Palm Sunday

Pastor Galen, April 14th 2019

Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday vs. Good Friday

I have always loved Palm Sunday, ever since I was a little kid. The joy and jubilation, the opportunity to wave palm branches and march around the church shouting and singing “hosanna.”

And I’ve always loved the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, of people laying down their coats and waving palm branches and saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” stirred my imagination. I loved to picture the throngs of people crowding around Jesus, the children singing and shouting, the grand welcome that Jesus received as he rode into the city of Jerusalem.

But as a child, I did not love Good Friday. The gruesome account of Jesus being beaten and mocked, whipped, and flogged, and ultimately nailed to the cross was something I did not want to think about. Jesus — betrayed and denied by his friends, rejected by the religious elite, abandoned by his disciples, was too horrific to imagine. Even the crowd that rejoiced in his arrival five days earlier seems to have turned against him.

Even now as an adult, the somberness and sadness of Good Friday is unsettling, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

And yet, when we look at Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we see that even on Palm Sunday there were elements of Good Friday. In Jesus choosing to ride into Jerusalem on a humble colt, we see an illustration of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:8 that Jesus, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In the Pharisees’ rebuke of Jesus’s disciples, we see a foreshadowing of the looming conflict that is to come between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. And in the passages before and after Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see hints of the sadness and sorrow and rejection that is to come.

The Context

The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is the culmination of Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem that spans much of the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 9:51, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” but he does not reach Jerusalem until Luke 19:45.  

Immediately before this passage in Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a king whose subjects hated him and didn’t want him to rule over them (see Luke 19:14,27). And in the verses immediately following our lectionary reading for today we see Jesus weep over the city of Jerusalem and prophecy its destruction because it “did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (19:44).  

The King They Were Waiting For

It’s important for us to acknowledge that the welcoming crowds who shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” were most likely expecting a rather different king than the king that Jesus turned out to be.

This whole event took place around Passover time, which was a time to remember when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through the violent and victorious act of killing all of the firstborn sons in Egypt, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh, all the way to the firstborn of the slaves and even the animals (see Exodus 11:5). Only the firstborn of the Isrealites were “passed over” and escaped this horrific destruction.

But it didn’t stop there. When the Egyptian army tried to recapture their escaped slaves, God miraculously caused the waters of the Red Sea to come crashing down upon them, drowning Pharaoh’s whole army in one fell swoop.

It was these mighty acts of God that the people celebrated during this time of the year. And as you can imagine, as a people who were in bondage themselves, living in the midst of Roman occupation, they longed for the same sort of decisive victory over their oppressors. They longed for God to free them in the same way that God had freed their ancestors so long. They longed for God to intervene once more in history, to bring them out of bondage and oppression just like God had done for their foreparents.

And all of their hopes centered on one central mythical figure, a person they had been waiting for for many years, the promised one, called the Messiah, “the Anointed One.” This would be a king who would be raised up from among their own people, a king they thought would deliver them, a king who would lead them to overthrow Rome and make them a sovereign nation once again.

And so, every year they would remember and celebrate the passover festival, longing for their own redemption and freedom. They would sing Psalms, like Psalm 118 that we read responsively earlier. They would ask God to save them, to grant them success (Psalm 118:25). But the salvation they longed for was not a spiritual salvation, but a physical salvation.

This was what the crowds meant when they welcomed Jesus with the words “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” They hoped beyond hope that the time had come, that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. ‘

The Humble King

For Jesus, everything seems to have been building up to this point. Jesus had been healing the sick, casting out demons, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling people to follow him. He had shown his power by calming the storm and feeding the 5,000. He even raised the dead to life. Surely someone with that much power could raise up an army to overthrow Rome!

And now Jesus arrives at the crest overlooking Jerusalem, the capital city, the center of Jewish life and culture where there was also a Roman military base. What could be a more perfect place to stage a demonstration or even a coup, to gather an army to violently revolt against Rome, to attempt to free the Jewish people once and for all?

The fact that Jesus requested a colt for the last mile of his journey after traveling this whole time on foot indicates that this is a symbolic action, designed to reveal himself as a king. Jesus wanted to ride into Jerusalem in a way that would demonstrate that he was the Messiah, God’s anointed king.

And yet, Jesus chose not to ride into Jerusalem on a chariot or stallion — symbols of war that would have demonstrated his desire to overthrow Rome. Instead, Jesus chose to ride in on a humble colt, symbolic of a king who is confident in his authority, who does not need to flaunt his power and might. A king who has already won. A king who comes in peace, confidence, and humility.

In the first seven verses of this passage, Luke recounts in painstaking detail the preparations for this journey into Jerusalem. The instructions to the disciples as to where to find the colt, and exactly what explanation they should give.

After all the preparations have been made, Jesus descends down the mountain into Jerusalem. His disciples and some of the people respond by hailing him as king and spreading their cloaks on the road (Luke 19:36). When Jesus passes the Mount of Olives “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen” (Luke 19:37), reciting Psalm 118:26 but substituting the words “the king” in place of “the one.”

Glimpses of Good Friday

At this point in time the story has reached its climax.  Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a colt while a multitude of his disciples proclaim him as king and people spread their cloaks on the ground.  For the disciples and the crowd there is a sense that the prophecy is being fulfilled, and something very major is taking place.

While in many ways this is an exciting and dynamic picture, there is something significant missing.  In the typical story of a king entering a city, it would be at this point where the king would be welcomed by the inhabitants of the city, and in particularly the leaders.  “At the approach of a dignitary, a band of municipal officials and other citizens, including the social, religious, and political elite, would proceed some distance from the city in order to meet the celebrity well in advance of the city walls.”*

Unfortunately, we have no record of an official welcoming committee coming out to meet Jesus and his disciples.  The town officials are noticeably absent from the story. There is not even a small delegation of nobles and dignitaries who come out to greet him. They did not roll out the red carpet in his honor. The Pharisees, the religious elite who were present, tried to stifle the celebration that was happening.

All of these are indicators of the conflict that is to come, the looming suffering and persecution that Jesus will endure at the hands of the religious and political elite on Good Friday.

Let’s Welcome Our King

And so we cannot separate Palm Sunday from Good Friday, the victorious king from the suffering Messiah. The truth is that this is why Jesus came. He came to give his life for us, so that we could be saved. The suffering and death and rejection that he faced on Good Friday is what it means for Jesus to be our King.

And so this morning I want to invite us to welcome Jesus as king. Not on our own terms, but on his. Let us welcome Jesus as the humble king who came to bring about our salvation. Humble yet confident in his authority. Even though there are so many in our world who do not acknowledge Jesus as King, let us give Jesus the welcome and the honor that he is due, like Jesus’s disciples did so long ago. Let us worship him as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

 

*1] Brent Kinman, “Parousia, Jesus’ ‘A-Triumphal’ Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44),” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 2 (June 1, 1999): 281. Accessed December 15th, 2013. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.