Praise to the King – March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9:9-10, Luke 19:28-44
March 29, 2015
The time had come! That which Jesus’ disciples feared was happening. Jesus was going to Jerusalem! Oh, they warned him against it. They said his life was in danger. They reminded him that his enemies were plotting against him.
Throughout Lent, we’ve been seeing that the miracles Jesus performed had worked against him in that way. The greater the miracles, the greater the opposition. Now, having raised a man from the dead, his enemies had decided that “enough was enough.” This Jesus must be “dealt with” – before something bad happened! Their fear of rebellion, and the resulting Roman reprisal, was too great.
None of that deterred Jesus, though. Each of the Gospel writers tells us that, at a certain point, he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. That was seen as a turning point in his ministry. He set his face to go, and now his feet were following. And now the crowds became more enthusiastic than ever. Before, it had been a matter of crowding around him – “mobbing” him, as I like to say. Now they were meeting him as he approached the city, now they were cheering, now they were worshipping him. And the fear, the ire of his opponents, was rising with every shout of the crowd!
This is Palm Sunday. And I like Luke’s version of this story, because he gives us more details, and more of the interaction with the antagonists. And I think he gives us an even greater understanding of the things that were happening that day! Not that Matthew, Mark, and John’s versions are to be dismissed! But Luke really brings this story to life.
As I read this, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were discovered that this was really John’s account, and that somehow it had been switched at some point with Luke’s! Because John is usually the one who gives us this kind of dialogue and depth. And this account goes together perfectly with the story we read from John last week, the raising of Lazarus. In that story we heard a lot of the debate that was going on among the religious leaders. And we would expect to see the same kind of dialogue with them in John’s Palm Sunday account. But here it is in Luke. Wherever we find it, I’m grateful for it.
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” they told him. “Before something bad happens!” Those words speak of the Pharisees’ fear – the fear of Roman reprisal. Again, when he raised Lazarus from the dead, they said, “If we let him go on like this, the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation!” (John 11:48) We talked last week about how that was a very real fear! The relationship between their conquerors and their nation was tenuous! Their history had been fraught with rebellion and brutal retribution, and the shaky relationship they now had could easily be shattered by this “parade.” And what made it worse was that the shouting crowds were using the word “King.”
Of course, that is what they wanted! They wanted to be rid of Rome! They wanted the rebellion to start! As we’re saying here today, part of the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion was the religious leaders fearing a rebellion. But part of it was also the people turning on Jesus when they didn’t get a rebellion! That’s what they wanted. And Jesus didn’t give it to them!
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “Silence them before it’s too late!” Then this wonderful answer, “If they were silent, the very stones would cry out!” As I always like to point out, Jesus did acknowledge the crowds. He did acknowledge the accolades he was receiving. That fact is, he was king! But what kind of king?
I’ve mentioned before that one of my old mentors, Rev. Ken Williams, used to say that Jesus was quoting scripture at that moment. He was recalling the words of the prophet Habakkuk who prophesied that the stones of the temple would cry out in judgment. And it was judgment against those who were abusing their authority and oppressing the people. Ken also pointed out that those priests would surely have known that prophecy, and they would have gotten Jesus’ meaning! And of course, it only would have made them more angry!
Well, the scene then changed. In a moment only recalled by Luke, Jesus stops and weeps over the city. I hope you have at mental image of this. And I hope you have enough people in it! That’s probably one part we leave lacking! Every indication is that the crowds were huge, and growing every minute! Try to imagine Jesus nearing the city. Then imagine him stopping, looking out over the city, and lamenting – weeping over it. Jesus wept last week, too, didn’t he? He wept over his friend Lazarus, and the anguish of the other mourners. He felt their sorrow. Now he had his own version of sorrow.
“Would that even now you knew the things that make for peace.” “If only you knew what this was about. But you do not.” “And terrible things are going to happen to you. All because ‘You did not know the time of your visitation.’” I’ve read this story every year for half a century, and this time something occurred to me that I never thought about before. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. You read something a thousand times and the thousand and first time, it changes.
This time, I began wondering about the word “know.” “You did not know the time of your visitation.” And I wonder if the word, in that sentence, might also carry with it the meaning of “understanding,” and even “deep understanding.” That’s what the word “know” often meant in the Bible. It was even used to convey intimate understanding. “Adam knew his wife and she conceived.” Listen to how this sounds. “These things shall happen to you, ‘and they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not understand the time of your visitation.’” Do you see?
Had they understood, had they “known” that the “visit” of Jesus was not about “liberation,” but rather “reconciliation,” they might even have avoided the calamity that came down upon them in 70AD when Titus and the Roman legions crushed the last rebellion of Israel! That’s what Jesus was prophesying here. They wanted the revolution! They wanted their freedom so bad! But it was not to be. And because of that desire, they would lose their nation. Israel would be non-existent until modern day Israel was established in 1948!
Yes, Jesus did acknowledge the accolades. “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” That was a great line! And the fact is, he was king! But, as he told Pilate later, his kingship was “not of this world.” When it really comes down to it, Palm Sunday shows that the people did “know” the time of their “visitation,” but Holy Week and Good Friday shows us that they clearly did not “understand” the time of their visitation. And even though he told them over and over what it was about, it was clearly not what they wanted!
So as we think of Palm Sunday today, may the same not be said of us. May we know that this celebration – as well as the entire “visitation” of Jesus – is about reconciliation. It’s not about getting the things we want out of God – none of what we believe is about that. Instead, it’s about knowing what God wants of us.
So, as we go through Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter, maybe the thing we need to be doing is concentrating not so much on “knowing about” what happened or “knowing about” that “visitation,” but “understanding” it!
Eternal God, who once came to be here with us. Help us better to understand what it means that you were here. Help us to “know” and to “understand” what it means to follow Jesus. Save us from the temptation to make his ministry what we think it is, or what we want it to be. As we proclaim him king, help us to know what that means for us. Help us to follow his example of loving others, of healing the brokenhearted, and of proclaiming your kingdom in our midst. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.