Rev. D. K. Schroeder
March 19, 2005
TLH 161 "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna"
SBH 74 "All Glory, Laud, and Honor"
TLH 162 "Ride On, Ride On In Majesty"
SBH 431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
SEIZE THE MOMENT
TEXT (vs. 5 & 9): “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass….And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”
From Berlin to Belfast, from Cape Town to Calcutta, from Los Angeles to Lima, from Moscow to Montreal, thousands upon thousands of Christians are today celebrating Palm Sunday. In every century, many thousands of Christ's followers have waved palm branches, either actually or in spirit to remember that special day when Jesus rode two miles triumphantly from the village of Bethany into the city of Jerusalem.
On this day, the local people saw Jesus as a celebrity. For the man in the street on Palm Sunday, Jesus was a hero! This same Palm Sunday, however, reminds us of one of the greatest ironies, and the tragedies of all of history. Only a few days later, this same "celebrity" Jesus would be accused by another crowd of people and declared "guilty" by a kangaroo court, orchestrated primarily by the religious leaders of that time. On Sunday, Jesus was the heart-throb of the people; but on Friday of the same week, He was the victim of the people’s blind hatred, which would lead to Jesus hanging from the bloody cross.
The Bible says that on Palm Sunday morning Jesus rode on a donkey toward Jerusalem. As the crowd moved, the people were "spreading their garments in the road. And as Jesus approached...the Mount of Olives, the entire multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice." They were excited as they recalled all the miracles which they had seen Jesus perform. With a loud voice they shouted: "BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
Oh, this was indeed a day to remember, but the Bible says that not everybody was happy. The Bible explains that some of Jesus' enemies, the Pharisees, said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." These Pharisees wanted Jesus to tell the celebrating crowds to be quiet! Jesus, however, answered the Pharisees and said, "I tell you, if these [people] become silent, the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:36-40). The excitement was uncontrollable.
If we know the historical background of that first Palm Sunday celebration, then we can in 2005 understand the reason for the excitement that filled the air of Palestine 2,000 years ago.
On the night before Palm Sunday, on Saturday evening, friends of Jesus hosted a supper in honor of their Master. This special event took place in the house of Simon, the leper. Martha did the serving. It's important here to note that Jesus was not the only person in attendance who captured the attention of the local people. Lazarus was also there. You see, Lazarus was a local person who had died sometime before and whom Jesus had raised again from the dead. This miracle of miracles was not forgotten by the people.
And we can well imagine that the Palestine air was abuzz with all the talk and the excitement that Lazarus whom many knew without a doubt had been dead, was now alive and walking around again. We can also be sure that between Friday afternoon and Palm Sunday morning there must have been a continuous stream of visitors passing through the streets of Bethany to hear the stories and to marvel at the miracles of Jesus and to hope at least for a passing glance of either Jesus or Lazarus.
Emotion mixed with excitement, and the excitement led to frenzy as Palm Sunday approached. Most people probably slept very little that Saturday night, and as a result on Palm Sunday morning the crowd in Bethany was probably larger than ever. The news of our Saviour's presence moved quickly through the crowd like wind. "He is coming!" they said. "Look, He is coming!" One crowd moved with Him as they left the village of Bethany. At the same time another crowd was forming in Jerusalem to meet Jesus on His way.
For this grand procession, Christ's disciples had prepared a donkey and a colt for Jesus to ride. This arrangement, however, was not by accident. All of this was taking place, the Bible explains, to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy which says, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold. Your king is coming to you..." (Zech. 9:9).
Yes indeed, Jesus was more than a celebrity; He was more than a local person who did amazing things. Jesus was and still is our King today in 2005. Jesus is not our King in a human sense. Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. And when He rides into our hearts and lives, He takes over. Christians are overjoyed to know that Christ rules and reigns in their hearts and lives. With Christ in one's life, the power of evil has to flee. Through God's gift of faith in Jesus, you and I become part of Christ's holy, wonderful, joyful kingdom.
The concept of God's kingdom and Christ as King has always amazed Biblical scholars. In our limited human logic, you and I might also be confused if Jesus were to come to us in 2005 the same way he did on that first Palm Sunday. Of course, we would expect Jesus, the Lord of lords and the King of kings to ride into our city with pomp and with power. We might expect Him to be riding in a bulletproof Cadillac or Mercedes Benz or even a Rolls Royce.
But this was not the case for the first Palm Sunday. Jesus did not ride into the city with a show of power. Instead Jesus came in humility riding on a donkey—something like a dignitary riding into town in an old rusty pickup truck. This was to signify that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world.
This teaching of Jesus needs to be stressed again and again today. Haven’t we heard religious hucksters try to tell us that if we believe in Jesus, we will be rich and successful on this earth? This is not what the Bible teaches. This self-centered religion clashes directly with the message Jesus sent on Palm Sunday. When you and I identify with, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, we will not automatically become rich and famous. We may well be poor and unknown. We may also be asked by Jesus to carry the cross of suffering for His sake.
Jesus' message on Palm Sunday was spiritual--not secular. This is also why even from the very first Palm Sunday celebration, people have always waved palm branches. Today Christians often use hundreds and even thousands of palm branches to celebrate Palm Sunday. What a powerful symbol for the Christian Church.
In eastern lands, with so many deserts, the palm tree has always symbolized life in a world of death. Because of its long life of about 200 years, the palm tree has always been a symbol of immortality. In short, the palm tree signifies life and joy, salvation, and living hope.
It is, therefore, no accident that on the first Palm Sunday, three symbols of life-over-death were present: palm branches and Lazarus and Jesus. The resurrected Lazarus, and palm branches, with Christ in the middle, gave the local people of Palestine hope. This parade was a public demonstration that there is indeed life after death, and the entire celebration pointed to Jesus because everybody who saw Lazarus knew for sure that it was Jesus who had surely resurrected Lazarus from death to life.
And this is also why we need to celebrate Palm Sunday today. Just as palm trees symbolize life in a dry desert, celebrating Palm Sunday in 2005 reminds us that there is life and hope in our world, a world that is so often filled with violence, hatred, and despair. Let Palm Sunday be not just another day, but rather a time when we are reminded that we can have a living hope, and that our hope is grounded in, and built upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, as we consider the emotion-filled Palm Sunday crowds, there is a warning that also needs to be considered. You and I must always be on constant alert for the deception of Satan. We need to see the connection that existed between the emotion of this Palm Sunday crowd and many of the religious activities that take place now in 2005.
Today, people often get together in large crowds and mass religious gatherings. They sing enthusiastically; and in the excitement of the moment all earthly concerns are forgotten; however, too often today, with all the religious hoopla the main point is missed and the key person is overlooked.
Consider some of today's great religious celebrations. These extravaganzas are underwritten, often times, by thousands and even millions of dollars. However, sadly the focus is often not always on Jesus Christ. The emphasis is not directed heavenward. The purpose is not to glorify God. Instead, these man-centered exercises in religiosity are designed primarily to pump up emotions, to give people a momentary spiritual high, and to divert people for the moment from their concerns of the day.
However, we can't be deceived by Christ-less celebrations of emotionalism and all the spiritual hype. Whenever we hear a radio or a television announcement promising a special religious experience: then be careful. BEWARE!!
Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, follow the example of Zaccheus in the Bible. In Luke, chapter 19, we read that one day Jesus "was passing through Jericho. And behold, there was a man called...Zaccheus; Zaccheus was a chief tax-gatherer. He was rich and when Jesus came to Zaccheus' city, Zaccheus wanted to see who Jesus was, [however, Zaccheus had a problem. He was short in stature and he could not see over the crowds.] So Zaccheus ran on ahead of the crowd and he climbed up into a sycamore tree..." for a better view (Luke 19:1-4).
Zaccheus had the right idea. Instead of simply getting caught up in the hype and the frenzy and the emotion of the moment, he climbed up a tree. He did this in order to see what was going on. And when Zaccheus observed the situation, he saw one thing very, very clearly: The center of all the attention was Jesus.
This is a lesson for each of us today. Go to a local secular book store. Look at the shelves that are filled with all kinds of religious materials and writings of popular gurus. Notice all the far-eastern religions, cult groups and all the rest.
I recently visited a local bookstore. When I passed by the religious section, I noticed that several people were very interested in a section called "New Age." Sadly, however, no one was looking at the Bibles and the Christian literature. For many today "New Age" is much more appealing than the Christian faith and to some "New Age" it is much more exciting.
And there is reason for this. You know and I know how easy it is to see the glitter and to miss the light; to pick the shell and to miss the kernel; to be distracted by the ribbon and to overlook the gift; to be impressed by the superficial and to overlook the heart, the core, and the key person in real religion: Jesus, the long promised Messiah and the One who was crucified on the cross to pay for our sins and to be raised again for our justification.
On this Palm Sunday, then, and every day let us never forget the crowd that extolled Christ on Palm Sunday, and that called for His execution the following Thursday. Truly it is as the prophet Hosea says: "For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, And like the dew which goes away early" (Hosea 6:4).
Consider also how many people today are being misled by New Age gurus. Newspapers tell us about Barbara Marx Hubbard. She teaches that the term "Christ" applies not to the Biblical Lord and Saviour of Palm Sunday, but rather to a "perfected, self- authorized human collective--a community of natural Christs, cooperating with each other and with God."
Now as odd, and as anti-Christian, and bizarre as these New Age teachings may sound, each of these secular, self-serving and self-promoting gurus are misleading thousands.
However, they are just like many in Jesus' day who perhaps turned out on Palm Sunday to see the local religious celebrity. They were certainly well-intended. They sought self-satisfaction, instead of spiritual soundness. They connected with religious hype and emotionalism, but they totally missed the key to life, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Christ.
So then, the joyful and encouraging lesson of Palm Sunday for us today from the Bible is this: Focus your faith totally, and alone, on Jesus. He is the center of all things. "He is," the Bible says, "before all things and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17).
Jesus is the key to life; Jesus is the foundation of hope; when we step back from the confusion of society and when we observe all the fraudulent religions that are now misleading millions, then let us confess with great joy with the apostle Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Jesus promises us total forgiveness for all our sins, strength for a new life and the certain hope of heaven.