The Coming Kingdom – April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9:9-11, Mark 11:1-19
April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday
This is the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. And Jesus has been setting this up for weeks. Earlier we read that he “resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He did so even though it was dangerous for him, even though it worried his disciples whenever he talked about it. Remember in our story from last week how they warned him about it. “Jesus! Don’t you remember? They wanted to stone you there!”
But he was determined to go. And of course, we know why. And, like the Raising of Lazarus, Jesus set this up! It was all planned! Even the details he didn’t leave to chance. He could have walked there. And if he had to ride, he could have ridden any donkey or horse. But he rode this particular donkey. And as Mark tells us here, it was a donkey that no one had ever ridden before. And he made arrangements for it. Either he had made arrangements ahead of time with its owners, or there was a supernatural thing that happened when the two disciples said, “The Lord has need of it.” Whichever it was, the owners just let them go.
There is so much going on here in this event. And remember, this is a big event for these people. And unlike the raising of Lazarus, this event is told about in all four Gospels. But what’s the significance for us? That’s what I want you to think about today. Certainly the Resurrection has significance! I think we’d all agree on that. But what about this whole “riding into Jerusalem” thing?
Well, I want us to understand what’s going on here, because I think this event has greater significance that it even did for the people that day. And what happened that day, or what didn’t happen that day, led directly to Jesus’ passion and death. Because, as bizarre as it seems, five days later Jesus would be crucified! The huge crowds that came to see him ride into Jerusalem, who waved the palms, who shouted the “Hosannas” were absent later that week. It’s as though they had abandoned him!
Of course they wouldn’t have been able to do much about if it were simply a matter of the Romans arresting Jesus. The Romans had dealt with uprisings of the Jews before. And they were ruthless! But that’s not what happened. On Holy Thursday it was the Jews themselves who had arrested Jesus. And they had a hard time convincing the Romans to have Jesus executed! But finally they succeeded. But in all that, where were the crowds? Where were the people who were there on Sunday? That’s always bothered me!
So think about that. And think about what was going on this day we now call Palm Sunday. Last week, I talked about how John, in his account, had directly tied this Palm Sunday event to the raising of Lazarus. He tells us that the people who were there on Palm Sunday were there to see Jesus, of course. But they were also there to see this man he had raised from the dead!
But there was more even than that going on here! And I believe this may be why the other Gospel writers were silent about the raising of Lazarus. Because I believe they saw this event as being even more important than the raising of a man from the dead!
We see that in Mark’s account. He gives us some important details about what happened. And particularly he gives us this line. “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!” Notice, this isn’t “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” That’s a fairly general statement. That would be praise for someone they believed God was sending to them. And that’s fine, and the other Gospels record those words. And I’m sure there were many other things that were shouted that day.
But Mark was very specific about this. “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!” There is no doubt that many of the people there that day, if not most of them, were thinking that! They were looking for a return of the kingdom of David. Those were the “glory days” of Israel! That was what they had been longing for that ever since. And that’s what they expected their “Messiah” to do when he came. And they had been hearing about him and waiting for him for hundreds of years! So, what better time than now, when they were desperately wanting to be delivered from the tyranny of the Roman Empire!
Do you see how all of that was much more important to them than just the story of Lazarus! This was “being freed from the Romans” important! That was huge to them! It was so big that they were actually repeating a scene that day that had happened a couple hundred years earlier. When Judas Maccabees came riding into Jerusalem having led the revolt that freed them from the Assyrians, (Or whatever empire had conquered them at the time!) historians tell us that the people on that day also waved the palms and shouted their “Hosannas!”
That’s what the people were looking for on Palm Sunday! But this time, that deliverance never happened. And this event would just be a footnote in history, if it did, if that’s all Jesus did that day and in the days after. Instead, what happened was even more important! It was so important that it caused us to start counting time all over again! It was that important! We call this the 2019thyear after Jesus rode into Jerusalem at the beginning of that first Holy Week!
So then, when Jesus did not start the revolution, when, instead of going in and cleaning house in the palace, he went into the Temple and cleaned house, it was shocking to the people! It was shocking in the way it happened, and it was also shocking in their level of disappointment. Because instead of freeing them from the Romans, he was turning his criticism on them! The religious leaders were not the only ones he was holding to the fire. This had to affect the people, too. Because, no matter how corrupt, it was, their religion that was being attacked. And we know how defensive we can be if our religion is attacked!
So, in a way, they gave up on him. They wrote him off. And when Jesus was arrested, albeit at night, in “secret,” still they didn’t come to his defense. Even his own disciples abandoned him as he was being arrested. And later, Peter, one of his “inner circle,” swore to a servant girl that he had never met him. The betrayal went that deep!
So again I ask you, what’s the significance in this event for us. In a way, it is a good “kick off” for Holy Week. It gets us thinking about the events that would take place later in the week – the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion. It might even get us wondering about what happened that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But it’s more than that. Because it’s about more than just nations and empires and power and occupation and revolution. It’s about God himself coming to earth to draw us back to himself. It’s about the dramatic events that touch our hearts and compel us to follow. It’s about his sacrifice that puts an exclamation point on the statement that “God so loved the world,” and that he loves even us!
God wants us to know what he did, because he wants to know us, and he wants us to know him! And he doesn’t just to seek “teach our minds.” He wants to touch our hearts. He wants us to truly live! And we should ask ourselves if we truly do live! Because so many don’t. Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes that so many people live their lives in vanity, “chasing after the wind.” The Dali Lama observed that “man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
God became one of us because he wants us to truly live. And he wants to share this life with us. Jesus died on a cross, not just to forgive us, but to remove those barriers between us and God. He died, not just to “cleanse us” of our sin, but to “free us from” our sin. He did so to take away its power, to heal our alienation from God and from each other!
Do you see how that’s even more important than a man being raised from the dead? In a way it’s about all of us being raised from the dead! Jesus performed that miracle so that people would believe, and in believing have life in him! Do we? Do we truly live? That’s the real miracle!
Eternal God, we thank you. We praise you. For you have touched our hearts with your great love. Help us to know that we have true life through Jesus, not just eternal life. Help us to follow his example and to have his eyes and his heart, as we seek to be his disciples. For we pray in his name, Amen.