of Israel.”
John didn’t tell how Jesus got the donkey’s colt, only that he sat on it, which he interpreted with Zechariah 9:9 as a sign of Jesus’ leadership of humility and peace.
At the same time, Pilate may have ridden into Jerusalem on a war horse with a military entourage. Some wanted Jesus to keep going to run Pilate out of town. By coming on a donkey’s colt, Jesus rejected all such thoughts.
As King of Israel, Jesus cut off the chariot, the war horse and the battle bow to command peace to all the nations.
[Highlands Christian Church is to vote on calling a new pastor before the start of the Palm Sunday service. Though I anticipate enthusiastic affirmation, in an abundance of caution and respecting congregational process, I have redacted the end of this sermon, as though a government report going to the press or a Congressional committee. This is also respecting the career and calling of the candidate.]
Looking at Jesus’ leadership of humility and peace on the Sunday you voted to call a new pastor begs the question, what kind of leadership will you expect from XXXXXXXXXX?
Your vote today affirms the conviction of your S&C Committee that God has specifically called XXXXXXXXXX and Highlands Christian Church together. I encourage you from day one to treat XXX as God’s gift sent to you.
I believe XXX education in music and business will bring ideas and resources especially valuable to this church at this time. I know XXX will bring changes in worship and changes in administration. XXX experience in ministry with families of children and youth match your aspirations.
Though XXX is much younger with fewer years of church experience than most of you, your vote confirms that God has called XXX to lead you as your pastor. One of your important challenges will be to let XXX lead, believing XXX wants the best for this church and has much to contribute to this church. But XXX won’t always get it right. So you are also going to be teaching XXX a lot as a new senior pastor. You do not want to do this in an adversarial relationship but in a spirit of collaborative partnership.