Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2011.  Text Matthew 21:1-11

What’s the biggest crowd of cheering people you have been a part of?  On Wednesday, I was telling the Lent Bible Study group about when Sonja and I went to ‘March for Jesus’ in London back in our college days.  It was a fantastic experience singing praise songs in a crowd of over 80,00 Christians as we marched past many of the famous tourist sights.

Can you think too of times you have waited and waited for something to happen, depending upon what it was, may be for years and then when it finally did happen it was even better than you had hoped for?  Maybe it was waiting for your team to win the cup, maybe to finally pass an exam or test, perhaps it was waiting for a loved-one to return, but somehow you forgot about the long time waiting once what you had longed for materialised.

The people of Israel had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to come.  What they were waiting for was a great King who would restore Israel to the ‘good old days’, when they was a great nation under the Kingship of David.  They were looking for a godly and powerful leader who would free them from foreign armies and who would make them into a country they could be proud of and who would be feared among the nations.

Of course the Lord Jesus knew all this and He knew that He was that Messiah and as such He was going to do so much more than what was expected of Him by so many.  He was not going to be merely an earthly King, but a heavenly one, He was going to defeat an enemy far greater than the Romans and His Kingdom would be one that would transcend human boundaries and divisions and even time and space.

So the Lord and his disciples make their way towards Jerusalem, where a thousand years before King David had reigned and He tells two disciples to go ahead to the village of Bethphage and there they will find a Donkey tied up with her Colt and they are to untie them and bring them back to the Lord and if anyone asks what they are doing to reply that “the Lord needs them” (v.4)

Matthew then tells us in his Gospel that this was done to fulfil prophecy, and he quotes from Zechariah (9:9), saying:

‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

Zechariah had spoken these words some five hundred years before and in fulfilling these words Jesus is openly declaring that He is the righteous Davidic Messiah.  The ‘daughter of Zion’ refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Matthew tells us that the disciples did as they were directed, they put their cloaks over the animals and it says that Jesus sat on them.  People have of course wondered how Jesus sat on both the Donkey and the Colt, because as we read it that is what it says, ‘and he sat on them’.  This is of course due to the translation into English from the original Greek; ‘them’ means Jesus sat on the cloaks, not on both the animals!  He sat on the Colt and He kept the young animal’s mother close so that the Colt would be much calmer and less afraid as it passed through the crowds on the way into Jerusalem.

So as the Lord makes His way towards the city a very large crowd begins to form and they spread their cloaks on the road and they cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Have you ever heard the story about Sir Walter Raleigh?  It may or may not be true that one day he was accompanying Queen Elizabeth the first when she was walking along through London, and they came to a place where the ground was particularly muddy and dirty.  He quickly took off his cloak and placed it on the ground so the Queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet. There is something very special about this act, if you lay down your cloak for someone it says that you are celebrating and valuing this person about as highly as you can.  It implies that, if need arose, you would give them anything else you had as well.[1]  So when the crowd spread their cloaks on the road it was to signify that they really believed that this was someone very special indeed that they were celebrating.  Of course many of them would have been familiar with the story of King Jehu in the Hebrew Scriptures, where everyone took off their cloaks and laid them on the bare steps and the trumpet was blown declaring him King (2 Kings 9:11).  Palm branches had been long associated with Jewish nationalism and victory over enemies; they were a prominent symbol at the feast of the tabernacles, on Jewish coins and in synagogue decorations.[2]

So the crowd was very excited and they kept shouting:

‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (v9)

‘Hosanna’ means ‘O Save’ and ‘Son of David’ acknowledges that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah.

And so this all caused quite a reaction, the crowd were certain that after hundreds of years of anticipation, the waiting was finally over, their Messiah, their Saviour, their Rescuer, Deliver and Redeemer had come. The city was in an uproar and expectations could not have been higher.

But we know what happens next and how fickle crowds can be.  Just days later a crowd would assemble again, but this time with the very different chant of ‘crucify him, crucify him’ (27:23).

The Lord Jesus of course knew that the people had been waiting for centuries for Him to come and He also knew that their expectations had become distorted over those centuries, but He had to answer their expectations not in the way that they wanted Him to but in the way that was right.  How often have we asked God for something in prayer only to be relieved later on that He didn’t answer the prayer exactly as we had wanted Him to?  Jesus, the doctor had come to heal the sickness of sin and it was going to cost Him His life.  You see He was going to answer their prayers to be rescued but He was going to do so at a much deeper level than they were expecting; He was going to free them from sin and evil in its full depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and exploitation.[3]

Bishop Tom Wright sums it up like this:

“Once you invite Jesus to help, he will do so more thoroughly that you imagined, more deeply than perhaps you wanted.  If you invite an accountant to help you with your income tax return, you mustn’t be surprised if she goes through all your other financial affairs as well, to make sure she’s got everything right.”[4]

The people had welcomed and invited Jesus but turned on Him when what He did failed to match their expectations.  Of course the same is true today, many start off the Christian life full of excitement but when the going gets tough or when we realise that we need to surrender all of our life to Jesus all of the time then the temptation to turn away from Him and do our own thing can be very great indeed.  Sadly I have seen this happen, people who were once all fired-up for God who now show no evidence at all of a life of faith.  We need to be on our guard that this does not happen to us, we need to look out for each other, particularly when someone is going through a difficult time but perhaps even more so when someone is going though a very good time, because it is then that we are most vulnerable to be tempted to think that we don’t need Jesus.  Of course we do need Jesus, we need Him now and we need Him always.  Let us pray:

Dear Lord Jesus, we welcome you now to come into our hearts and lives in the fullest possible way.  Help us to acknowledge you now and at all times as our Lord and Saviour, and to stay with you through both the good times and the bad times.  Help us to surrender all of our life to you and allow you to change us, shape us and mould us into your image and will.  This we ask in Your name, Amen. 

[1] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part 2, SPCK 2002, p.66

[2] ESV Study Bible, Crossway 2008, margin notes, p.1865

[3] Tom Wright. p.68

[4] Ibid. p.68,69


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