Palm Sunday April 13, 2003
160, 367, 162, 341
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”
So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, ‘What are you doing, loosing the colt?’ And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
In Christ Jesus, who deserves all honor and glory in heaven and on earth, dear fellow Christians:
We all have our heroes, people whom we look up to and admire. Maybe it’s the basketball superstar who leads his team to a world championship. It might be a President from the past who guided the country safely through wartime or some other great difficulty. Or it might be the actress who plays her role on the screen with such feeling and talent that it truly touches the heart.
Heroes inspire and motivate us, but they can also let us down. The superstar’s immoral lifestyle overshadows his brilliance on the court. The political leader is accused of breaking the very laws he was elected to uphold. The movie star’s messy divorce attracts more publicity than her latest movie. Images of heroes have been shattered so often that people have become cynical and have given up believing that anyone is special or worthy of admiration.
But this morning, we have the privilege of looking up to the one hero who will never disappoint. On the first Palm Sunday the city of Jerusalem greeted Jesus with a hero’s welcome. The city had swelled to two million or more, and many of them could be seen lining the road, shouting, cheering, and laying branches and cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus as He entered the city. Today we want to add our voices to the shouts of praise, for Jesus was not just a hero for that time or place. He was not just a celebrity of that particular culture. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords who deserves all glory and honor because of all He accomplished for our eternal salvation. His work in our behalf moves us to shout: “Hosanna! Hail to the King!”
There have been many kings in history, some very good, and some very bad. The people of Israel looked up to David as their greatest king. He was the one who had led their armies to victory after victory on the battlefield. By the end of David’s reign, there was a solid, secure peace. There was not an enemy anywhere that was willing or able to threaten Israel. Then Solomon took the throne, and the Lord blessed him with such extraordinary wisdom that Heads of State came from far and wide just for the opportunity to listen to his insights. We, too, have had some very gifted and powerful leaders in our nation’s history.
But all of these heroes also had failings and shortcomings. For all of David’s military prowess, he admitted that there was one enemy he could not defeat-sin. “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). For all of his wisdom, Solomon could not devise a way to overcome sin and make things right with God. No human being has the answer. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
But Jesus entered Jerusalem as the King of Glory. He came as God’s Son in the glory of holiness. He had no sin whatsoever. He challenged His enemies to point out one fault in His life. He stood face-to-face with Satan, and beat back every temptation. The Father put His seal of approval on Jesus and said, “This is My Son whom I love. With Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5).
Jesus also came with all the glorious power of God. He could send two of the disciples ahead to the next village to get the donkey on which He would ride, because as God He knew exactly where the animal would be, just as He knows all things about us and our lives. He could guarantee success to the disciples’ mission, because as God He could overcome the objections of those who would say, “What are you doing with that colt?”
Jesus deserves a hero’s welcome, because He is stronger than any of the things which threaten us in this world. We are powerless against the destructive forces of nature. An earthquake can reduce a lifetime of work to a pile of rubble. But all Jesus had to do was say, “Quiet, be still!” and a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee died down instantly (cf. Mark 4:35ff). No matter how careful we are about safeguarding our health, sickness can still strike. And no matter how diligent and skillful a doctor may be, there are still times when he is helpless. But all Jesus has to do is speak the word: “Get up and walk! See! Be clean!” and perfect health is restored.
Even death which terrifies people more than anything else is no match for Jesus. One of the reasons for the great excitement among the crowds on the first Palm Sunday was that they had just heard how Jesus had raised a man from the dead. He had stood before the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead four days, but when the Lord called, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) he walked out of his own tomb! This was incredible news! It is for us too! If there is a hero who can overcome death, then suddenly the future looks much more hopeful. Then there are unlimited possibilities when we look ahead. Then there is reason for joy! We have such a hero in Jesus. When we see Him as the King of Glory whom even death must obey, we can’t help but shout, “Hosanna! Hail to the King!”
Yet, despite His glory, Jesus did not fit the stereotype of a king. He did not wear a long, flowing robe made of the finest silk and satin. He was not riding a proud, prancing stallion at the head of thousands of troops and surrounded by a royal bodyguard. There was no throne for Him to sit on. Instead, He came just as Zechariah had prophesied: “See, your king comes to you righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
He came into the world as the Servant-King, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He served by teaching, preaching, and healing. He urged people to look at their lives, confess their sins, and look to Him for complete salvation. He served by leading a holy life in our place, so that we could receive the credit for His righteousness.
He was not interested in being a typical king and enjoying all the “perks” of kingship, such as the prestige and earthly glory, and for that reason His own people rejected Him. In their minds, the Roman government which ruled them was the biggest obstacle to their peace, security, and happiness so they expected that the Messiah-King promised by God would drive out the Romans and set up a glorious rule under which they would enjoy great material prosperity and peace. But when it became clear that Jesus would never fulfill that dream, they shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
People still become disillusioned with Jesus, and their enthusiasm for Him changes to rejection when He does not turn out to be the kind of hero they want. Many would like Him to be a king who would guarantee health, financial security, and all the material rewards life has to offer. Some churches teach that Jesus’ mission was to show us how to right all the wrongs of society, such as violence, poverty, and political oppression, and thus make the world a better place in which to live. But Jesus did not come to be that kind of hero. He came to do something infinitely greater.
In our human nearsightedness we often see the hardships of this world and the conflicts between people and nations as the greatest evils facing us. But there is something else which is much worse, and that is the problem-relationship with God. God is holy and we are sinners. Our guilt makes us enemies of God. Earthly peace and prosperity mean very little if we have God’s wrath hanging over our heads threatening us with punishment here and eternal death in hell hereafter. The Lord asks, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Jesus entered the world as the only one who could rescue us from sin. As the King of Glory no one could force Him to die on the cross, but as the humble Servant-King He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. He knew that the cross lay ahead as He rode into Jerusalem. He was ready to endure all the shame and injustice, and take the whole load of sin off us and allow the Father to punish Him instead of us. Can you picture a President of the U.S. taking the place of a mass murderer in the electric chair? It will never happen. But the Son of God did something much more astounding than that! He took your place and mine on the cross!
Christ’s suffering is something we can never fully comprehend. The guilt of the world is so massive that we can’t conceive of anything that big. No one other than Jesus could take that load on Himself. The punishment is so horrible that we can’t fully understand the agony which the Lord endured. Isaiah says, “There were many who were appalled at him-his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 52:14; 53:5 NIV).
Jesus does not guarantee us earthly glory and prosperity. Instead He gives us a treasure worth more than all the wealth in the world—perfect peace with God and everlasting life! Rather than be disappointed in our Servant-King, we want to shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
One thing which all human heroes have in common is that one day their glory fades. 300 years before Jesus’ birth, Alexander the Great was the most powerful man in the world. Riding at the head of his armies, he conquered everything in sight. But it didn’t last. He died and his kingdom disintegrated. The Roman Empire which ruled Palestine with an iron hand is now just a memory. The same thing will one day happen to our country. But Jesus is an eternal King. He died, but He also rose again in triumph. As Paul says, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).
Jesus is still the King of kings. At the right hand of the Father, He rules over a kingdom which is not limited by national boundaries. By faith He rules in your heart. You are part of His kingdom. And when the message of the cross is shared, whether in church or in a conversation with someone across the kitchen table, Jesus enters hearts and begins His rule there. It does not appear glorious or impressive by earthly standards, but it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Jesus draws people to Himself, not by sheer force, but by the power of His love. To people discouraged, worn-out, and frightened by all the evil in this world and in themselves, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV).
Because our King is eternal, we can depend on Him today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. We can look forward to seeing Him face-to-face one day, and to joining in an even better Palm Sunday processional. John tells us in Revelation: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10 NIV).
In an age of so many fallen heroes, there is One who will never disappoint us. Count on the Lord Jesus as the King of Glory who is able to overcome all enemies and every problem. Trust in Him as the Servant-King who suffered in your place on the cross to win the battle against Satan and sin. Look up to Him as the Eternal-King who rose in victory, and who will soon return with all His holy angels. With the whole Christian Church, let us shout: “Hosanna! Hail to the King who lived and died for us all!” Amen!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.