A sermon delivered on April 5, 2009 (Palm Sunday) by Bob Keller based upon Mark 11: 1 – 11 and Mark 14: 1 – 15, entitled “Step-by-Step from the Palms to the Passion.”
It’s Palm Sunday. Earlier, David read the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from Mark’s Gospel. The prophecies of Zechariah and from Isaiah were fulfilled as he rode into Jerusalem that Sunday on a colt, the foal of a donkey – one that had never had a rider upon it.
Now I’m not sure how the crowd formed, but it did form. There were thousands upon thousands of Jews in the city for the Passover celebration, the holiest time of the Jewish calendar. Word would have, could have, spread quickly through a crowd like that.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
These are words the Jews had been longing to hear – and they heard them that day. Imagine being there. You move toward the crowd. And you can’t see a thing! You crane your neck. You stand on a wall. You push and shove – and you’re shouting Hosanna!, too! You watch little children squeeze between the legs of adults just to see what the fuss is about. And then, then, you see him.
It is just as it was foretold. These people had sung from Psalm 118 – “O Lord save us, O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
They knew the words of the prophet Zechariah – “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Our king is finally here! Now the Romans will be forced out of Jerusalem. No longer will we have to watch our backs. Our Holy City will once again be ours!
Expectations couldn’t have been higher for the salvation of Jerusalem and the emancipation of the Jews. So they danced. They sang. It was a celebration to end all celebrations! They shouted Hosanna!
There is a story told of a young boy that lived on a farm on the outskirts of a city, probably somewhere in Nebraska or Iowa, many years ago. This was in the days before TV brought images into every living room in the land. Well this boy was on his way home from school one day and he saw a few men putting something up on a fence. When they were finished, he went to have a look. There on the fence was a poster – a big poster announcing that the circus was coming to town!
The boy had never seen anything like what was portrayed on the poster. Pictures of roaring lions and tigers and elephants and a man on a trapeze were on the poster. About the most exciting thing the boy had seen to date was the county fair.
His eyes were as big as saucers as he ran home with the image of the circus poster fresh in his little head. He found his father and said, “Dad, Dad – can I go? Can I go?”
His father was confused and said, “Where?”
“Dad, it’s the circus. It’s coming to town! Can I go? Can I go?”
Money was tight back then, but the father agreed, as long as the boy did his chores.
The day arrived for the circus and the boy could hardly contain himself. All of his chores were done early and he went to his father.
“Dad, all my chores are done and the circus is coming today. Can I go? You promised.”
The father reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar. He handed it to the boy and said. “Have a good time!” That was more money than the boy had ever seen before and he tucked it carefully into his own pocket.
The boy ran to town and got a spot among the anxious crowd. Then he saw it. It was just like on the poster! It was the circus parade! The band passed by. Then there were the beautiful performers in their circus costumes. He spotted a man that looked just like the trapeze man on the poster. And there were tumblers and jugglers and horses decorated with fancy ribbons and plumes. What a sight!
Then the wagons came with the roaring lions and tigers. He was scared, but he was frozen in awe and what he was seeing! As he looked down the street he saw puffs of smoke. Were they bringing a locomotive down the street?!? Then he heard it! It was the steam-powered calliope.
Then the elephants came. They were the biggest animals he had ever seen!
At the very end of the parade was a single clown, complete with funny costume, made-up face and big, floppy shoes. The boy ran up to the clown and put his dollar in the clown’s hand.
He thought he had seen the circus. He thought that was all there was. He went home satisfied.
And just a few short days after Jesus entered Jerusalem, their Hosannas would turn to shouts of Crucify him! Crucify him!
Their dreams, their expectations, met the stark brick wall of reality – Jesus’ reality. They just didn’t understand. Luke’s gospel tells us that even Jesus wept as he rode into Jerusalem, for he knew the dreams of this day would turn into the reality of pain, suffering and death.
Jesus wasn’t the warrior king that would come to destroy the Romans. He came to destroy death. Jesus was a suffering Messiah, a king who would suffer for the sins of all the people.
And the people could not understand this. Their expectations of a conquering king were not fulfilled. They cried crucify him because Jesus had let them down. They were celebrating Passover, but they didn’t understand that Jesus was the lamb who was to be sacrificed.
The people missed the point and they were angry.
In the passage that David read just before the sermon, also from Mark’s gospel, we learn of someone who did understand. Here we meet a woman, but only in John’s gospel does she have a name – Mary. Was she Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus? Mary Magdalene? We don’t know. But she was a woman so overcome with love for the Lord that she lavished quite an extravagance on Him.
Now, admit it, we’ve all done some pretty extravagant things for love, haven’t we? We do it because our love has no bounds – we’ve spent too much, stayed too long, let other things go.
But this woman poured out the equivalent of a year’s pay on Jesus head. She had to. She broke the jar. What can be saved in a broken jar? Then she took down her hair – hair was a woman’s ‘crowning glory’ in those days – and wiped the feet of Jesus.
We were told that those in the room were indignant, especially the disciples. That perfume could have been sold and the money distributed to the poor, they said.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone.” He added. “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. ….Throughout the world, what she has done will … be told, in memory of her.”
When the day comes that I stand before God’s throne, I hope to hear Jesus say, “Father, this is Bob. He is mine, & he did what he could. Many others did more. Some did less. But he took what we gave him & he did what he could.”
That is being like Mary and, in a way, that is being like Jesus. Jesus didn’t ride halfway into Jerusalem. He never “half-healed” a leper. He never restored partial sight. He never let a lame man go with a slight limp. No! The leper was healed. The blind saw. The lame walked and ran and danced.
And Jesus went all the way to the cross. Please, this Holy Week, don’t jump from the triumphal entry to the empty tomb. Take it step-by-step. Go from “the palm” to the passion.
Remember why Jesus wept as he entered Jerusalem – because he knew that so many just didn’t understand, but he died for them, and for me, and for you, anyway. We need to focus on the passion as well as the palm; the future as well as the present; and we need to see Jesus as God. It will only be by looking to the cross that we can realize just what kind of sacrifice Jesus made for us out of His love for us.
Remember the One who came to take our place. Remember that He who died for us is still living today, and He is still loving us today.
As we remember these things, let’s not come halfway, but all the way to the Lord’s Table as we celebrate the love and grace provided to us. He chose us as His own and He showed that grace by going all the way to the cross for all of us. His life, His death and His resurrection give us the power to see Him, to love Him, as He first loved us.