SERMON from 3-18-12: “Jesus’ Final Week: Palm Sunday”

Matthew 21.1-11


1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them. ’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “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.”  6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Jesus’ Final Week: Palm Sunday


“He’s coming!,” someone shouts in the market.  A tall, gaunt man looks up from his transaction with the man selling him dates–shielding his eyes from the high sun overhead–to see a small contingent of poor travelers purposefully making their way through the crowds.  “The son of David is on his way!”


The man has much to do today.  He is running some errands through the market on his way home to make sure his servants are properly planting his valuable wheat.  His back aches from the previous days chores–which included fixing the fence around his property and repairing the doors on his stable.  However, since the man selling him the dates has decided to follow the crowd, the gaunt man begrudgingly does the same–hoping the date man will return to his post.


As the crowd heads towards the gates of Jerusalem, the dust they kick up becomes heavier.  Being that the man is toward the back of the pack, he feels the need to shield his eyes from the onslaught of grit bombarding his face.


Once the crowd stops, the man isn’t at the back of the pack anymore.  A massive company of souls has gathered in behind him.  This annoys him, as he just wants to get his dates and leave.  However, he is stuck.  So, he settles in while the masses work themselves into a lather.


Two men–carrying dismembered palm branches–work their way through the crowds.  They are handing their branches out to anyone who will take them.  They brush past the gaunt man, then turn around and shove one of the greens in his face.  Realizing the importance of the palm branch–and their use by important people–the gaunt man begins to wonder just who it is that is causing all of this fuss.


He overhears all kinds of stories amongst the bombarding noise of the masses.  “He healed my cousin’s son,” one woman says.  “He brought some poor sap back to life,” says another.  Behind him, he hears that he cares for the poor and pals around with prostitutes.  “He’s the messiah which the prophets foretold,” he overhears.


Still, he hears others scoffing.  “He’s from Nazareth; that wasteland has never produced anything.”


“I heard he is riding in on an ass.  That’s gotta say something.”


Some time passes, while the gaunt man begins to tap his sandal against the dirt–remembering the stuff he still has to get done today.  He brings his hand to his eyes to try and remove some of the dirt that’s accumulated there.  With his eyes shut, he begins to hear the crowd roar.  With the crowd’s noises ringing in his ears, he opens his eyes to see a wall of green palm branches waving and obscuring his view.  His annoyed grunting is drowned out by shouts of “Hosannah!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  He still can’t see what all the fuss is about.


Still annoyed, he twists his head downward to try and see this person.  Just then, four or five branches part enough for the gaunt man to see this mysterious Nazarene.


His initial thought was, “he’s not much to look at.”  Upon closer inspection, he notices that this man is definitely riding a donkey.  “This is the one prophesied,” he thought to himself.  “What kind of messiah looks like he does and rides what he is riding?”


The gaunt man then looks at his face.  There’s something peaceful about it, but not subdued.  It’s a look of peaceful determination.  The man wonders just what kind of messiah, receiving this kind of welcome, remains with that look on his face.


Just then, the gaunt man notices that the rider has locked his gaze on him.  From across the tops of 20 people’s heads, this prophesied messiah has met the eyes of a lowly farmer.  He’s frozen, but for no other reason than he feels something.  There’s something deep within the gaunt man that feels different, warm and inviting, but different.


Even though the man on the donkey has broken his gaze and rode on by, the gaunt man remains still.  The look on his face, the feeling in his heart and the thoughts of his mind all told him that this man was someone important.


The crowds began to turn and follow the man on the donkey, but the gaunt man didn’t move.  His life, his farm and his to-do list–at that very moment–all took a backseat to the unbelievable experience he had just had with a messiah from Nazareth.


He soon snapped back to reality when he heard a commotion break out over near the temple.


We are back to modern day, now.  Welcome back.  Gas prices have stabilized and we are now in the midst of an actual winter.


This is a great story, right?  Not necessarily the fictional one I wrote to help illustrate it, but the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a great story.  Not only is it a great story, it is one that connects Jesus to the prophesies which were foretold about him.


As I read some commentary about this–as pastors are often want to do–one word struck me…peculiar.  One commentary noted this story as peculiar, and I would have to agree.  It is peculiar that Jesus would go out of his way to chose a “beast of burden” upon which to ride into Jerusalem.


It’s peculiar, that is, until you note the symbolism inherent in the choice.  What does a donkey say about its rider?  It marks him as a humble king.  Humility.  If you learn anything from extended exposure to talk about how the Christian is to live their life, you learn that humility is so very important.  We get this idea from the source–Jesus.


This, however, runs contrary to how we want to react to Jesus, right?  The crowds gathered around him with palm branches and shouting their praise towards him.  The things they held and phrases they shouted are the type of things reserved for conquering heroes and ruling kings, which is what they expected in the person of Jesus.  The messiah they expected was someone who was going to beat back the forces of those who had oppressed Israel for so very long.  At the time, the Romans were seen as the grass, and the people hoped Jesus was going to be the lawnmower.


Instead, they got the Nazarene riding into town on a donkey.


In his own time, this scene would have confounded the people.  Of course, they were encouraged when Jesus’ first stop was the temple and he reclaimed it as a house of worship.  I would imagine that many of the confrontations Jesus had throughout that final week of his life were encouraging to the people.  I’m sure they would think things like, “It’s not what I was expecting, but he is really sticking it to them.”


The week ended much less triumphant than everyone had hoped.  The same people who had hailed him mere days earlier, had begun to call for his death.  Those closest to him abandoned him.  He died, and the hopes of so many–they thought–died with him.


But, he rose.  He conquered death.  Most people had abandoned him after the apparent defeat Jesus suffered at the hands of those who would oppose him, but he and his father would have the last word.


That’s where we pick up.  Through the thousands of years since, the church has had the advantage of hindsight.  We saw the whole story unfold and the victory which was won over death.  We give thanks for Jesus and praise God for his steadfast love throughout our history.


For this, Jesus is called so many things.  A good man.  A great teacher.  A great example.  These things are accurate–inadequate–but accurate.  We give thanks for him and seek to follow him as a result.  We shout our own hosannahs and wave our own palm branches, which is good and right for us to do.


But more than good and right, it should be license for us to understand the extent to which praise and worship should go, and how much a part of our lives it should be.  Our benefit of hindsight informs us of the great things God has done through Jesus.  The gathered crowds turned on Jesus later.  Palm Sunday is a reminder to us that that praise should be never-ending.  To paraphrase the psalmist, “his praise should continuously be in our mouths.”


The Lord has done great things for those who do not deserve it.  Just in case you are unclear on who I am talking about–it’s you…and me…all of us.  He is mindful of those whom he created, and who might turn their backs on him at any given second.  The grace of God covers us all, and we have done nothing to earn it.  We cannot, but nothing we have done has merited this wonderful display of love and devotion.  Our response should be our undying praise.


Imagine the life of the gaunt man; after his encounter with Jesus.  We don’t know what his response would have been.  He’s fictional, so you can let your imagination decide.  What we can answer is: what would our response be?  More importantly, what will our response be?  We have the opportunity to answer that question, this and every day of our lives.


What say you?



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