Palm Sunday Proper C                                                                                              
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 19:28-40 Sermon                                                                                                           
March 24, 2013 

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
160 "All Glory, Laud, and Honor"
55 "Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come"
162 "Ride On, Ride On In Majesty"
161 "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna"


TEXT (vs. 35-38):  “35 And [the disciples] brought [the donkey] to Jesus; and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus upon it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest’”

            It’s been some years ago, and I can’t tell you exactly when, but if I remember correctly, it was GMC pickup trucks that used the advertising slogan, “When you have to get the job done.”  The commercial showed various adverse circumstances like rough terrain, snow, mud, rain, and just about everything else.  And if you needed to do a tough job under these circumstances, you could always count on a GMC truck to not let you down.  The GMC pickup truck would be your vehicle of choice when you needed to get a job done, and get it done with a certain amount of dependability.  Other pickup trucks might let you down; but according to the commercial, the GMC truck would not.

            Today is Palm Sunday; and the reason I’m talking about getting a job done and the GMC pickup truck commercial is to bring out the proverbial “vehicle of choice” that Jesus used on that day.  He made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  In fact, it was a donkey that had never been used before; Jesus would be its first rider.

            I want to call attention this morning to the donkey Jesus used.  There’s really nothing special about that specific donkey, other than it had never been used before.  Rather, we need to consider the purpose of the donkey, and why Jesus chose that particular animal to get the job done.

            Back in those days, there were a variety of animals people used for various functions.  These animals were chosen for whatever particular attribute best served the purpose.  For example, we know that camels are great animals to use in the desert because of their stamina and their strength.  So in the sands of Saudi Arabia, camels are the animal of choice when it came to getting the job done.  So people not only rode them for transportation, but they were also used to haul things and to help build things too.

            But we’re in Israel now.  When a dignitary would arrive and there would be a parade, they would often be perched upon a white stallion.  This would be something like the distinction of a limousine today.  A hero or dignitary would ride into town in a type of parade, amidst the awe and praise of the crowd surrounding them.  The white stallion called attention to the person’s prominence, and whatever accomplishments they had to their credit.  That was the badge of honor.

            However, if you wanted a practical animal, then the mule was the animal of choice.  A mule, which is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, was bred for a whole variety of purposes.  Mules were often used by soldiers because of their ability to go for a long time without food.  They were also intelligent animals, and provided the soldier with a very dependable source of transportation.  They could also sense danger, and would often keep their riders from harm because of their sense of self-preservation.  Even kings and other dignitaries would use a mule when the occasion called for more practical measures. 

            For the farmer, mules were definitely the animal of choice.  They were stronger and more sure-footed than a draught horse, and could outperform about any other creature when it came to doing farm work.  So the farmer, if he had any means at all, would have mules in his stable.

            The donkey however was a different matter.  If you couldn’t afford a horse or a mule, then the donkey was about the only thing you had at your disposal.  This was something used by poor people as a draught animal, and a beast of burden.  So if you were using a donkey as a beast of burden, you were immediately identified as one of the poor and nameless of society.  Nobody of any importance or prominence would ever use a donkey for any reason.               

            As we get into our topic for today, I want to share with you a couple verses recorded in the 21st chapter of Matthew, which is his record of the Palm Sunday story.  Verses 10-11 read:   “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’  The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’”

            There are two important things we can determine from these verses.  First of all, we know that Jesus was both well-known and popular amongst the people.  And the only two ways people knew about him, were either that they had personally seen him, heard him, and witnessed what he had done, or they had heard about him from others.  They identify him as to who he is, especially when they greet him with “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

            “Hosanna” is a Hebrew word which means, “Lord, save us.”  For the people to say this to Jesus, and further identify him as the heir of David’s line, they knew he was the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures.  This was the true Son of God who had come to save them from their sins.

            This brings us to the second important thing we can determine from these verses, which is that not everybody knew who he was.  People in the city were enquiring as to his identity.  Obviously it was somebody important; otherwise the crowd of people assembled to welcome him wouldn’t have been there.  Some of these people may have heard the occasional snippet about him, and weren’t sure.  Others may have not heard of him at all.

            But people had to really wonder why somebody of this prominence would come into town riding on a donkey.  This would have almost seemed like a joke to them!  In their way of thinking, this was exactly the opposite of what should have been.  People would have expected the Saviour to be surrounded with every symbol of glory and honor. 

            But Jesus had a job to do, and it wasn’t going to be very glorious either.  Jesus himself had to bear the burden of the world’s sin, and he had to do it all by himself.  He had to carry all the sins of humanity to Golgotha’s cross to bear the punishment we all deserve, and to pay the price of redemption God demanded.  Jesus himself was the beast of burden, and he had to get the job done.  There would be no glory, no pride, and no fancy trappings.  A faded purple robe, a crown of thorns, and a brutal death awaited Jesus.  

            A man was coming into the city.  Crowds of people were gathering.  This man was coming, not riding a white horse as an important dignitary would ride, but riding on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden.  And this was no joke either.  He had a job to do. 

            And the people!  They were ecstatic.  They were cheering.  They were paving his way with palm fronds, which were actually symbols of patriotism, and even the cloaks off their backs.  They were worshipping him and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  They knew Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, the one who had come to save them from their sins.

            So what was it that made Jesus so popular?  Why did the crowd of people gather, shouting his praises and crying for mercy?  How did the people know that Jesus was indeed true God begotten of the Father?

            Indeed there were those who had seen him, heard him, and had witnessed what he had done during his ministry.  He was nothing like the church officials of the day.  His message was compelling and inviting.  He welcomed sinners instead of shunning them.  And he did many miracles, things that only God could do; and more than that, Jesus identified himself as being true God.  That certainly was enough in and of itself.

            But just prior to this, Jesus performed a miracle where brought Lazarus back from the grave.  This was a key miracle in the upcoming events.

            Admittedly, the account of the raising of Lazarus is a bit graphic as to the details, but it had to be that way.  Lazarus was in the grave four days and there was an odor present.  Everybody had no doubt in their mind that Lazarus was very dead.  But along comes Jesus; and with the power of his word, he brings Lazarus back to life. Considering the adverse circumstances surrounding this miracle, the people had no doubt that Jesus was who he claimed to be.

            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.  Her brother Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead was also in attendance.

            We can also be sure that 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.

            All of this is instrumental to the events of Palm Sunday.  Even though there probably would have been some there to welcome him, the eye-witness accounts of Jesus and Lazarus would have increased not only the number of people on hand, but it would have also increased their intensity and excitement.  Behold!  Here he comes!  The Saviour is coming into Jerusalem!  Forget the fact he’s only on a donkey, he deserves a king’s welcome.  Hosanna!  Lord, save us!

            Nobody knew what was going to happen to him that week.  The fact that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for Passover was nothing out of the ordinary.  He most likely did it many times. 

            His disciples knew where to prepare the feast, so everything was as it should have been.  Furthermore, they also knew where to find the donkey for him to ride.    All of this was taking place to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy, as recorded by the prophet Zechariah in chapter 9 verse 9 which says, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you..."

            But the recognition he had was incredible.  The hero’s welcome was way beyond what anybody would have expected.  The crowd knew him, they knew about him, they knew who he was, and they worshipped him and cried for mercy.  Even though the donkey wasn’t the dignified method of transportation, it’s what Jesus used to get the job done.

            Every year on Palm Sunday, I deal with one frequently asked question, because people are always wondering about it.  The question is:  “Why would a crowd of people who shouted ‘hosanna’ on Sunday turn around and be just as quick to shout ‘crucify him’ on Friday?  How could people do such a quick about-face in their attitude?”

            I believe that there are two answers to this question.  The first answer is that people are fickle by nature.  People can go along with a crowd as long as things are going well; but when an opinion becomes very unpopular, then that opinion is subject to change.  The prophet Hosea explains this in chapter 6 verse 4: "For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, and like the dew which goes away early."  I would imagine that this happened with at least a few of these people.

            The second answer is that the majority of the people in attendance who demanded the release of Barabbas the criminal were most likely part of a well-orchestrated crowd.  I would venture to say that since the Palm Sunday procession was in the morning, and Jesus’ trial was an illegal one that happened at night, most of Jesus’ followers were at home in bed, oblivious to what was happening.

            Today we see a lot of “hoopla” going on with Jesus’ triumphal entry.  Verses 37-38 of our Gospel lesson tell us:  “…the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen,saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

            The Pharisees didn’t like this at all.  They were outraged!  They even rebuked Jesus, and essentially told him to make his followers stop all of this nonsense.  But it couldn’t be stopped.  They were expressing the truth. 

            If you remember back to the story of Lazarus, some of the people there who witnessed this miracle went and told the Pharisees what had happened.  The Bible then tells us that after hearing this, the whole Sanhedrin plotted to kill him.  This way of thinking would have certainly led to them organizing a crowd that would have called for the release of Barabbas the criminal, and the subsequent crucifixion of Jesus the Saviour.

            Jesus knew what was going to happen to him as he rode into town on that first Palm Sunday.  He knew that the road he was travelling had to be done.  He had to do what he did to pay for the sins of all humanity, your sins and mine.  Everything we had ever done or will ever do to deserve punishment and eternal death had to be paid for in full.   This required Jesus to make that bitter and lonely journey to the cross on Golgotha.  The shouts from the crowd of “Hosanna, Lord save us,” was exactly what Jesus was doing; he was saving us and all of humanity.  Jesus rode into town on a donkey because there was a job that had to be done.  Humanity’s salvation was at stake. 

            When we come to God with our plea for salvation, we know our salvation is guaranteed, one-hundred percent.  We know this, because Jesus did what he did to make that happen.  We know that when we come to Jesus in faith, when through faith we accept him as our Lord and Saviour, that our sins will be forgiven and we will be saved.  We will be declared innocent of all our sins because Jesus paid for them all in full.  We know our faithful cries of “Hosanna” will be heard and answered because of Jesus.

            The most accurate picture the world has of Jesus is shown in us, the Christian believers in whom Christ lives.  We study the Scriptures so that we may know God’s love for us, and what Jesus has done to save us.  He’s worked that miracle of faith in our lives to believe this. 

            The apostle Peter records the following words in his first letter, chapter 3 verse 15:   “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

            We might not always present a perfect picture of Christ in our lives, but we have the perfect response of faith right at our fingertips.  When we cry, “Hosanna, Lord save us!” in faith, then we will indeed have that for which we have asked.  That’s the faith we have, and the faith we need to share.  The whole world needs to know Jesus; and we pray that the Lord will use us in whatever way he wishes to bring the good news of our Saviour to all people.