Palm Sunday March 20, 2005
725 (TLH alt. 162), 160, 161, 339
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
It’s fourth down and two. Eight seconds remain on the game clock and your team is down by a field goal. It’s the biggest game of the season. The national championship is on the line. You’re sitting on the edge of the sofa cushion in front of the TV afraid to watch, yet at the same time, afraid even to blink. The quarterback steps up to the line of scrimmage, calls the signals, gets the ball, and throws a bullet down the sideline into the waiting arms of an open receiver—touchdown! You leap up, startle the dog, and cheer loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. The next day you proudly wear your official NFL team jersey with the winning quarterback’s name printed on it. His picture makes the front page of the newspaper, and a few weeks later he is signed to a new contract with a multimillion-dollar bonus. He is the popular topic of conversation and the hero of the moment.
We look up to and admire heroes for accomplishing great things which are far beyond our abilities. Yet those same heroes have their own limitations. The quarterback who wins one game may throw five interceptions the next. He may be paid millions of dollars to lead his team to a championship on Sunday, but he cannot lead us to victory over our real-life enemies and problems during the rest of the week.
But there is one hero who is different. He is overlooked and rejected by most people, but one Sunday cheering crowds lined the streets of Jerusalem to welcome Him. He was not paid millions of dollars to appear. Instead, He paid a price that cannot be calculated with money. He is greater than all other heroes combined, and He came for us. Therefore, the prophet says, “Rejoice and shout!” This is a hero to really cheer for!
Sometimes, however, we feel more like crying than cheering. The longer we live, the more we see the depressing effects of sin in the world. Unprovoked terrorist attacks kill or maim hundreds of people who are just going about their ordinary lives. Problems burden our own lives and families. It is not just sin around us. There is also sin within that drags us down. As Paul wrote, “The good that I want to do, I do not do; all the evil I do not want to do, I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). What is there then to jump up and cheer about?
The Old Testament people of Zechariah’s time knew all about the reality of a sinful world. After decades of captivity, they came back to a city in ruins. Reconstructing the temple and building fortified walls with their meager resources seemed as hopeless as flying to the moon. Powerful enemies opposed every move, and they were still not free people, but subjects of the king of Persia.
Yet God told them: “Rejoice! Stand up and cheer! Your King is coming!” [v.9] Israel had many kings over its long history. Some were heroic like Saul, David, and Solomon. Others did far more harm than good. But this coming King would be different than any other. This one would be the King of kings!
He would not fit the typical profile of a king, however. The Jewish people were looking for a grand and glorious king in royal robes, leading an army, who would rule from a palace in Jerusalem. Many today look for a king like that who will make their earthly lives easier and match their own expectations.
But that is not whom the crowds were cheering on Palm Sunday. There was “no tramp of soldiers’ marching feet,” only a ragged band of disciples as an honor guard. Jesus did not enter the city wearing robes of royalty and riding on a prancing white stallion. He sat on an ordinary beast of burden which walked on a makeshift carpet of palm branches and clothes. We see presidents and other world leaders make far more impressive entrances than that.
Why cheer for such a humble king as Jesus? Because, though He is God Himself, “[He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7 NIV). Jesus’ humility is not a sign of weakness, but of love for us. He came not to be served, but to serve. Can you picture the CEO of a large corporation serving as a janitor? Can you imagine him taking the elevator from his top floor office to the basement, taking off his thousand-dollar suit, putting on coveralls, and picking up a mop and broom? Would the President as the Commander-in-Chief put on the uniform of an infantry soldier and fight in Iraq?
That is not going to happen, but what did happen is far more astonishing and awesome! God’s Son became man for us. That is cause to stand up and cheer, because it means He can sympathize with everything we face in life. He knows what it’s like to be lonely, tired, and discouraged. More than that, He did for us everything we could never do for ourselves. He kept the Law of God perfectly, just as God requires of us, so that we could receive His righteousness. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man they many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 NIV).
That same obedience led Him to Jerusalem to fight the battle we had lost. King David won countless victories over many powerful enemies, but he could not defeat sin. He was just as guilty as we are. He confessed in the Psalms: “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4 NIV). We were like corpses on the battlefield, casualties of sin. King Jesus came to win the victory for us by laying down His own holy life in payment for sin.
The crowds would shout “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pontius Pilate would give the order. The Jewish leaders would smile with smug satisfaction, and Satan would appear to get his way. But through it all, the King’s plans would be carried out. He would die as He said, but by death He would conquer, and by His resurrection on the third day He would show His victory to the whole world.
Stand up and cheer! We have a King to rejoice in. He is God, yet became man for us. He was rich, yet became poor for us. He is Lord of all, yet became the servant of all. He is holy, yet took on Himself all sin. He was crushed and defeated, and yet He won!
When your favorite team wins, you shout it out. For weeks afterwards, you talk about the perfect, last-second pass and the come-from-behind victory against all odds. And that’s just a game. We truly have something to really shout about in Jesus’ victory on the cross, because it brings us into His eternal kingdom. We are citizens of two kingdoms. As citizens of the United States we have rights, privileges, and security. However, as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, we have even greater spiritual blessings.
First of all, Christ’s kingdom is not restricted to a specific territory on earth. Jesus assured Pilate that He was no threat to the Roman Empire. He told the Pharisees: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21 NIV). The kingdom is the Lord ruling in our hearts by faith.
The great benefit of that kingdom is peace. There is no need for an army or weapons. “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off.” [v.10] There will always be wars and rumors of wars as long as the earth stands, but there is always perfect peace in God’s kingdom, because the decisive battle has already been fought and won once and for all. Sin is paid for, the devil is defeated, and there is peace between sinners and God. God promises, “Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch!” (Zechariah 9:8 NIV).
That is something to shout about! No matter what is going on around us, we have peace through Christ. No matter how dangerous or uncertain the situation, we have peace with God and from that, the peace of knowing that the Lord will be us wherever we are to protect us with His holy angels, and to ensure that all things serve for our eternal well-being.
When sickness, money concerns, or other worries make you feel anything but peaceful, remember you still have that peace of God which passes all understanding. It doesn’t depend on our feelings. It is an objective, unchanging fact through Jesus’ life-saving death. No matter how hectic things become, you can be sure that all is well between you and God. He is not angry with you, because all His anger against your sin was taken out on Jesus. You can confess your sins, receive His free and full forgiveness, and count on His help in every trial. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2 NIV).
Christ’s kingdom is something to shout about, but how often do we actually do it? We are good at shouting the praises of our favorite sports team, but what about telling the news of our Savior King? The Lord urges, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20). At the beginning of many Palm Sunday services worshipers walk into the sanctuary carrying palms and singing the Lord’s praises. May we keep on walking and praising!
May we walk over to the unchurched neighbor’s house and speak of our loving King. May we walk over to the person troubled by guilt or groping for some kind of hope and direction, and share the peace through Christ. May we walk into the lives of others, and be ready to forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven us. May we, through our mission offerings, shout the praises of the King even in places we cannot personally set foot. May we walk through every day of our lives with hosannas in our hearts and praises on our lips. Cheer for our Hero, for He is the King of kings who has won the victory and given it to us! Amen.
Now He who bore for mortals’ sake
The cross and all its pains,
And chose a servant’s form to take,
The King of glory reigns.
Hosanna to the Savior’s name
Till heaven’s rafters ring,
And all the ransomed host proclaim:
“Behold, behold your King!”
(Worship Supplement 2000 - 725:4)
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