What a day! Normally when we think of the Sunday before Easter we focus on what is traditionally referred to as the “Triumphant Entry”. You remember the story, Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey and the crowds come out to greet him, yelling praises and waving Palm Branches which is where the day received the name that is certainly a part of common usage in the Church today. Right? Because we all know that today is “Palm Sunday”.
But that was a just the beginning of the day, a day much bigger than the parade that started the day out. But that is really how we are in life, focusing on the high points, on the parades and parties.
It is interesting the Triumphant Entry is covered in all four gospels and all of the descriptions are basically the same. But the other events of the day are included in some of the accounts and not included in other accounts. In some gospels there are things recorded as happening on Sunday and in other accounts we are told they happened the next day. And we’ve been here before in saying that it’s easy for the critics and skeptics to point at these accounts and to say “Look the gospel writers can’t even agree on what happened.”
But for me that is simply an argument for the authenticity of the account, if all four accounts were identical it would be easy to suspect that one account was written and then the other writers simply copied what the first writer had put down.
Week before last the staff were booked to go away to a ministry conference in Moncton on March 20th. It was an event that we had all been looking forward to for various reasons. The speaker is someone who I follow online, a Canadian pastor by the name of Carey Nieuwhof, but more than that because it was a district event we got to reconnect with friends and colleagues.
Here is the thing, we were all planning on going to the same event, but we all saw it from different perspectives. I had another meeting in Moncton so I went up a day earlier, on Thursday the day after the storm so I was in Moncton to start with and arrived at the event earlier than the rest of the group. The roads were nuts, but only for me, not the rest of the staff. Most of the staff came up the next day, and they saw an accident at the NB NS border, I didn’t see that. Ben and Bayley had Winnie with them so things were a little different for them than for the rest of us. Stefan and Deborah’s cul-de-sac didn’t even get plowed out until Friday so they missed the entire event. The rest of the staff headed back on Saturday morning but I had an additional meeting on Saturday so I didn’t head back until later in the day.
And so if you asked the staff what happened last Friday they would tell you that they attended, or almost attended a Day with Carey Niewhof, but they would all tell it from different perspectives. We all talked to different people, we all remembered different things that Carey said, some of us were at some of the events and others weren’t for various reasons.
And so was the day that we collectively refer to as Palm Sunday. A lot of stuff happened that day, more than just a parade with palm branches. We are now in the homestretch of this part of the Jesus story. There is barely a week left in this chapter of the book when it would close with the bloody and brutal death of Jesus.
So what happened on that day and the next day, and what does it tell us about the Jesus we serve and call Lord?
Well, it did begin with a parade. Jesus arrives in town after having spent six days in Bethany at the house of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. I spoke about Martha a few weeks ago. This was the Lazarus who Jesus had raised from the dead. John 12:9-11 When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus. Man that was harsh. But as far as we know Lazarus wasn’t killed by the leading priests, but they thought about it and you know what they say, “It’s the thought that counts.”
So what are the lessons we learn?
And so we pick up the story in John 12:12-13 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Hail to the King of Israel!”
Everyone See’s Jesus Through Their Own Eyes There were all kinds of people in the crowd that day, people who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry, perhaps they had been healed, or had been fed as part of the crowd that experienced the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Or maybe their lives had been changed by Jesus’ teachings.
They had finally discovered the power of forgiveness in their lives, or they had embraced what it truly meant to love God and love people. Perhaps one of the Parables had been an “Ah Hah” moment in their lives and because of Jesus they had become better husbands and better wives, better parents and better employees or employers.
And so for these people they were praising God for the Jesus who had impacted their life in such a meaningful way. Life would never be the same for these people, they would always talk about and point to the moment in time that they met Jesus.
And there are folks like that here today, you are different then you were because you met Jesus. A few weeks ago a friend of ours, the widow of one of our Pastors in the district passed away. And at her funeral her son spoke and he referenced all of the nice things that people had said about his mother, and Pauline Fancy was truly a wonderful and gracious woman of God. And Bud said something to the affect that many people talked about what a wonderful woman Pauline was but he said she wasn’t born that way, she was born again that way.
And if you have experienced the life changing power of Christ in your life or the life of a loved one you know exactly what Bud was talking about.
But there were others in the crowd that day. They were the curious, those who had heard about Jesus but hadn’t actually met him. Perhaps they had heard the stories of blind men being able to see or crippled folks being able to walk. Maybe a friend of a friend was a cousin of the lady who had touched Jesus in the crowd and had been healed of a disease that she had had for twelve years.
And so they had come to see the one they had heard so much about. And maybe that is why you are here today, you are seeking to find out more about God and Jesus and you heard that he was here. These folks participated in praising Jesus that morning but they didn’t have a relationship with him but somewhere in their heart and soul was a longing for more. We have been created to have a relationship with our creator. There is an eternal longing in each of us to connect with God.
And I’m sure that you are here today as well, perhaps it was when you started your family that you began to look for that relationship, or maybe a crisis, the death of a family member, or a relationship struggle that brought you to this point. But you are looking for something more than is offered by the world and a career.
Or maybe they were curious about where this Jesus would lead the country of Israel, was he truly the Messiah? Could he be king?
But there were also the apathetic there that day, perhaps they had been dragged out to see Jesus by a spouse or a parent. Or maybe they had just been standing on the side of the road when Jesus rode by on the donkey, but they really weren’t engaged. They might have shouted and waved a palm branch or two but it was just so they wouldn’t stand out from the crowd, there was no significance in their actions. Sound familiar to anyone here? I would love to think that we are all here today because when we got up this morning the burning desire in our hearts was to worship God and to hear from his word. But I’m sure that there are those here who are here because being here is easier than not being here.
This Day Shows the Diversity of Who Jesus Was
A lot of things happened during those 36 hours or so, it began with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but if you continue to read in the four gospel accounts the day didn’t end when Jesus got off the donkey. Most of your bibles include headings within chapters, listen to some that I found in my bible that relate to those two days: Jesus’ Triumphant Entry, Jesus Predicts His Death, Jesus Clears the Temple, Jesus Curses the Fig Tree, The authority of Jesus Challenged, Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem He was a busy boy that day, but what it shows us is how multifaceted Jesus was and how multifaceted his ministry was.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of developing this one dimensional image of who Jesus was. And so we see him as the baby in the manger, or the crucified Christ on the cross. As the good shepherd with the lamb across his shoulders welcoming the little children to come to him. Or we visualize him as a miracle worker, walking on water performing healings, casting out demons, feeding multitudes and commanding nature.
But we end up being like the blind men and the elephant. Did you learn the legend of the Blind Men and the Elephant when you were in school?
I remember learning the Indian legend in school and pretty sure that Dad read me the poem when I was a kid, today you get the Poem which was written by John Godfrey Saxe, an American Poet, and is entitled Blind Men and an Elephant
It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach'd the Elephant, And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal, And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out his eager hand, And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!
Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!
And sometimes I’m afraid that it’s too easy to just focus on one aspect of who Jesus was and that is all we can see. The all loving all accepting Jesus, the angry Jesus who clears the temple and curses the fig tree, the miracle working Jesus who is there to grant every wish. But no one of those is who Jesus is.
Have you been down at the water front and seen the artists drawing the caricatures? You know where they focus on a couple of the physical characteristics of the person they are drawing and overemphasise those to make a point? Here is how artists have seen the Prime Minister over the past few years. But that isn’t really what Stephan Harper looks like.
And I’m afraid that often what we have is not a picture of Jesus but a caricature of Jesus. You understand what I mean, if we only focus on certain areas of Christ’ ministry we don’t see the entire picture. And so on that day, a week before his eventual arrest and crucifixion we see Jesus as a humble messiah riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, fulfilling a prophecy made by Zechariah hundreds of years before.
And the people are singing his praises, waving palm branches and laying down the coats for Jesus to ride on and when the religious leaders demand that Jesus muzzle his followers Christ replies by telling them in Luke 19:40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” If I said that you wouldn’t consider me very humble but then I’m not God, and so it is evidence of Jesus’ self-awareness.
And then we see Jesus enter into the temple where he sees merchants selling doves for the sacrifices and changing the foreign currency of pilgrims who have come from away into the appropriate coins needed in the temple. And really there was nothing wrong with that, but what was wrong was that those who were doing the selling and changing were gouging those had made a sacrifice to come and worship God. And most of you know the story how Jesus makes a whip out of ropes and starts turning over the tables of the merchants and money changers and chasing them out of the temple. Jesus angry? Jesus Judgemental? Wow, that is a game changer for some.
And then there is the story told by both Matthew and Mark about how Jesus and his disciples were hungry and they saw a fig tree full of leaves but upon closer investigation there was no fruit on the tree, no figs. And so Jesus curses the tree and it withers and dies. And while that in itself seems a little intense Mark tells us that it wasn’t even the season for the tree to have figs on it. So what was with that? I don’t know and really neither does anyone else they are just guessing.
Some commentators have said that the trees around Jerusalem had fruit earlier than other parts of the country because it was more temperate, others have suggested that the tree didn’t even have the early buds that would eventually become fruit. So there wasn’t even the promise of fruitfulness.
But what we have is a little snippet of an event without the conversation or context that went into it. That’s another one of my “when I get to heaven” questions. But combined with the story of the clearing of the temple it would indicate that Jesus isn’t necessarily all loving and all accepting, “that’s all right at least you tried” saviour that some have embraced. That he has certain expectations for how we act and how we behave. He expected those outside the temple to not cheat people, he expected the fig tree to be fruitful.
But we still don’t have a complete picture of Jesus. Let’s add another story from the day, Luke 19:41-42 But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.” For the past three years Jesus had taught the scriptures had pointed people toward God, had spoken of forgiveness and peace and grace and they just hadn’t gotten it. And it broke his heart.
Parent’s when you try to teach your kids those lessons of life and they don’t seem to get it, does it break your heart? I would imagine that Jesus has wept for me and probably because of me as well.
And so leading up to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus we see this multi-dimensional image of Jesus. Not a caricature but a true picture of the one we serve and love. His self-awareness, he knew he was God, that’s why he had told his followers in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
And that fact that some would still choose to ignore that reality and choose to not accept the grace and salvation that he was offering broke his heart. And the fact that others would choose to flaunt their rejection of the love and law of God made him angry.
Which leads us to the next point, because if we go further along in John’s account we read this note that the Gospel writer includes: John 12:37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.
The Reality is Not Everyone Will Get It We want to think that everyone will get it, that nobody will be lost, that at some point even if it happens on their death bed that everyone will fall in love with God and accept Christ.
And as much as we want that to happen, the reality is that 2000 years ago people watched as Jesus performed miracles, they ate the bread and fish that were formed in his hands, they saw their loved ones healed, they heard his teaching, they saw his tears and still most of the people did not believe in him.
And he did not force them to. The one with the power to command the wind and waves most certainly had the power to break the will of the people who listened to his teachings and witnessed his miracle 2000 years ago but he did not come to create a kingdom using force then or now.
There is a great promise in God’s word, it’s found in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
But ultimately it will be your choice and yours alone.
Everyone one of us has a choice to make, will you believe? Will you choose to surrender your life or not? As much as I pray for people and weep for people I can’t force them into a relationship with God. I can’t and God won’t. Are you willing to take the step yourself?