March 25th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these holy words from the ancient writings contained in the Gospel According to Mark, chapter eleven, verses one thru eleven.”
11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
“Having heard how Jesus, rode into Jerusalem riding on a young colt, let us consider how the crowds greeted him that day.” They shouted out Hosanna! Hosanna! We shall now welcome Jesus into our town with the same joyous greeting.”
“Then Jesus Entered Jerusalem”
The stage is set! Jesus confronts his enemies as he ignores the warnings to stay out of Jerusalem. His disciples were well-aware of the danger that lay in wait for Jesus. Several times we hear his disciples warm him not to go. Yet, he shrugged them off. At this juncture, at this moment in history, at this point in time, Jesus does not put his personal wellbeing ahead of the need to fulfill his destiny, his call to allow the people to welcome him into the holy city of Jerusalem as the Messiah, their beloved and long-awaited Savior! “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” /Mark 11: 9-10/ In the Gospel according to Luke we hear how “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” ‘Jesus’ answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” /Luke 19:39-40/ Jesus was excited for them and knew they could not keep quiet! Nor was he willing to silently come into town on some secluded back street. No, Jesus was presenting himself as the King of the Jews!
There is not a question as to whether Jesus entered Jerusalem or not. He clearly did. There is every reason to believe that the people who greeted him were over joyed as they believed him to be the Messiah; the man who was a descendent from King David! There is also no question that Jesus did come to establish the Kingdom of God, here on earth, in his name! Without question, the Messiah rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. Despite, the confusion by the people who greeted him that day as to what type of kingdom he was ushering in, Jesus entered Jerusalem. Regardless of what style of leadership Jesus was offering, the people welcomed him into Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem where Jesus would bring his ministry to completion. The people thought they knew what that was to be; they did not.
A prominent pastor points out for us that the Bible doesn’t tell us about Pontius Pilate, whom served under Emperor Tiberius, parading in through the main gate of Jerusalem. Who is Pontius Pilate? This was the Ruthless Roman Governor, who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. Neither do we know what the crowd shouted, when he and his military guard paraded into town, but you can bet it wasn’t, “Blessed is the coming of the Kingdom of our ancestor David.” That would be treason. And treason was punishable by? You guessed it, by execution on a cross.” /David Ewart/ Clearly, Pastor Ewart throws out a bit of sarcasm for us to muse over. We can be certain that when Pontius Pilot paraded into Jerusalem it was with pomp and circumstance and on a large horse, a great stallion was surely used for his ride into town; not some small frail young colt! Whether there was or was not two parades that day, I think you and I are starting to understand that there was a real difference between them, as Jesus was not the warrior king whom many of the Jewish faith believed the Messiah was to be! Yes, Jesus came to save us… we the people. But it would not be by military might!
The people, they expected a mighty soldier, a real fighter to overthrow the Romans! Pastor Peter Woods tells us of his understandings surrounding the glorious parade that the writer of Mark gives us, regarding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. “At face value, it would seem, that the Jerusalem parade (for Jesus) by his ‘fan club’ is glorifying God’s name, but they are not really. They are simply demanding their own liberation. ‘Save us now!'” This is what they were shouting. They believed him to be their salvation and that they would be freed from their oppression through the leadership of Jesus. Yes, they believed Jesus would be their conquering hero!
However, the man Jesus was much like average folks, like you and me. So, after he went into Jerusalem, he spent much of his time as you or I might spend it. One theologian, his writings of which I often refer to tell us of his observations and conclusions regarding this point. “After entering the city and temple and observing the condition of things within the sacred building he retired to Bethany for the night. As far as we know he passed all his nights of the last week of his earthly life at Bethany, save Thursday, perhaps to avoid the rulers in the hours of rest and to have an opportunity for private conference with his disciples, which he could not have in crowded Jerusalem. Besides, he had loving friends at Bethany, who delighted to have him under their roof.” /B.W. Johnson/ This description fits the average pastor, any preacher as he or she comes to town preparing for a Sunday service. Unlike a soldier preparing his weapons and briefing his generals just before battle.
What are we, what are you expecting from Jesus? Every year, Christians around the world mark this occasion, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Palm branches and parades are common as we celebrate this occasion. Whether we cut any fresh palm branches to adorn our sanctuary or not, we still celebrate as Christians grateful for the meaning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. No, he didn’t get cold feet and back out of it. No, they were not able to stop him. No, we do not fully grasp or fully understand what Jesus did for us. However, we stand beside the crowd that greeted him. We welcome Jesus into our town. We want the love and salvation which he symbolizes. We want to believe just like the people, the crowds of old. We want Jesus to free us from all that oppresses us, all that which weighs heavy on our shoulders. What a glorious moment, welcoming the Messiah, our Savior into our lives. Alleluia! Hallelujah! Praise God! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
History tells us who Jesus was. He was born of a virgin named Mary, in a humble stable, a simple barn where the animals were fed, where they found shelter out behind an Inn; an Inn which had no room for baby Jesus and his parents. He was the boy that wandered away from his parents, when he was only twelve years of age, after they had traveled to Jerusalem. They found him three days later sitting in the Temple mesmerizing those that listened to his great knowledge and understanding of the writings in the Torah and the scriptures. Jesus was the one whom turned water into wine at the wedding in Canaan at the bequest of his mother. His enthralling and captivating way of teaching drew the crowds to him. He was the teacher whom scared the religious leaders for he did not sit quite about their hypocrisy. He offered the people new hope and new promise. He offered a new understanding of the scriptures putting forth new teachings which would be remembered and written for the future generations to read and learn from. The High Priests and Pharisees, they began to fear that his teachings would upset the arrangement they had with the Romans and create another military revolt, which would cost them their plush arrangements with their oppressors. Tradition and the gospel accounts tell us that Jesus was able to heal the sick, cause the blind to see and the crippled to walk! Jesus even brought a man back from death.
Tradition tells us about how we have responded to his short three-year ministry as the carpenter from Nazareth. Jesus, was thirty years of age, we believe, when he was baptized by John the Baptist at the River Jordan. He handpicked, twelve men to be his disciples whom would travel everywhere with him. He trained them to follow in his footsteps, which they did. After he was executed by his enemies, these twelve men hid in what tradition refers to as the ‘upper room’. After Jesus’ tomb was found empty they still didn’t understand. Yet, when he appeared to them there in the ‘upper room’ then their hearts were opened, and they began to understand all that they had been taught and all that they had seen Jesus do. Tradition tells us that because the man Jesus was willing to ride into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, despite all the dangers and all the risk to his wellbeing, and because he did so, the scriptures would be fulfilled, and we would be given the gift of his sacrifice for our sake.
Our experience tells us Jesus’ Spirit is with us. Yes, the man Jesus died on a cross a long, long time ago. Yet, because of the immense love which radiated from his being and from his Spirit and from the Divinity which was also his essence, he rose again and lives in the heart of Christians throughout the world. We also celebrate Jesus, through the Living Spirit which he sent to be with us. It is through this gift of love by which we are able to fully know and accept Christ into our hearts. It takes a lifetime to fully grasp the essence of the life of Jesus. The scriptures help us to understand the story and how others experienced him. It takes an open heart to receive in the fullness of the love of God. And, no, we were not part of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that day, yet, we are part of the crowd which now celebrates with those early followers. That is what today is about: celebrating and acknowledging Jesus coming into our town, our church and most certainly into our lives! Praise God!
The Chief Priests, the religious leaders at that time thought they could stop the movement that Jesus was stirring up; but they couldn’t. Pontius Pilot thought he could quiet things down by executing Jesus; but he did not. The people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. His enemies wrongfully, condemned him to death. The crowd that called for his crucifixion were wrongly informed of who he was. They picked the rebel warrior Barabbas instead of Jesus to be spared. All this notwithstanding, this carpenter’s son, the son of the Virgin Mary, he forgave them, he forgave all of us, for we did not know of what we had done. He forgave our sinfulness. That is love. Love everlasting.
Waving palm branches were a way of welcoming into town great warriors, as was the custom back in the time period of the Maccabees, a group of rebellious Jews whom flourished in the 2nd century BCE. The symbolism of this celebrated parade into Jerusalem was more than symbolic, it was revolutionary. This humble gesture has set the tone for Christianity to follow. History tell us that Christians have often forgotten the humility of Jesus. History tells us that many Christians have not shed the shame of hypocrisy. Yet, the gift of Jesus’ life, the ultimate gift of love still stands, awaiting our willingness to pick up our palm branches and march into the towns and cities that still seek God’s love and salvation.