Palm Sunday St. John, Galveston 3/28/21
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the Gospels, the historic record of Jesus’ life and ministry, it’s evident that people saw Him in different ways. I suppose, in some sense, that’s just a way of saying that people had different opinions about Jesus. The phenomena shouldn’t appear unusual to us; nor should it strike us as odd or strange. If we were to take a look at various people in the political arena today, we’d probably find the same sort of division among people. For some, candidate “A” can do no wrong. But for others, he or she can do no right. When it comes to those who exercise power and who garner followings, there always seems to be at least two camps, those for the person and those against them.
In a sense though, we don’t expect Jesus to be such a divisive person. He is, after all, the Prince of Peace and He is ultimately the Savior of the world. As such, He calls all people to come to Him to find rest. “Come to Me, He says, all of you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And yet, He also said, “do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
So, it shouldn’t strike us as unusual or unexpected that the people who gathered on that first Palm Sunday were divided regarding Jesus and His arrival into Jerusalem. Maybe the opinions, the views, if you will, that we form about people, and certainly about Jesus, are based, in large part, on what we perceive we have to gain in that person vs. what we perceive we have to lose in them, particularly when they come to exercise a certain amount of power and authority over our lives.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were definitely threatened by Jesus. They were threatened because, as it says elsewhere in the Scriptures, “He spoke as one having authority and not as the Scribes and the Pharisees.” People were following Jesus, even when He called into question many of the things being taught at the time by the religious establishment. That said, the religious leaders we quite disheartened when they saw people following Jesus. As they said at the end of this morning’s reading, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” The world going after Jesus was their greatest fear. Jesus’ gain, an amassed following, was their loss. Or at least they perceived things that way.
The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their position and power. The lengths they would go to silence His message were really pretty astonishing. In fact, just prior to the reading for this morning, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. At the time of the Triumphal entry, the religious leaders were trying to find Lazarus so they could kill him. After all, he was a living witness to the power and authority of Jesus. Jesus spoke and even death had to obey His command.
Jesus, of course, remains a threat to some. Not so much because He garners a following, or, because He threatens their power, but because He takes away the whole notion of the autonomous self, the belief that we are the master of our own destinies, the captains of our own ships. C.S. Lewis, who turned from atheism to Christianity during the course of his life, said during his atheistic days, that he didn’t want God to be real. He didn’t want God to exist because if He existed, he, that is, Lewis, would be accountable to Him, he couldn’t be the master of his own destiny.
So, there is a perceived threat in Jesus’ coming into the world, mainly as it relates to personal autonomy. Many people succumb to it and they strive with all of their might to hold God at bay. But there is also great peace and great comfort with Jesus coming into the world. There were those in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday who were excited to see Jesus arrive in Jerusalem. From the time of God’s promise to their ancestors, that He would “send the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent,” they had waited in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah. On Palm Sunday, both their actions and their words testified to what they saw in Jesus. “They took branches of palm trees (John says) and went out to meet (Jesus), crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
First, they saw Jesus as their King. Israel, of course, had a long history of Kings, beginning with King Saul. Some were good and some were bad. Some were even evil. God though, had promised that He would send a King from the house of David, one whose kingdom would have no end. While many people had different views on what that kingdom would be like, central to it was its everlasting nature. Jesus is even now, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the ruler of the heavens and earth. He rules even over those who reject His lordship and deny His very existence. The people rejoiced that their King had come! “Seek first (Jesus said) the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (that is, all of the blessings of the kingdom, namely, forgiveness, life and salvation) will be added to you.”
Many of the people who were there on that first Palm Sunday received Jesus excitedly Palm Sunday because He was their long-awaited King! They were also excited to receive Him because He brought salvation to the world. As He rode into Jerusalem, they cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The words they spoke weren’t random, or something they agreed upon just prior to Jesus’ arrival. Rather, they were part of a long-standing religious tradition. There are certain Old Testament psalms that are known as Halel psalms. They are Psalms 113 through 118. Halel, which literally means “praise,” was recited as a prayer at various feasts and festivals of the Jewish tradition. The word “hosanna,” which means “Lord, save us,” was frequently chanted in the offering of the Halel.
Many people in the crowd that day, saw Jesus, not simply as their King, but as the One who had come to save them. God had acted. In Jesus, He was fulfilling His promise to provide the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. “Hosanna,” “Lord, save us,” they said. Now, while some may have had a skewed or errant view of what that salvation entailed, there were those, the apostles and others included, who saw Jesus for who and what He was.
You and I have sung our “hosannas,” our Halel, if you will, today. In many respects, Jesus divides the world, but in this respect, as He comes to save us from sin and death, He unites us, forming us into one body, the one holy, Christian and apostolic church. Though He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we see Him, not as an earthly king, not as a king who will necessarily subdue our earthly enemies and vanquish our every foe, but as the king who bears the burdens, even the sins, of His people.
“Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
Over captive death and conquered sin.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +