A sermon preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021
Today is Palm Sunday, the day that marks the last week of Jesus’ ministry before his crucifixion. For the last 10 chapters Jesus has been travelling steadily towards Jerusalem. Three times he has predicted that it is in Jerusalem where he is going to be rejected, beaten and crucified only to be resurrected on the third day. Joel B. Green says,
By this juncture in the Third Gospel, Jerusalem has been vested with monumental significance. It is foremost the place of destiny, the goal to which Jesus has been headed on account of his submission to the divine plan. (Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke (p. 683). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.)
And now the day of destiny has arrived. Everything that Jesus has been doing and preaching comes to head. He is greeted by crowd of disciples who throw a parade. Note this is not an impromptu parade, thrown on the spur of the moment. It was the parade prophesied by Zechariah when he said
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
It was also a parade, planned and orchestrated by Jesus. He deliberately sent two of disciples into a village to find donkey for him to ride so that he could enter Jerusalem as the Messianic King of Peace. He deliberately fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah.
But did you notice that there are no palm branches in Luke’s account of the triumphal entry. Karl Jacobsen, says
were we to compare the four Gospels and what each of them has to say, we might be surprised to learn that palm branches are mentioned only once:
- Matthew 21:8-9: cloaks on the road // cut branches from trees
- Mark 11:8-9: cloaks on the road // leafy branches [likely from the field]
- Luke 19:36-38: cloaks on the road
- John 12:12-13: is the only place that mentions palm branches
If you think about it, there are more cloaks than palms in these stories; Maybe we should l it “Cloak Sunday,” or “Coat Sunday”. Perhaps we could get Burlington Coat Factory to sponsor it… (Working Preacher, March 28, 2021)
Richard Swanson also points out another peculiar thing that often gets overlooked.
the garments they are laying on the street are not coats [which is what “cloak” implies to our modern ears]. Rather they are the regular outer garments that people wore. That means that people were left wearing (by the principle of exclusion) underwear. These undergarments were not BVDs, to be sure, but the people in the crowd are traipsing about rather less clothed than at the beginning of the scene. (Provoking the Gospel, April 9, 2017)
Now try to erase that image from your mind. Who says that they Bible doesn’t have a sense of humor?
All humor aside, this is the most important thing that has happened since Jesus preached his first sermon some 14 chapters and 3 years earlier. On that day he was welcomed by the crowds and opposed by the Pharisees. At the climax of the parade, Jesus weeps. So this morning we want to look at three things:
- Why did the crowds welcome Jesus?
- Why did the Pharisees oppose Jesus?
- Why did Jesus weep?
Why did the crowds welcome Jesus?
The answer is found in in 35 “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.” Notice two things about the crowd. First, they had seen the deeds of power Jesus had done. Barbara Lundbland, comments
Who were these people who had seen Jesus’ deeds of power? Zacchaeus was probably up in front. Jesus had just stayed with him in Jericho and that encounter changed Zacchaeus forever. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James must have been there for they’ll be remembered by name at the empty tomb.
Other women were there, too, because Luke places them at the cross on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. (23:49) Maybe the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at Simon’s dinner party was there. Jairus and his daughter might be there, too, walking with the woman cured of the twelve-year hemorrhage. The woman who had been bent over for 18 years is standing tall and there are lots of children for Jesus made it clear they were always welcome. (Working Preacher, April 9, 2017)
And we could add many more.
Second, notice that the crowd was made up of disciples. These were all people whom Jesus had welcomed, fed, touched and healed. They had a first had experience with him and it had transformed their lives. No wonder they acclaimed him as the coming king.
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Now I want you to notice two things about these words. First they echo Psalm 118 which was used as a royal enthronement song in the Old Testament. Once a year there would be a worship ceremony in the temple that would honor the king and ask for God’s blessing on his reign. I suppose it was something like our presidential inauguration. Instead of being celebrated once every four years, it was celebrated once a year. A part of that Psalm reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” When the city of Jerusalem fell and the kingship ended, the people of God came to regard this as a Messianic Psalm. By quoting it here, the people are giving expression to their belief that Jesus is the long expected Messiah.
Second, notice that these words also echo the song of angels at Jesus birth. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, they then broke into a song.
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
Which is very similar to the song the crowds sing to Jesus. They give glory to God in the highest heaven. The only difference is that the peace Jesus brings is not only to the earth, but it is also to heaven. So the promise that was made at Jesus birth is now being fulfilled at the end of his ministry.
Taken together these words show that Jesus is the King of Peace who has come to bring salvation to the world.
Why did the Pharisees oppose Jesus ?
Moving on to the Pharisees. In response to the crowd’s joyous acclamations the Pharisees say, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”(v 39)
Now normally we are used to portraying the Pharisees as the bad guys, as those who actively opposed Jesus and sought to have him crucified. However, Professor Greg Carey points out that Luke gives us a more nuanced understanding.
Whereas Mark presents the Pharisees as hostile to Jesus from the beginning (they want Jesus dead by Mark 3:6), Luke’s Pharisees hold Jesus close. Three times Pharisees invite Jesus to meals (7:36-50; 11:37-54; 14:1-24). In one case the encounter does lead to outright hostility. On the whole, however, Luke’s Pharisees come across as flawed but mostly benign characters.
One might say Luke’s Pharisees seek to keep Jesus in check rather than oppose him outright. They want Jesus to keep his teaching and activities “safe.” They want him to suppress the radical challenge his ministry poses to the rich and powerful (16:14-17). (Greg Carey, Working Preacher, March 24, 2013)
Dr. Martin Luther King experienced this kind of moderate Pharisaism as he led the fight for racial justice. In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he writes.
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action” Letter from Birmingham Jail, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (letterfromjail.com)
For Jesus, these Pharisees were people who could not commit, but instead of accepting the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, suggest prudence and caution. They want peace at all costs and this is what makes Jesus weep.
Why did Jesus weep?
Verse 41 says, “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Leon Morris points out that the verb “wept” might be rendered “wailed.” The verb is only used in two other places in the New Testament and both of them refer to Peter’s weeping after he denied Jesus three times. When Peter wept it was not with quiet tears gently filling the corners of his eyes and then trickling down his cheek. His weeping was filled with racking sobs and cries of anguish. That’s the way Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Jesus continues by saying
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Now at first glance it sounds like Jesus is angry at Jerusalem and that he is calling down God’s judgement on them. This however is not anger but lament. Dr. Robert Williamson says,
You can read these words of Jesus as divine punishment—God is going to do this to you—or as a reality check—this is what is going to happen to you if you continue down the course you have chosen. When you don’t understand where peace comes from, violence happens. (Bible Worm Podcast, March 28, 2021)
Jesus heart is broken. Earlier in Luke 13:34 Jesus also gave vent to these feelings of lament.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
In Cleveland, I once knew a woman who watched her son sinking further and further into addiction. She said that it was like watching him drive a car 100 mph towards a cliff that he couldn’t see. To make matters worse he had all the windows up and the stereo cranking at full blast. She could see what was going to happen but no matter how much she screamed or pleaded with him, he couldn’t hear.
That’s the feeling that grips Jesus as he sobs over Jerusalem and over us. He can see it what is happening, but the only way to stop it, is to throw himself in front of the speeding car and sacrifice his life.
And that is exactly what he does on Good Friday.