Zechariah 9:9-10, Luke 19:28-48
Palm Sunday April 13, 2014
Today is Palm Sunday. This is the last stage on “The Road to the Cross.” And for centuries after, people have wondered about this last part of that journey. Here was Jesus, a man so popular, so renown a speaker, so famous a figure, that thousands came to hear him! Yet things happened that Holy Week which resulted in one of the biggest “turn-arounds” in history. Hugely popular though Jesus was, he was executed later that week.
How could that have happened? I don’t think it’s a matter of what some have suggested over the years, that “the crowds turned on him.” I’ve never really been satisfied with the explanation that the people shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday were the same ones shouting “Crucify” four days later. I think it’s more a matter of how his enemies got the upper hand, difficult though that was.
As I read this passage, I tried to keep in mind the “20 verse rule of thumb” they taught us in seminary. The rule was that it’s best to keep scripture readings to 20 verses or less. Well, at the risk of breaking that rule, I wanted to include these last two verses. (Hey, it’s more of a guideline than a rule!)
Verses 45 and 46 are Luke’s account of the “Clearing of the Temple.” And there’s not much there, is there? But then we have this picture of Jesus in the Temple during Holy Week – that week after Palm Sunday. It says this. “And he was teaching daily in the Temple. The chief priests and the principle men of the people sought to destroy him. But they could not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.”
That’s the picture of the end of the road to the cross! Jesus preaching and teaching in the famous Temple in Jerusalem, the people enthralled, and the Jewish leadership looking on, determined to figure out some way to get rid of him. And they were certainly powerful enough and numerous enough to get the job done. The problem was eliminating Jesus without bringing repercussions back on them! But in the end, they managed to do it.
We can only imagine the feelings of those religious leaders on that first Palm Sunday! Here was this Jesus, they thought so dangerous, being hailed as king. That was a dangerous thing in the time of Rome. The Romans had subjugated the whole of the known world. And they did it by not allowing any kind of rebellion. They were the power, and they did not tolerate any threats to that power. So, a person being proclaimed king was seen as a very real threat!
The people that day were anticipating Jesus accepting the kingship, which they were ready to confer upon him. And I often wonder what would have happened if he did. Would Rome have gone along with it, or pretended to go along with it, at least for a while – just to placate the people? Or would they have reacted forcefully that day, quashing that rebellion, removing that threat before it had a chance to grow?
Well, history didn’t have to record that bloody revolution that day – not yet. That would come some 40 years later when the Jews finally rebelled in force. That’s actually what Jesus was prophesying here in this passage. “For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground… and they will not leave one stone upon another…” When the Jews finally did try to fight for their independence in 70 AD, the Romans came down upon them and destroyed Jerusalem – just as Jesus described it! Not one stone was left upon another! After that, the Jewish people had no nation – for a long time, not until it was created again following World War II.
But on this day, at the end of this procession, that didn’t happen. Jesus didn’t turn to the palace and take up the crown. That was not his mission – as much as the people wanted it! Instead, he turned to the Temple and took up the whip. He didn’t clean out the hated Romans, he cleared out the buyers and the sellers – those who were bilking their own people with their scams to get them to buy their animals for sacrifice, and to exchange the people’s money for the temple currency – always for a fee, of course!
That was the end of this processional – this parade, if you will. And while it was happening, those leaders could do nothing. At one point they tried to get Jesus to do something. “Teacher rebuke your disciples!” they said. And I’m sure they didn’t like his response. “I tell you if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” Ken Williams, an old pastor friend of mine, used to like to say that Jesus was actually quoting scripture at that moment. He was quoting from Habakkuk 2 – a passage they would have known! (My Bible even cross references that passage!) The prophet Habakkuk wrote, “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house… You have devised shame to our house by cutting off many people… And the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork will respond.” That was hard for those leaders to hear! Because it was bringing judgment on them, and their whole status quo!
So, this was a very tough day for them! In John’s account, we get a hint of their exasperation. Again, as I said Wednesday night, John saw one of the big reasons people were there on Palm Sunday was that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He states that clearly in chapter 12, verse 18. So then, with that miracle in mind, and this victory procession happening before them, the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that we can do nothing! Look, the whole world has gone after him.”
I’m sure they felt that way. This was indeed the “Final Straw” for them! But, as we would soon find out, there was something they could do. Again, it wasn’t easy! But in the end they accomplished it! They arranged for the Romans put Jesus to death. So they would not be blamed – they hoped!
I hope that’s a bigger picture for your of this event we call Palm Sunday. Certainly this was a joyous occasion. And even though it was mixed with misunderstandings and with great tension, still this was a jubilant procession. It was indeed a “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. And I don’t want to give you the impression it wasn’t – or shouldn’t be! You see, Jesus didn’t rebuke his disciples that day. They had the right idea. If they were silent the stones truly would cry out! The people just didn’t know for sure “the things that make for peace.” And I think in the end, we need to be sure we do. Because our faith does have this joyous, celebrative side. In fact, that’s a big part of it! But another important part of it is knowing who we’re following, and doing so on his terms, not ours.
So, here on this Palm Sunday, at the end of this “Road to the Cross,” we need to be sure where we stand. Do we simply sing praises to this Jesus? Do we follow him on this road? Or, do we go along with or acquiesce to those who wished to silence him? As we look ahead to Holy Week, do we feel for Jesus’ disciples, devastated by the events as they transpired? Do we mourn? Do we dwell on the crushing sadness of Good Friday? Or do we know, in the end, that Sunday’s comin’?
May we keep those questions before us throughout this Holy Week.
Heavenly Father, as we join the crowds in hailing Jesus as king, help us to know that that we are followers, and not just believers. Help us to consider these stories as we go through Holy Week, and be ever more joyful about what he accomplished for us through your great love. This we pray in his name, Amen.