Palm Sunday (April 10, 2022)
We have come today to worship the One, Who rides on in majesty, but also rides on “in lowly pomp...to die.” We remember the joyous accolades afforded Jesus on that first Palm Sunday centuries ago by waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna in the highest! … All glory, laud, and honor To You Redeemer King.”
Palms are rightly associated with this day. Palms branches were used in ancient times to acknowledge a victorious king. They saluted the one who brought victory to his people. Jesus was greeted as that king when He strode into Jerusalem. In one of the divine visions shown John, as recorded in the 7th chapter of Revelation, a multitude which no one can number is pictured standing around the throne of God and the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and holding palm branches in their hands.
We join the “Holy Ones of God” down through the millennia hailing our King! We continue to sing His praises. But for what do we praise Him? What kind of King do we want him to be? I’m afraid, as in Jesus’ own day, many today prefer not to have a King Who rides on to die!
Consider this; in His own day Jesus was jeered by the religious establishment, considered a curiosity at best and a nuisance at worst by the political rulers, and even misunderstood by bewildered followers. People wanted a king surrounded by opulence and glory. What they got was a king steeped in poverty and shame. They wanted a knight on a white charger. They got a carpenter on a donkey. They wanted a sword swinging warrior. They got a prophet who wielded the sword of His Word. They wanted a mighty conqueror. They got a bloody corpse. They wanted a king on a throne of glory. They got a king impaled to a cross of shame.
Luke alone records that as Jesus rode down the road from the Mount of Olives toward the city gate of Jerusalem and the “fullness of His disciples were rejoicing, they began to praise God with a great voice for all the powerful things He had done.” The people loved Jesus best when He demonstrated with His miraculous power His lordship over sicknesses, death, and even the forces of nature. They wanted a Savior with omnipotent power and control over all things, who could change water into wine… make bread and fish appear out of thin air… and cast out demons.
Isn’t that the substance of the praise that many have for Jesus today? They see Him as their “Jesus Christ, Super Hero!” They emblazon their homes and their car bumpers with banners that say, “Jesus is Lord!” They emboss their T-shirts with slogans like: “Jesus is Lord of my Life!” or “Jesus Rules!” They want a Savior, who is a “take charge” kind of guy! Someone who will swoop in and rescue them from every dilemma or problem they face. And in Jesus they feel they have found their Superman… their Thor… their Ironman. Jesus lays down the law for their lives. He sets the principles, that if followed, they feel will make things go right in their lives. For them, Jesus is the miracle worker who, if they believe in Him strongly enough, will keep their lives free from trouble and pain… heal their diseases and do all sorts of miracles for them. They praise Him as their “Sovereign Lord”.
To be sure, Jesus is The Sovereign Lord. All things have been placed in subjection to Him in heaven and on earth, as we heard the Apostle Paul proclaim in our Epistle Reading. Yes, Jesus was in control of the events of that first Palm Sunday just as He is of all events today. The question is: Why was and is He calling all the shots? Is it so that He can humble all by His omnipotent power? Is it so that He can become another Lawgiver and taskmaster over us? Or is it so that He could submit in all humility to “our great charity?”
It is clear Jesus had command of the situation when He came so victoriously into Jerusalem. Luke is quite careful to show us how well planned the whole affair was. Not only does Luke record Jesus’ specific instructions to the two disciples to fetch Him the foal of the donkey, but Luke is just as meticulous in describing how everything went just as Jesus said it would. Even to the point that when the owners of the donkey asked the two disciples why they were taking their donkey, they replied just as Jesus had instructed them, “The Lord has need of it.” No resistance was offered. No questions as to “Who is this Lord?” were raised. They were simply allowed take the donkey.
On top of this, it is clear Jesus was acting as He was to make a bold statement to all of His kingship. He carefully chose which entrance to Jerusalem He would enter, the one that faced the road that came down from the Mount of Olives. The prophet Zechariah had long ago prophesied that the Lord God Himself would come to His people and stand on the Mount of Olives to go forth and fight for His people (Zech. 14:4). Jesus was actively fulfilling that prophecy.
Neither was Jesus’ choice of transportation simply out of convenience or necessity. At no other time do we ever hear of Jesus riding anything or in anything, let alone on a donkey. He customarily walked. But to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was to follow a precedence started with King David and his son Solomon on the occasions of their coronations. (I Kings 1:38). Such an action on the part of the coming Messiah was also prophesied by Zechariah, “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.” Jesus wasn’t just taking a “pony ride.” He was making a bold declaration that He was accepting the throne of King David…the throne that was rightfully His.
There is no question the people who cheered Him got the message. They sang out: “Blessed is He who comes, the King, in the name of the LORD.” Matthew adds in his account that the people also said, “Hosanna (Save us) son of David!” Here was their King... their Lord. They waved their palm branches in honor of Him and placed their cloaks on the road in front of Him to show their willing obedience to their new King.
That Jesus accepted such praise was completely unparalleled in His life on earth to this point. He had usually shunned such over-the-top accolades, preferring to direct all glory to The Father above. Yet, here, because He was about to claim His throne, Jesus accepted the accolades of the people. In fact, there could be no holding it back. Jesus even told the Pharisees in Jerusalem, who wanted Him to rebuke the people for hailing Him as king, “ I say to you, even if these should be silenced the rocks would cry out!”(19:40)
But amidst all this pomp and ceremony, there is also a certain controlled air of humility. No where along the route does Jesus give rallying speeches or cry out, “I’m King!” Neither did He enter the capital city with power blazing. He rode calmly and humbly astride a lowly donkey. A true sign of subservience.
There is no contradiction here... no mistake. Jesus was in control of the whole situation. For He was riding on in all lowliness with a purpose. He was riding on to die!
And where do we hear that resolute mission of Jesus expressed most fervently? Not from the lips of Jesus. Instead, we hear it in the song of those who praised Him. The jubilant crowd of disciples going before and after Jesus (Mark 11:9) sang: “Blessed is He who comes, the King, in the name of the LORD. In heaven peace and glory in the highest.” These lyrics of praise did not arise simply on the spur of the moment or out of some well of emotion. They were heavenly inspired words. They are as old as creation itself. Man heard them first from the mouth of angels at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace...”
Now, we don’t know how clearly these Palm Sunday worshipers of Jesus understood His mission, but we do know that their words of praise were not coming merely from the rabble of Jerusalem who were just caught up in all the excitement. Luke calls those who praised Jesus “disciples of Jesus. They believed Jesus to be the Messianic King, no matter how incomplete or misguided were their expectations and understandings of His work. The Spirit of God was putting this song of praise on their lips.
Yet, these words were more than a song. They were the very revelation of what this King was doing. Note that when the angels sang it, they said “on earth peace” but the Palm Sunday Worshipers sang, “in heaven peace.” No one screwed up the lyrics. These two refrains of praise were meant to be put into juxtaposition with each other. They form perfect bookends to Jesus’ ministry.
For nowhere is there a greater need for peace than between heaven and earth. Our sin has made us enemies of God. Our guilt has placed us rightfully under God’s wrath and threat of present and eternal punishment. The Son of God became incarnate solely to break down that wall of animosity and wrath against sin. He came to restore peace between heaven and earth through His passion, death, and resurrection. He broke down the wall of hostility. He brought to earth God’s grace and love and not His wrath. At His cross heaven and earth became reconciled so there would be peace between heaven and earth.
You see, Jesus came to stand in the breech between heaven and earth. That’s what Jesus’ ride of lowly pomp is all about. Jesus is Lord because He willingly submits to God’s demands and our needs. He is not Lord because He is all powerful God and demands our obedience. Heaven knows the world is already full of “lords” over our lives.
Accordingly, the worshipers sang: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” God’s holy name that He gave to Moses and His people was the name “Yahweh,” or “Jehovah.” It is the great “I am that I am.” It is God’s covenant name; His name of promise. The Hebrews considered it so sacred, that when they came upon it in the sacred texts they would substitute the word “Adonai,” meaning “Lord,” or ‘Master,” in its place.
Jesus came in the name of the LORD; that is, in the name of Yahweh. The name “Jesus”, or “Yeshua,” translates “Yah saves.” In the person of Jesus, Yahweh, the LORD, comes to bring the promise of salvation to His people in the flesh. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said. Therefore, to say “Jesus is my LORD,” is not merely to say that Jesus is my Master who rules my life. It is to say, “Jesus is the only true God. He is my God! He is my Savior….. my peace…… my life!”
Can you then stand a King who rides in lowly pomp to die? Do you want a King who rides a lowly donkey and is not chauffeured in a Rolls Royce? … Who washes His disciples’ feet and does not seek to have them wash His feet? …Who sits and eats with notorious sinners and not with the refined and self-righteous? …Who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many? Do you want a King whose crown is one of thorns and whose throne is a cross?
It is for certain that you don’t need another task-master in your lives. You already have the Law which you and I can’t keep that weighs us down in guilt. You already have all sorts of human authorities who tell you what to do and demand your obedience. You and I already have a sinful nature that enslaves us to our lusts, perversions, and passions. You need a true Lord... The LORD, in your own flesh, whose heart is that of a humble servant, who in your own flesh saves you from slavery through His humble subservience… The Lord who keeps the Law perfectly in Your stead…. The Lord who then dies your death to atone for your failure to keep the Law and raises His body from the grave to give your flesh living hope.
It is of importance to note that the very words of that Palm Sunday crowd praising Jesus and pleading for Him to “save us LORD,” (Hoshiana… Hosanna Son of David) are taken right out of Psalm 118. In fact, the people were accustomed to singing these very words at every Passover as part of the Hallel (Psalms of praise to the LORD) sung as part of the Passover Seder. The apostle John in his account clearly states that this Psalm points to the arrival of the Messiah (John 14:16). And whether the people sang these words in full confession that Jesus is the Messiah or did so unwittingly, it is no accident they were sung at this opportune moment. The Messiah had come in answer to His people’s cries to save them and He had come to save them by giving His life in atonement for theirs, yours and those of every human being. Even the rocks would be forced to proclaim it! It is my opinion that even the palm branches they waved and placed on the ground underneath Him also proclaimed it. The very next verse of Psalm 118 proclaims, “The LORD is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us. With boughs in hand join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar” (NIV, v. 27)…the place of sacrifice!
Yes, we sing, “Jesus, ‘Ride on, Ride on, in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, Then take, O Christ, Thy power and reign.’” Amen.