Palm Sunday, April 9, 2006
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t think I’ve ever loved our Gospel text today as much as I do today. Palm Sunday – the Triumphal Entry. As a kid I was one of the ones with palm branches in church, waving it around and singing out beautiful hosannas. But I didn’t love it like I do today. I didn’t understand the message. Justin Martyr believed it was so important that he included it in his First letter of apologetics in 156 AD. He used this fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy (“The Messiah on the colt”) as proof that Jesus was in fact the Son of God. He wanted the Roman Emperor to see the significance of Jesus as clearly as possible. Do we see it? Why does the Messiah ride on a colt with palm branches instead of a war horse with spears? Why does he enter that “ Jerusalem hornets’ nest” on that exact day?
Let’s get into the text in order to find out. Matthew 21:1-5 – “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away. This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "
All four Gospels include this incredible story. They all find it significant enough to bring in their different angles and perspectives of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Matthew brings up one interesting difference when compared to the other Gospels. The disciples brought Jesus a donkey and her colt. Two donkeys not one. They untie THEM and bring THEM to him and it say the Lord needs THEM. Scholars debate the accuracy of the Bible because of differences like this. I’ve never seen the problem. Each writer sees what he sees and notices what he notices. The other three seem to be noting the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible that a colt was involved. Matthew paints the picture more fully with both donkeys making their way with Jesus into Jerusalem. For Matthew, this is one of the twelve times he identifies O.T. prophecies as fulfilled in the life of Jesus. For us, it allows us to add both donkeys into our mental mosaic of that triumphal day.
Matthew 21:7-11 - They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
John’s Gospel adds a little quote from the Pharisees to the end of this. "This is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" That was their greatest fear – that the whole world would go after him. And yet that’s God’s purpose in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christ came to save the whole world and the Pharisees wanted nothing to do with this Jesus. They couldn’t see their version of Messiah. Perhaps they wanted the spear and war horse. Perhaps they wanted more kingly humanity and less divinity. Perhaps they felt sin was more a problem others had and didn’t really pertain to them.
What about the others in the picture? I wonder if looking back Peter would have been singing out hosannas. He didn’t want this to happen. He told Jesus he wouldn’t let anyone harm him. He cut off the ear of a soldier who tried. As many times as Jesus warned him of Good Friday, Peter just didn’t want to listen. Peter probably would have taken back those hosannas and instead screamed out “wait”! “We can do better!” “We can fight!” “Do another miracle and make this all go away!” “I want more sermons on the mount, and daughters raised to life, and loaves of bread and fish sandwiches! Jesus, you fed 4,000! 5,000 even! Let’s turn around!”
In Luke 19, the Pharisees beg Jesus to tell the crowds to stop their hosannas. They’re worried about blaspheming. Those words haunt them. Jesus haunts them more. "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Stop for a moment. This is why I’m so amazed by the significance of this event. This is not a revival where people get excited. This is not a concert where celebrities get praised. This is a spiritual event fought right on earthly soil. God created all things, man, beast, water, earth, and sky. The stones will start to sing because God is entering Jerusalem. The journey to the cross is more than an example of humility and forgiveness. It is a spiritual upper cut that causes people to cry out, stones even, it causes the earth to quake and moan, and it especially strikes a blow to Satan that he never fully recovered from.
Ultimately, to celebrate Palm Sunday is to say that God had enough. Enough of Satan and sin and death. Too many people suffering the effects of a life ruined by cancer. Too many countries staying at war with each other for 5, 10, 100 year wars. Too many families broken and divorced, and broken and divorced again. Too many sins left unchecked, people left impoverished. And too many religious leaders pointing fingers but doing nothing to help. Because you can add up every animal sacrifice, burnt offering, prayer, petition, every single rosary bead in the world, and even the noble deaths of great people like Stephen, the bishop Polycarp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and my Gpa....you can add them all up and it won’t be enough. It doesn’t trump sin. It doesn’t crush Satan’s head. It doesn’t bring life.
When Jesus enters Jerusalem he is saying God has had enough. The prophets kept warning the people of God’s wrath. But they also reminded them that a day will come when everything changes. That’s the Messianic promise. You’re tired of your enemies always getting the upper hand. You’re tired of sin trapping you in life. You’re tired of looking back with regret. Well here comes life, and love, and forgiveness marching through Jerusalem’s gates. The Son of David is here. Martin Luther says it well in his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. For God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Jesus doesn’t bring the spear because forgiveness can only happen by the cross. He has to go there. He has to lose to win. He has to die for us to win.
It only proves again that forgiveness is hard, dirty work. You’re giving it to a husband or wife who doesn’t deserve it. Forgiveness should start in the home, yet you know your spouse will never earn it, they may even misuse it. When you forgive someone, they may turn it around on you to make you look weak. Forgiveness is also costly. When a neighbor damages your property or person, you have every legal right for repayment. Forgiving his debt means losing money that is rightfully yours. That’s what makes Jesus’ journey the single most significant event in history. The cross is not a place for a king. Kings don’t get near Golgotha. Kings do not get stripped of their robes. Kings do not lose their undergarments for all to see. Kings do not get executed like murderers. Everything is all backwards, everything is all wrong.
When we try to fathom how great is the love of God let us consider one thing. He wanted that week to happen. Not in the sense that he threw in the towel, but he was the one in control. He came to Jerusalem so the soldiers would win, the nails would win, the cross would win. He wanted to lose, so he gave up. The real scandal of Christian theology is that Jesus wanted sin to crush him rather than me, rather than you. Every nail takes away thousands of years of evidence. The worst thing you ever did, the most shameful. He’d rather have it stuck into his wrist than read in the eternal courtroom. We have been forgiven the most impossible debt by Jesus . How incredible is it to take that kind of mercy and share it with my wife, husband, brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or enemy who sins against me? To forgive as I have been forgiven.
That kind of love shocks people. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we will ever do. But it shocks people when we give up ourselves, the revenge or repayment that is rightfully ours. To take someone’s sins and throw them onto the bottom of the ocean floor where they are lost forever. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven. When we do that, it changes what people think about Christians, it changes what they think about God. It lets them see a tiny glimmer of God’s incredible love in a world that is so unforgiving. The world is so unforgiving! That’s why forgiveness changes the world! We can show them God’s love.
Forgiveness is painful. It’s a lot easier to forgive people that are close to you. One of the greatest challenges Jesus ever poses to the Christian is love for your enemy. You are choosing to let your enemy go without hurting him with angry words. That’s why Palm Sunday is more than waving branches and singing hosannas. It shows me a God who loves me and all of us enough to take the journey through Jerusalem. It shows me a God that makes forgiveness his primary weapon. So, like the prophets of old remind yourself of that Messianic promise, bind to your hearts, and prepare for the Son of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. James Mueller