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What a day it was! Jesus had arrived almost a week early for the celebration of the Passover. He had been staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany which was just a few miles from Jerusalem. Many faithful Jews from all over the country, including people from Galilee, were traveling to Jerusalem. Some were already in the city. Some began to wonder, knowing that the Jewish leaders were plotting against him, if Jesus would even show up in the city. But, on the first day of the week, Jesus left the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and set out for Jerusalem. Word spread among those traveling through Bethany that Jesus was on the move. When he arrived at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, with the Holy City in view, he sent his disciples to procure a donkey colt for him. It was to be a colt no one had ridden, undefiled, set apart for the holy purpose of serving as Jesus’ vehicle for his grand entrance into Jerusalem.
When the people who were traveling the same path with Jesus saw him mount the donkey, they knew something big was about to happen. Some must have run ahead of the procession to tell friends and neighbors in the city: “Jesus is coming, and he’s not walking. He’s riding a donkey like one of Israel’s deliverers. Could he be the Messiah?”
As Jesus came down the Mt. of Olives to the east of Jerusalem, the crowds who went in front of him and those who followed kept shouting, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
They didn’t make up these words. There were words that were part of the Great Hallel, parts of Psalms that were sung or recited as people came into the city for the great Jewish festivals like Passover, words that helped the people remember God’s promise to send the Messiah, a Savior from the line of David.
For the disciples who went to get the donkey colt and its mother and found everything just as Jesus said it would be; for the crowds who came to the city along with Jesus and those who came out to meet him, it was a glorious day. It was a day full of hope, full of excitement and joy. But not everyone looked at it that way.
Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. You might remember that had happened once before. The whole city was stirred up about 30 years earlier when the Wise Men showed up asking, where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
Yes, there were those in Jerusalem, faithful pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover, who were like Simeon and Anna. They were waiting for the consolation of Israel, the coming of the Messiah. When they heard what was happening, they might have joined the crowds in praising God. Or they might have fallen on their knees in prayer, asking, hoping that God really had fulfilled his promise.
There were likely those in the crowds who really had no idea why there were there. They were shouting Hosanna, but they really didn’t know why or what the words even meant. They were just caught up in the emotion of the moment. Someone compared this group to many who sing Christmas carols. They are caught up in the tradition and emotion of the season. They think it’s important to sing “Stille Nacht” even thought they don’t know any German themselves. They sing “Christ the Savior is born,” but they don’t really know who that savior is, or why they need him. Or, on Easter they love to hear, or sing, the Hallelujah Chorus, but they don’t really believe that “the Lord Omnipotent Reigneth.” To them it’s just a tradition or a beautiful song. We pray that, by God’s grace, the words of Scripture they mindlessly sing would plant a seed in their hearts that the Holy Spirit can use in times like these when a lot of traditions are stripped away and they can focus more on the meaning of the words.
There were likely those in the crowds who mocked. They may have said things like we hear still today. “Look at those fools. They still believe in those old fashioned myths recorded in the Bible. No one is coming to save us. We have to save ourselves.” You know, like the reaction people have when someone talks about “thoughts and prayers.” Some mock, “what good are thoughts and prayers. We need to do something.”
We know the reaction of the Jewish leaders. They said, Jesus, rebuke your disciples. Tell them to be quiet. We know that after Jesus raised Lazarus, they decided Jesus had to be killed. They were looking for an opportunity to get rid of him quietly, and large crowds singing his praises wasn’t helping their cause. They felt justified in their indignation over what was happening because they were convinced that if things like this kept happening the Romans would certainly respond with force, and, as the leaders, they felt that they would bear the brunt of that response. They might be deposed from their position of leadership, maybe imprisoned, or even executed. That’s why Caiaphas had said that it was better that just one person die, namely Jesus, rather than the whole nation perish.
Without realizing it, Caiaphas spoke a wonderful truth. Not just the Jewish nation, but every nation, every person, is in danger of perishing. The danger is not from the Romans, or from nuclear war, or global warming, or even from the current pandemic, or one that may come in the future. Peter tells us, do not fear what they fear (1 Peter 3:14). Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28 NIBO)
The greatest problem that faced the Jewish leaders was not what the Romans might do to them if people kept praising Jesus as a king. Our greatest problem is not COVID 19. The greatest problem that faces every person who has ever lived is that we all deserve to have God destroy both our soul and body in hell!
Without realizing it, Caiaphas spoke about God’s solution to our problem. It’s the reason Jesus, who had been staying out of the public view for a while, now entered Jerusalem allowing himself to be hailed as a king, the Son of David. One man was going to die so that the whole world of people would not be destroyed soul and body in hell. Jesus humbled himself. He rode into Jerusalem so that he could go to the cross; so that he could take our place and suffer the hell we deserve. Because he was forsaken, we are not forsaken. He declared that his work of redemption was finished. Because he rose, we are assured that it was.
As the crowds entered Jerusalem singing their Hosannas, the people kept asking, Who is this? People might ask you the same thing. Who is this Jesus you are so excited about? Why do you celebrate Palm Sunday every year? What’s the deal with the palm branches? How do you answer them?
The crowds answered with these words, This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. Is that how you would answer? I pray your answer would be much better.
The answer of the crowds was Okay as far as it went. Yes, this man’s name was Jesus. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. Yes, he was a prophet. But even the devil knows that much about Jesus. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth, but he was born in Bethlehem. That’s important to know because that’s where the scriptures said the Messiah would be born. Yes, he was a prophet, but much more than a prophet. He didn’t just know things that no one else could know. He didn’t just receive messages from God like Moses or Elijah. He is God; God and man in one person, in him the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form. He is just who he needed to be in order to save the world. As the God/man, he was under law just as we are. As the God/man he kept every law perfectly for us. As the God/man, he was able to be tempted, to feel pain, to be nailed to the cross, and to die. As the God/man, his innocent suffering and death was able to pay the price demanded for your sins, and the sins of the whole world. Yes, Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, but he is so much more. He is the Son of God. He is your substitute. He is the one who did what you couldn’t do. He kept God’s law perfectly in your place. He suffered the punishment you deserve for your sins.
Things sure changed in a hurry. The joy and celebration of Palm Sunday soon changed to the horrors of his betrayal, crucifixion and burial on Good Friday. We can all identify with such a sudden change. Not that long ago we were all gathered together in our churches singing God’s praises together. Now we aren’t able to do that. Not long ago we probably didn’t know anyone who had the COVID virus. Now we probably know several people who do. Things change quickly. But Palm Sunday and Holy Week remind us that, even in the midst of change, God is in control. The Jewish leaders were determined that they were going to get rid of Jesus, “but,” they said, “not during the feast.” God had other plans, and his plans prevailed. He overruled their plans. He used their hatred to accomplish his good purpose. He worked out everything that happened so that his plan to be able to offer eternal salvation to all for free would be accomplished. As Paul reminds us, if God did all that, if he offered his only perfect son so that we could saved, how could we ever doubt that he is working in everything, even in a pandemic, to accomplish something for our eternal good!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem 2000 years ago there were two crowds, those who joined him on the way down the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem and those who came out of the city to meet him. When Jesus comes again in glory there will be two crowds. The one consists of those who have died believing in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus will bring them with him as he comes in glory in the clouds of heaven. Then, at the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, all the dead will be raised and those who believe in Jesus will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. No one will have to ask, “who is this.” When he comes again in glory, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But unlike Palm Sunday, the joy of the redeemed will not be dampened by betrayal, pain, suffering and death. The joy of the redeemed will continue forever and ever.