Palm Sunday
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:1-11 Sermon
April 13, 2014

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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. 10-11):  “10 And when [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, 'Who is this?' 11 And the crowds said, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.'”  

            This morning, I’m going to show you a picture that you might recognize (holds up picture of Porky Pig).  Can any of you identify who this is?

            Of course this is a picture of the Looney Tunes cartoon character “Porky Pig.”  Not only is he a popular character, but he’s been around for a while too.  He first debuted on March 2, 1935, so he just recently celebrated his 79th birthday.

            Porky Pig was one of the first characters created for Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood, in what became known as the “Loony Tunes” cartoons.  Even though other well-known characters have followed, Porky Pig was the first, and probably the most well known.

            Porky Pig was a creation of Warner Brothers animator Bob Clampett; and even though there have been slight alterations in his appearance since the original creation, Porky Pig has remained pretty much unchanged over the years.  Generally he’s pictured as he is here, wearing nothing but a coat, a bow tie, and spats.

            Not only is his appearance unique, but he also has a very unique stuttering voice.  The voice, as you know is a crucial part of Porky’s persona, since a great share of the Looney Tunes cartoons conclude with Porky Pig crashing through the Looney Tunes logo, and saying his famous line:  “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

            The reason I have chosen to use this as an illustration this morning, is because of the results of a recent survey.  A random group of adults (not children) were surveyed.  These people were shown a picture of Porky Pig exactly like the one I showed you.  Of these people surveyed, a whopping eighty-five percent were able to correctly identify this picture as being Porky Pig.

            Eighty-five percent…and when I thought about it, that figure wasn’t surprising to me at all.  I knew right away who it was, so if I had been one of the people surveyed, I would have been amongst the eighty-five percent.  Consider too that he’s been around for 79 years, so virtually everybody alive today who has seen a cartoon in a theatre or on television would most likely recognize him.  And his unique appearance and voice certainly make him a memorable character.

            But he’s a cartoon character!  He is entirely fictional.  His image and voice are creations of several men that have taken this creation, and inserted it into numerous episodes of animated situation comedy.  Think about what kind of impression and what kind of an impact such a character would need to have on the public to warrant an eighty-five percent recognition rating!  Politicians entering into a political race can only dream of ratings like that!

            As we get into our text for today, I’ve chosen to focus upon the last two verses of our Gospel lesson, the Palm Sunday narrative, which is recorded in the 21st chapter of Matthew.  Verses 10-11 read:   10 And when [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, 'Who is this?' 11 And the crowds said, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of 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.

            We have to realize that the population of Jerusalem increased many times during the festival of Passover.  Good Jews from all over would come to Jerusalem as they were able for this High Holy Day.  This was a pilgrimage for them, since Jerusalem was the religious center for the Jews.  The temple was there, as were all of the religious officials.  The city was rich with the religious history and heritage of God’s people. 

            Of course commercialism was alive and well here too.  If we think Christmas and Easter have become corrupted with commercialism in today’s society, it would pale in comparison to what was going on in Jerusalem at Passover time.  Shopkeepers and merchants and innkeepers raked in the money hand-over-fist during this time.  Many of these people could have cared less about the religious significance of the occasion; all they cared about was making money.

            But something else was going on, something that outshined the commercialism and everything else.  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 the people!  They were ecstatic.  They were cheering.  They were paving his way with palm fronds 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 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?

            We already said that 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 there was more, in fact much more.  If we turn back the calendar to just last Sunday, we focused upon the miracle where Jesus brought Lazarus back from the grave.  Jesus had given new life to dead bones.  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 that 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.

            One question that is frequently asked about Palm Sunday, 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 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.

            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 traveling 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. 

            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.

            At the beginning, I talked about Porky Pig, and the fact that he is readily recognized by eighty-five percent of the adult population.  That is an amazing rate, considering he’s only been around for seventy-three years, and also considering that he’s only a fictional cartoon character.

            I remember having a conversation with a lady in Australia who insisted that “everybody recognizes a picture of Jesus (even though all we have are artists’ renditions),” and “everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer.”  Admittedly that would be nice; however she couldn’t be any more wrong.

            The sad fact is that less than fifty percent of people recognize Jesus by sight, and even fewer know the Lord’s Prayer.  Just because we recognize Jesus and the prayer he taught, and we find these things so very familiar, does not mean that everybody does.  Not everybody knows Jesus the way we do.

            So now, when you put these two things in comparison with each other, it says a lot about our culture when a seventy-nine year-old cartoon pig is more recognizable and more ubiquitous than the Saviour of the world who came over two-thousand years ago. 

            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.  And he continues to keep that faith alive and active through Word and Sacrament.

            When people look at us, are they seeing Christ?  Do our lives provide an adequate picture of our Saviour who dwells within us?  Could people identify our individual picture of Jesus as easily as they would recognize a cartoon drawing of Porky Pig?

            As popular as Porky Pig may be, he is still fictional.  He is a cartoon character created by the minds of people.  Jesus however is very much real.  His miracles are real.  He really lived, and died, and rose again from the dead.  He is very real for us, and he is the very foundation of our faith.         

            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.