Worthy of it all
Palm Sunday is a the day when Christians all over the world reflect on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week he was crucified. It was a bittersweet entrance. As the descendent of David, Jesus was the rightful king, and so in a sense he is entering his city. But he knows that this city is going to kill him, and so this is a mixed entrance.
And so it’s bitter sweet in the way that different people respond to Jesus. All the gospels portray these episodes of affirmation and conflict – some people respond well to who Jesus is and what he’s doing, and others … not so much.
And life is like that. Different people respond to Jesus differently in the same way that we respond to life's other choices. We tend to be defined by choices we make, the affiliations that give us like shape. And there are key decisions in life that are quite binary:
- Mac vs PC
- Coke vs Pepsi
- Baseball vs Football
- Cats vs Dogs
- Elvis vs the Beatles
I know that some of us feel quite deeply about these choices, but most of them make no difference in our lives whatsoever. I don’t know - and I don’t care - which side of these questions you fall on. There is really only one this versus that issue that for which the consequences matter. Jesus is either the Messiah, or he is not, and how we think about that changes our destiny. As we read in the core text (Luke 2:21-38), different people respond to Jesus differently.
Background: The Journey to Jerusalem
There’s a misconception some people have about Jesus. It’s this idea that he was a really good teacher, he was a great miracle worker, and it’s too bad he died so young. But that misses the big point, that Jesus came explicitly for the purpose of dying.
In Luke 9:20, in response to the foundational question, 'Who do you think I am?', Peter gives the answer: 'You are the Christ'. After all of his ministry in Galilee - healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, turning water into win, Peter had come to understand that Jesus was the promised one, the Messiah, the one sent by God to save his people.
Then, in Luke 9:22, Jesus gave his team the gameplan for bringing the kingdom of God: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” That wasn't real popular with the disciples, but Jesus was insistent.
And this brings us to the pivotal moment in the gospel of Luke: 'When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem'. Luke 9:51.
What these texts make clear is that Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem, that he was going to encounter opposition in Jerusalem, that he was going to to Jerusalem to die, but that he would be raised from the dead.
This gets repeated several times on the journey … but after Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to correct this, the disciples just shut about it. As they journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus is doing more miracles, he’s doing more teaching, and his fame is growing, and so the crowd is growing. Remember: everything we encounter from Luke 9 to Luke 20 – it wall all in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
The fact that Jesus 'set his face to go to Jerusalem' means that
Some folk think that the death of Jesus is unfortunate, and unecessary. Some people say, 'Well, I want the moral teachings of Jesus, or I like the power of Jesus, but I’m not really into the whole death and resurrection thing'.
In short, no. Death and resurrection are the point. His death and resurrection mattered because of his identity – it’s not just a guy up there on the cross, but the promised Messiah and the Son of God. So all the miracles demonstrate and confirm his identity. But Jesus came to go to Jersualem and die, and the entire gospel of Luke is structured around that fact.
Setting: Villages and donkeys
The mount of olives is to the east of Jerusalem and looks across the Kidron valley to the temple mount. So Jesus had been in Jericho, which is in Jordan valley, east of Jerusalem, you travel up to Jerusalem, and so travelleing west, he came to these two villages on the outskirtsw of the city, in this hilly area with olive tree groves. And in Luke 19:29-34, we read that
He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.”
The point of this is that Jesus is in control. But first, an explanation: this isn’t Jesus stealing a donkey; this is an example of the ancient practice of angaria in which figures of state and persons of note could press property into personal use. And this right was extended to rabbis, which is how many people now viewed Jesus.
But the key thing here is Jesus’ control over the events:
- he knows the animal’s location
- he knows its tied-up state
- he knows its ‘unridden history’
- he knows how to procure it
Again, Jesus determined to go to Jersualem, and here is running show. The point is that the events that happen over this next week from this Sunday to the next Friday, these are accidental, unfortunate events – this was the plan of God unfolding.
As described in Luke 19:35-36, After procuring the means of transportation, Jesus takes a ride:
And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.
This whole idea of riding the colt of a donkey is not because Jesus is tired after the journey up from Jericho. Rather, he is fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The scripture tells Jerusalem to rejoice because the king is coming, riding on a donkey. Jesus is coming as the king who is righteous, the king who has salvation. Again, the point is – this is all going according to plan.
4. Powerful Praise
What happens when the king enters Jerusalem? Powerful praise erupts from those who know who Jesus is. This is what we read in Luke 19:36-37:
And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”.
To rejoice, however, implies that they recognise the king, and this is precisely what did not happen; you can’t rejoice in the king if you don’t recongise the king, and Jerusalem doesn’t recognise the king, Jerusalem kills the king. Here's what to notice from this text:
- Who is praising? The whole multitude of disciples.That is, this crowd that has been growing as Jesus has been moving from Galilee to Jerusalem.
- Why are they praising? For all the mighty works they had seen. Jesus has been doing lots of miracles – blind eyes opened, the sick healed, the dead raised … and now the teacher-rabbi-miracle worker is coming into the royal city.
- How are they praising? with a loud voice.\
- What song are they praising with? Psalm 118:
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
This quotation is taken from Psalm 118:26. The previous verse, 25, says, ‘Save us Oh Lord’. This is where we get Hosannah from, a transliteration of the Hebrew hoshiana which means ‘give salvation now’. So in Psalm 118, there is a prayer for salvation, and a blessing on the king who comes in God’s name. This Psalm originally depicted the king leading pilgrims on their way to Jersusalem to worship at the temple where they would receive a welcome from the priests, probably after some great victory.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people had cried out, ‘Hosanna to the king of Israel!’. So the hope of the people, the point that peole are making, is that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised king. On one hand, their praise is completely appropriate, because Jesus is God’s king; He is the promised messiah. But they are being set up for dissappointment because he is not the kind of messiah they envisioned.
They pictured a political messiah who would deliver Israel from the Romans; eventually, at his second coming Jesus will destroy all oppression – all political, social, financial bondage will be eliminated when Jesus establishes his kingdom. But first, Jesus has to die so that people can enter that kingdom. They don’t know that; at this stage they are simply rejoicing in the king because he’s’ been doing good things.
What’s interesting in Luke’s account is that he does not mention any palm branches. How can you have Palm Sunday without Palms? The Palm branch had become a symbol of Jewish national hopes. Well – the reason Luke doesn’t mention this is because this he is writing to Gentiles and the Palm branches derive from a Jewish tradition, and if Luke mentioned it, he would have to explain it, like he did with the purification rite in Luke 2 when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple. Going back to a brief period of independence between the Old and New Testaments, when he drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem, Simon the Maccabbee had been celebrated with music and the waving of Palm branches. (141 BC). When the temple had been rededicated, the people waved palm branches. The Jewish coins struck to commemorate the victory of insurgents over Romans also used palm branches. In short, these were a symbol to 1stcentury Jews of their nationalistic hopes that a messiah liberator had arrived on the scene.
But what Luke DOES mention is important: there is GREAT PRAISING because people recognise the king.
5. Problems and Protest Not everyone was happy with the praise Jesus was receiving. This is what we read in Luke 19:39:
- 39: And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
The Pharisees regarded Jesus as a teacher; they did not believe he was the Messiah. Their problem with him was that Jesus was letting the crowds think He was the Messiah.
At the end of the week, Jesus went on trial for blasphemy. He was accused by the religious leaders of claiming to be God. But this was not claiming to be God, this was claiming to be the Messiah. This was not illegal to the Jews, they just thought it was wrong.
In other words, for Jews it was immoral to claim to be God, but it was OK to claim to be the Messiah, unless you weren’t. The Pharisees did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. There problem was not with the concept of Messiah, but with Jesus – they didn’t believe he was the Messiah.
The Pharisees and chief priests and other religious leaders did not want Jesus to be their king. They did not agree with his claim to be the Messiah. And so they asked him to tell the peole to stop praising him.
This is what Jesus said: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Should Jesus comply with the Pharisees request? Think about this:
- If Jesus knew he was not the Messiah, and let this happen, then he was just being cruel by letting his followers believe a delusion.
- If Jesus was really thought he was the Messiah, but he wasn’t, then he was just a mad man suffering from delusions of grandeur.
- But if Jesus really was who he said he was, then He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and he should be be worshipped.
In the words of C. S. Lewis, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. A Lunatic could not have said the things he said. A Liar could not have kept up the charade. And plus, if he knew he was lying, he would have gone through the whole crucifixion thing. And besides, the ultimate declration that He really is Lord is the resurrection.
So Jesus says, ‘No’. He refuses to stop the Messianic confession of his followers. More than that, in Luke 19:40, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” This is a huge indictment of these religious leaders.
- Creation is aware of Jesus, but the leadership of the nation is not.
- Rocks are willing to worship Jesus, but the Pharisees were not.
- That which is lifeless knows life when it sees it, but that which is living does not.
So here’s the thing. There were basically two responses to Jesus: praise or protest. The praise of Jesus is rooted in a revelation of who he is - the promised one, the Saviour, the Son of God, the Lord.. And the identity of Jesus is related to what he came to do:
- He came to fulfil the promises in the Old Testament
- He came to live the life we should have lived
- He came to die in our place on the cross
- He came to defeat death hell and the grave
When we understand that that's who He is and what He came to do, we praise him - loudly, boldly, powerfully. The reason people protest Jesus is because they don’t believe who is who he said is or that he did what he came to do.
- These people were praising Jesus because of what they thought he was going to do; we praise Jesus because of what He has done.
- They were thinking, ‘Jesus is going to defeat the Romans and establish God’s Kingdom’. We praise Jesus because he has defeated Satan, he has defeated death, hell, and the grave, and he has brough us into his kingdom.
- They praised him because he made bodies whole; we praise because he has made us spiritually whole.
If they can praise him before he had gone to the cross, we praise him better, we can praise him bigger, we can praise him louder, we can praise him greatly because HE did go to the cross, he was crucified, he was buried, and he was raised from the dead!