Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday Sermon: The King is Coming! - John 12:12-16

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" 

 The word Hosanna does not mean “Welcome” or “Greetings” or even “Hullo!” it really means “Lord, save us!” or “Savior, liberate us!” Most of us have never experienced an army, or a general, or a liberation force come into our community in order to get rid of the enemy and restore freedom.

          One man in our congregation has done that – Bill Brazelton in World War 2 was with the US Army as it liberated people across Europe. Bill’s wartime experience also included the liberation of some of the worst concentration camps that the Nazis ever established. He doesn't like to talk much about those days, but we should be thankful for people like him, who were just young lads who faced the horrors of the wickedness of war, and brought freedom to a forgotten people and a defenseless race. Most of the prisoners were unaware of what was happening when the camps were liberated seventy years ago – years of starvation, brutalization, and deprivation had paralyzed their emotions and almost annihilated their humanity.

At one time, they must have cried out “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” Those who survived could hardly speak, didn't know what to say, and were afraid to lift their eyes to look directly at their liberators. All that they saw was another army, so all that they feared was a continuance of the hell they knew, just with different military and camp personnel.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, there was a great buzz about Him that spread across some parts of the city. Pilgrims for the Passover, who had come down from the northern Galilean region had known about Jesus for at least three years. They would have recognized His entourage and probably rushed towards the city to spread the news. Twice, they had tried to make Him their king for the miracles that He performed. Now that He was come to Jerusalem, they thought that Jesus was coming to liberate the Jewish people from their Roman oppressors and false King Herod.

So when the people gathered at the Gate where Jesus was destined to arrive, they tore the branches of the trees to wave them before Him, showing their support for His cause and their delight that Christ was come to set them free. Perhaps anything between 100 to 300 people went out to greet Him – had there been thousands more, the Roman guards would have sent word to Governor Pilate, who would have quickly dispatched hundreds of soldiers to control the crowd and then disperse them. The Roman garrison was on high alert throughout the Passover feast because up to half a million Jews gathered there during the celebrations.

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." 

          But the Romans needn't have worried. Jesus didn't come in to Jerusalem riding a mighty horse or as a passenger in a chariot. He arrived plainly and simply, seated on a donkey. Now no matter how big and powerful, how legendary or mighty you have become, you cannot look all those magnificent things by sitting on a donkey. You bob up and down like a bobble-head doll. There’s no dignity or esteem that you can derive from being seated on a donkey. You look small and foolish, clown-like and comedic – and if the donkey starts to bray noisily – well there’s hee-haw you can do about it and just have to put up with looking foolish.

          Jesus, of course, did this on purpose. He wasn't interested in being big and bold and mighty and strong. He came as a peacemaker into a violent city. He came as a teacher into a place where everything that was important had already been taught. He came as a country preacher to a place where people closed their ears to the truth. He came bestowing grace on the graceless, love on the loveless, and even faith to the faithless.

          For some of the good folks who were gathered in the street leading up to the Beautiful Gate, this must have been a major disappointment. There they were standing with their palm branches, ready to wave them like flags in order to welcome, greet, and cheer for the home-grown hero who was going to save them. But instead of a powerful person, they see a poor prophet. Instead of a mighty general, they end up with a Galilean teacher. Instead of a Messiah who could stir up the zealots and organize the freedom fighting fanatics into uniting behind Him, they saw a placid passenger bobbing up and down on the back of a daft donkey. Some folks may have still been crying out “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” but there would also be others who would be shaking their heads and disappointingly saying: “Hosanna? Lord, save us.”

          John Maxwell, who’s a great motivational speaker out of Atlanta, often says that everything rises and falls through leadership. Most of us are attracted to dynamic and energetic leaders whose charisma and cheer-leading qualities make want to do things for a cause, a movement, or even a church. That’s exactly what the crowds expected in Jesus – they wanted to make Him their king. He was supposed to have epitomized everything that they wanted – their dreams, their hopes, their freedom, and their national esteem. The last thing that they expected was a rodeo clown riding a circus colt. And because He dared to disappoint them, they would dismiss His teaching, deny His truth, and end up discarding Him. Within a matter of days, their king would be mocked and crucified, publicly lynched and executed. Instead of entering the Beautiful Gate meant for leaders, He would be dragged out the back door and nailed to a cross on top of the stinking, rotting, unclean garbage heap.

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

          The people around Jesus, his closest friends and disciples had no idea of what was going on. They loved the attention of the fawning crowd that had gathered to applaud and cheer Jesus. They probably stood behind him, laughing and waving to the folks on the sides, just enjoying the moment. After being three years on the road with Jesus, they probably thought that this was the pinnacle, the highest point of His ministry.

          They didn't realize then that Jesus was riding into a trap. They didn't know that the mob would quickly turn against Him, or that the religious authorities would try to shut him down, or that even one of His closest friends would end up betraying Him – all within a matter of days. They had come to celebrate a meaningful Passover; they would end up seeing pack mentality of human beings at its worst, baying for blood, following their own agenda, not interested in the Teacher’s truth, but only set on satisfying their own selves.

          They carried palm branches and bowed down to Jesus; within days, He would be carrying a cross and falling at their feet. They cried “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” Days later they would be howling, “He saved others, so let Him now save Himself!” They called Him their king and welcomed Him into their city of peace. By the end of the week, He would have no peace – His body would be beaten to a pulp; His crown would be made of thorns; above His naked body on the cross would be a sign which mocked Him even more: Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews.

          Almost two thousand years have passed since that first Palm Sunday. Today, we cheerfully wave our palms and welcome Christ into our church. We call Him our King and bow down in prayer before Him. We pledge our lives and hearts to Him and call ourselves Christians. We do this easily in the cozy congregational setting that we find ourselves, but as soon as we are disappointed, affronted, challenged or asked to change our lives for Him, is He still our leader? Is He still our King? Or has Christ become a clown again, waiting to be clobbered with palm branches of bitterness that have suddenly become cruel cudgels in our blood-stained hands?

          So the question that we need to ask ourselves of Holy Week is this:
Do we flippantly say today, as sinful creatures, “Hosanna? Lord, save us.”
Or do we faithfully cry out this day, as sinful creatures saying, “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”

Prayer. Apostles Creed – emphasize suffered under Pontius Pilate

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