Palm Sunday April 8, 2001
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our King, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“EXTRAORDINARY. Adjective, meaning: beyond or out of the ordinary; uncommon, rare; wonderful; sent for a special purpose or on a particular occasion.”
When you were getting ready to come to church this morning, did anything about this day strike you as extraordinary? Chances are, probably not. You dressed and had breakfast as you usually do on Sunday mornings, perhaps with one eye on the clock so you wouldn’t be late for church. Nothing uncommon or rare in that. Parents hustled their children along; children grumbled as their hair was combed or their good shoes were searched for. Nothing out of the ordinary there—it’s the same routine you go through every Sunday. Maybe it was when you first stepped in the door of the church and saw these palm branches that you remembered that there IS something special about today. “Oh, that’s right—today is Palm Sunday!”
In a lot of ways, Palm Sunday is simply extraordinary. Think of it: right in the darkest part of the Lenten season, squeezed in between the solemn occasions of Passion Sunday and Good Friday, comes a day of rejoicing, a day of hosannas, Palm Sunday. What is it, exactly, that makes this day so uncommon and rare? In our text for today, the prophet Zechariah tells us. He paints us a vivid picture of the coming of an extraordinary King, and the establishment of an extraordinary kingdom. The King he’s describing, of course, is Jesus Christ, and the occasion is Palm Sunday. And, amazingly, Zechariah told of these events more than 500 years before they happened! Let’s look more closely at the inspired words of the prophet as we consider the theme:
Today we welcome Jesus as our King, the supreme Ruler of our lives. And that’s a little extraordinary in itself, isn’t it? As school children, we “pledged our allegiance” to the flag of the United States. At basketball games, we sing the national anthem of the democracy in which we live. We’re not used to thinking of ourselves as subjects of a kingdom, but we are! As Christians, we’re members of the universal Church of all believers, the New Jerusalem. When Zechariah addresses “the Daughter of Jerusalem,” he’s talking to us. Jesus is our King. Our allegiance to Him comes even before our allegiance to our country. And on this extraordinary day, the prophet tells us we’ve got good reason to be happy—our King is coming to us! Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Rejoice!—That’s what the prophet’s saying to you today. You’ve got a King that’s unlike any king the world has ever seen! What’s so extraordinary about this King? First of all, He is a righteous King. You know, when Jesus came He didn’t ignore our sins, and He didn’t magically make our sins disappear—as a just King He couldn’t do that. He told His disciples, “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Matt 5:17. Jesus knew that a price had to be paid for all the times you and I broke God’s Law. And as our just and righteous King, He came to pay that price. He came “…having salvation.” On Palm Sunday, Jesus was riding into Jerusalem knowing full well that, in less than a week’s time, He would be suffering on the cross to pay for the sins of the world.
Ordinarily, kings are proud and stately. During WWII, Emperor Hirohito of Japan thrilled his people and boosted the Japanese war effort by appearing in a dashing military uniform, mounted on a magnificent white stallion. The King of Palm Sunday was extraordinary, not for His pride, but for His humility. The everyday clothes He wore, the humble donkey He rode—these were symbolic of the humility so necessary for our salvation. Because it took a tremendous amount of humility to do for us what Jesus did. In our Epistle Lesson we were reminded that Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Php 2:7-8. Thank God our King was humble, not proud!
Jesus’ kingdom, too, is quite extraordinary. Very often, it’s also misunderstood. I always ask my confirmation students the same question, “Where, exactly, is the kingdom of God?” And each time I get the same answer, “In heaven.” Well, Jesus certainly is King of heaven, and earth too, but the borders of His kingdom are even broader than that! When the Jews asked Him about His kingdom, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Lk 17:20-21. In our hearts—yours and mine—that’s where Jesus’ kingdom is. Wherever the Holy Spirit has given a human being faith in Jesus as his personal Savior, there, in that person’s heart, is the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ kingdom is extraordinary, too, because it’s a kingdom of peace. We’re used to associating greatness with a kingdom or a nation only if it has huge armies and powerful weapons. In our world of the 21st Century, you just don’t rate as a country if you don’t have a standing army of millions, and an arsenal bristling with nuclear weapons. Which is the most powerful kingdom today?—It’s not Red China, it’s not Russia, and it’s not even the United States. By far, the most powerful kingdom in this world is the kingdom of Christ! What other power could turn millions from ignorance to truth, from darkness to light, from damnation to eternal salvation?—And yet this is a kingdom that has nothing to do with physical arms and weapons. In fact, our text says, I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he (Christ) shall speak peace unto the heathen.
The peace our King brings us is real. It’s a peace each of us can use, personally, in our everyday lives. I recall speaking with a young Christian who told me, “Pastor, I just had a terrible week. Everything that could go wrong, did. Only one thing kept me going—I remembered that none of this stuff really matters. Jesus died for me and I’m heading for heaven, no matter what!” Now that’s a peace that means something, a peace we can use! Well may we sing our hosannas, well may we offer our palm branches to a King who brings us that kind of peace.
The Roman Empire is commonly considered to have been the largest unified kingdom the world has ever seen. Under the emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire stretched from the River Euphrates in Mesopotamia in the east to the British isles in the west. Interestingly, the same River Euphrates is the one Zechariah mentions in our text. But the kingdom of Christ, he says, will stretch much further, His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
The kingdom of Christ is extraordinary because it knows no boundaries. It’s present the world over, wherever the Gospel is preached and believed. It’s in Africa, India, Great Britain and America. It’s in Russia, China, Japan and Germany. It’s everywhere there are faithful hearts that look to Jesus as their only source of forgiveness and life. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, He was bringing salvation not to one city, but to the whole world. Not to one people, but to all people everywhere, of every age and era! You and I are subjects of that extraordinary kingdom. And our King has charged us with the joyous task of spreading the boundaries of His kingdom even further. His instructions: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20.
When was the last time you were so happy you shouted out loud? Can’t remember? I can. I was walking back from the mail box, leisurely opening my mail, when I discovered a check for $200 from an unexpected source. I actually shouted out loud with surprise and joy—and immediately noticed that there were several people on the nearby on the street who were staring at me. I was embarrassed, but I just couldn’t hold back my delight. Today we welcome Jesus, our extraordinary King, into our hearts. And Zechariah tells us that Palm Sunday is definitely not a day to hold back! “Rejoice greatly!” the prophet says, “and shout with joy!” God grant we all may feel the extraordinary joy of pardon and peace in our Savior. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.