A Turn in the Road – April 9, 2017, Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9:9-10, Luke 19:28-48
So, we’ve been looking at “The Road to the Cross.” That’s the road Jesus had been traveling, ever since the day he “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Well, here today he reaches that city. And when he does, he seems to take a turn in that road. Some would say it was a “wrong turn” or a “bad turn.”
But from our perspective, it was the right turn. Because we know, that Jerusalem wasn’t Jesus’ final destination. The end of that road for him was the cross. He knew that was his goal. And it was a deliberate road he was walking.
Well, the people had other ideas. They had other plans that first Palm Sunday. They were ready for Jesus to be King. In fact, Luke adds that word here in his account. It’s not just “Blessed is he…” but “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” That’s what they shouted! That’s what they wanted! But even that desire, led Jesus further down the “Road to the Cross.” Because, when the people didn’t get their king, things got worse for him.
Then, there were the Romans! We can’t forget them! They were the rulers! They had conquered most of the known world. And they had been ruthless in crushing previous rebellions. And the religious leaders were worried about that – and for good reason! They recognized what the people were doing that day. They saw the waving palms, they heard the “Hosanna’s!” And they knew those were the same things the people did when Judas Maccabees rode into Jerusalem, a century or so earlier! At that time, he had just led the rebellion against the Assyrians! For the people that day, this was the same thing! This was a “freedom parade!” And the Pharisees knew the Romans wouldn’t stand for that!
They were also worried about their own authority, and their own positions of power. And they were worried about the integrity of the faith, a faith for which they were responsible! We can’t forget that, either! They saw Jesus as a threat to that integrity! So they were frightened by this procession, this parade, that was taking place that day.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about Luke’s Gospel. Do you remember? I said that Luke seems to contain the greatest number of stories of the “conflict” between Jesus and the religious leadership of Israel. There are long sections of dialogues with them, and long pages of Jesus giving his “Woes” to the Pharisees. I think there’s little doubt in Luke’s mind that they are the biggest players on Jesus’ road to the cross. And it all comes to a head in this event we call “Palm Sunday!”
In the Bible, this event is called “The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.” (You might see that in the headings.) And this is a four Gospel event!!! As I also said last week, if something is found in all four Gospels, that’s something we should see as important! So this is a major story from that standpoint alone. But it’s also a major story in whole progression of Holy Week. It’s a major event on Jesus’ “road to the cross.”
I also said the other week that there are often subtle differences in the Gospel accounts, just like there would be if each of us were asked to describe a car accident we all saw! Well, here in Luke we have the same thing I was just talking about. Here we have this confrontation with the Pharisees! And only in Luke do we find this confrontation during this procession! Certainly they were upset about this in the other Gospels. But only in Luke do we have their words, “Teacher rebuke your disciples!” Only in Luke do we have Jesus’ response. “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out!”
As a pastor friend of mine once pointed out, Jesus may have been quoting from the prophet Habakkuk. (Habakkuk 2:9-11) “Woe to him who gets evil for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm. 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 will respond.” That was an indictment against the injustice being done in the Temple – the Temple Jesus was now about to “cleanse!” My friend said that Jesus was always quoting scripture, and those Pharisees would have known it! And they would have known that day the scripture he quoted against them!
That, of course, intensifies the “turn in the road” Jesus was about to take! This procession was about making him King. But he doesn’t go to the palace. He makes a turn, and he enters that temple. And there he “turns the tables” of the money changers. He breaks up the “business” the religious leaders had going on! And I believe Luke meant to make that part of the Palm Sunday story! It wasn’t something he “tacked on” at the end of this chapter.
After that, the reaction is the same – in all four Gospels. Those religious leaders were then plotting to destroy him. But of course that was not easy! Because, as Luke puts it, “…all the people hung upon his words!”
So, in all this, I believe the Palm Sunday question is, “Which side of this parade are you on?” What would you have done that day? Would you have waved the palms? Or would you have been “nervous” about what was happening? Would you have hailed Jesus king? Or would you have thought he had taken things a bit too far? Would you have agreed with those religious leaders? Remember, they were men you would have respected all your life! Could they really be wrong about Jesus?
Remember, we know what happens from here on in! But if we didn’t, where would we be in this story? Jesus is on the last stage of his journey. And a lot of people didn’t know what to think of him. They “hung on his words,” but they weren’t sure the liked the direction he was going.
May we all think of that direction this week. May we know that Jesus’ final destination was not Jerusalem. It was the cross! And may we know we are with him on that journey, because it all happened for us!
Eternal God, help us throughout this Holy Week, to think of these stories. Help us to see Jesus on the road to the cross. And help us to think what it’s like to follow him – then and now. Help us to feel him walking beside us, leading us, teaching us, calling us. Give us the strength we need as we seek to be his people. For we pray in his name, Amen.