Palm Sunday: March 25th 2018.
Main passage – Mark 11:1-11, also Phil 2:5-11
This purpose of this sermon is a reflection upon the entry into Palm Sunday – to take us deeper into the events, to help us reflect, to be refreshed….
”For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many.”(Mark 10:45).
Words we hear Jesus say, just a few verses before our gospel reading. After Jesus speaks, and just before the entry into Jerusalem, we hear about Blind Bartimaeus and his healing 15 miles away on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. He is a man who was able to see properly. By including this healing, Mark is also asking – when we see Jesus enter the city, what do we see? Do we see clearly who he is and why he comes?
Passion Week is inaugurated. His entry is deliberately Messianic.
With supernatural foreknowledge he predicts what his 2 unnamed disciples will find – an unridden male colt tied up, located just as they enter the village.
And his foreknowledge goes further – they will be challenged but they are to say ”the Lord needs it and he will not keep it but send it back soon.” When they answer with those words, all will be well.
Jesus choose to orchestrate his entry into the Holy City. He has walked everywhere before, or travelled by boat when needed. A deliberate act to ride in on this colt, this small animal. He chooses to visually fulfil Zechariah 8:9 –
”Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion. Shout Daughter of Jerusalem. See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation. gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.”
Matthew and John quote these fulfiled verses in their own accounts of Palm Sunday.
Jesus actions also points to Genesis 49 – when Jacob blesses his sons, he says to Judah – hundreds of years before.
”The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the rulers staff from between its feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations are his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch.”
Jesus who has avoided crowds and attention where possible. He has invited those healed not to tell others but to do the rituals under the law. He now clearly encourages public reaction as he deliberately chooses have the donkey brought to him and he rides into the city on it. The fact that he returns it later – 11:v3 – reinforces it is a symbolic action, not something necessary for him to ride upon. A city gathering for Passover who remembers God’s incredible freeing of Israel in the past, expectant, longing for him to do so again from the new power who dominates them – Rome.
If you were reading the story of Jesus for the first time – often Mark’s Gospel is a great gospel to suggest to a non believer to read if they have not heard about Jesus or read about him – if you were reading, as you get to this point, you’d be hoping, thinking, that the three times Jesus said he would be rejected, suffer, die, will not come true in Jerusalem. How could it happen. It is all going so well.
The Crowd shout, the disciples lay garments as a saddle, the crowd lay garments on the road. And branches – probably brought from Jericho – laid on the floor before and as they enter the city. Hosannas are shouted – Hosanna meaning Save us – Beatitudes are said, and the crowd chant one of the Hallel thanksgiving psalms -118 – ”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus, coming from Mount of Olives, enters the city with the Hallel in his ears. 4 days later, the one who will give his life as a ransom as many, will go out to Mount of Olives, to pray, in struggle, with the Hallel probably in his ears once again, as the disciples had sung a hymn before they left the house of the Last Supper, (Matthew 26:v30).
Did the disciples encourage the cheering? Their own hopes for Jesus? They will learn much about their Lord, themselves and the plans of God in the coming 7 days…
For the Crowds this is a triumphal entry in their eyes. Nationalistic words are called out. Jesus comes as king and they expect him to restore Israel, for freedom and an empire to come again. That was the hope in the songs and noise. Yet this Jesus will give his life as a ransom for many – he suffers but through that comes a new and greater hope than they could have imagined.
It is not a truly triumphal entry – he comes on a small donkey, not on a war horse, not with captives behind him. And within a week he will be led out of the city, by the Romans, a defeated captive. He came to Jerusalem not to set up an earthly kingdom as people expected. But to suffer and die as he promised three times.
He came as a king, who will be crowned with thorns, who will be enthroned on a cross, and who will be hailed as a chief of fools. He enters the city but the crowds do not see that his triumph will be much more powerful than the Davidic monarchy, and more far reaching that Israel’s borders or even the edges of the Roman Empire.
Hail! We hear the crowds praise. But we hail our Lord as the one who came to die for our sins. We hail him as the one who gives his life for the kingdom of God. We hail him as the one who came to serve, ‘who did not cling to equality with God, who made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, who humbled himself and became obedient to death even the shocking shameful death of the cross.'(Phil 2:v7-8).
And with the noise, the shouts, the choice to ride on a donkey, to declare that the Messiah had come. We expect things to happen…
But then we read:
‘‘Jesus entered Jerusalem, and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
A little anticlimatic! We think – if only they had started the entry earlier! Maybe the clocks went forward and they missed it!
Think about it. Is it late for Jesus or for the temple? He looks at everything – what does he think what will he do. It does set the scene for when Jesus comes back the next day, when he will powerfully clear the temple (Mark 11:v12-19).
We see what Jesus does not do. He does not tour the temple in wonder, at the dazzling gold, the incredible white marble, or the gigantic stones. He does not visit it in piety – no prayer offered, no sacrifices made. He look around at everything. As if an inspection. He enters Jerusalem on a donkey, a prophecy fufilled.
And now another one. And he enters the temple. Malachi 3 – quoted by Mark at the start – says the Lord will send his messenger who will prepare the way. That was John the Baptist. And then Malachi says: ”the Lord who you are seeking will come to his temple : the messenger of the covenant whom you desire, will come.” The Lord has come. Jesus enters the temple. He inspects it. The next day he will pronounce judgement.
To close. Some personal considerations…
The crowds cried HOSANNA – Save us!
Human nature has not changed much down through the past centuries since Jesus rode in. We need saving from ourselves.
The first – is where we just ended – the temple – where our religion loses meaning, or becomes ritual or where we go through the motions, where the walk does not match our talk, where it has become narrow minded and tough hearted, losing the grace, and breadth of Christ.
Second saved from a faith that abandons Jesus – the crowd noise was Hosanna on the Sunday, on the Friday, Crowd noise was ”Barabbas” and ”Crucify him”, and mockery -” he saved others, why can’t he save himself?” We are to be saved from having only a faith that abandons at the first sight of trouble. Jesus does not look only for those who welcome him and praise him, but also those who will not just go with him to dark Gethsemane but also to even darker Golgotha. As Jesus said years later to the Church in Thyatira, ‘To be overcomers and to do the will of God to the end’.
Thirdly, saved from being blind and not seeing the glory of the cross and only seeing the sorrow. As Jesus said, to disciples when the Greeks who wanted to see him, ‘he would be glorified in death’ (John 12:20-24). The cross – where the suffering servant King will hang – is a place of glory. God’s power shown in weakness and foolishness (as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25), the cross where Jesus triumphs, but he does not win by an army sent into a great battle, but his power and his victory achieved by sending his Son to the Cross. For through that unlikely victory,
”at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’‘(Phil 2:10-11).
Jesus said: ”whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many.”
A closing prayer.
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
In your name. Amen.