Have you ever had a really amazing weekend when you felt a sense of accomplishment and then everything fell apart the next week? A week when all kinds of unexpected things happened? And then the next morning, I went outside, about 6:30, the sun was just coming up, I looked and the grass didn’t look like when I planted. It turned out that a raccoon had come during the night. He had turned up every piece of sod, looking for worms and grubs. Well I was determined that this raccoon would not undo the work I had done. So I went on the internet and looked up what to do to get rid of raccoons. The first night, I played a tape of cats screeching. No effect, those raccoons were fearless. They redid their work, turning up every corner of every piece of sod. So I went to round two. I learned that if you put out $25 you can get a small bottle of genuine coyote urine. So I ordered it and sprayed it around the lawn. Nothing, those raccoons, they are urban raccoons, they’ve never met a coyote. Finally we got a trap, we set the trap and day after day we waited, nothing. Finally, I went on a trip. My wife called me at 5:30 and said there are two baby raccoons in the trap and the parents a running back and forth looking very worried, what should I do? I said I don’t know, finally she said, I know, I will call our youth pastor from church, he lives around the corner, he will come over and he will know what to do. He came over, and managed to release the baby raccoons. Well after that we cut our losses. We gave up and put down mulch. The raccoons beat us.
Sometimes things can start out exceedingly well, and then quickly turn into disaster. As John Steinbeck said—‘the best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray.’ You know what he is taking about.
Do you wonder exactly what sort of reception Jesus expected when he entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a young donkey on the eve of that fateful Passover week in A.D. 30? Did he see the horrible end of that week from the beginning but go through with it anyway? Did he know he was courting disaster to enter a city jammed with 600,000 Passover pilgrims and say he was the messiah, when the Roman soldier were on high alert for just this possibility and ready to crush it with massive force? Let’s look at John 12, beginning with verse 12. The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”[f]
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Earlier in the Gospel of John it says: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in him. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them for he knew all people. He did not need human testimony about them, for he knew what was in their hearts.” (John 2.23-24).
So don’t even suggest Jesus was some kind of naïve prophet, Jesus knows the hearts of everyone, from the most innocent child to the most calculating and brutal terrorist. He knew very well the evil human beings are capable of. No, he entered Jerusalem with his eyes wide open; with a clear eyed realism about what would soon happen. It was a day of great and genuine celebration, There were great hopes that he was about to restore Israel to its rightful sovereignty over its own land. The moment seemed ripe for change, the timing perfect, the atmosphere full of excitement, and people were shouting Hosanna—Blessed is the King of Israel.
Two things stand out in our Gospel reading. Jesus had never before elevated himself above the crowds of listeners, disciples, pilgrims. Secondly, the other three gospel writers tell us that this riding on a donkey was pre-planned by Jesus. He had delegated this task, perhaps through one of the twelve who asked one of Jesus’ Jerusalem disciples to borrow the animal with no more in his arsenal than the words “the Master has need of it”.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was riding into town on a donkey, just as David had insisted be done with Solomon, to make clear he was the next king of Israel. Jesus chose this prophetic gesture to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah—“Rejoice greatly daughter of Zion! Shout daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding a donkey, on a colt a foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim, and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea” (Zech. 9.9-10). It is a universal kingdom, over every nation, every ethnos.
Notice this peaceable king does not come into town driving a tank or a Hum V, or riding on chariot as a conquering hero. He comes to declare peace for the world, not war on the Romans. And here is a profound truth— Jesus did not come to meet either his earliest followers’ expectations or ours. He comes to meet our true need.
That first Palm Sunday, the expectations were exponential. They were off the chart. The waving of palm branches is significant, because this is what was done when the Maccabees, those great Jewish war heroes had recaptured Jerusalem in the second century B.C. The people wanted to see Jesus as the conquering hero not as in Zechariah’s prophecy but as a conquering hero like Simon Maccabee, but Jesus’ choice of a colt, the foal of a donkey, and the Old Testament prophets spoke of something else altogether—a king of peace, a kingdom of non-violence, a kingdom where self-sacrificial suffering and martyrdom, not killing, was the means of salvation and redemption, a kingdom where swords will be beaten into plowshares and we shall study war no more. Jesus did not come to meet our expectations, he came to meet their needs. I need to stop and thank you, the people of Tabernacle. Our church
You, the people of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, have been on the front lines of this Kingdom of God, a kingdom of Justice for 123 years. Your example of bringing the peaceable kingdom, God’s kingdom of love and justice and peace, I marvel at, I learn from, I find it amazing when I consider it.
The promise of the gospel, that not one tear, not one act of suffering will ever be forgotten powerfully encourages us to continue to build the Kingdom of God. When we know we are putting together the bricks of the eternal kingdom of God with our acts of faithfulness, we are powerfully encouraged to continue the struggle. So thank you Tabernacle.
The cry Hosanna (see Ps. 118.25) is plea in Hebrew meaning “Save Now!” The crowds were crying out for a particular kind of political liberation it would appear on the spot, but Jesus had another idea in mind entirely of what made for peace, what made for liberation and redemption. The real enemy was not Romans or Greeks, or foreigners in general. The real enemy lurked within the hearts of every one of us—it is called sin.
The Gospel of John is full of irony, and one of the ironic remarks in chapter 12 states “at first his disciples did not understand all this.” No kidding! Jesus warned them repeatedly that he was going up to Jerusalem to suffer many things, be killed and on the third day rise, but they saw him as the conquering hero, and were too busy singing “I love a parade” on this day, caught up in the pageantry and the celebration to understand what was really happening. It was only after Easter that they really understood what Jesus was doing on that day. They were acting more like ‘DUH-sciples’ than the wise followers on this day, and indeed for much of this holy week.
Ben Witherington: “The week begins in triumph and seems to end in tragedy with Jesus on a Roman cross. The week begins with accolades but ends with accusations. It begins with praise and ends with perjury. It begins with great expectations and it ends with expectations shattered.”
Luke tells us later that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus left town saying “we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel—notice the word ‘hoped’ is past tense. The crucifixion of Jesus had utterly destroyed that expectation. The week begins with hope but ends with mourning and despair. The week begins with disciples pledging allegiance to Jesus and ends with them betraying, denying and deserting him left and right.
At the beginning of the week the Pharisees were having an anxiety attack and worry out loud “see the whole world has gone after him!’ By the end of the week they could say the whole world had apparently deserted—left him along on a cross even exclaiming to God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” What a difference a week makes. Apparently some of the same people who were praising and blessing Jesus at the beginning of the week, were cursing him and saying crucify him at the end of the week. And what does this tell us about fickle and sinful human hearts?
Americans love winners. We love heroes, failures need not apply for our adoration. We love parades and razzmatazz and being dazzled and entertained. We are less excited when we are called to self-sacrifice. But what if the only way to win the decisive battle against sin and evil doers came not by killing your enemies, but by loving them and giving up your life for them? What if Good Friday, rather than Palm Sunday best expresses God’s way of dealing with human wickedness and sins? What if Palm Sunday was just the prelude to Good Friday, and the choice of animal showed that Jesus came in peace, and was establishing a peaceable kingdom?
True story. A women was grocery shopping and she got a phone call telling her that her father had committed suicide She fell to the floor and collapsed in sobs. Later she posted this note on facebook to thank the strangers who came to her and prayed with her and gave her comfort. She writes:
“I never saw you after that. But I know this to be true, if it were not for all of you, I might have simply gotten in the car and tried to drive myself home. I wasn’t thinking straight, if I was thinking at all. If it were not for you, I don’t know what I would have done in those first raw moments of overwhelming shock, anguish and grief. But I thank God every day that I didn’t have to find out. Your kindness, your compassion, your willingness to help a stranger in need have stayed with me until this day. And no matter how many times my mind takes me back to that horrible life-altering moment, it is not all darkness. Because you reached out to help, you offered a ray of light in the bleakest moment I’ve ever endured. You may not remember it. You may not remember me. But I will never, ever forget you. And though you may never know it, I give thanks for your presence and humanity, each and every day.”
The second story that both embodies and foreshadows the Kingdom of God came in the form of another Facebook post from a man named Greg Allen-Pickett.
“Asked by the BBC to identify the defining moment in his life Desmond Tutu spoke of the day he and his mother were walking down the street. Tutu was nine years old. A tall white man dressed in a black suit came towards them. In the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. But this day, before a young Tutu and his mother could step off the sidewalk the white man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her!
The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was bitterly opposed to apartheid. It changed Tutu’s life. When his mother told him that Trevor Huddleston had stepped off the sidewalk because he was a man of God Tutu found his calling. “When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God” said Tutu.
Huddleston later became a mentor to Desmond Tutu and his commitment to the equality of all human beings due to their creation in God’s image a key driver in Tutu’s opposition to apartheid.”
So what changed in these two worlds? A daughter’s grief continued, apartheid remained the law of the land for years afterward. But something was unleashed, something hidden at first, but powerful. It was both the embodiment and the foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God. The message of Palm Sunday is that Christ, Prophet, Priest and King, is present and actively working for life in the face of death. Individuals sometimes get it right even while there is so much wrong all around them. And what inspired Trevor Huddleston and those strangers in the grocery store was a vision of a King and his Kingdom.
You see the pivot or hinge of human history, the moment when the tide was turned in the war on sin and evil, did not come on Palm Sunday. That moment came when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and then rose again on Easter morning. Good Friday was D-Day in the war against sin and evil, and Jesus dealt with it not by fighting fire with fire, not by returning violence for violence, for he had warned that those who live by the sword die by the sword. No, he dealt with the sin and evil problem by absorbing in himself the punishment for such wickedness, paying the price for our sin, atoning for it, and thus he was able to offer forgiveness for sins. Indeed on the cross Jesus even prayed for his tormentors saying “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus overcame evil with good.
And let’s be clear, a crucified Jesus without the resurrection accomplishes nothing when it comes to sin. Unless Jesus died, atoning for sins, and rose again so he could send his Spirit to transform our hearts, and change how we live we would receive no benefits from that death. Indeed, it would be an unmitigated tragedy, not a triumph at all.
So the turning point in all of human history in the battle against sin and evil came not on a battle field but by an act of capital punishment exacted on Jesus. It came by suffering and dying for sin, not by riding into Jerusalem in a grand parade Jesus was the man who came to Jerusalem to die for each and every one of us, for all sins, once for all time.
Who could have guessed that that his death on the cross would forever change the course of human history? The cross tells us—that real change in a life, in a world, in a human life only comes through self-sacrificial love, living every day with the courage of our convictions. A courage that is inspired by faith, hope and love in the One who steps off the sidewalk. In the one who calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him. Pray
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