For most of us the lead up to Easter begins with Palm Sunday, in case you missed it that’s today.
But really the stage was set before the celebration of the triumphant entry.
Most of you know that I am a Jesus Christ Super Star nerd and in the past I’ve shown the Palm Sunday clip from the 2000 production of Superstar and for me it just sums up what the day must have been like, it captures the excitement and joy of that day. From the excitement of the crowd to the animosity of the religious leaders and the torment of Judas.
And I didn’t start with that clip but I will be finishing this message with the song that leads into the Palm Sunday scene. This time from the 40th anniversary production tour. The tour travelled across the UK and Australia and was viewed by over 320,000 people.
The recording was performed live in Birmingham in 2013. And while some might argue on the orthodoxy of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s view of the events leading up to the Holy Week I would argue that the scene that we will close with truly captures the emotions of that event as recorded in John’s account that was read earlier. But that will be later in the service.
Ultimately what happened both leading up to and the events that happened on the actual day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey set the stage for what would happen less than a week later.
It seemed that everything in Jesus ministry led up to this point. And it would be a turning point for many. This was a veritable “Come to Jesus moment.”
So how could the celebration that happened on “Palm Sunday” lead to the horrors that would happen five days later?
Our theme for Holy Week is Making a Messiah, and we are focusing on the fact that what happened on Good Friday was a travesty of justice and we don’t have to look very deep into the story to discover that Jesus was set up and framed by the authorities. And Palm Sunday was where and when the stage was set.
For Jesus This was Something That was Planned You have to understand this wasn’t something that just happened, you know the stars aligned and Jesus just happened to be in the right place at just the right time, or one of the other excuses we use to explain away divine appointments, this was how it was supposed to go down.
John’s account of what happened on Palm Sunday is very typical of John’s Gospel, he sees the big picture but doesn’t delve into the minutia of the event. So in John 12:14 we read John 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it . . . and we are tempted to think that it was just that simple, “Oh look a donkey, let’s use that.”
But if we look into the other gospels we see the preparation that went into the event, in Luke’s account we read, Luke 19:29-31 As they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Now we might be tempted to add a whole range of mystical application here, that maybe this was a miracle or a step of faith on Jesus behalf, you know, just do and it will happen. Chances are that Jesus knew the man and had arranged in advance for the donkey to be there. The words “The Lord needs it” were probably a password so the man would know that he was giving the donkey to the right people. I mean he’d feel kind of silly had the two disciples shown up and he had to tell them, “I gave the donkey to two other guys who were here about an hour ago.”
We know that Jesus had friends in Bethany, that’s where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived and so it’s not that far of a reach to see that Jesus had already put steps in place for his entrance to Jerusalem.
Which would lead me to suspect that if it were alright for Jesus to do preparation and not always wait until the last minute and then call on God in panic that there might be a lesson there for us as well.
And Luke gives us a few details about the colt that they brought back for Christ to ride. We are told that it was the colt of a donkey and that it had never been ridden before.
Now that may not mean a whole lot to you and me but to the people of Jerusalem it meant a great deal, and just in case they missed it John reaches back into the Old Testament and pulls out a reference from the prophet Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.
Jesus knew that the religious leaders were out to get him and yet instead of slinking into the city under the cover of darkness he rides triumphantly in a manner that is bound to reveal him as messiah. William Barclay who wrote the Daily Study Bible Commentaries made this statement “It is a breath-taking thing to think of a man with a price upon his head, an outlaw, deliberately riding into a city in such a way that every eye was fixed upon him. It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer courage of Jesus.”
It is so easy to simply view Palm Sunday as an inconsequential event that led up to the main story, Easter. But the Easter story hinged on what happened the week before when Jesus rode into town on the back of a donkey.
What happened that day sealed Jesus’ fate.
For the faithful This Was Something That was Anticipated Jesus had been talking of his Kingdom almost from day one and His followers had been anticipating the coming of his kingdom almost from day one. I don’t think that the twelve gave up their former lives simply based on a future of following Jesus around from town to town relying on the charity of others to survive.
They were expecting things to change, and they were clinging to promises such as Luke 18:29-30 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”
And while there had always been crowds they had come to hear him teach and then they left.
But now they were looking to the future and talking about it, John tells us in John 11:55-56 It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?”
And so this day was different, this time they weren’t greeting Jesus simply as a teacher, or as a Rabbi instead they saw him as the one who would deliver them Luke 19:36-38 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When they reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
We don’t know who all were there, but I would suspect that along with the twelve that probably Mary, Martha and Lazarus were there, no doubt Mary Magdalene, maybe Zacheaus, Simon the leper and others whose lives and bodies Jesus had touched.
For many that day Jesus was not just an abstract or an ideal he had changed their lives and they were there to express their thanks and their adoration to him. Psalm 135:1 was a reality to them and they were going to follow those words that said Psalm 135:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD! Praise him, you who serve the LORD,
I don’t think that I’d be far off in saying that most of you folks fall into that last category; Jesus is a real part of your lives. You’ve made a decision to follow him and through His power and His grace your sins have been forgiven. And when you come on Sunday mornings your praise is genuine.
But it wasn’t just the faithful who were there, and while we don’t know how many people were present that day the accounts seem to imply that it was a large crowd who came out to welcome him. We are told in John’s account, 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.
And For the Crowd This Was Something that was Interesting Call them what you like, the undecided or seekers they heard the noise and wanted to find out what it was all about. They probably got caught up in the excitement and began to sing and shout and wave palm branches but they still weren’t a hundred percent convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.
Perhaps they hadn’t heard him speak, or maybe they didn’t know anyone whose life had been changed or who had been healed. So they were there for themselves to find out what all the fuss was about.
Most of us don’t come to know Jesus as Lord the first time we hear the message, as a matter of fact most of us don’t come the first half dozen times we hear the message. It often takes time and multiple hearings before we come to the place that we are ready to surrender our lives to him. For some it is fairly quick for others it takes a little longer. The secret is that you remain open to God and to his message.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD.
We do know that less then two months later, after Jesus had been crucified, after Jesus had risen from the dead, after Jesus had taught for another forty days and ascended into heaven, after the Holy Spirit fell upon the small group of believers in Jerusalem and after Peter preached on the streets of Jerusalem, perhaps to many who had been there on Palm Sunday that this is recorded in Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. They went from merely being interested to becoming convinced, and that is a step we all need to take.
And so if you are here today, but you have never made a decision to follow Christ continue to seek him, but here is a warning, don’t take too long. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
Why today? Because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow. And friends listen up you say “I’m almost convinced.” 90% found is still lost. I would hate to think that any one of you might slip into eternity, by the way that’s just a pastoral way of saying kick the bucket, without having the assurance of your salvation.
For Judas This was Something That Was a Game Changer I would suspect that we wouldn’t have to look very far in the crowd that day in order to find Judas Iscariot. You remember Judas don’t you? He was one of the twelve and the treasurer of the group. Ultimately he would be remembered through history as the one who would betray Christ to the authorities.
Now at this point Judas had not even talked to the high priest about a deal. It would be another three or four days before Judas would go to the chief priests and ask what they would be willing to pay if he would betray his friend. But do you really think that the turning point came after the triumphant entry? Do you think that half a week could make a man turn from being a committed follower of Jesus Christ into the one who would turn his friend and teacher over to be executed?
Whatever it was that had turned Judas heart had happened before that last week, oh something might have been said or done to trigger the incident but the wheels were already in motion. On the day that Jesus rode into town being proclaimed Messiah Judas already knew that he had lost the first love that he had for Christ.
Judas’ true nature is revealed in a story told by John in his gospel. Jesus has already entered into
and is attending a dinner given in his honour.
His three friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all there. Martha is doing what Martha is always doing,
preparing the food and serving it to all the guests, Lazarus is being a typical
man in this situation and is doing nothing.
Understand ladies, Lazarus isn’t deliberately doing nothing, he just
looks around and doesn’t see anything to do. And besides that, he had recently been dead,
that’s gotta count for something. Bethany
The third sibling, Mary comes into the room with a container of perfume which she proceeds to pour over the feet of Christ and then she wipes it off with her hair. A little bizarre but I’m sure that in that cultural and historical setting it must have been acceptable because no one jumps up and says “Wow that was kind of strange.” But someone does object, this is what we read in John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
And so it would appear that while Judas had all the outward trappings of one of the disciples that in here, where it counts, there had never been a transformation. Oh people looked at him and said “There is a follower of Christ, one of his disciples, he is a Christian.”
But Judas and God knew that was a lie. When he shouted hosanna that day he didn’t mean it, he did it because it was expected of him. And on that day, he decided that he was backing the wrong horse, that if he was going to accomplish every thing that he dreamed of than things would have to change.
And it was only four days later that we read, Matthew 26:14-16 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
But even with all of those players the story wasn’t complete. What set everything in motion toward what we now call Good Friday is revealed in John 11:57 Meanwhile, the leading priests and Pharisees had publicly ordered that anyone seeing Jesus must report it immediately so they could arrest him. For The Authorities This was Something That was Feared
They weren’t shouting, they weren’t singing or waving palm branches or laying their coats down. They weren’t in the least bit interested in being identified with Christ, I mean you have to give them credit, at least they were honest about it, they weren’t pretending. They had their minds made up; they weren’t going to believe in him, no matter what.
It didn’t matter how many miracles they witnessed, how many times they saw lives changed, they had already made a decision to not follow Christ, and we’ll never know what it was that kept them away, pride, sin or the fear of losing control but it was something.
Not all of the religious leaders where like that, in the Gospels we read about men like Nicodemus the Pharisee and Jairus the ruler of the Synagogue. But the majority of them, if they had a favourite hymn it would be “I will not be moved.” If they were in the crowd that day, they were standing with their arms crossed and frowning.
I don’t know what it was that kept the authorities from believing that Jesus was the Messiah, or maybe they just didn’t want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah because that wouldn’t fit in with their plans. I think they were like the atheist that George Orwell described in Animal Farm when he wrote He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him).
It is interesting to note that by the time the religious leaders got to this point they weren’t denying his miracles or trying to explain them away anymore. So overwhelming was the evidence for the miracles that had been performed that his enemies simply accepted them as fact.
The only question that remained for them was what to do with Jesus. And if they had any doubts about their decision, those doubts were swept away by the outpouring of support they witnessed on Palm Sunday for Jesus, because it was at that point we read in John 12:19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!” Which brought them to the only decision that they felt they could make . . . and that was Jesus would have to die.