To start the new year, we began a sermon series on the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel.
We reached a significant turning point in that book at the start of the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.
It was the moment when the people of Israel demanded that God provide them with a king.
As we’ll recall, the Lord was none too pleased with this demand.
First of all, Israel’s reason for wanting a king of their own was to be like all the other nations.
This was something that went against the very reason and purpose for which Israel was uniquely created by God as a people – for them to become a light to the nations, a beacon to the rest of the world of the Lord’s character and will for all creation.
Secondly, the timing of Israel’s request for a king was premature.
After all, it wasn’t as if God hadn’t anticipated and planned for them to have a king.
The Lord outlined this provision way back under Moses’ leadership.
God, in His timing, was going to reveal and give to Israel the king they needed.
That king would be the king Israel already and always had leading, protecting, and guiding them – the King of Kings, the Lord God Almighty.
Over these last few weeks, we’ve witnessed how things played out when God granted to Israel what she wanted in the appointment of her first earthly king named Saul. It hasn’t been a pretty picture.
Now as we step away from 1 Samuel for Holy Week, we turn and see the arrival of the king the Lord always intended for His people – the one called Jesus.
Truth be told, this king actually first arrived back in a manger in Bethlehem.
This king came on the scene, emerging out of the barrenness and temptations of the wilderness, in a small town in Galilee known as Nazareth, announcing the dawn of the Kingdom of God.
For the last three years, this king has been walking and talking – serving His people – through the offering of both miraculous signs and wonders of healing and teaching of such wisdom and authority previously unheard of.
Of course, all this time, Jesus never declared himself to be the king God had long promised.
In fact, he often told his followers not to indicate his identity to anyone.
One time, after he had miraculously fed at least 5,000, those gathered together decided right then and there to make Jesus as their king by force.
This was their plan until Jesus slipped out the back door – withdrawing from the crowd.
But now, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem.
Ten chapters ago in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus turned his face toward the capital of Israel founded long ago by King David. Now, at last, he is arriving.
Jesus saunters into town no longer shying away from all the royal fanfare.
The mental image most of us have of this moment is steeped in spectacle.
We’ve been taught to visualize something akin to what we refer to these days as the “red carpet” treatment.
However instead of a long walkway awash in red we picture ripples of green – the waving of palm tree branches.
We envision throngs of cheering fans shouting loudly at the top of their voices as the eyes of all those who happen to be in Jerusalem turn to discover what all the commotion is about.
But is THAT exactly what we see in this moment?
As we turn to the Gospel of Luke and listen to him frame this portrait, does what he describes line up with what we remember?
Let’s listen and look carefully and let’s see what Luke is actually showing us. (TEXT)
Did we notice anything missing from Luke’s account of this momentous occasion?
Despite the fact we refer to this day as Palm Sunday, Luke has no mention of any waving of palms.
He mentions, as the other gospel accounts do, how those gathered spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus.
Still, “Cloak Sunday” just doesn’t have quite the same ring.
Something else Luke highlights which changes our perspective on this scene is that this celebration took place “where the road goes down the Mount of Olives.” (verse 37)
In other words, those who gathered to herald the arrival of Jesus, did so on the way down the hill into Jerusalem rather than near the point of entry into the city.
This location, in fact, better lines up with the prophetic word passed down through Zechariah that stated the Day of the Lord, the arrival of God as king for His people would come east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.
Our preconceived lens for viewing Psalm Sunday is further corrected as Luke surprisingly brings into focus how the size of the crowd that comes out to meet Jesus is not necessarily all that large.
Twice, Luke emphasizes the only ones who were cheering Jesus’ arrival were not some vast throng of people who heard rumors and reports about Jesus.
The gathered crowd consists strictly of groupies – only those who already were following Jesus – his disciples.
Because most of Jesus’ activity to this point, has been outside the radius of Jerusalem proper, the number of residents of that city who come out for this welcome parade are likely few and far between. No, those who rejoice as Jesus rides into town are those who have journeyed with him at some point along the way, from his inaugural address in his home synagogue through the backroads and small towns of Galilee to Bethany and now here.
Still, the size of this crowd is significant enough to be a worriment to the local religious leadership.
As the parade passes them by, as these disciples pave the way for their master into Jerusalem using the very clothes off their back and unabashedly proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (verse 38)
the more conservative teachers of the Law voice their disapproval of all the explicit homage being paid to Jesus.
Some of them openly call for Jesus to scold his followers for treating him like royalty, for declaring him to be king.
But Jesus refuses to silence them.
In response to his critics, Jesus cryptically responds, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” (verse 40)
What Jesus says here will, in time, prove to be more than an offhand remark.
Many decades later as Luke is writing his account of these events, Jesus’ words will have been shown to be prophetic as scattered stones – all that is left of the Jerusalem Temple after its destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. – as the stones are indeed all that is left to cry out.
Still today, these stones – what remains of the Western portion of that Temple, what is known as the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem…
– still today, these stones catch the tears that continue to be shed for a broken world, longing for a Savior, a Messiah, for the once and future King to return and remake all creation.
More than likely, many people, on that day so long ago, missed the first arrival of this king named Jesus.
No doubt they were too busy with other things.
Continuing to bow down before the tyranny of the urgent, they missed their opportunity to come and learn
from the One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
Others probably noticed the commotion dusting up just outside the city.
They’d heard all the buzz about Jesus – what he taught and what he did – and the growing consensus that he was perceived royalty – in the line of the great King David.
But upon further inspection, based on what they saw – a plain, old Galilean, from Nazareth of all places, striding into town on a donkey of all animals, they weren’t too impressed.
How many would-be but ultimately failed Messiahs had there been already?
This Jesus looked no different than all the rest in terms of looking to take the crown of Israel back from the empire of Rome.
And then of course, there are all the others, his aforementioned disciples – those who followed Jesus from the very beginning and those who joined the posse in mid stride.
Right here, right now, they lift their voices in affirmation and praise. They will not be quieted down no matter what the religious leadership says.
But give it a few days and they’ll be second-guessing their endorsement of Jesus and abandoning their allegiance to him.
By the end of the week, they’ll still be shouting – not in joyous celebration of Jesus’ arrival but in violent protest demanding his summary execution.
When that time comes, the religious leadership won’t be telling this crowd to pipe down.
They’ll be egging them on to scream even louder.
How exactly does that happen?
How does one profess to believe in Jesus in one moment, and then call for His crucifixion in the next?
For some, like Judas, it comes from a sense of betrayal – from Jesus not living up to the expectations they had for Him.
Most people were looking for a king who was going to change things – to drain the swamp of Rome and to make Israel great again, to rebuild the Kingdom David had secured and later Solomon expanded.
But Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
The crowds desired regime change, but Jesus only proposed life change.
The crowds insisted on conquest over their enemies, but Jesus only offered victory over their sin.
The crowds demanded insurrection, but Jesus only promised resurrection.
When Jesus didn’t live up to the expectations the people had for him, they no longer embraced him as their leader but instead framed him as a loser.
And losers cannot be tolerated when winning is everything.
Losers have to be made an example of to reinforce why defeat is not an option.
We have to distance ourselves from losers or else we’re liable to end up becoming one ourselves.
Has Jesus lived up to our expectations this past year? It’s a trick question. It’s the wrong question to ask.
Because Jesus isn’t supposed to live up to our expectations.
If Jesus is our king, we are supposed to live into, out of, his expectations for us.
Who have we been following these last twelve months through a global pandemic, a struggling economy, and a world increasingly divided by race, gender, and politics?
We may think it’s Jesus we’ve been following all this time but if it’s the Jesus born of our expectations – where winning is everything and losing is not an option – then we have been bowing down before a false king – a king of our own making and not the King of Kings who comes to us.
How does one profess to believe in Jesus in one moment, and then turn away from Jesus in the next?
Sometimes it’s a matter of Jesus not living up to our expectations.
And other times, like Peter, we convince ourselves it’s easier to deny Jesus than actually follow Him.
Everyone wants to follow Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem.
Matthew, Mark, and John, in their gospel accounts frame this scene as a celebratory occasion.
The way they all describe it – with palm fronds flying, it sounds like the 1st century equivalent of a ticker-tape parade.
After all, who doesn’t love a good party? The pomp and circumstance of a pageant?
In the observance of this day, the Church, throughout her history, has presented Palm Sunday as bright and cheery – a triumphant gala.
This is a worship service that many look forward to each year — for just this very reason.
Everyone shows up, everyone wants to follow, everyone wants to party as Jesus rides into Jerusalem.
As we begin this journey of Holy Week, more than a few of us will simply jump from this upbeat note of waving green palms right to the after party, to the crescendo of next Sunday – luminously awash in lilies and pastel colors.
We’ll conveniently avoid all that stands in between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
Everyone wants to party when Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil. But most of us don’t want to follow where He’s going in order to get there.
But the thing is, that dark turn most of us try to miss, that seemingly dead-end that none of us want to go down, it doesn’t start on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.
It begins here on Palm Sunday.
Earlier, I asked us to pay attention to watch Luke shows us that’s different from the internalized mental picture we have of this moment.
And there’s one thing above all others that stands out – that we don’t see in Matthew, Mark, or John’s account. Did you notice?
While everyone else is hooting and hollering as he draws near to Jerusalem, Jesus, our King, is crying. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…”
Jesus isn’t basking in the warm of his enthusiastic reception by the crowd. He is weeping in sorrow over the city of Jerusalem.
While the people are proclaiming
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (verse 38)
“If only you would dedicate yourselves to making for the things of peace!”
Jesus sees what is coming next.
He knows what is going to happen, because since the dawn of time, it has proven to be the tragic, vicious cycle of our humanity. For when push comes to shove… we want peace but not at any price.
We want grace but not unless it comes cheap or better yet, free.
We want love but only if it comes with no strings attached, no obligations.
We want healing and forgiveness but without any negative consequences or lasting prescriptions.
Everyone wants what Jesus is promising, what Jesus is offering.
Everyone wants to party after Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the devil.
But most of us don’t want to follow where He’s going in order to get there.
Jesus weeps because He knows it is easier for us to deny Him than to follow Him.
One of Jesus’ followers, Peter, knows something about this.
Leading up to today, Peter, despite his continued protestations, has already been trending in the direction of denial – long before the rooster crows three times.
Every time Jesus talks about the path to sitting on the throne of the Kingdom of God – the road marked with suffering, abandonment, and death – Peter tries to shut Jesus down.
Don’t go there, Jesus. That’s not positive thinking. That’s not the talk of victory. Nobody wants to hear any of that.
Are we any different? Again, let us reflect and answer.
Have we been following Jesus over these last 12 months or have we, in the priorities we’ve set, in the rights we’ve championed, in the causes we’ve valued, in how we treated, not those with whom we agree or love, but in how we treated those to whom we are opposed and threatened by, have we been following Jesus or denying Him?
Have we followed Jesus in the willingness to sacrifice, even to the point of suffering, for the well-being of others?
Have we followed Jesus in dying to ourselves in order to give life to those who are the most vulnerable of losing theirs?
Or have we, like Peter, rebuked Jesus for daring to suggest such a path?
Have we denied that the way of divine glory is, and can only be, the way of the Cross of Christ — not fighting and defending what we believe to be ours but willingly, sacrificially relinquishing our prerogatives for the sake of those in need?
Beloved, Jesus continues to weep over this world – a world where a year later, a virus still continues to divide rather than bring people together – where the safety and health of all are valued less than the personal comfort and convenience of an individual.
Jesus continues to weep over this world – a world where injustice is excused or ignored by those untouched by it while those who are the victims of abuse and inequity, are minimized and silenced.
Jesus continues to weep over this world – a world where relationships are cut off, where people are cancelled, where children are made orphans and families are irrevocably separated because of disagreements about politics, sexuality, and economics?
Jesus continues to weep over this world – a world where lives are gunned down indiscriminately in a grocery store, where acts of violence are targeted against people simply because of the color of their skin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Jesus continues to weep over this world — a world where it seems easier for those who profess to believe in Him, who cry out His name in songs and prayers, to functionally deny Christ rather than to follow Him
in the way of the Cross and the law of love.
Make no mistake, beloved, our King enters into our lives this Palm Sunday with a royal purpose, a divine agenda.
He comes to inaugurate a Kingdom not of this world but determined to overtake and transform this world for the glory of God.
Riding with Jesus are the hopes and dreams of the oppressed and the exploited – promises of inclusivity and belonging, of wholeness and righteousness.
As Jesus comes to town, he will waste no time in overturning the tables of our economics, exposing the hypocrisy of our earthly politics,
laying bare our tendency to choose violence, and challenging the very limits of who is our neighbor and how far we are to go in order to serve them.
All of this our King will do by sacrificing his life in order to set us free from our brokenness rather than holding our sins against us.
All of this our King will do by bearing suffering on Himself rather than retaliating and inflicting pain on others.
All of this our King will do by surrendering to an unjust, wrong, and violent death instead of justly raining down upon us the judgment we rightly deserve.
All of this our King will do not with the weapons of war but through the power of the Spirit.
All of this our King will do not for the sake of His glory but for the glory of the Father.
All of this our King will do and then with a Great Commission, will tell us to “Go and do likewise.”
Therefore let us not simply stand here and watch Jesus pass us by. For Christ has called to follow Him.
There is too much at stake if we wait.
There are too many hearts and lives who live on the edge because suffering has pushed them there.
Time is growing short for too many who need someone to speak up for them – to act for them – to serve them in the name of Jesus.
We cannot get to the other side of the grave, we cannot point others beyond the shadow of death, if we don’t journey with Jesus into the Upper Room, out into the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately to the Cross on Calvary.
Therefore, let us leave our expectations behind and learn afresh what Christ expects of us.
Let us refuse to deny where Jesus is leading us and recommit once again on this Palm Sunday to follow our King — from here to eternity. Amen.