THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE IS REJECTED
Psalm 118: 19-29; Luke 19: 29-40
Today we will get to the core of the Palm Sunday message as we begin what is called “Holy Week.” The message is about freedom and salvation. I am quite sure that some of you are here because you love Jesus; some are here to learn more about him; and some are here just for the pageantry and joy! Today we began with the childhood understanding of Palm Sunday as a parade for Jesus. We then will move to the reality that many adults in that procession were crying out for religious and political revolt. But it all started with celebration! Jesus entered Jerusalem, the disciples cheered, and the crowd was jubilant.
Psalm 118, the source of many of our Palm Sunday words, describe a person entering Jerusalem who was rejected by others, but who “has become the head of the corner.” That is good news with ominous overtones! They used festal branches to celebrate. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is about to enter the city for Passover.
Perhaps you grew up, as I did, hearing the children’s song on Palm Sunday “Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear, things I would ask him to tell me if he were here! Scenes by the wayside, tells of the sea, stories of Jesus, tell them to me!” Perhaps you sang those jubilant words years ago. We’ll not take away from that joy! It was a jubilant time. Jesus, a man who might have been the Messiah, was coming into the city! Jesus, a man who might be their new King, was there! Caught up in the moment, people started to wave whatever they had, and to cheer. There were already crowds around. Now the crowds had a focus and Jesus gave people hope. We do not have any video footage of our Savior on the donkey, but I absolutely picture him smiling, glad to see children celebrating! Listen to his later comments to the Pharisees, “Even if my disciples were to quiet down their celebrating, the stones themselves would cry out!” That was the mood of Jesus as he, and others, came down the Mount of Olives to enter Jerusalem. Travelers on each of our Holy Land pilgrimages have joined me in traveling down the Palm Sunday path to Jerusalem. The gate into the city is different, but everything else is what Jesus surely saw on that fateful day.
But some clouds were forming over the celebration. Passover was a time of general unrest in crowded Jerusalem. Like Bike Weeks in Daytona, crowds were bigger and security was heightened. There was tension. Any sound of rioting and loud groups drew attention. Therefore as you heard in the passage from Luke today, Jesus came toward the city from the east, and on a donkey: two key descriptions of the messiah in the Old Testament! The people who gathered spread branches and garments on the ground. They started to cry out with joy and intensity. The Pharisees didn’t want Roman interference so they ask Jesus to quiet his disciples down. Jesus, caught up in the event, replies: “If they are silent, these very stones will cry out!” The time was right. The King was coming into the city!
According to John’s gospel, palm branches were waved as Jesus entered. Palm branches were the official symbol of the Jewish nation after their freedom had been obtained by a patriot named Judas Maccabaeus. Later that freedom was lost and they were back under Roman rule, oppressed and fed up by taxes. But the palm branch, like the American Eagle, was their symbol of national freedom! When the children waved the palms, it was for the fun of a parade. When the politically connected people waved the palm, it was a cry for upheaval and revolt! But Jesus had a different plan; a plan for salvation. Through the ages people have sometimes referred to him as the “Lamb of God.” That title began to be important on that first Palm Sunday. The Sunday before Passover in the time of Jesus was known as “lamb selection day.” Jesus entered Jerusalem deliberately on that day we call “Palm Sunday.” It was a day that an unblemished lamb was chosen for sacrifice in the Temple for Passover, a sacrifice that symbolically paid the price of the Jewish nation for that year. But on a hill, not too far away, on that terrible Friday, Jesus became the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. His sacrifice offers us forgiveness, and access to God. When Jesus died on that day, which we will recall next Friday, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. People gained access to God like never before. Jesus did that for us. So in our church, we do not have an altar; we no longer need to offer animal sacrifices to honor or please God. The sacrifice God now accepts is a humble spirit and the proclamation that Jesus is our Lord. The Lamb of God was the sufficient payment for our sins.
Matthew’s gospel records that the people cried, “Hosanna!” That Hebrew word does not mean “hooray” or “We love you.” It was a cry of hope and desperation: “Save us!” they cried. “Save us, one who has come in the name of the Lord!” This is the start of that fateful week. A possible timeline is as follows. Jesus and his disciples, it seemed, rarely slept in the Jerusalem; they departed to nearby Bethany or the Mount of Olives. After his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, some suggest that he drove the moneychangers from the Temple because they had set up their tables in the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus declared, “Is it not written that my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations?” [Mark 11:17]
That made the authorities take notice of him and consider him with disdain. Jesus likely returned to Bethany that night. On Tuesday he went to the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem. Along the way he taught his disciples the lesson of the withered fig tree. After visiting the city he returned to the Mount of Olives and prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem. Scripture indicates that this was the day that Judas negotiated with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus. The Bible does not record any specific event that happened on Wednesday of Holy Week. Perhaps Jesus and his disciples retired to Bethany to prepare for Passover the following day. On that Holy Thursday Jesus gathered his disciples in an Upper Room. He gave them a new commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” In Latin commandment is “Maundy” from which we get our word “mandate;” thus, we will have Maundy Thursday Communion and Tenebrae this week. John’s gospel says this was also the day Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. After the Passover meal that we call the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples retired to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew what he was facing. There he prayed so hard that what was planned might be changed, that sweat dropped off of his forehead like great drops of blood. Later that night Judas arrived and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The Sanhedrin arrested him and took Jesus away. This story will continue this Thursday night.
For now, we have had a procession to Jerusalem. Imagine being there with Jesus! What an honor! What excitement! And clearly what joy Jesus received by looking into the faces of children! Thank you for celebrating a special day, as ominous dark clouds begin to roll in this week. May God increase your faith, and keep you well anchored to Jesus Christ, even amid the most heinous week of his life. We need the valleys to appreciate the mountaintops! Sunday’s coming … but not yet! Take the journey with Jesus in your prayers and your activities this week. Along with those who raise the palms, people in our world also cry, “Hosanna! Save us!” Give them Jesus.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 9, 2017