Palm Sunday April 1, 2012
160, 162, 58(1-5), 341
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!”
Palm Sunday greetings in the name of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ!
Pontius Pilate was not a brave man. He ruled in whatever way would be best for Pontius Pilate and however he could insure that he kept his position. Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence and had the power to set Him free, but he did not. Instead, he conceded to the demands of the mob so that he would not have to make an unpopular choice.
Pilate tried to use Jesus’ claim of being a king as a way to get out of making a decision in Jesus’ trial. The soldiers had dressed Jesus with a robe and a crown of thorns. Then Pilate brought Him out to the people and tried to gain their sympathy for such a pathetic looking king by saying, “Behold! the man” (John 19:5). Later, Pilate brought Jesus back and said, “Behold your king!” (John 19:14). They said, “Crucify Him.” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” They said, “we have no king but Caesar,” and that was the end.
Pilate didn’t want Jesus to be his king because that would be a threat to his own position. Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews and wanted them to claim Him as their king. The Jews didn’t want Jesus as their king because they wanted Him dead. Neither Pilate nor the Jews wanted Jesus as a king nor did they rightly understand Jesus, the King.
The events of Palm Sunday present Jesus to you and say: “BEHOLD! YOUR KING!” Today, on Palm Sunday, we can see Jesus the King and rightly understand His kingdom. I. He comes with meekness, II. He comes with purpose, and III. He comes with praise.
Jesus began His overall journey to Jerusalem well before Palm Sunday. Along the way He stopped in Jericho and healed two blind men and went to the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. The day before Jesus spent the Sabbath in Bethany (cf. Gospel lesson)—Bethany was just a few miles from Jerusalem. Then Sunday dawned and “when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.’…So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.” [v.1-2,6-7]
Jesus was a king who was about ready to make His grand entrance into the capital city of Jerusalem on a young donkey! It was not exactly the way a king would normally make his grand entrance and impress the people. Kings were supposed to visit cities dressed in their finest robes and look like a powerful man. Horses in that part of the world at that time were rare and yet the king would be mounted on the finest of steeds. People would line the streets just to get a glimpse of the one they called their king and of his procession. Behold! your king is riding on a young donkey, the common beast of burden.
If Jesus had been trying to make an impression as an earthly king He wasn’t very successful. Jesus looked and acted in ways that were completely opposite for a normal king and it wasn’t just His chosen mode of transportation on Palm Sunday. It was His entire life and His shameful death.
The wise men came to Jerusalem seeking the newborn king of the Jews. They found him in an ordinary house in little Bethlehem, and he had been born in a manger. Jesus’ closest friends and disciples were common ordinary working people and some came from the darker side of society. He had no kingly home: “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).
In a few days, on Thursday after Palm Sunday, this King would stoop down to wash the feet of His disciples. He would be slapped, spit upon, accused of all sorts of evil, and subjected to ridicule. “He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2). We can look but we aren’t going to find much to suggest that Jesus is a king by ordinary standards.
Behold your king and see that He is not an ordinary, self-interested, power-loving, earthly-minded king, and for that matter, not an earthly king at all. When you behold your king entering Jerusalem you witness what Jesus told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus does not fit the profile of an ordinary king, but He does fit the profile of The King promised through the prophet Zechariah, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” [v.5]
Jesus is the King who came in meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is the opposite of self-assertion and self-seeking. It is the spirit of meekness that Paul urged the Philippians to pursue when he used Jesus as the example in today’s epistle reading. Was the Son of God weak when He set aside power, honor, and glory because He didn’t feel His equality with God was something He should hoard and keep tightly for Himself for His own self interests? He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), not because of weakness—He had all power—but because of His willingness to come and serve others by giving His holy life as a ransom for many (cf. Mark 10:45).
Jesus did not come to the earth to gain great kingly treasures here. He came as a lowly king on earth so that He could bring His subjects to the glories of His heavenly kingdom.
A king’s subjects largely reflect their king in their lives. A good, strong, upright king will lead and govern well, and it will show itself in the citizens of his kingdom. We behold our king meek and lowly in earthly things because His kingdom and purpose isn’t of the earth. As members of Jesus’ kingdom we follow in His footsteps.
In meekness a child of God gives up personal rights for the benefit of others, not insisting that he be a king or at least treated like one. The eyes of a child of God look out for the welfare of others. Instead of selfish ambition and conceit, the subjects in Christ’s kingdom esteem others better than themselves. All of this will make you look like a weak wimp in the world. To some it will seem as if you have nothing all that great going for you, but Jesus promises, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Because our king is lowly and anything but kingly in earthly terms, it is easy to be offended at the type of man Jesus was. The temptation is to be almost apologetic for who Jesus was and the way we are because of Him. Our sinful nature looks for ways to explain things without saying anything about Jesus because He might offend someone. If we do that, then we are the ones who are offended at Jesus. Rather say, “I believe what I believe because it is Jesus my Lord and King who has taught me.”
Behold! Your King comes with meekness. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Most kings who entered a capital city in procession did so with some type of elegant royal purpose. It may have been a victory procession upon the king’s triumphant return from battle, a parade to bring the royalty a little closer to their subjects, coming to the city to claim a prize or honor, or some other equally magnificent reason. Jesus, our King, also came with a royal purpose. He came to die.
For quite some time, Jesus had only entered Jerusalem occasionally and did so very discreetly because His life simply wasn’t safe there. On Palm Sunday there was no chance that Jesus’ enemies could miss knowing that He was in town. Before Jesus stayed away because it wasn’t His time to die, but now it was.
Jesus came to Jerusalem to fulfill the royal purpose of protecting His subjects. Jesus’ whole purpose for coming to the earth was to be our King and go into battle against our enemies. He came to fight the battle against sin and the Devil for us and to rescue us from the judgment of death that our sins deserve. When it was time for our King to go into this battle for our souls, He came to the place where He would do the battle. Behold! your King comes to Jerusalem with the purpose of laying down His life on a cross outside the city.
The entire day of Palm Sunday is marked by the King’s purpose and His firm resolve to accomplish our salvation. Jesus told two disciples to go into the village, and He told them exactly what they would find and where. They found everything just as Jesus said.
It isn’t too likely that someone could come into a rural town of America and hop into someone’s car or tractor and borrow it for a little while without question. The donkey and the colt were the equivalent of a car for transportation and tractor for farm work. We would expect the owners to question the disciples when they loosed the animals and began taking them. Jesus had instructed the disciples, “if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” [v.3]
The other Gospel accounts tell us that the owners did question the disciples and responded just as Jesus said they would. You feel the sense of purpose gathering as piece by piece Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem took shape and would not be hindered.
None of this took place by accident .It all took place according to God’ purpose and plan of salvation—right down to the pre-ordained details as He had given them hundreds of years before in the prophesy of Zechariah.
The time for the king to win the war had come. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was the event that put the final stages of the King’s purpose into motion. It was the first day of the week that would change the entire world forever. Behold! Your king comes with purpose.
Even though Jesus came looking like much less than a king, He was still treated very much like a king. We see the lowliness, but if we look at our King on Palm Sunday we will also see the glory and the honor.
Mark and Luke add the detail that no one had ever sat on the young donkey that Jesus rode. In the Old Testament God commanded that animals used for sacred purposes were not to have been previously used for work. “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.” (Numbers 19:2, cf: Deuteronomy 21:3, 1 Samuel 6:7). This young donkey had not been used for work. It was reserved for the sacred purpose of carrying our Savior and King into Jerusalem. No earthly king could claim such an honor.
“[The disciples] brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” [v.6-8]
The disciples laid their outer clothes on the donkey and set Jesus on their clothes so that He wouldn’t have to sit on the dirt and hair of the donkey. As Jesus moved forward toward Jerusalem, the people in the gathering crowd laid their garments in front of Him. Others laid palm branches on the ground. In secular history, Sir Walter Raleigh, laid his coat on the ground so that the queen would not soil her foot; and even to this day we talk about “rolling out the red carpet” for an important guest. The lowliness of Jesus did not stop the disciples and the crowd from honoring Jesus.
As Jesus went toward Jerusalem, part of the crowd was in front leading the way and the rest followed behind. “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:“Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” [v.9]
Hosanna means “Help! Save!” as in Psalm 118, “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity” (Psalm 118:25). Hosanna became a word of praise and honor because if someone cried out, “Help! Save!” it implied that the other person was great enough to be able to help and, therefore, worthy of honor.
The people cried out their praises to Jesus calling him the Son of David—the Deliverer and King from David’s family line whom God had promised. Zechariah had said, “Rejoice greatly Oh daughter of Zion…for your king comes…” (9:9), and rejoice greatly is just what the people did. In joy the people shouted, “Blessed are you, Jesus, who has come according to what the LORD has said and according to His purpose.”
Critics might still say that even all of this was not much for someone who is supposed to be a great king. They might argue that a king who doesn’t gather up armies and riches on earth, whose work is largely invisible and under-appreciated, isn’t really much of a king. To which we reply in the words of Paul, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:20b-21).
Like the crowds on Palm Sunday, we see our King and cry out, “Hosanna!” It is a cry for help and salvation because we surely need it—daily sinners such as we are. It is a cry of honor and glory and praise because of who our king is and for how He has won the battle for us against our soul’s enemies. We sing our loud hosannas because of the privileges and blessings we enjoy just because we are part of His kingdom; and to think that we are part of His kingdom because He loved us when we were unlovable! We shout praises to our King and cast out of our hearts those things that oppose our King because He rules in our hearts and lives with His Word bringing freedom and hope and an eternity of happiness.
We cannot travel back in time and join the Palm Sunday crowd with our shouts of praise and the palm branches as symbols of victory, but we can praise Him now. Our King has also made it possible for us to join another great crowd on another day that will be reminiscent of the Palm Sunday crowd. John explains, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
The essence of Palm Sunday is marvelously captured in seven words from the hymn that we sang just before the sermon: “…in lowly pomp ride on to die.” [TLH 162] Lowly in terms of earthly kingdoms and the world’s estimation. Pomp, glory, and praise for He is the Holy Son of God and gracious Redeemer of the world. Ride on to die because your King came to die in order that you might live.
Behold! Your King! Praise Him! 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.