Palm Sunday, Sunday 9th April 2017.
Main Passage – Matthew 21:1-17.
What did the crowds expect of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, as they shouted to ‘Hosanna’? There may have been many views, but there drawing upon Jewish writings after Malachi and before the birth of Jesus, these were some common expectations. When he – who would be part of David’s line – would appear, the nations would come together against this anointed one. However these hostile nations would be destroyed – a great victory for the Messiah. There would follow purification and renewal of Jerusalem, described as some as a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The Jews who were dispersed would be gathered to this new Jerusalem, the nations would be subject to Israel and then finally an age the last age of peace, goodness, destruction of all evil, Satan, would exist.
As we can see, even if only some of these views were held in people’s minds, there were expectations of warfare, victory over Gentile powers, restoration of Israel to a great influential power as in the days of David or Solomon.
For us… as we enter the presence of the king of kings and Lord of Lords, what do we expect from him? Colossians 1 says – “For the Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son whom he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” As Christians, brought into the kingdom, what do we expect of being members in that kingdom? For a few minutes we explore a few broad ideas from our gospel.
The presence of the King brings praise. The crowds shout, they wave palm branches – which was also associated with praise of God during the autumn Feast of Tabernacles. As we read the account the praise goes on and on – as Jesus cleanses the temple and heals the blind and lame, the children continue shouting in the temple – ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Can you imagine the noise! Praise. Is it to be spontaneous or liturgical? He is greeted with the words that normally greeted a pilgrim as he came to the Passover Feast – “Blessed is he would comes in the name of the Lord” – from Psalm 118. But also were the words spontaneously arising from the heart of the crowds? We declare in Communion, ‘the Lord is here, his Spirit is with us,’ as we recall where ‘where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I will be with you’. He is here with us today. Now.
Praise. We each will have a preference for how we desire to praise our King. It may be in majestic hymns. It may be in short devotional songs. It may be in words we sing once, or it may be in words we repeat a number of times for example as in Taize, camps, or at New Wine. We will each have a preference. It may be words of a hymn written centuries ago. It may be words written only last week. It may be something formal or organised like in a hymn book or prayer book, or it may be something spontaneous, just coming out of us. I remember Pieter van der Jagt and his brother Thomas sharing about some moving spontaneous worship at St Johns and St Philips that seemed just to grow out of people gathered, as the musicians played a simple tune. Our praise may be singing in tongues, or singing a psalm of praise. For each we have a preference but is there a right way?
And of course, there will seasons of life, when hymns are which stir our heart and which are vehicles for praise but other parts of life, we move to other means, other words. To be in the presence of the King however, whatever its form and content, we expect praise – heartfelt, meaning the words, praying the words… these crowds and children meant every word they sung and shouted!
The kingdom is about peace. The expectations of Jesus were as victor – as Tom Wright reminds us, the crowds vision for a Messiah really would have been of him coming on a war horse. But he chooses deliberately, to find a donkey and to ride in on it. He has walked all the way and now he chooses to ride – fulfilling Zecharian 9, declaring the king has come. Yet a donkey was a humble animal and an animal of peace. The kingdom is about peace.
Three ideas to share. Firstly, peace between us and God. As Paul says wonderfully in Romans 5: “Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…’ You, Christian, there is peace between you and our heavenly father. He is not against you. He is for us against us. We remind ourselves of this in ‘the sharing of the peace.’ – “the peace of the Lord be with you”, and “also with you.” Secondly peace within us. Peter, one of the disciples following, probably singing with the crowds, later writes: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” And Paul, in a prison, because of his faith, writes: “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7). The word guard – to stand watch over your heart as the guard stands watch over Paul as he wrote those words. The kingdom – God longs us to be at peace, just not knowing we are peace with him but to have peace within ourselves no matter what is happening around us or within us. We can experience peace in the dark times, being calmed by the presence of God and the peace that he gives. And finally peace as we look at our world, as we watch our social media or televisions. We look at events – Stockholm, escalation in Syria, and anxieties if it will ever happen in Netherlands. Chaos. Yet, peace can rule as we trust that God remains in control and his purposes will be achieved despite human evil. Tim Keller writes: “The world’s peace is intermittent based on transitory circumstances. Christian peace is constant, based on the never changing love of God.”
It is understandable the fear and anxiety we see in the disciples at the end of this Holy Week. Yet three times before this arrival Jesus has declared that what would happen would be in God’s plan. In fact in the chapter before – days before his arrival Matthew shares:
“We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified . On the third day he will be raised to life.”
If they had held onto this prediction they would have had the peace, in all that chaos, and suffering, it was all part of God’s plan…
Kingdom of Power. Jesus goes to the temple. He cleanses it. The blind and lame are healed. There is power in the kingdom. Emotional, physical, spiritual healing are possible. We can have the expectation that he can heal. There are the times when we see the kingdom power break into ours days and lives. We sit in that mystery of the times when that power does not seem to come as we hope. This is not just a belief from the days of Jesus or early church. But in days hence. When I heard the bishop we enjoyed having here in February tell me of the immense healing he has seen in people’s lives since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 – of forgiveness offered and received. When I know of people who, after prayer – one prayer, or a serious of prayers, have seen healing in their lives. So, it is one reason we offer prayer ministry from Pentecost onwards. There is the encouragement of bringing a need to other believers who will pray with us for a loved one, or a work situation. But I also believe our prayers count to God, and I believe and expect as people bring deep pains or other needs, we may well see the Lord intervene there and then. And of course, as we believe in a kingdom of power, we pray for loved ones as they have professional care through doctors and surgeons, counsellors, seeking his power to break through, through those professionals… We are members of a kingdom of power.
It is a kingdom opposed. After the healing, after the temple cleansing, among the praise by the children and the crowds, the high priests and teachers of the law are indignant. Angry. The king is opposed. And today as believers we will face opposition for our faith. It is easy to think opposition to Christian faith is limited to North Korea, parts of China, parts of the Middle East etc.
I am using this year, a daily devotional by Open Doors. And one writer MacMillian shares how he had returned form a country in the Middle East and he said as the plane touched down, he was relieved – he was back where he did not have to watch his back, be careful what he said or where he went. He had arrived in a country with religious freedom. A few days later in that country he went to an art exhibition, he saw a painting called ‘Man startled on a horse’ – he found the artist who was there and asked ‘is that apostle Paul on the road to Damascus’ Macmillan thought he’d be pleased he’d worked it out. The artist looked horrified and looked around he said quietly ‘keep quiet do you want me to be labelled as a religious artist, I’d never sell another painting if that happened.” MacMillian shares of believers he knows in the West who have lost their jobs because they were Christians – they had not been poor workers or even evangelised their colleagues – they simply only stood up for biblical principles in how workers or customers were treated.
A Christian in the Middle East said – “I don’t care what country or state you live in, you also live in a culture that hates Christ. That’s your fight, and every Christian on the earth has the same fight, whether you belong to a so called Christian society or not.” Harsh words. But Jesus at the last supper, drew out similar words – “if the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own, as it is you do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world.” He suggests that as he was opposed, at times opposition – maybe quiet, maybe loud, maybe at work, maybe from a neighbour, will come – it is part of being a Christian and the world, in its thinking is ultimately opposed to Christ as he presses his claims…
A kingdom of praise, of peace, of power, being opposed, and a finally kingdom of salvation. The reason for this entry for this week. As Jesus rides in, declaring he is a king, as people lay their cloaks as a sign of submission to a king, he enters as a servant king, a king who is prepared to die. On the road to the city the disciples had argued about who was great and Jesus taught them about servanthood – a theme he returns to on Maundy Thursday. ‘Just as the Son of Man, did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ He knows what will happen. He comes to serve – to serve each of us here today. He comes into that city to give his life – for us – and to give his life as a ransom for many. Ransom is the word used for the price to set free a slave. He came to bring salvation, to set us free, to give his life for – as a substitute – in our place – so we can be free. He chose to enter that city to die for you and me, the plan of God for a cosmic renewal, new heaven, new earth, death, evil, satan defeated, sins forgiven, you are the reason for Holy Week, you are in mind as he rides in, you are one of the reasons he rides in, you are…
Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Revd Grant Crowe