Palm Sunday: Welcome Jesus on His Terms
3/27/2018 4:07:23 PM
March 25, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: John 12:12-19
Has God ever let you down? Have things ever not turned out the way you wanted? Have you ever not gotten something you prayed for? Have you ever been disappointed in Jesus? Has the church ever let you down?
In our church family, we have people who have lost children through death and miscarriage. We have others whose children have wandered far from the Lord, leaving the faith, or getting into drugs, or drifting away. Over the years, some have prayed to be with someone, but remain single. Others have prayed for a spouse to come to Christ, but they never have.
Maybe you’ve lost a job, or lost a house or lost a friend? Maybe you prayed for somebody to be healed, but they weren’t. Maybe in a time of need, the church let you down by not being there? Have you ever been disappointed in God, or felt let down?
First, let me say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this has been your experience. If it was our church that let you down in a time of need, I’m sorry for that too. I won’t say that I have all the answers for your disappointment. I won’t try to explain why that particular thing happened to you.
I will say that in the big picture, God knows that you have been disappointed. We live in a fallen world. We are affected by our own sin as well as the sin for others. We are also affected by the general fallen state of creation, the effects of sin generally speaking. And God knows this. He has done something about it. God has promised that when Christ returns and renews the earth, He will wipe every tear from your eye. All of creation is groaning with you as we await our Saviour. And in the meantime, we will mourn with you when you mourn.
Let me ask you, all of you, how will you respond to Jesus when he or his people disappoint you? How will you respond to Jesus when your expectations are unfulfilled?
Today is Palm Sunday. While most churches usually focus on the celebration of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, the so-called “Triumphal Entry,” I want us to consider the fact that within a week of cheering for Jesus, the crowds in Jerusalem were screaming for his blood! Why? Because they were disappointed.
Just prior to our passage, Jesus was in Bethany where he raised Lazarus from the dead. Then, a short time later, he and his disciples headed to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. We are told a great crowd was in Jerusalem. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, records that at Passover time Jerusalem sometimes had 2.7 million people visiting, up from their more usual population of 100, 000! [DA Carson, John, p. 431] Even if that number is inflated, we realize that there were a ton of extra people in Jerusalem! Imagine Times Square on New Years Eve! There are people celebrating, people gawking, vendors selling whatever people need. It was a zoo!
People were there from nearby Bethany where Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead. They were telling everybody about the miracle! More people were there from Galilee, also not far away. Those people had witnessed Jesus’ ministry for 3 years. They had tons of stories to tell about Jesus’ teaching and healing, in addition to feeding thousands of people. Everybody was excited that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem! They went out to welcome him into the city. (Just like we talked about in the resurrection series- when Jesus returns and we go to meet him in the air, it is to escort him back to earth where he will rule, just like the people on Palm Sunday escorted Jesus into Jerusalem expecting him to take up ruling the city!)
Now, as John describes the scene, he again demonstrates his skill as a writer. He sets the scene for Jesus’ death as the crucified Messiah with a Psalm, a Prophet and a some intertestamental history. First, the history. Between the end of the OT and the start of the NT, there were a number of revolts in Israel trying to get rid of foreign occupying forces. These revolts included the Maccabean wars. During these wars, the Maccabean revolutionaries minted coins with palm branches on them. Furthermore, when the people rededicated the temple, they used palm branches in the ceremony. So palm branches became a national symbol of Jewish purity and
revolution. They had clear political meaning! [Carson, p. 432; Frederick Dale Bruner, John, p. 709]
Next, the people began calling out Hosanna, with literally translates as, “Give salvation now!” This is part of Psalm 118, which they continue to quote, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now, in the NRSV there is a footnote that in Hebrew, the original phrasing could also mean, “Blessed in the name of the Lord is the one [the pilgrim] who comes.” It was a blessing the people in Jerusalem would give to the pilgrims coming into the city for religious festivals. But, then it got changed to, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” and became a Psalm and blessing about the coming Messiah!
Here’s the interesting part- after reciting part of Psalm 118, the people added to the chant, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” This isn’t anywhere in Psalm 118! And, in fact, it diverges from the original meaning of Ps 118! This is their own addition because Ps 118 had come to be thought of as a Psalm about the Messiah! [Bruner, p. 709]
A few years earlier, when Pontius Pilate arrived as governor of Judea, he entered the city of Jerusalem in power. He marched in at the head of an army of cavalry and soldiers. This would have been in recent memory for the people of Jerusalem. Now, here comes Jesus! Their hope was that he would become ruler and get rid of Pilate and all his Roman cronies!
Jesus tries to temper expectations. He intentionally mounts a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. The other Gospels tell us more about his arrangements beforehand to procure the donkey. John doesn’t bother with those details. But we see in John the contrast between the militaristic chants and hopes of the crowds and Jesus’ riding a donkey- a sign of peace. [Carson, p. 433; Bruner, p. 710]
Jesus had in mind the Prophet Zechariah. In Zechariah 9:9ff there is a prophecy about a future Messiah coming, a king who would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. He would bring an end to war, peace to the nations and, through the blood of the covenant, release for captives! [Carson, p. 433] By riding in on a donkey, Jesus was making an intentional messianic statement, but it was a statement very different from the one the crowd was making, and the crowd didn’t get it. Jesus was saying he came in peace, but the crowd wanted him to start a revolution.
The disciples didn’t understand the donkey imagery at the time. It was only later that they put it together with Zechariah 9. It was only after the crucifixion and resurrection that they understood what Jesus was doing on that day.
Within the city, there were many who had witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus. They continued to “bear witness” (an important theme in John) to what they had seen. They spread the word and raised expectations about Jesus.
Finally, the Pharisees, the religious elite in Israel, were greatly distraught. They also expect him to start an armed revolt then and there. They are terrified! They are worried that Jesus will trigger a Roman crack down on the city, ruin the Passover and bring martial law to the city. They see “the whole world” going over to Jesus. There is an irony here, because in John “the world” means the whole created order, especially the fallen, sinful order. The Pharisees mean all the people, but John means the sinful world is siding with Jesus, at least for now. In the verses following our passage, this literally plays out when some Greeks come and ask to meet Jesus! When that happens, Jesus predicts his death.
So that’s the scene that Jesus sets and John describes. John writes it well, pulling together the different elements that were present- a Psalm altered to speak of a King, the piece of revolutionary history with the Palm, and the Prophet Zechariah predicting a different kind of king with different results than people expect. Nobody at that moment knew what was really happening except Jesus. The crowds, the disciples and the Pharisees all thought they knew what was happening, but only Jesus really knew.
We are going to take a moment to examine the responses of these three groups to Jesus: the crowd, the disciples and the Pharisees. All three groups expected certain things from Jesus and they responded to him based on those expectations. Nobody welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that day on Jesus’ terms! So let’s see how people responded.
First, the crowds. The crowds were excited. They thought Jesus was finally going to do what they always wanted him to do- to start an armed revolt, take over the country and get rid of their hated Roman overlords.
Jesus had shown he could feed thousands of people, he could heal the sick and injured, and even raise the dead! He would be the ultimate general! Who could beat an army that didn’t need to find food, whose wounded could be healed, and even the dead could be brought back to fight again?!? Also, Jesus was a great teacher, a man of God, he would be a great leader or ruler after the Romans were banished!
The crowds expected Jesus to “fix our country, fill our tummies and solve our problems!” The crowd wanted Jesus to fix their problems. Maybe he’ll feed me? Maybe he will heal me? Maybe he will bring back my loved one? When he failed to do so, when he failed to raise up an army and lead a revolt, when he failed to fix the country or solve their problems, they turned on him. Within a week they changed sides and began calling for him to be crucified!
The disciples also wanted Jesus to be a military general and leader. They were always asking about who would get the best positions of prestige and power when Jesus came into his kingdom or into his authority to rule as king. They were asking when he would come into power. They expected Jesus to raise them to positions of power, authority, prestige and control. They expected Jesus to fulfil their dreams of success.
What happened when Jesus didn’t go along with their expectations? What happened when he wasn’t willing to do things their way? When the guards came to the Garden of Gethsemane, what happened? First, Peter drew his sword. What was a fisherman doing with a sword in the first place?!? Then, when Jesus told Peter, “Stop!” When he wouldn’t go along with cutting people down, what happened? The disciples all fled! They didn’t flee the guards. They wanted to fight the guards. They fled being arrested. They fled losing to the guards. They wanted a revolution too. And when Jesus wouldn’t give it to them, they quit on him, turned away from him and left him behind.
Lastly, the religiously serious also expected Jesus to start a revolution, but they were afraid of it. They were afraid Jesus would trigger a Roman crack down. They were afraid Jesus would upset the apple cart. They were afraid of Jesus because he challenged them. He threatened their status and dominance. He threatened their status as the religiously elite, as those with whom God was satisfied. He challenged their dominance and religious leaders, as those people looked up to and modelled themselves after. He challenged their claims that by following them and their teaching, other people could get right with God too.
And the religiously serious saw that “the whole world” was going over to Jesus. There is an irony here because they saw “all the people” going to Jesus, but in John, “the world” means the whole of creation, especially the whole fallen, sinful order. So they see the fallen world turning to Jesus! And a few verses later, a group of Greeks actually did come to Jesus asking to meet him. The Pharisees words became prophetic!
“Official religion often resists public enthusiasm for Jesus.” [Bruner, p. 707] Enthusiasm for Jesus upsets the apple cart. It turns things topsy turvy. People start to question those in power, why they are in power and why things are the way they are.
Welcoming Jesus on His Terms
That Palm Sunday, people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on their own terms, not his terms, and they were disappointed. It meant that within a week, they had turned on him. How do we welcome Jesus on his terms?
People are always trying to make Jesus into something he isn’t. We call this story the “triumphal entry” but it was really “the disappointing entry.” Some people today try to reduce Jesus to a good teacher, or a moral example. They are not willing to allow him to be God, not a saviour of the world. Others try to make Jesus into a self-help guide. They reduce him to a way to succeed in life, to fix our problems. Others try to make Jesus into a political solution. In the 20th Century there was a strong movement called “Liberation Theology” that tried to turn Jesus into a purely political revolutionary. Today, south of the border, Christians are still trying to make Jesus a political solution. Evangelicals are far too quick to throw their support behind a politician who panders to their desires for a few minutes, then they excuse every fault of that politician! Christianity has become a political movement instead of a spiritual movement.
The real Jesus, however, threatens our lifestyle and our belief that we are ok with God. The real Jesus is offensive! That’s why the Pharisees hated him. He challenged their spirituality, and their status as those who are on good terms with God. Today, the same thing happens. We get comfortable in our religious practice and Jesus comes along and threatens that! He threatens our comfortable lifestyle, our materialistic lifestyle, which has become our idol. Our comfort has become our god, and often at the expense of the environment and the workers in
other nations. Jesus threatens that and so we try to make him into something else, we don’t welcome him on his terms! We don’t welcome his demand to be our master in all things.
Sometimes we expect Jesus to fulfil our dreams of success. The disciples followed Jesus for years! They did everything right (sort of). They expected to be rewarded for it. Do you ever expect Jesus to reward you with success for doing everything right? Has he disappointed you yet? He doesn’t promise to reward our obedience in this life. He promises to reward it in the next!
But we hear the prosperity gospel all the time, “name it and claim it!” “I have faith that God will give me that job, or that car, or that spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend.” God doesn’t promise these things. And when we expect them, we are disappointed when we don’t get them, instead of being grateful if we do.
Jesus actually promises the opposite of success in this life for his followers. He promises persecution, imprisonment, alienation for family and friends, being reviled and spat upon. Hebrews 11 is a great chapter about people who have come before us who were faithful to God. The first half of the list is about people who were rewarded in this life, but the second half is all about people who suffered, were mistreated and ultimately martyred for their obedience! Following Jesus sincerely and seriously often means being rejected by the world and not succeeding on earthly terms.
In our series in the Fall, Emotionally Healthy Relationships, one skill we discussed was about clarifying expectations. Are our expectations consciously held? Are they spoken? Are they realistic? Are they agreed upon? I think when it comes to our expectations of Jesus, many are unconscious. Many are unrealistic. And I can pretty much guarantee they are not agree upon by Jesus! By contrast, Jesus states some pretty realistic expectations about being his follower- that we will be rejected just like our master!
What is a disciple anyway? A disciple is a student, a person who is constantly becoming more like their teacher Jesus. We are called to live radically for him! When Jesus speaks of being his disciple, he says, “If anyone would be my disciple, he must take up his cross daily and follow me [to Golgotha!]” We want the crowds to cheer for us, but what we get is them screaming for our blood. And then we’re surprised or disappointed. But I can tell you, the long term dividends of following Jesus in this life are out of this world!
But what happens when Jesus yells “stop!” when we try to do things our way? What happens when, like the crowd or the disciples, we are disappointed? Jesus, why didn’t you provide for me? Why didn’t you heal me or my loved one? Why haven’t you restored my loved one to me? Why did they have to die? Why won’t you fix our country?
What do we do when Jesus doesn’t liberate us, feed us, heal us, restore us or provide what we wish for? Will we abandon Jesus? Will we reject him? Or will we follow him bravely, living radically for him, trusting him to make things right when he returns and resurrects us?
Being a Christian isn’t about making a decision for Christ. It’s about consistently making many decisions for Christ. Most of us here have made that initial decision for Christ. But are we willing to consistently make decisions for Christ? Even when he disappoints us? Are we willing to make decisions for Christ when it comes to our money? Or our time? What about making decisions for Jesus about who we date or marry? Or about our sexuality? Are we making consistent decisions for Jesus with our spouse, how we respond to them in the moment, how we love them and treat them? What about coworkers or fellow students? Do we consistently make decision for Jesus when it comes to them?
Are we willing to make decisions for Jesus when it might cost us money, or a sale, or a contract or even our job? Are we willing to make decisions for Jesus when it might cost us a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a spouse? We have people in our church family who have had to choose between Jesus and a spouse! Their spouses left when they continued to go to church and be a disciple!
Last week I was at a gathering of pastors for lunch. Our discussion, that we were to discuss as table groups, was about how we can transform the city of Guelph by making “true disciples.” I was distressed that at my table the whole conversation was about techniques for evangelism. Why? Because I don’t think we need to help more people make one decision for Jesus. I think we need more people who have already made a decision for Jesus to start making all their decisions for Jesus! The converts will come when we start living as disciples, making all our decisions for Jesus, welcoming Him into our lives on his terms.
Maturity in Christ is a reflection of how much our character reflects Jesus. That comes from cooperation
with Jesus and his Spirit. That is, making constant decisions for Jesus to be patient, loving, kind, gentle, faithful, to be honest and sacrificial, self-giving and kingdom minded. That comes from not letting disappointment change our decisions for Jesus.
When Jesus doesn’t meet my expectations, do I change my expectations or do I change my relationship with Jesus? Do I reject Jesus, or close that part of my life off from Jesus’ authority and lordship? Do I drift, or rebel, or harden my heart?
Jesus didn’t come to solve my problems, to fix my country, to heal my sickness, or restore my loved ones to me. Jesus came with much bigger plans! He came to reconcile me to God! To solve the problem of sin! Along the way, some of these other things get solved, like feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. That’s because as Jesus fights sin, we start to see sin’s dominance diminish. But these are secondary results of Jesus’ bigger success on the cross! And it certainly doesn’t mean Jesus fulfils all our expectations!
As we close on Palm Sunday, moving into Holy Week, looking forward to Good Friday when Jesus went to the cross to solve our biggest problem, I want to leave us with this tension: Are we willing to love Jesus, to follow Jesus and be his disciple when he doesn’t fulfil our expectations? Are we willing to let Jesus be Lord of our life when we are disappointed in him or his people? Are we willing to change our expectations in order to welcome Jesus into our lives on his terms?
Are we willing to live radically for Jesus? He died radically for us. He was resurrected radically for us. He sends his Spirit radically to live in us. Are we willing to be his disciples, even if discipleship means taking up our cross daily to follow him? Otherwise, like the people on the first Palm Sunday, we will be disappointed and turn from him. We may cry out for his blood, or we may just abandon him, but we won’t submit to him. The road to intimacy with the Father is the road marked with suffering, that is the road that Jesus walked. Will you walk it too? Amen.
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