Easter 2014 – Palm Sunday
Appointment in Jerusalem
Mark 11: 1 - 11
Holy Week - around the world Christians are celebrating the momentous events that took place 2000 years ago. What a week it is, 8 days that begin with Palm Sunday and end with Easter Sunday. 2 great events bracket Holy Week - the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
The Majority Will Never Desire the Truth
I'm sure that most of us know the general outlines of the Palm Sunday story. Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey? Why did the people wave palm branches? Why did they cry out "Hosanna!" as he passed by? What does it all mean? On Palm Sunday, the Truth rode into Jerusalem on a donkey's back. Although the crowds cheered the Truth, beneath the surface a conflict was raging. The majority did not want the Truth that day, nor have they wanted the Truth on any day since that day.
Sunrise in Bethany
That day began as normal, an early sunrise, the sound of the little shops opening. Bethany was a village - a simple cluster of homes. The farmers made ready to go to the fields. Mothers were getting their children up and dressed.
In the home of Mary and Martha things were different because Jesus was there. Jesus had visited them many times. Their home was a special place for him. This time he had come for a funeral but had turned it into a celebration. Just a day or so earlier he had publicly raised Lazarus from the dead. By now thousands had heard the news. It seemed so impossible . . . But Jesus had done it!
Now the morning had come. It was clear that Jesus was not staying any longer. He had the look of a man on a mission. No one realized what was about to happen on this Sunday morning.
The Master's Plan
The story of the Triumphal Entry is found in all 4 gospels. It tells us that something critical is about to happen. One impression overwhelms you in the story: Jesus is in complete control of everything that happens on Palm Sunday. He is not reacting to anyone or anything. No one expects him to do what he does. There are no sick people, no Pharisees to confront, no storms to still, no dead men to raise, no puzzling questions to answer. What Jesus does, he does of his own accord.
An Ancient Prophecy
The story begins with a donkey. When you read Matthew you realise that the disciples actually brought back 2 donkeys, a mother and her young colt which had never been ridden. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the young colt with the mother walking alongside. Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy - Zechariah 9: 9 - "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey." He will come as a gentle king riding on a donkey, He will come as a righteous king bringing salvation to his people.
A king on a donkey? You must be joking. He didn't look like a king that day. That was the whole point. He's a king, but he's not like any earthly king. Jesus was sending a clear message to the nation. "This is what I am! I am your King, but I am not the King you were expecting!"
A Symbol of National Liberation
Speaking of the unexpected, the people along the road began to do something no one could have predicted. As Jesus passed by, they waved palm fronds. What does that mean? In the OT, the Jews were told to wave palm fronds as a part of the Feast of Tabernacles. Palm branches represented joy and celebration. They were also a symbol of national liberation for the Jews. When the Jews waved the branches, they were saying, "This is the man and this is the day!" It was the welcome given to kings and conquerors. "Ride on, King Jesus."
Five Days Before Passover
Jerusalem is clogged with pilgrims who have come for the great celebration. During Passover the population of Jerusalem could swell to 3m people. In such an atmosphere of festive anticipation rumours would quickly spread like wildfire. As word of the raising of Lazarus spread, people began to wonder if Jesus would come to Jerusalem for Passover.
Add to that the general political heat. There were 3 main political parties: The Pharisees who patiently endured Roman rule; the Zealots who didn't patiently endure anything; the Sadducees who ran the Temple complex and cooperated with the Romans. Then you have the Romans themselves and the 2 key rulers, Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. The stage is now set for a great confrontation. Into this unstable situation rides Jesus on the back of a young donkey. What will happen next?
Two Strange Sights
Picture the scene. As Jesus leaves Bethany, hundreds of people come running to join him. Another large crowd in Jerusalem, having heard that Jesus was on his way, leaves the city to meet him as he approaches the Mount of Olives. It is a day of unbridled joy as the common people welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.
Inside the city, the chief priests and scribes monitor the situation with alarm. A public display of support for Jesus was the last thing they wanted. Their shock turns to dismay and then to anger as the reports keep pouring in. Meanwhile the procession makes its way toward Jerusalem, the shouts of the people growing louder. All 4 gospel writers mention that the people shouted, but also what they shouted. 2 things - "Hosanna!", and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." "Hosanna!" - Hebrew word - "Save us now." These people believed that at long last the Messiah had come. They were right.
Jesus gladly accepted the praise of the people. What a change. For most of his ministry, he told people not to spread the word. He wanted people to see him as more than a miracle-worker. But not today. The time for silence was long past. The time for truth had come. When the Pharisees heard the crowds praising him, they urged him to rebuke his disciples. Jesus refused, "If I tell them to be quiet, the rocks themselves will break forth in praise to me."
Luke is the only writer who tells us - at the height of the celebration Jesus begins to weep. It happened as the road to Jerusalem wound around the Mount of Olives. When Jesus saw the city, he began to weep. Jesus was weeping, not for himself, but for the city that was about to reject him. Jesus saw beyond the cheering crowd to the mob that would soon crucify him. He knew on Palm Sunday that Good Friday was only 5 days away. He knew that the nation would soon turn away from him. He saw through the mists to the day when the Romans would destroy the city. Because the nation would reject its Messiah, such awful judgment would soon fall. Why? God's Son had come and they did not recognize him. God's Son had come and they crucified him.
He knew the crowds were fickle. He knew the leaders were plotting. He knew the cheers would soon turn to jeers. He knew on Sunday what would happen on Friday. He knew the cross lay directly in his path. He knew all those things but he went anyway. King Jesus rode on because he had an appointment in Jerusalem.
How Could He Have Made It Plainer?
Some would look back and say, "If only we had known." But after Palm Sunday no one could truly use that excuse. They knew! No one could ever say, "He didn't make himself plain." He made himself so clear that no one could miss it. On Palm Sunday no one was under any compulsion. The nation had a clear choice to make. So did the rulers. The Romans did nothing to interfere. The priests stood by and watched it all happen. Every man had a choice to make that day. Jesus has come into the city. Wild confusion reigns. What will the people do? The disciples praise him openly. The children praise him innocently. The crowds cheer him but they do not understand him. The city is curious but not committed.
That leaves only one group - the religious leaders. What will they say? How will they respond? The people have spoken, but will their rulers follow suit? 3 words sum up their reaction – Fright, Frustration, Anger. Fright because they do not know what Jesus is up to. Frustration because so many people cheer him as he rides into the city. Anger because they now see him as an enemy of their interests, an enemy who must be eliminated.
The time for decision has come. The nation must give its verdict concerning Jesus Christ. The evidence is in, the jury has been instructed, and a verdict must soon be returned. "Jesus Christ is the object of faith - one either believes in him or is offended by him." There are 2 choices and only 2. You either believe or you are offended. The truth about Jesus is a two-edged sword. It cuts both ways. No one can stay in the middle forever.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred. People began to ask each other, "Who is this man?" "It is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." Every detail of the answer is correct. But it doesn't go far enough. He is a prophet but he's more than a prophet. He is from Galilee but that's not his ultimate hometown. The people of Jerusalem asked the right question and gave the almost-right answer. But in spiritual things almost-right is not good enough. They were close but not close enough!
Palm Sunday Lessons
What did Jesus accomplish that day? What was Palm Sunday all about? Jesus was sending a message to Israel on Palm Sunday, a message that the time for decision had come. No longer would the people have the privilege of discussing his credentials in an abstract manner. On this day Jesus presented himself to the nation, asking for an immediate decision. The answer he received was not encouraging. Although the crowds cheered, they did not truly understand him. Although the leaders understood him, they did not cheer him. Israel came close, so close on that day to embracing him as God's Messiah. But close wasn't good enough.
After Palm Sunday the only thing left was Golgotha. 20 centuries have come and gone since Jesus met his appointment in Jerusalem. 3 lessons remain -
1. Spiritual Opportunities Don't Last Forever.
Where Jesus Christ is involved, no one can wait forever. No one can sit on the fence forever. There comes a time when a decision must be given for or against the Son of God. In spiritual matters, not to decide is to decide. To say "not now" is really to say "no."
It's not enough to be interested in Jesus. Millions of people who are interested in him have no living relationship with him. The people of the first Palm Sunday were interested. The whole city was stirred to the point of discussion . . . but not the point of action. Mere interest will never save you. The gospel saves only those who believe…not those who talk about believing. Interest is good if it leads on to action; if not, interest will eventually harden into disinterest and ultimately into hatred.
There is a time to think and a time to decide; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to discuss and a time to make up your mind. Palm Sunday reminds us that each of us must sooner or later make up our minds about Jesus Christ.
If knowledge alone would save us, the whole world would be saved by now. But it takes courage to believe in Jesus. Knowledge is not the root of our problem. Mostly we just lack the courage to embrace the truth.
2. The World That Rejected Christ Then Still Rejects Him Today.
The people of the world hate religious emotion in the same way the Pharisees hated the way the crowds cheered Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. They hate religious emotion because they do not understand it. To them religion is an intellectual affair that never touches the heart. But Jesus will have none of that. If a man will not give him his heart, Jesus wants no part of him.
3. The Invitation is to Believe and to Be Brave.
Christ comes again and again to the human heart. Your King has come. What will you do? Will you join with those who crucified him or will you join with those who cry out "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!"? Our greatest need is for moral courage to make the right moral choices. When the time comes to take sides with Jesus, all you need is enough courage to do the right thing.