March 24, 2024

From Palms to Passion…

Passage: Matthew 21:1-11

Jonah Albrecht

Palm Sunday

March 24th, 2024

Matthew 21:1-11

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt. 21:1 ESV)

From Palms to Passion

Some years ago, a book was written by Gene Smith, a noted American historian. The title was “When The Cheering Stopped.” It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.

On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

It’s a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many. It happened that way to Jesus.

Today we are celebrating the festival of Palm Sunday; a day in which Jesus is at the top of the world. He is recognized publicly as the Messiah and is greeted by the people with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” It can’t get any better than this. And yet, as you know, today marks the beginning of Holy Week. By the end of this week, those cries of praise would be replaced with cries of condemnation. For Jesus, the cheering stopped.

There is a lot packed into the account of Palm Sunday. Each one of the four gospels records this event for us, but from different perspectives. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, draws upon the Old Testament Scriptures to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy made by Zechariah.

One thing that all four gospels have in common is the donkey upon which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Your first thought might be: A donkey? Is that fitting for a king? Why not a horse? While it is true that horses are often pictured as the steeds of powerful people and kings, donkeys played a similar role. King David placed his son Solomon on his royal donkey as a testimony to the people that Solomon was the one who was next in line for the crown.

The donkey was a royal steed, and it marked Jesus as the rightful king. Not just of the Jews, but of the world. Not only that, but horses were used in warfare. That is not what Jesus had come to do. He was not here to lead a rebellion against the Roman empire, but to set His people free from the tyranny of sin, death, and hell.

Jesus’ triumphant entry continued when most of the crowd who came out to meet Him began to lay their outer cloaks on the road before Him. Those who did not have cloaks cut down palm branches and laid them on the “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” road before Him. Another testimony to Jesus being the rightful king of God’s people.

Shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” rang out throughout the countryside and throughout the streets of Jerusalem. So great was this cry of praise, that those who heard it wondered who it was that deserved such honor. This song of praise is taken from Psalm 118 which we used as our responsive Psalm this morning. It is a Messianic Psalm that is the prayer of God’s faithful to send their deliverer, to bring them salvation as He had promised them.

Hoshia! Hosanna! Literally “Save or deliver us.” Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” There is no doubt whatsoever who this person was riding into Jerusalem on the donkey. , “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” In Luke’s account of Palm Sunday, we hear the Pharisees tell Jesus to quiet His disciples, who started the chanting and praising Him as the Messiah. It is obvious why. They didn’t want to recognize Jesus as being who He said He was. Jesus’ response? “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” No one in all of creation could stop the rightful praise to the King, to the Creator of heaven and earth as He rode to Jerusalem in victory. If all the people fell silent, the creation itself would bow in worship to its Creator. This was not a crowd that picked up on His disciples praising Him and joined in. It was a crowd who rejoiced in the fulfillment of the Old Testament in their day.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Today is not only called Palm Sunday, but also Passion Sunday. That is because it marks the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus’ days of public ministry are coming to a close. He would spend the next 4 days teaching His disciples and preparing them for what is coming His way. The Son of Man, the same one who was greeting with palms, cloaks, and praises, would be betrayed into the hands of Jesus’ enemies. He would be beaten, mocked, and crucified as He bore the sins of the world. Little did the people, or His disciples know, that Jesus would shortly fulfill their song of praise: Save us! He would at the cost of His life.

As with many occurrences in Jesus’ life, Palm Sunday has a dual meaning and purpose. It recognizes the glory of the King of kings and the honor due Him for being the salvation of God’s people. But it also foreshadows the passion and suffering that the very same King would have to endure to secure that salvation for sinful mankind.

What does this festival have to do with you? Why do we celebrate it every year at the beginning of Holy Week? Because we most of all, need the reminder that this festival brings. How many times have you sinned today already? Too many to count? Haven’t bothered to consider what thoughts have been in your heart or words you might have said? So often we are like the Pharisees. We act like we don’t need a constant reminder of sin. We aren’t that bad. What Jesus did is great, but that is so far in the past, now I can do whatever I’d like to. You see, our sins place us, not among the crowd on Palm Sunday, but the crowd on Good Friday. Our sinful nature cries out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

We must not lose sight at why Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the first place. He did so for you and me. Though, because of our sins, we do not deserve it, Jesus set His face to Jerusalem anyways. He did not let Himself get distracted by the songs of praise coming His way. More specifically, His focus was on Golgotha. He knew what was awaiting Him at the end of the week. Imagine knowing something catastrophic is about to happen to you, but you have no hope to avoid it. Jesus could avoid it. He could leave, but He didn’t. He didn’t because He saw you and me pinned underneath our sins awaiting the condemnation from God.

Instead, Jesus went full steam into Holy Week. He didn’t dwell on the palms and praises, but endured the pain and the passion. He didn’t revel in being treated like a King, but made Himself of no reputation and taking the form of a servant, He became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

Our Savior saw the sins of you and me in the crowd on Good Friday calling for His crucifixion. He felt their weight as He hung there on the cross, suffering God’s punishment In your place. But to Jesus, this is what it means to be the King of kings. His purpose, His mission was for you to believe and come to the knowledge of the truth. His mission was to fulfill that cry of Hosanna, to save His people from sin, death, and hell.

Not one time did Jesus regret taking that road to Jerusalem. How do we know? He loves you. He gave up His life for you and rose again so that you too might enjoy the life that comes after death. From Palms to Passion. The whole way our Savior trudged on, relying on His heavenly Father to strengthen Him to accomplish the long-promised salvation. His pursuit of righteousness in your place rescues you from the crowd on Good Friday and builds your foundation in that crowd on Palm Sunday – recognizing Jesus for who He truly is: Our Friend, Our Savior, our God. Amen.

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