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Mar 25, 2018

“Misunderstandings on Palm Sunday” 3-25-18

John 12:1 & 12:9-19
March 25, 2018 Palm Sunday

The Triumphal Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem the Sunday before his Death is probably one of the most preached about and re-enacted events of our Lord’s life.  It is one of the few events from the life of Jesus that is recorded in all 4 gospels.  And yet, as I read the accounts in the gospels, particularly the account in the gospel of John, I am impressed with two things.
One is that it seems that many of the participants and perhaps all of the participants save one, had no idea what was really going on and did not understand the significance of the event.
The other is that in this event, we see how God fulfills his purposes openly while also concealing for a time exactly what He is accomplishing.  The term “God works in mysterious ways” comes to mind.
So, let’s look once again at this great event and see what happened.
Since we are looking primarily at John’s account, we need to mention an important part of the narratives written in the other 3 gospels and only briefly alluded to in John.  That is that two apostles were sent by Jesus into a neighboring village to fetch a colt donkey.  Some of the gospel writers even tell us of a brief conversation between the two apostles and those who were in charge of the donkey.
So from those other gospels, we get the impression that the procurement of the donkey and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on it was deliberate and an important part of what Jesus wanted to do that day.
John only tells us that “Jesus found a young donkey, and sat on it”.  From the other gospels we know that he rode at least the last part of the 2 miles into Jerusalem on the donkey. John does tell us that Jesus rode on the donkey in order to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah.  In quoting that passage, John makes it clear that Jesus was claiming to be a King.
He also makes it clear that no one, including Jesus disciples understood this claim or significance of the donkey at the time.  He says that they did not understand the significance of the donkey until after Jesus was glorified, which might refer to his resurrection, but probably later than that because there was a lot for them to adjust to on Easter.
John also tells us that the people shouted two things as Jesus proceeded into Jerusalem.  They shouted “Hosanna”, which means Save us we pray! And they said “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”
So the words have the clear meaning of greeting God’s representative who came to save in some way.  But these words, or at least those not directly referring to a king, had come to be used for many festive processions, even occasionally to welcome new Roman governors into Jerusalem.  So, Again, it appears that although Jesus was clearly proclaimed to be the Savior and King, no one really understood the full meanings of those words as applied to Jesus, not even those who were saying them.
In his narrative, John talks about crowds.  It appears that there were three crowds that merged into one that day.  There was a crowd of people who had come to Bethany to see Jesus, because a few weeks before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.
When I think of Lazarus, I think of the undertaker in the movie “the Wizard of Oz” John, in describing the raising of Lazarus stresses the fact that Lazarus had been dead for 4 days.  This was not a case of one who had been mistaken for dead, and brought back from a coma.  He was dead for 4 days, or as the little undertaker in The Wizard sang about the dead witch, “She is not merely dead, she is really most sincerely dead.”  Lazarus was most sincerely dead, with absolutely no hope when Jesus had brought him back to life.
This was a really big miracle. And when the people who lived nearby, some even in Jerusalem, heard that Jesus was back in Bethany visiting Lazarus, they went out to see him.
As the Passover came closer, others who were traveling to Jerusalem from far away, heard about the raising of Lazarus, and some of them accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem on that Sunday as a great miracle worker and healer
And, it seems that there were others already in Jerusalem who came out to greet Jesus on his arrival.  They, too had heard about the miracle of Lazarus, and welcomed Jesus.
All of this publicity from the raising of Lazarus prompted those who wanted to kill Jesus to think about killing Lazarus also.  And in this, I think we see something we will see more clearly on next Sunday. 
On Palm Sunday, as so many honored Jesus with a procession that fulfilled many OT Scriptures about him, we can see just a little of the spiritual warfare that was really going on.  God and his chosen ones, many of whom probably did know they were chosen by God, were marching against Satan and his minions.  And the ultimate weapons of both sides were on display.  The enemies of Jesus wanted to kill Jesus, and now Lazarus.  Their ultimate weapon was death.  They had tried to dissuade, to belittle, and to coerce Jesus and his followers to go away.  Now they were about to resort to death.
But Jesus was being recognized as one who could bring life even to a person who was dead for 4 days.  God’s ultimate weapon is life.  We will see that more clearly next week.
John does not tell us about the apostles and others putting their coats on the donkey to form a saddle for Jesus, nor does he tell us that some put their coats in the road so Jesus could ride over them.
But he does tell us about the Palm Branches.  Other Gospels inform us that some folks tore branches from trees and waved them while shouting “Hosanna”.  Only John tells us that they were palm branches, thus being the one responsible for what Christians have called this day: Palm Sunday.
The waving of palm branches was first associated with the festival of Tabernacles, which commemorated the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness with Moses living off of God’s Manna.
The waving of palm branches later became a symbol of victory.  It was as the victorious king and savior that Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem, even though most of those who were waving and shouting had no idea of the meaning of their actions.
In my darker, comic, moods I think I see room on Palm Sunday for the Marx brothers, who in their movies were involved in many processions and parades and none of them ever made much sense.  I like to think of Harpo standing along the parade route on Palm Sunday, reaching into the bottomless pocket of his greatcoat, finding a pair of scissors and then snipping the tips of the palm fronds as each one went by.
Some of us have been wondering what is going on in our world, and feel like we are seeing a wacky comedy that might in any moment turn into a great tragedy.  But in the light of the unknowing brilliance of the participants of the Palm Sunday Event, we might want to take another look and see if we might see the hand of God in our current worldwide nonsense.
So far, then we have two themes that can be seen from the Palm Sunday event, 1, that God works in strange ways through unknowing people to fulfill his plans and 2, that while the enemy’s ultimate weapon is death, God’s is life.
And to end I want to look at the last verse of this passage which gives us the words spoken by the enemies of Jesus.  They said, “You see, You can do nothing, look, the world has gone after him.”
They thought they had lost, that they would be unable to kill Jesus.  That he was winning over the whole world.
In the short term, they were wrong, they would be able in 5 short days to have Jesus killed.  Then, after 2 more days, they would see God use his ultimate weapon.  And ultimately, the followers of Jesus would come from all over the world, but not everyone in the world would be among them.  There are those in every place who will not follow.  But a great multitude has and will and we are like those who gathered on that day to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.  We cannot always see or understand how God is using us to his advantage and glory.  But if we are faithful and obedient, we shall.


Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906