Adulation! Palm Sunday
Psalm 118:19-29 Philippians 2:5-11 Luke 19:28-40
Intro: You may know that the Japanese Imperial Army ran the deadliest prison camps in World War II. At one camp, starving military prisoners of war were huddled in dozens of bamboo huts. They had experienced terrible deprivation and cruelty under the iron fist of the camp commander. But it was Christmas! They had been told that there would be NO religious celebration in the camp. But about midnight, someone in one of the little huts began singing “Silent Night.” And then everyone in that hut was singing, and in the next hut, and the next, until the whole camp was singing “Silent Night.” Before the prison guards could react or stop the commotion, the song ended. One of the men who survived that camp said that it was the best Christmas gift he had ever received, the best Christmas he had ever celebrated!
If you are lucky enough to have been on this earth for at least a few decades, you know Christmas carols. You might not know every single word of every verse, but you know them well enough to sing with a crowd! They’re an annual tradition, and many of them carry strong memories of Christmases past—memories that come flooding back with each successive year.
Well, our Scriptures for today have that same kind of power. The ancient Israelites sang Psalms as they made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover—and for centuries they sang the same Psalms as they climbed the hill of Jerusalem, up to the Temple built on Mount Zion. The Psalm you heard read today is one of those special songs, and it would have been embedded in the memory of Jesus and all those present when he made his triumphal entry on the back of a donkey.
The people would also have words from the Prophet Zechariah ringing in their ears: 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.
There was something special about this procession, both in terms of WHO was coming in and what things were like in Israel at that time. The Romans occupied Israel, and there had already been numerous uprisings against them—so the leaders of Israel were sensitive about anyone stirring up a crowd and being called a KING! (They were supposed to help the Romans keep everyone in line.)
Why did Jesus orchestrate this procession into Jerusalem? And why was the crowd so jubilant in its adulation? And why were certain people trying to hush everyone up? Most important—why is this event remembered every year on what we call “Palm Sunday”? What makes it so important to 21st Century people? Let’s take a look.
Open the Gates of Righteousness (Psalm 118)
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” When a stonemason is laying a foundation, the main foundation stone is one that is true and straight and leads to a good foundation. And when it came to rejection, Jesus really knew what that was. So the Psalmist writes that a rejected stone has now become the chief cornerstone, and it is the Lord’s doing, marvelous in our eyes!
The Hebrew “Hosannah!” means “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” This is consistent with the intention of Jesus, because he had a sense of Who He Was. As we read the Old Testament, we see God’s Savior in every book. Jesus knew these Scriptures, and they pointed to this moment. And our Psalm says, “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!” No wonder people took branches and laid them in his path.
And with this procession the silence is over. Throughout his ministry, whenever he healed and delivered people, he instructed them to “keep quiet.” But they always ran and told everyone! Up to this point, his disciples are the only ones who know Who He Is, but upon entering the gates on the back of a donkey, he PROCLAIMED HIS IDENTITY. Here’s what I mean.
Blessed Is the One Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!
I’ve talked before about enacted parables. Typically, a parable is a story that is told to help teach concepts, and to help people remember the teachings. Occasionally, a parable was enacted—and it was worth thousands of words. Jeremiah the Prophet was instructed by the Lord to buy a potter’s earthenware jug, then take it and SMASH it in front of the people and say, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.’” An enacted parable. Jesus enacted parables when he washed the feet of the Disciples to teach servant leadership. He calmed the waves, and saved them in a storm, saying “O ye of little faith!” And, of course, he changed the meaning of Passover by saying of the bread and the cup, “My body, broken for you; my blood, shed for you.” And we re-enact it every time we celebrate The Lord’s Supper.
Today, we celebrate an enacted parable that was announcing to everyone, “Yes! I am the Anointed One!” We know that Jesus could have gone anywhere BUT Jerusalem, and he was warned it would be dangerous to go there. He wasn’t going to skulk into town unnoticed. No, it was time to announce WHO HE WAS, to make it clear: He was the One anticipated though the Scriptures. He rode in on a donkey to indicate he was a different kind of ruler. It would invoke the memory of the words of Zechariah, “See, your King comes to you, righteous, and having salvation, gentle, and riding on a donkey.”
IF his kingdom was going to be “of this world,” he would have ridden in on a white war-horse, leading an army of people ready to overthrow the Romans! (In the tradition of the Maccabees!)
But Jesus is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. When he was taken before Pilate, he told him, “My kingdom is NOT of this world. If it were, my followers would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Pilate responded, “You are a king, then!” And Jesus said, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
The Stones Would Shout Out!
In the Scriptures, all of creation speaks God’s praise (especially in the Psalms and Isaiah). The trees clap their hands for joy; the hills skip into a dance; the waves cry out; mountains shout. Creation speaks God’s praise! This you must remember if you would understand some curious words of Jesus.
When the people were welcoming him with their glad “hosanna’s”, there were Pharisees who said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop!” It’s possible they were nervous about potential blasphemy. I suspect they were more concerned about the “political” implications of this noisy scene. You see, the Sanhedrin had worked out an arrangement between the faith of Israel and the POWER of Imperial Rome. They did not want any disruption of their carefully-crafted alliance. They saw it as just one more rebellion aimed at kicking the Romans out, because they heard the people shouting about a NEW KING! And Jesus replied to their demand to silence them, “If they were silent, the stones would shout!”
I asked earlier, “Why is this event so important, to this day?!” Here are some reasons:
- It answers the question of who is in charge? Who is KING?
- There are plenty of forces telling us to sit down and shut up when we should be on our feet, praising God, trusting God to be our salvation!
Our Epistle reading for today comes from Philippians 2. You’ve heard me refer to it any number of times over the last 3 years, because I love it so much! Many Bible scholars believe that Paul has here included the lyrics of a 1st Century song of praise, because of the rhythm and meter in the Greek. It describes the faithful life and humble death of Christ. It declares that God has given him the name above all names, and that at the name of Jesus, every knee might bow and every mouth confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! It’s a great passage for Palm Sunday! The adulation of that day is meant to continue until the end of time.
Conclusion: It is important for us to dwell on this event—the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem—to join with the people in adulation and praise. Oh, sure, we know that Jesus was soon to be given a mock trial and then scourged and then hung on a cross to die—but we also know The Rest of the Story, the delightful surprise ending that we get to celebrate next Sunday!
And that’s the point: Our praise is not dependent on immediate circumstances. We praise God when things are lousy, declaring that, despite the way things LOOK, we know God is the Ruler of the Universe, and God has things in hand. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!