After the Awe

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Palm Sunday
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 118: 19-24 and Matthew 21: 1-11
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21: 11 (NIV)

JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM

Here we are starting the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Friday’s coming and with it the crown of thorns and the cross and the tomb. Friday’s coming but today is Sunday and all is sunny and bright.

Picture Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The city is packed with pilgrims who are there to celebrate the coming Passover. That’s why Jesus and his disciples are there too. And this is not just going to be a regular, ordinary Passover. No one really knows it yet but this Passover will be remembered because it will forever change the world. And it all begins on Palm Sunday.

Jesus wants to enter Jerusalem but he wants to do it in such a way that everyone knows he’s there. It seems that he had it all well planned. Listen to what he says to two of his disciples in Matthew 21:2-3 (NIV): “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that they Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

A lot of people look at this story and see a miracle. They think that Jesus somehow miraculously knew that there would be a donkey and a colt tied to a post just inside the village of Bethphage. I’m going to tell you a secret. There are dozens and dozens of miracles in the Bible. But this isn’t one of them. This is simply good planning. Jesus knows that he wants to go into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. So what does he do? He arranges for someone to have the donkey tied up at just the spot where Jesus wants it. And he also provides a password for his disciples. If anyone asks them why they are untying the animals all they have to say is that the Lord needs them. Having heard that password, the person looking after the donkeys will let them go. This is not a miracle. It’s just good planning. As you’ll see Jesus is doing all of this for an effect. What is about to happen is not an accident. It’s certainly not a coincidence. It’s a well planned entry into Jerusalem and it is meant to awe the people.

KING & MESSIAH

So what’s the point? Why the donkey? It’s actually quite simple. With the donkey, Jesus is saying three things. First, he’s riding into the city. Do you know who rode into Jerusalem? Kings rode into Jerusalem. So, he’s proclaiming himself to be a king. And it stuck. Do you remember the sign that Pilate had posted on the cross when Jesus was crucified? It said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” And do you remember that the chief priests and the Jewish leaders protested and asked Pilate to take it down? But Pilate refused because five days earlier, on Palm Sunday, Jesus had proclaimed himself to be a king by riding into Jerusalem. That’s what it meant to ride into the city.

The second thing that this ride symbolized was Jesus’ mission. A king could ride into a city in one of two ways, either on a horse or on donkey. A king who came on a horse was there to make war for horses back then were seen as a weapon of war. A king riding a horse was telling the people to watch out. If they did not surrender, they would risk war. A donkey, on the other hand, was not a weapon of war. It was, rather, a beast of burden and if a king rode into the city on one of them, then he was proclaiming that he had come in peace.

Now we get to the third reason why Jesus rode the donkey. Matthew 21:4-5 says,

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion,

‘See your king comes to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

That’s a quote from Zechariah 9:9 which means that the third reason why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey was to fulfill prophecy. And this isn’t just any old prophecy. It’s the prophecy of the coming Messiah. Jesus is not only saying that he is a king and that he comes in peace. He’s also proclaiming himself to be the long awaited Messiah.

What’s affect of all of this. Let’s find out. Matthew 21:6 tells us that the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They go into Bethphage – which is a village just outside of Jerusalem – and find the donkey and the colt just as Jesus had told them they would. Then they bring the animals back to Jesus. The disciples place their cloaks on the donkeys and Jesus mounts them. And then they enter the city.

Matthew 21:8-9 (NIV) tells us what happens when Jesus and his entourage enter the city gates: “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowd that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’”

Do you know what this tells us? It tells us that the people get it. They understand exactly what Jesus is saying by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He is a king. That’s why they spread their cloaks on the road. That’s how they welcomed kings back then. And the palm branches, they were also a sign of peace. The hosannas round it all out because hosanna is actually a plea for salvation. It literally means, “I beg you to save,” or, “please deliver us.” To whom would the people say that? They would say it to the Messiah because he is the one they believed was sent to save and deliver them.

By riding the donkey Jesus was saying that he is a king come in peace and that he is the Messiah. By tossing their cloaks and palm branches on the road and by shouting, “Hosanna,” the people that they got it. Jesus is the King come in peace and he is the Messiah. It seems that everyone was on the same page. Jesus proclaimed who he was and the people believed him. No wonder there was such a parade going on. No wonder the people were overjoyed. And no wonder the chief priests and religious leaders were so upset. The last thing they wanted was a king come in peace proclaiming to be the Messiah. That would mess up all of their plans and really upset the apple cart. It is no wonder than that a mere five days after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that Jesus would hang dying on the cross of Calvary.

WHO IS JESUS?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to the story. Matthew 21:9 (NIV) says, “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” It was a good questions. Clearly some people knew who Jesus was. They were the ones who welcomed him and tossed their cloaks and palm branches on the road. Those people were in awe of this carpenter from Galilee. But what about those who didn’t know? What happened after the awe had died down?

What happened was that the people began to ask questions. “Who was that? What was the parade all about? And why should I care?” Those who knew provided the answer in Matthew 21:11 (NIV) where we read: “The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’”

This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. That was an interesting answer. Was it accurate? Yes, it was. Among other things, Jesus was certainly a prophet. That’s because he fulfilled the primary role of a prophet which is to call people back to faithfulness. People today don’t always understand that. They often have the impression that prophecy is a proclamation about what’s going to happen in the future, like a foretelling of future events. And sometimes prophets do that but that is not their main function. The prophets primary task is to call the people back to faithfulness in God. We see Jesus doing that all the time in the Gospels. To the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 (NIV) Jesus said, “Go now and leave your life if sin.” In Matthew 19:21 Jesus told the rich young man that if he wanted to be faithful, he had to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor.

One of the best examples happens right after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. In the very next story in Matthew 21 Jesus goes into the temple court where he sees people selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging Roman currency for temple currency at inflated exchange rates. And what does Jesus do? He scatters the animals and he overturns the money changers table warning them not to make the temple court a den of thieves. That’s calling people back to faithfulness. So there is loads of evidence that Jesus was a prophet.

But is that all he was? No, he was so much more. He was also the Messiah and this is what many people missed. It seems that some of them got it. When they shouted hosanna they understood what they were doing. But it seems that others didn’t. When Jesus had passed by them on the donkey, after all the cloaks were picked up from the road and all of the palm branches were cleared away, there were still people who thought that all they had seen was a prophet when in fact they had seen so much more.

Peter got it right. Back in Matthew 16:15-16 (NIV) Jesus asked his disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Certainly Jesus was a prophet. We can read in the Gospels that he was also a healer and a preacher and a teacher. He worked miracles and, as we discovered last week, he even raised the dead to life. But it’s Peter’s declaration that is the most important: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. There were lots of prophets back then. There were lots of healer and teachers too. There were also other people who claimed to be able to raise people from the dead; whether or not they did, of course, is another matter. There were even people who claimed to be the Messiah. But only one of them was because only one of them died on the cross and rose again on the third day in order to fulfill what the prophets had said. His name is Jesus. And once all of the awe is gone, we need to be able to say that loudly and clearly.

THE UNIQUENESS OF JESUS

We live in a world that is reticent to believe that there is one set of beliefs that is superior to the others. And that’s why when you ask people who Jesus was, even today, people are apt to say that he was a prophet. To say that he was a prophet, after all, is safe. All religions and faith groups have their prophets. To the Muslims, Mohamed was prophet. To the Buddhists, Buddha was prophet. To the Chinese, Confucius was a prophet. To the Jews, Moses was a prophet. The Mormons hold up Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Worldwide Church of God believes that Herbert W. Armstrong was a prophet. Prophets abound in the world. They are all over the place. Sure some of them are real and some of them are false but there is no shortage of prophets in the world. There always have been and there always will be. So to say that Jesus was a prophet is safe. We can just categorize him with all the other prophets and not offend anyone.

But what happens when we say with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God? That’s different because all other religions may have their prophets but only Christianity has it’s Messiah. And that Messiah is unique in the world because that Messiah was the only one who was crucified on the cross, laid in a tomb and risen again on the third day. Only one Messiah rose from the dead and broke the gates of hell and shattered the chains of death so that we can be alive with God eternally in his heavenly kingdom. That’s a problem in our society because if that is true than there is something unique and special about Jesus that sets him apart from all the rest.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all other religions are wrong. There are a lot of good teachings in all religions. In fact, when people say that all religions basically teach the same things, in one sense they are right. When it comes to how we live together as children of God, all major world religions teach that we are to be fair and just and loving towards one another. All major world religions teach that we should not steal or kill or cheat. There are the equivalent of the Ten Commandments in virtually all religious writings. In Micah 6:8 (NIV) it says, “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Adherents of most religions can say yes to that. When it comes to what Jesus taught about how we live together, there is not much that is unique. In that sense, he’s just like all of the other prophets. But when it comes to how we can be right with God, we discover where Jesus is unique.

In all other religions, people are made right with God by doing things that please God. They worship God or they pray in a particular way. They do good deeds and make financial offerings. And, of course, they try to avoid doing wrong things. Getting right with God for these other religions means earning your way to God by the things that you do.

All these gods demand is that you have to be good enough to get to heaven or Nirvana or paradise or whatever they call it. But the God of the Bible does not ask that we be good enough to enter his kingdom. He standard is much higher. He demands that we be perfect. None of us can be perfect. No matter how hard we try we are always going to hurt others. We are always going to make mistakes. We are always going to sin. Because of that we will never be perfect.

That’s where the uniqueness of Jesus comes in. Because we could not earn our way to God, God came to us. Because we could not do anything to reconcile ourselves with God, God did all that was necessary for us. God came to us in Jesus, the Messiah, to take our sins upon himself and die on the cross to pay the price. That’s the story of Good Friday and then he rose again on Easter Sunday so that through faith in him, we might be reconciled with God both in this life and in the next. Because we could not do that for ourselves, Jesus did it for us. And because of that, we are perfected in God’s eyes who sees us through the eyes of Jesus. That’s why he’s so much more that a prophet or a teacher or a healer. That’s why he is Jesus Christ the Messiah. And to him we shout hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest heaven.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of Grace and Glory, the warmth of spring is just around the corner. It seems to have teased us this year but the promise of new life remains in the air. Crocus bulbs wait to sprout beneath the surface of the dark earth. Geese prepare to fly north to their summer nesting grounds. Leaves are just bursting to bud.

In this season of Lent, we have examined ourselves and our lives. We have taken time to reflect upon who Jesus is for us. We pray that as this time of reflections draws to a close we would be able to make the decisions that we need to make that will enable us to walk more closely to your path. Keep our feet upon the road of your choosing and enable us to build our lives upon the rock solid ground of your son Jesus Christ.

We lift up in prayer the Canadian soldiers and those of other countries around the world that are helping in the cause of justice in places of war and violence. We pray that tyranny would end, that injustice would be eliminated and that peace may flourish. We pray especially for the ongoing civil war in Syria that has cost the lives of so many.  In short, O Father, we ask for your Kingdom to come. We know that it will not be completed until Jesus returns in glory. In the meantime, help us to do what we can do in the short time that we have on this earth.

Our prayers go to you for those who mourn this day, especially the family and friends of Isabel McLeod whose life was celebrated earlier this week. Bring peace and healing into our lives O God and thank you for her faithful witness.

We pray for those in our community and congregation who are sick or recovering this day especially Don Raymont, Helen Upcott, Millicent Wormald and Jacqui Seguin. We pray your healing Spirit to be with them in power. We pray for those seeking employment that you would guide their feet in the path that they need to take. We pray for those who grieve from broken relationship; heal their wounded hearts and bring them to a place of peace.

Holy Week comes near. Keep us mindful that the joy of the resurrection could not have been possible without the pain of the crucifiction. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sins and that we can live forever through faith in him.

We raise these prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

April 9, 2017 / Palm Sunday

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

CALL TO WORSHIP

Hosanna to the son of David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

PRAYER OF APPROACH

We praise you this day, O God of Love, with songs of rejoicing and palm branches waving. We join with all Creation and all God’s people in praising your holy name. With all the faithful we lift our voices to you. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! As we enter into worship, we ask that you would enter into our hearts and lives to transform our visions by the power of your great compassion and mercy. We come in celebration. We come seeking your blessing. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We seek to follow Jesus in the times of joy. It is easy to celebrate in the good times. It is fun to join the parades, to witness the healings and watch the miracles. It is more difficult to follow through the tough times. Forgive us for ignoring and turning away from injustice. Forgive us when we are too timid to share our faith in Christ. Forgive us for failing to risk all that we have for you and your Gospel. Forgive us and fill us with the passion that we see in Jesus. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God understands how difficult it is for us to live as Jesus lived. God forgives us and encourages us to turn our lives around. In Jesus, may we make this day the first day of a new beginning.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

The gifts of God for the people of God. The people of God for the work of God. The work of God for the purpose of God. The purpose of God for our salvation. We give all that we have to you, O God, in grateful thanksgiving. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

Palms are held in celebration. Voices are raised in praise. Jesus is lifted upon the Cross to save us from our sins. As we leave, may we remember our mission to lift up his name above every other name. Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven.

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