Palm Sunday Message: Jesus Turns Everything Around
Earlier we heard today’s Scripture brilliantly read by Eli and JP, so I’m not going to read it again. Well…here we are again. It seems like yesterday we were celebrating the birth of Jesus; and the day before that we were at Palm Sunday 2018, preparing our hearts for the great cosmic disturbance of the death of our Savior and the great cosmic delight of His resurrection!
Such are the rhythms of heartbeat of Christ-followers. The birth, life, death, and resurrection reverberate at the CENTER of all it means to be created in the image of God. We would not need to recognize the birth of a Jewish carpenter named Jesus were it not for His suffering, death, and resurrection to restore a lost world to Himself. AND…we cannot celebrate Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday were it not for His birth in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph. This is our story.
But like a story that gets told and retold from generation to generation, the meaning and significance of the great narratives of our faith can be overlooked or even lost! This is certainly true of the story today, commonly called the Triumphal Entry.
Like many of you, I have often associated Palm Sunday with children shouting “Hosanna” and waving palm branches, signifying the jubilant mood of the city of Jerusalem the day that Jesus rode in on the colt, the foal of a donkey. It’s a beautiful, hopeful, and exciting image!
BUT…if we’re not paying attention to the story, we may miss what the Gospel writer is trying to tell his readers of antiquity—AND US—about Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom of God and our response to Him and to the Kingdom. Like many of us, I had overlooked what was going on around Jesus and his disciples during his fateful ride into the city at the beginning of Passover.
Passover. Remember what that is? Passover is a Jewish celebration…a week-long worship event established by God to the Children of Israel on the eve of their deliverance from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt. It was to be commemorated at this same time every year…as it is to this very day.
That night, some 1,200+ years before the birth of Christ, after the Jews smeared lamb’s blood on their door posts and lentils, the Angel of Death moved through the land and killed every 1st born male child and animal of every household.
All the while, the Hebrew families were spared…passed over. It is for this reason that Passover is celebrated among the Jews. But it is also celebrated among the Christians, because our Savior was a Jew. In fact, He was “King of the Jews,” as we will come to see on the day of His crucifixion. And it was God’s will that Jesus make his way to the cross on the day of Passover.
This would be no ordinary Passover Week! And we see this, not only by the events of the end of the week but at the beginning…what WE call Palm Sunday. Jesus has come to turn everything around.
Earlier this week, in my daily devotion time, I was reading JD Walt’s reflection on today’s passage. Let me share a part of that Daily Text to set the stage for some of the revelation I think God showed me in preparing to talk about this annual celebration, Palm Sunday:
“So many divine coincidences swirl in the air now. Jesus turns everything around. As the Gospel began, the Son of God rode on the back of a donkey in the womb of his mother. Today he rides into Jerusalem on the back of a colt.
“In the beginning the “wise” kings from foreign lands came to see the child born “King of the Jews.” Today he rides into Jerusalem hailed by the people, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“In the beginning, the heavenly host of angelic beings shouted, “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth, peace and good will toward men.” Today, the crowds of disciples declare, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
“Jesus turns everything around. In the beginning he claimed the prophecy of Isaiah, “. . . good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed.” Today he enters the city of Kings as the King of Kings having fulfilled all that prophecy and then some.
“In the beginning, Simeon prophesied about him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Today we stand on the eve of its fulfillment.
“We have arrived at our destination; the journey now complete. We will now behold him undertake that for which he came. The echoes of Isaiah via [the Gospel writer] John still resound in the sky, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
Get ready for the great reversal. Jesus turns everything around.”
There are some basic observations about the event of the Triumphal Entry that bear repeating every year:
The fact that the colt had never been ridden indicates Jesus’s sovereignty over His creation.
In antiquity, the riding on a colt by royalty would have been seen as a civil procession, not a military one. In 1 Kings 1:38, for instance, King David had his son, Solomon, ride his personal mule to Gihon where we would be anointed king over Israel.
Laying of garments on the animals and the road, along with the waving of branches were all part of royalty’s traditional reception in that day.
The shouting of “Hosanna,” which means “Save Now!” was a common expression which originated out of the Jewish festival, The Feast of Tabernacles.
There are some observations that might be less obvious from our casual reading of this annual event, and it is there that I would like to focus the remainder of my time this morning. To be sure, they relate to what JD wrote: “Jesus turns everything around.”
Here are a couple questions to get us started: WHY would Jesus be riding into Jerusalem? Why now? Up to this point in Jesus’s life, he as TRIED to keep a low profile…warning healed folks to NOT tell others. NOW he comes riding in a civil royalty procession. Why?
This is the only time that Jesus allowed a public demonstration on His behalf. According to commentator, Warren Wiersbe, this is for at least two reasons:
He was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which says, Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. They also quoted praised from a messianic psalm (118:25-26) though they likely did not understand the scope and direction of their prayers.
To force the Jewish religious leaders to act. They had hoped to arrest Jesus AFTER Passover, but God had ordained that His Son be slain ON Passover as the “Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The theme of the celebration was peace. The Gospel of Luke began with the angel’s announcement of “peace on earth” (2:14); BUT the King was rejected so there could be no peace on earth.
Instead there would be a constant conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. Jesus himself said he came not to bring peace but a sword (Luke 12:49-53). There would be no peace on earth, but thanks to Jesus’s work on the cross, there is now “peace with God” in heaven (Rom 5:1; Col 1:20)
I want to read the another part of this story of the Triumphal Entry that I purposefully did not ask JP and Eli to read. [READ LUKE 19:41-42]. Notice the contrast between the crowd’s rejoicing and Jesus weeping? Save Now! Salvation to the Son of David! The crowd was into it, thinking, “FINALLY, an anointed king would lead the Jews in overthrowing Roman oppression once for all. The Kingdom of God to the Jews at that time was the restoration of Israel as a sovereign, powerful nation under God’s rule. That’s what they thought they had with Jesus, King of the Jews!
But Jesus is weeping. That Greek word, klaíō, means to weep aloud; to express uncontainable, audible grief. The only other time Jesus wept in Scripture was in the death of Lazarus (Jn 11:35); but there the word used was dakrýō, which means to shed quiet (actual) tears; to weep silently (with tears). Jesus is wailing over Jerusalem. Why?
Unlike Jonah who looked over Nineveh and hoped it would be destroyed (Jonah 4), Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wailed because she had destroyed herself! No matter where Jesus looked, he saw cause for weeping:
If he looked back, he saw how a nation had waisted its opportunities and been ignorant of their “time of visitation.”
If he looked within, he saw spiritual ignorance and blindness in the hearts of the people when they should have known who He was. God had given them His Word and sent His messengers to prepare the way.
If he looked around, Jesus saw religious activity that accomplished very little. The temple had become a den of thieves, while the religious leaders were out to kill him. The city was filled with pilgrims celebrating a festival (Passover) but their hearts were heavy with sin and in need of a Savior.
As Jesus looked ahead, He wept because of the terrible judgment coming to the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple. IN AD 70, during a siege of 143 days, Emperor Titus led the Romans to kill 600,000 Jews, take thousands more captive, and destroy the Temple and the city, taking it apart stone by stone. Why? Judgment on the people. They did not believe that God had visited them. As the Apostle John declared in the opening verses of his Gospel, “He came to his own, and they did not receive him” (1:11).
Jesus is about to change everything for everybody. His suffering and death, like a Lamb to slaughter, will mean the possibility of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike. It will be the most joyous event to discover the empty tomb. But death must come first…and NOT just to Jesus!
Before sending two of his disciples to retrieve a colt destined to carry the Son of God, the only One capable of taking away the sins of the world, Jesus had just told a powerful and troubling parable. We commonly call it the Parable of the Ten Talents (Minas). The NLT calls it the Parable of the Ten Servants, and so it could be, since the master in the story calls ten servants and give them ten minas (about three month’s wages). The way I read the story, each one was given a mina, but the narrative only reports what happened with the investment of three of the servants. [what about the other 7?]
Anyway, as with many parables, there are multiple truths. Yes, we are called to use what God gives us, since it’s His anyway. We may even be somewhat of a risk-taker with kingdom investments. But the one thing we CAN’T do is NOTHING! You know what happened to that guy? He was stripped of what was given to him.
Now, here’s what I REALLY want to focus on. The last sentence of that parable : “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” You see, earlier in the story I told you about the master giving the ten minas to the ten servants. But I didn’t tell you the context. “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” Jesus IS that man. In verse 14 Jesus says, “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.” These “subjects” Jesus is speaking about is HIS people, the Jews…and especially those of the establishment—the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and other religious leaders.
Consider those words again: “bring those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them and kill them in front of me.” Harsh words of judgment. Now I want to read the LAST part of the Triumphal Entry after Jesus wept: 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.
This is judgment upon the people of Israel for rejecting Jesus at King. It is prophecy that would be fulfilled 40 years later. But it is even a greater foreshadowing of eternal judgment that will affect ALL who do not repent and make Jesus King over their lives.
One last thing. Right AFTER Jesus rides in, wailing over a lost city of His people, Jesus goes into the temple courts and overturns the tables of the money changers. He rebuked his fellow Jews: “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer;’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
The court of the Gentiles was a place where non-Jewish God-seekers, where unclean “sinners” could come and experience the grace of God. As JD Walt rightly notes, “The Temple should have been a place where the poor and the oppressed found refuge. Instead, they found themselves pushed to the very margins of the society. They had been robbed of their place in the presence of God. God intended the Temple to be a place of centrifugal blessing—spinning outward the grace and mercy of God.
The religious establishment had turned it into a place of centripetal privilege—pulling inward worldly status, wealth, and privilege. The exact opposite of what God intended had happened. Jesus, the one greater than the Temple, turns it inside-out and upside-down in his mission to turn everything around.
Whenever God wants to do a new thing in the hearts and lives of His people…whenever there is a spiritual revolution…it usually starts in our worship. It happened in the OTàElijah, Josiah, and Hezekiah to name a few. It happened in the Upper Room in Acts. And it continues to happen today!
But too often, we make church to be a place of worldly status, wealth, and privilege. Those on the margins—the poor, the morally and spiritually bankrupt, the addicts—get pushed out of our man-made edifices. We don’t verbally ask them to leave…we tend to be more subtle than that. But the message is still the same: “clean up your act and you can come back.”
Jesus has come to turn everything around. Jesus has come for a revolution of cosmic dimensions! The Jerusalem crowds of 30 AD didn’t get it. I wonder sometimes if we get it either. Will we let the King in? Will we allow those who follow him—the former prostitutes, tax-collectors, unclean, morally and spiritually bankrupt, addicts and adulterers—in as well?
In our Journey to the Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let’s make a self-examination. Is our heart right with Jesus? Have we made him King over us? If not, the words of Jesus are pretty clear—death and destruction will follow.
But, for those who make Jesus their King, there is life abundantly! There is forgiveness freedom from sin. There is friendship with God. Hosanna! Save us, Lord Jesus! AMEN.