Palm Sunday (Lent 6), Proper C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 12:12-19 Sermon
March 29, 2015
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
160 "All Glory, Laud, & Honor"
55 "Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come"
162 "Ride On, Ride On In Majesty"
161 "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna"
TEXT (vs. 17-19): “Now the crowd that was with [Jesus] when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, 'See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'"
Tuscumbia,Alabama. Have you ever heard about it? It's a very picturesque and historical place, located in the northwestern corner of the state, nestled in the foothills of theAppalachian Mountainsnear theTennessee River. It's a city about the size of Seward, so it's not a huge population center. I've never been there myself, but from what I can tell it would be a nice place to visit for a variety of reasons.
Back onJune 27, 1880 a baby girl was born to Arthur and Kate, a rather well-to-do couple who lived in one of the town's nicer homes. They were proud parents, and things were going along very nicely.
Then just over a year and a half later, this toddler became very ill. Because medical science was not very advanced in those days, the doctors weren't exactly sure what she had contracted; although in later years, medical experts believe it was either scarlet fever or meningitis.
The actual illness didn't last very long, however the effects were devastating. This little toddler lost her eyesight, her hearing, and whatever limited speech she had developed. This little girl now found herself in what seemed like a prison. She became wild and out-of-control, frequently exhibiting massive temper tantrums.
Martha, the six year-old daughter of the family cook was the only one who had the ability to actually comprehend what this little girl wanted. Completely on her own volition, this little girl had developed over sixty different signs and signals which enabled her to communicate to her family. And six year-old Martha was frequently the only one who could understand her.
Still, there were many problems and difficulties. As this little girl got older, she was destined to be put into an insane asylum. Today of course there are a variety of services available to assist people who are challenged in this way. But back then, the only real answer were the asylums, where such people were kept like animals, just marking time until they died.
However, this young girl's parents were perceptive enough to recognize their daughter's intelligence. They did not want her to be relegated to an insane asylum for the rest of her life. So they took their daughter toBaltimorewhere they consulted with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Then they were introduced to Alexander Graham Bell, who had been working with deaf children. Mr. Bell put them in contact with the Perkins Institute for the Blind inSouth Boston. The school's director, Michael Anaganos, contacted a 20 year-old former student who herself had a visual impairment, and asked her to be this young girl's personal tutor. The tutor arrived inTuscumbia,Alabamain March of 1887, and began to work with the young girl.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, this young girl of whom I am speaking is Helen Keller, one of the most gifted and talented people this country has ever known. And the 20 year-old tutor is Anne Sullivan. Mark Twain is the person who gave Anne Sullivan the title of "The Miracle Worker." This became the title of a play based mostly upon Helen Keller's autobiography, which was subsequently made into a landmark movie in 1962 starring Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan, and Patty Duke as Helen Keller. It's an excellent movie, and you can still find it on television from time-to-time.
Even though Tuscumbia is a relatively obscure place, Tuscumbia's famous resident is almost a household word. When you hear the name "Helen Keller," almost everybody knows who she is. But the one who is responsible for her education and development is Anne Sullivan, Helen's teacher, the one we know as the "Miracle Worker."
That's quite a title, isn't it? It's one that makes people sit up and take notice. If you were to hear someone referred to as "the miracle worker," you would have some questions. What miracle are you talking about? How did it happen? Who did it? To whom did it happen?
In our Gospel lesson for today, we have John's account of Palm Sunday. It's a story that has been told and re-told every year for a long, long time. But it's also a story that has a lot of different things happening along with it.
Jesus is the one who has become known as "The Miracle Worker." This brought him an immense amount of popularity with the general population. However, the Pharisees were looking at things differently. John records the following words in verse 19 of our text for today: "So the Pharisees said to one another, 'See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'" What made them react this way?
If we look at verses 17 and 18 of our Gospel lesson, we can get the picture of what was going on. John records: "Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him."
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this had to be one of the most incredible miracles Jesus had performed. As we know, Lazarus had been dead for four days, and had begun to decompose. There was a foul odor present. But Jesus proved himself to be the ultimate miracle worker when he raised him from the dead. And no other human being could have done that.
This was big news indeed, something the likes of which nobody had ever before experienced. There were many people around when it happened. And you know as well as I do, that once you put fodder into the old rumor mill, it isn't going to take very long before everybody knows about it. And considering the magnitude of the whole ordeal, people just couldn't contain themselves. The word had to be spread, and everybody was literally bursting at the seams to do that very thing.
As a result, the people pretty much knew Jesus' every move from that point on. It was Passover time, so the population ofJerusalemhad increased many times with all of the visitors who had come. Consequently, when word got out that Jesus was leavingBethanyto go toJerusalem, the people knew it. Word was passed along, until an enormous number of people inJerusalemwere waiting to greet this miracle worker who could even raise the dead. The people were happy to see him, and so they provided him with a welcome into the city befitting the most important dignitary.
But not everybody was happy. Remember in verse 19 of our Gospel lesson the Pharisees said, "Look how the whole world has gone after him!'" With that many people, it must have seemed like the whole world had turned up to greet him. To continue with the Pharisees' line of thinking, we can look at Matthew chapter 21 verse 15: "But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant." And then we go to Mark chapter 11, verse 18: "The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching."
As we know, the Pharisees saw Jesus as a huge threat. Logic would tell us that the Pharisees should have been happy to see the promised Saviour. With their knowledge of the Scriptures, they should have been able to see that this is the person the prophet Zechariah was speaking about in chapter 9 verse 9: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Jesus' identity as the promised Messiah should have been obvious to them. But they refused to believe. Jesus wasn't who they wanted as their Saviour, as if it was up to them to make that decision.
The Pharisees along with other high church officials, and even the Jewish population were feeling the pressure of Roman rule. They were expecting an earthly Messiah, one who would chase the Romans out ofJerusalemand get them off their backs. So the Messiah they were expecting was someone who would be a combination of a mighty warrior, a political leader, and a strong effective communicator. This Messiah would hand them back their homeland, and they could live happily ever after.
But Jesus sets this straight in no uncertain terms. It was only a matter of days after the Palm Sunday festivities that Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate. In John chapter 18 we read some of their dialogue, and here is a portion of it. In verse 33, Pilate asks Jesus, “...Are you the King of the Jews?” That seems to be a direct and easy-to-understand question. Jesus answers in verse 36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Even Jesus' own disciples didn't get it. When Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24, they lament in verse 21: "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
Suffice it to say that Jesus didn't fit the mental image of the Pharisees, and so they felt that the best solution was to simply eliminate him so it could be business as usual. In their estimation, here were all these people making preposterous claims. This miracle worker was healing people, he was casting out demons, he was changing water into wine, and now this latest claim came along, that he could even bring someone back to life that had been dead for four days. They felt that Jesus was no more than a religious huckster who had incited all of these people. So they devised a scheme to eliminate him.
But a lot of the people knew better. They had been witnesses. They had heard the stories from reliable sources. There was no doubt as to who Jesus was, and so they gathered together to welcome him. They shouted "Hosanna" as he rode intoJerusalem. "Hosanna" means "Lord, save us!" This was their Saviour. This was the one who could save them from their sins. This was the one who would bring them into fellowship with God in heaven. This was the miracle they were seeking from this miracle worker.
As we look at the world today, we see a lot of Pharisees out there. These are the people that find the thought of a Saviour to be ridiculous. These are the people who think that religious activity should be stopped. These are the people who have convinced themselves that all of this "God talk" is foolishness.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 18, Paul answers this when he writes: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And continuing on to chapter 2 verse 14: "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."
As Christians, we know that Jesus is anything but foolishness. We have to see ourselves like that crowd of people on that first Palm Sunday. We look to Jesus and say with our hearts, "Hosanna; Lord save us." We know he is not only the world's Saviour, but our own personal Saviour.
But more than that, he is our own personal miracle worker. Of the many miracles that Jesus has done, and as much as Jesus has done for us in our lives, nothing can compare to the ultimate miracle he has done for us. By the Holy Spirit, our hearts of stone have been penetrated. Our feet have been turned from running away from him to running toward him, right into his open arms. And our lips have been changed from uttering blasphemy to shouting his praise: "Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Lord save us! Hosanna in the highest!"
Back at the close of the nineteenth century, a 20 year-old woman by the name of Anne Sullivan showed up at the door of the Ivy Green plantation, the home of Albert and Kate Keller, and their daughter Helen. That was the beginning of a 49 year relationship that went from teacher, to governess, and finally to companion. Even when Anne Sullivan married John Macy in 1905, she continued to be Helen's constant companion until her death in 1936.
Even though Helen had two other companions after that, namely Polly Thompson and Winnie Corbally, there was only the one miracle worker in her life. It was Anne Sullivan who was able to break through the barriers of the blindness and deafness, and take the wild and uncontrollable child and mold her into the pillar of society that Helen Keller became.
On that first Palm Sunday, there were many people who recognized Jesus as the promised Saviour, their Saviour from sin, and the only miracle worker who could save them. This is the same miracle worker who has entered our lives, who has broken through the blindness and deafness that Satan has caused who has paid for our sins in full, and completely removed them. Through faith in Christ alone, we have become permanent citizens in heaven.
So when we greet Jesus with shouts of "Hosanna, Lord save us," we can be assured that he has heard us, and that he has made a miracle come true.