Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
When God entered time and became a man, he who was boundless became bound. Imprisoned in flesh. Restricted by weary-prone muscles and eyelids. For more than three decades, his once limitless reach would be limited to the stretch of an arm, his speed checked to the pace of human feet. Max Lucado, He Chose Nails
Who Is This?
We come again to the familiar story of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Most of you have heard it many times before. You could probably even tell it yourselves.
Before I read the passage I want to show you a couple of pictures from Israel. This first picture is of the Mount of Olives, from Jerusalem. Bethany, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived, where the procession began, is just over the top of this hill. To the right of this is a very large and ancient cemetery. You can see that in the second picture. Some of these graves were here when Jesus walked this way on the first Palm Sunday. We don’t know exactly what path he took down this hill, but it would have been somewhere in this area.
The danger with these familiar stories is that we assume we know them. We think that they don’t have anything new to say to us. I invite you to listen again to this familiar story. You might even hear something new. I’m going to read Matthew’s version which is a little bit different from Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s. Listen to God’s Word.
Most of Jesus’ ministry was in the northern part of Palestine, around the Sea of Galilee. Eventually he journeyed down toward Jerusalem. There are three roads that go from the north to the south. The first is the Via Maris. It went along the Mediterranean Sea and was the main trade route of that time. The second went through the middle of Israel, through the hill country and Samaria. The third was along the Jordan River. This is probably the rout Jesus took because he stopped in Jericho, which is right along the Jordan River, about 15-20 miles east and north of Jerusalem.
Finally, he started up toward Jerusalem. Before he reached the city he sent two of his disciples into a village at the top of the Mount of Olives, telling them to bring back a donkey and her colt. They brought them back and put their coats on the donkey. Jesus got on and rode down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. This was to fulfill a prophecy by Zechariah.
A number of years ago I watched an Animal Planet show that talked about a man who rescued donkeys from owners who abused them. He treated them gently and they became pets, almost like a dog. We don’t tend to think of donkeys that way, but they can be docile, loving animals. In Jesus’ time the donkey was an animal that a king rode in a time of peace. If a king tried to show his power and came as a conquering warrior he rode a horse. When a king came in peace, he rode a donkey. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king who came in peace, gentleness and love.
Matthew tells us that there was a very large crowd. This event took place at the time of Passover. Every Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was expected to come to the city for the feast. Any Jew who was able to come to Jerusalem would try to be there. About 30 years after Jesus’ there was a Roman governor who reported that there were more than 2.5 million people in Jerusalem for Passover.
Probably all 2.5 million people were not part of the parade, but there was a large crowd who did join in. They placed their coats and branches on the ground. This was a powerful symbol for the people.
In 175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes attacked Jerusalem and tried to wipe out Judaism. He defiled the Temple, sacrificed pigs on the altar. He sacrificed many different animals to Zeus rather than to Yahweh. He used the Temple as a house for prostitutes. Eventually a group of Jews fought and defeated Antiochus Epiphanes. They were led by Judas Maccabeus. They restored and purified the Temple. And then they held a great celebration of their victory. In their celebration they had a parade and laid palm branches on the ground and shouted the Psalms, just as people did as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The people expected Jesus to get rid of the foreign oppressors and to cleanse the Temple, which is the story right after ours.
Note what the people shouted as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means “save us.” It is found in Psalm 118 and used to be a prayer for God’s help, but over the years it came to be a statement of praise to the one who saved us. The people recognized that Jesus was a king, like David, who would save his people. They also shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is another quote from Psalm 118. It is an affirmation of faith that the king would be blessed by God and that through the king the people would be blessed.
Like most of you, I’ve heard this story every year of my life. I’ve preached this story about 10 times. A few years ago I was studying this passage in Matthew, getting ready to preach again, when I saw something I had never noticed before. In verse 10 there was something that jumped out at me. “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ (Matthew 21:10). Even if everyone in the city wasn’t part of the parade, they would have heard it and probably seen it. They would have wondered what was going on. “Who is this? Why are people making such a racket about this person?” The translation “the city was in turmoil,” is not strong enough. The Greek word for “turmoil” is the word that is used for an earthquake. The people of Jerusalem were shaken to the core. They were terrified, trembling with fear. “Who is this that is shaking up our world and our lives?”
When Jesus enters your life he will shake you up. He will turn your world upside down and cause you to ask, “Who is this?”
The fifth book of the Chronicles of Narnia is called “The Horse and His Boy.” It is about a horse named Bree and a young boy named Shasta. As the story opens Shasta is an orphan who lives with an abusive man who treats him as a slave. Shasta meets Bree, a talking horse, who is also in a bad situation. They run away and head toward the land of Narnia. As they travel they meet up with a young princess and her talking horse, Aravis and Hwin. They go through a series of adventures as they travel toward Narnia.
They discover that an evil army is also going toward Narnia, to attack it and make all the Narnians slaves. They race ahead to try to warn the king. They get to a hermit’s house, just outside of Narnia. The two horses are completely spent and Aravis is injured, so Shasta runs on by himself. He finds the king and warns him about the danger. The king finds a new horse for Shasta and they all race back to set up their defenses.
Unfortunately, Shasta is not a good horseman. He got separated from the rest of the party, took a wrong turn and ended up going up and over a mountain pass. It was night-time and Shasta was cold, tired, hungry and afraid. He began to feel sorry for himself. Let me read to you what happens. (Read p 155-159) I won’t give you the rest of the story. I'll let you read it for yourselves. I will tell you that the mysterious creature at Shasta's side is Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles.
When Jesus enters your life he will shake you up and cause you to ask, “Who is this? Who are you?” And maybe even “What are you doing?” That is true the first time he comes, the second time, and every time he comes to us.
The Palm Sunday story confronts us with the question, “Who is Jesus?” Let’s be honest, most of us are so familiar with this story that we are bored with it. It’s a nice children’s story, but doesn’t make any difference in our lives. I would imagine that many of us are so familiar with Jesus and so comfortable with our faith, that we don’t expect to be shaken to the core by his presence. We don’t stop and ask, “Who is Jesus?” and “What is he doing?”
Friends, if that describes your life, look out! My prayer for all of us is that Jesus will ride into our lives, shake us up, and cause us to ask again, “Who is this? Who is this man who claimed to be God? Who is this man who calls us to pick up our own cross, and then died on his own cross? Who is Jesus for you, and what is he calling you to do?”
Let us pray: O Jesus, enter into our lives again. Come to us and shake us up. Startle us with your glory and your majesty, with your compassionate, furious and relentless grace. Amen.