Zechariah 9:9-10, Luke 19:28-44
April 1, 2007 – Palm Sunday
The people were ready. This all made sense to them. The end of the road was in sight, and the people had their ideas about what was about to happen, and they were ready.
We’ve been thinking about Jesus’ road to Jerusalem this year. And we’ve been reading mostly from the Gospel of Luke. And I feel like I’ve gained a new appreciation for Luke and his writings. Between his Gospel and the Book of Acts, which he also wrote, Luke is responsible for more of the New Testament than any other author, except perhaps for Paul. And since Luke was traditionally recognized as being a friend of Paul, that makes sense, doesn’t it?
Like the Gospel of John, there are things in Luke’s Gospel that appear nowhere else. Luke is the only Gospel writer who records many of our favorite parables – like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. (and his elder brother!) Luke also gives us a unique perspective on many of the stories of Jesus’ life. And as we come to this day, we find that his is the most complete telling of the story of Palm Sunday.
As we look at his account, we find one similarity to that of John. Like John, Luke recognizes that the people were there that day because of all the miracles they had seen Jesus do. In verse 37 he tells us, “As he was drawing near, the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen!”
Of course, John was even more specific about this. He tells us that many of the people were there because they had heard of the mighty miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead! I’m sure Luke would agree with John. Because I believe he saw how all of this “made sense” in the people’s minds. And what all of this pointed to for them – and this is unmistakable in Luke – was that Jesus was coming down that road, and coming into Jerusalem to be their new King.
There is very little question of that here. The more you read, the more that is what made sense to those people. It all fit! All they had seen and heard so far pointed to him as being a very special man, mightily used by God. He taught with authority. He challenged the oppressive social conventions. He appealed to the people in compassionate ways. He forgave, he loved, and he rebuked. And he performed miracles no one had ever imagined before. Now he was coming to take what they assumed was his rightful place. He was coming, they thought, to be the King!
Look at this scene. Notice that there’s no shout of “Hosanna” in Luke’s Gospel. That’s not to say the people didn’t use that word that day. It’s just that Luke doesn’t emphasize that as part of this story. Luke gets right to the heart of the people’s thinking. They shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Matthew and Mark both simply say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” But Luke, along with John, uses the word “King.”
These are subtle differences, I know. And one thing I am sure of is that the crowd probably shouted all of those things! But remember that the Gospel writers wanted to bring out certain words and actions in order to give us their unique perspective. And Luke’s perspective here is unmistakable. These people wanted a King! They were tired of being under the thumb of Rome, and they saw this Jesus as their way out! All things they had seen and heard pointed to that. It all made sense!
Even Jesus gave an indication of that. Luke’s is the only Gospel that records this little exchange he had with the Pharisees. They told him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Of course, they didn’t like what was being said about Jesus. But they were also fearful of what the Romans would do if they got wind of it! But Jesus said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” In other words, “This is so appropriate, this is so right, that if the people didn’t cry out, all of nature would shout!” He was saying this all made sense, too!
That’s not all he was saying, though. If we look a little deeper, we would find that this statement about the “stones crying out” was probably a subtle reference to the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. In Habakkuk 2:9-11 we read this. “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house… You have devised shame to your house. By cutting off many peoples you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”
The stones in that passage were crying out against the injustice they witnessed. And make no mistake. This was a sure criticism leveled against the Pharisees! For they were guilty of much of the same kind of injustice. They were guilty of getting “evil gain” for their house, by using their spiritual office to take advantage of the people! And keep in mind that they would have known that scripture! They would have gotten the meaning of Jesus’ words! And think of it. Here again, Jesus was being the kind of king the people wanted – a king who would cry out for justice on their behalf. That statement only solidified it even more! Even more now, did it all make sense.
However, as much as it seemed to make sense, the power in this story is that things really weren’t going to be what the people thought. Because here, in dramatic contrast, we have Jesus pausing in the very next paragraph, and weeping over the city. “Would that even today you knew the things that [really] made for peace!” It may still have made sense – but not in the way the people thought!
In his agonizing over the city he makes this prophecy, a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem which would be fulfilled in exact detail in the year 70AD. That’s when the Romans destroyed the city. And why? Jesus said, “Because you did not know the time of your visitation!” They didn’t understand – and not because he didn’t tell them. He told them often! They just didn’t want to listen!
They didn’t “know the time of their visitation– in that they didn’t understand the true meaning of his kingdom. They were so obsessed with a political revolution and an earthly kingdom, that eventually they forced the war against the Romans. And that war led to their destruction, and an exile that would last for almost 2,000 years!
Yes, it all made sense to them – until it didn’t. And that moment came in the very next action of Jesus. For what did he do at the end of this “processional?” Did he ascend the throne of David? Did he call for the revolution? The people wanted that, of course! No, he entered the Temple and drove out those who sold! I think Luke meant that to be seen as an unexpected and shocking thing to do. Not that he did “cleared the temple,” but that he didn’t take that opportunity to claim his kingship. I think there were a lot of people who were disappointed that week. They were thinking, “It all made sense! Why didn’t he accept the kingship we were giving him?!”
As we’re thinking about the events of this day, a day when all these expectations and understandings clashed, think of this. When they “turned” on Jesus later that week, when they dragged him before Pilate, they charged him with the crime of saying he was “Christ, a King.” This whole kingship thing was still the issue, you see. Pilate asked him, “Are you a king?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” And there we have a power struggle between these two men, one in robes, one in chains. And the irony is that the one in chains was the one with real power!
Then, in great irony, when Pilate gave the crowd the choice of releasing Jesus or Barabbas, they chose Barabbas! And Barabbas was a man who was imprisoned for what? He was in imprisoned for “insurrection.” Mark helps us out here, telling us that he was one of the “rebels in prison” who had committed murder in “The Insurrection” Barabbas was trying to start the revolution against Rome that the people wanted Jesus to start. No, he wasn’t a king, but they chose him because they were closer to getting that revolution from him. I think that is an amazing part of this story! (Luke is quickly becoming my favorite of the Gospel accounts!)
Holy Week and Easter are important. They are times when the forces of the spiritual realms “had it out,” so to speak. But the more I think about it, Palm Sunday was the day when all the feelings and beliefs about this Jesus, all the expectations and hopes of the people, came together in a giant clash. Last year I called my Palm Sunday message “Watching the Parade.” But this was so much more than just a parade or a procession. This is a point in time where all the human understandings about Jesus came together in one great vortex! Everything that happened from this point on that week came from this moment in time.
And I would ask you today, as you think about Palm Sunday, what is your understanding of Jesus? Where do you see yourself in this crowd? How are your beliefs and understandings challenged by this event? I hope you will be thinking about that this Holy Week, and considering your own life!
Eternal God, help us to rise above the complacency we sometimes settle into in our faith. Help us to see what was at stake there on that first Palm Sunday. And give us the strength of faith to follow where Jesus leads us. Let your will be done in us. Be with us through this Holy Week as we ponder the earthshaking events that we celebrate. Mold us and shape our lives for your service. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.