April 5, 2020
Today is Palm Sunday. On this day in history, Jesus, a peasant carpenter – a Galilean from Nazareth, no less – jumped on the colt of a donkey, rode into Jerusalem, and turned the place upside down. Turned the world upside down. Will you think about that for a minute?
If I were to go a few miles east of town – let’s say to Deep Gap – and I were to jump on a donkey – no, let’s make it a Pinto – a Ford Pinto – and come riding into town, it wouldn’t cause much of a stir – do you think? I could even take ten, no, twelve of you with me. And I could have you spread out your jackets and coats on Highway 421 on the way into town and let me drive over them. You could cut tree branches from neighboring Christmas tree farms, and spread them on the road as well. All that may cause a few heads to turn – it may even get us arrested – but still, I don’t think it would cause much excitement.
Okay, so let’s take it further. I could even have these twelve followers – we’ll call them disciples – begin yelling, in unison, through a loudspeaker if you think it would help – “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – Scott, Scott, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can. Blessed is the pastor of Alliance.” Still doesn’t do much for you, does it? Do you think others would join in?
What was it about a Galilean peasant carpenter with His twelve disciples riding into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey that caused such a stir that day? John 12:12-13 says it this way – “On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast (Passover), when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…” I only have one question – why?
Let me tell you something else: Jesus had been to Jerusalem before – many times. He had been there as an infant when He was dedicated at the Temple. That caused a little stir – Simeon and Anna, two old people at the Temple that same day, had some rather remarkable things to say about the little tyke.
We’re also told His parents, Joseph and Mary, went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover – presumably, they took Jesus with them. Once, when Jesus was about 12, after the celebration, mom and dad accidentally left Jesus behind. Three days later they found Him, at the Temple, causing a little bit more of a stir. You see, He was asking the teachers of the law some questions, and they were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
Of course, later, after He entered His public ministry, He made a few trips to Jerusalem – usually during one of the Jewish feast days. And His presence would usually cause some stir – a stir which usually involved infuriating the scribes and Pharisees, elders and teachers of the law – you know, healing people on the Sabbath, calling them hypocrites – things like that.
But that first Palm Sunday was different. He rode into Jerusalem, and the place went nuts. This is the way it happened. Jesus instructed two of His disciples, probably the motorcycle gang, the sons of thunder, to go get a donkey and its colt and bring it to Him. Can I give you just a side note. I don’t want to get deeply theological, but some people today want to say Jesus was just a good man who got carried away. He was doing some good things, and then one day, He went to Jerusalem like every good Jew, and the crowds got carried away, and before you knew it, He was swept away in a drama – with a part He didn’t really want to play. He never intended for everything to happen the way it did that week.
Will you notice it was Jesus who sent His disciples to the village to get the donkey and the colt. He was aware of the prophecy of Zechariah 9 which said the Messiah would ride into town on the colt of a donkey. All that means this: Jesus chose all of this. He pushed the button – He knocked over the domino that would begin the chain of events of Passion week. This did not catch Him by surprise – He chose it. He started it – and it led to His crucifixion.
As the disciples returned with the animals, they then spread coats on them, and Jesus road the colt into town. The indication is there were crowds with Him, following Him, and then the news spread He was coming, and a large crowd came out to meet Him. As He came, they spread out their cloaks before Him – symbolic of His sovereignty – His right to rule them. They cut branches from trees, John tells us palm trees, to make a kind of path for Him.
Then, they started saying “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.” This is a quote of Psalm 118, one of the Hallel Psalms, which was a psalm of deliverance. In fact, Psalm 118 was often called the conqueror’s psalm. It probably started with just a few people saying it. But it soon caught on, and everyone was saying it.
Now, you have to figure at this point that the disciples were looking at each other thinking, maybe Jesus was wrong. He’s been telling us He’s going to die. Maybe it isn’t going to be suffering and death after all. Maybe He’s going to be crowned king after all. Maybe they even started secretly high-fiving each other. This could be better than Galilee.
Again, my question is, why? Oh, by the way – there’s something else you need to know. Jerusalem was teeming with visitors that week. It was the week of the Feast of Passover. Jewish law required everyone go to Jerusalem to observe a major feast at least once a year. The Passover Feast was one of the most popular. In some extra-biblical literature, we read during a Passover right about this time, that 260,000 Passover lambs were sacrificed. 260,000. One lamb was enough for ten people. If that number was even close to being right, then it’s possible Jerusalem swelled to over 2 million people when Jesus arrived. It was literally an ocean of people during this particular week. The roads would have been full of visitors making their way to the city. Jesus was one among hundreds of thousands arriving that week. What was the deal? Why’d they pick Him out of the crowd?
Well, maybe it was because He rode into town – on the colt of a donkey. The disciples had spread their coats over the colt – probably a good thing – otherwise, His feet might have been dragging the ground on both sides. It was just a baby donkey – a menial beast of burden, no dignity, not much of a symbol of majestic royalty. So why would the crowds respond the way they did?
Turn in your Bibles this morning to John 12. We’re going to take a break from our study in I Peter for a couple weeks. Do you know the scripture tells us specifically what it was about this entry that made it special, that made the crowds go berserk – that made it the Triumphal Entry that we celebrate on Palm Sunday? Look at it with me, John 12:12-18.
There it is – it was the raising of Lazarus from the dead that caused this response. If I rode into Boone in the back seat of a Pinto, there’s nothing special about that. But if the Watauga Democrat were to publish, if WXIT were to broadcast, if CNN or Fox News were to report that I had raised someone from the dead – that I had gone not to a morgue, but to a cemetery – and had dug someone up, opened the coffin, and commanded them to come out – and they did – and not only that, there were dozens of witnesses with me – there might be some interest. That’s what was going on here. And there was something about that miracle that put the people over the edge, over the top – at least for a day or two.
So this morning, I want us to look briefly at that miracle – found in the previous chapter – John, chapter 11, to see what was so special about it – that would send this huge crowd, perhaps hundreds of thousands, into a frenzy. Because you see, it is the story of resurrection – being raised from the dead. And in these days, I want to remind us, death does not have the last word.
Some six months before this, Jesus had finished His Galilean ministry and began to make His way to Jerusalem. Along the way, He continued to heal people, and continued to preach the gospel of the kingdom. But, He also began to tell the disciples what awaited Him once He got to Jerusalem. There, He would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes; He would suffer, and be put to death. All along, you know the disciples have to be asking the question, “If that’s the case, why go? Things are going great in Galilee – large crowds are following you – let’s go back there.” But, His face was set resolutely toward Jerusalem, there was to be no turning back.
After the Transfiguration up north, it seems He made His way through Galilee one more time, through Capernaum, then on to the region beyond the Jordan – that is, east of the Jordan in an area called Perea. From there, He made several trips into Judea – to Jerusalem, to Jericho, and to Bethany, which was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
We first meet them in Luke 10 – you know the story. Jesus is in the living room, talking with His disciples, and Mary is there at His feet, hanging on every word. Martha is in the kitchen, and gets all upset because Mary wasn’t helping her. That’s the last we hear from them till we get to John 11. The story in John 11 is a long one – covering some 46 verses – because it is a significant miracle. But let me recount the story for you – I’ll highlight some verses as we make our way through.
You need to know this: Jesus had just escaped the Jews in Judea in the previous chapter – He had claimed to be one with the Father, and that seemed to irritate them just a bit – they picked up stones to stone Him. But, we read He eluded their grasp and made good His escape back across the Jordan to Perea.
A short time later, someone comes with a message from a couple of sisters – Mary and Martha. The message? Lazarus, our brother, and the one you love, is sick. Maybe that’s where you are – someone you know and love is sick – and you want to know, what will Jesus do about it. We pick up the story in chapter 11:4-8.
Are you crazy, they say? Why are you going back there? Because, verse 11 says, our friend Lazarus is sick – in fact, He’s fallen asleep, and I need to go wake him up. Read it with me – verses 11-15.
Lazarus is dead, and I’ve got to go wake him up – which is why I waited for two days – I wanted him to die for your sakes, so that when I raise him from the dead, you’ll believe. Let’s go. Once they cross the river and get to Bethany, they find Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days. That’s important – we’ll come back to that.
Martha heard Jesus was coming and ran out to meet Him – she began crying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Stop right there – that shows an incredible amount of faith. She knew Jesus could have healed Lazarus from his terminal illness – she had seen Him, and no doubt heard of Him doing it many times before. Again, maybe that’s where you are. Jesus, if you would just show up, they wouldn’t die. Well, her faith had it’s limits – “Now that he’s dead, Jesus, there’s nothing you can do.”
So Jesus, in a faith-expanding exercise, said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Follow along with me in verse 24, “Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ [in other words, fine, Jesus, but what good is that going to do me now? He’s dead!] Jesus said to her [words which have been appropriately quoted at funerals ever since] ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe that?” [Look at her great response – reminiscent of Peter, when she says] “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
That is incredible faith. Maybe where you are – I have believed this gospel stuff, but where is Jesus now. You see, her faith still had its limits. Even at this point, she’s not exactly sure what Jesus is going to do. She goes to Mary to tell her Jesus was asking for her. Mary ran to Jesus, fell at His feet, and said the same thing Martha had said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What took you so long – why didn’t you come when we called for you? You could have prevented his death. But, remember Jesus’ cryptic words to the disciples, “I’m glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe….” Keep that in mind. This was intended to be a faith-generating, faith-expanding miracle. That’s exactly what caused the crowds to turn out en masse a few days later.
Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid – presumably, to go pay His respects. When He came to the tomb, we read the shortest verse in the Bible, two simple words, “Jesus wept.” The people were moved – my, how Jesus loved Lazarus. Still others said, could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying? That’s important you see. In the OT, it was said the Messiah would open the eyes of the blind. In the NT, only Jesus healed people of blindness. They were saying, couldn’t this guy, who has some messianic credentials, have kept Lazarus from dying?
At this point, Jesus did something unbelievable – something that caused the crowd to gasp, something that caused others to run for cover – this guy must be overcome with grief – He’s not being coherent. What did He do? He commanded the stone over the tomb be removed. Yuck. Even Martha is incredulous – “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
As I said earlier, that’s significant. Many Jews believed the soul remained close to the body after death for three days – kind of hoping it might be able to return to the body. So, they were thinking, at this point, there’s no hope – not only is Lazarus dead, but the soul is gone. Even from a modern medical standpoint – four days of being dead is not just mostly dead – it’s really dead. Not even a defibrillator is going to help this guy.
In the words of the King James, surely he stinketh by now. Decay has already begun to set in Lord, what are you doing? To which Jesus responded – look at it, verses 40-45.
There you have it – because of this miracle, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. Notice, when Jesus prayed, He did not pray that His Father would raise Lazarus from the dead – rather, He thanked the Father for hearing Him so that people around would believe. That was the purpose of the miracle – to evoke faith. And that faith will prepare the way for His entry into Jerusalem. It will be the catalyst for the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
You see, the people who witnessed the event went out from there and began to broadcast the miracle. Not only that, a few days later, they were with Him when He mounted the colt of a donkey and road into Jerusalem. No doubt Lazarus was there, too. “Look, this is the guy who raised Lazarus from the dead – and here’s Lazarus.”
What’s my point in telling you all this today? Because the responses of the crowd to this miracle on that first Palm Sunday are the same responses people have toward Jesus today. The Palm Sunday responses to this miracle were three:
- First, some were offended by the miracle-worker. They were, of course, as always, the religious leaders – the Pharisees, the teachers of the law – they were quite irritated at the response of the people to the triumphal entry and to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Back in chapter 11, when the Pharisees heard what Jesus had done to Lazarus, what was their response? Wow – this is amazing – this guy raised Lazarus from the dead? He must be the Messiah. Not exactly. Verse 53 says, “From that day on they planned together to kill Him.” What’s that about – Jesus gives life, so they want to take His?
And not just His life. In the next chapter (12), we read the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death too, because, quote, “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” This was a problem. They were offended by who Jesus was, who He claimed to be, and what He did. So they planned to kill both of them.
A few days later, in Luke 19, when the crowds began crying out, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel, Hosanna in the highest!” they were even more incensed. They commanded Jesus – “Rebuke your disciples” – tell them to be quiet – can’t you hear what they’re saying? Their blood was boiling by now – they wanted to be rid of this man.
Which is a response people have toward Jesus today. Oh, it may not be that violent. It may just be that people, maybe even you, are offended by the fact Jesus claimed to be the Son of God – by the fact He claimed to be the way, and the only way, to the Father. You may be offended, you may be irritated by the supposed intolerance of Christians – that we think the Scripture is right and everyone else is wrong. It may offend you we believe, and the Bible teaches, that faith in Christ is the only way to salvation and forgiveness and heaven. You may be turned off because of the exclusive claims of Christianity.
Offense is one way to respond to Jesus. The scripture said such a response would continue to happen. Paul spoke of the cross as foolishness to those who don’t believe – to those who, as a consequence of their unbelief, are perishing. Today, people all over the world, oppose Christ, oppose Christianity, and oppose Christians. Some oppose Christianity, the same way they opposed Jesus and Lazarus – they want to put them to death. We can try to be politically correct all we want, but there are world religions out there which violently oppose us – and call it God. They did it to Jesus, they did it to His disciples, they’ve done it throughout church history, and they’ll do it today. It shouldn’t surprise us.
- But I doubt most of you are not in that first category. Most of you, by nature of the fact that you’re listening in, probably don’t oppose Christianity. However, my greatest concern is you might fall into this second category.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, many, most, just joined the throng that day – they joined in the excitement of a special day – I mean, it wasn’t every day that someone road into town and caused such a stir. They joined in, got a glimpse of the miracle worker, the guy that raised Lazarus from the dead … isn’t this cool… and went home. You see, fifty days later – on the Day of Pentecost – there were only 120 in the upper room. What happened to the crowds?
Across our country, people will do that same thing today. You see, Palm Sunday is kind of a special day. In communities around the world, many would normally crowd into churches today, to celebrate an event that stirs some sense of excitement. It’s not your normal Sunday – if you’re going to choose three or four Sundays a year to come to church, it might as well be Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter – special ones like that. Palm Sunday, from the very early days of the church, was a special day of celebration. There are early accounts of the church gathering on the Mount of Olives and marching into Jerusalem waving palm branches to commemorate this event.
Some of you have attended liturgical churches where Palm Sunday is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent. Some of you can remember Palm Sunday services where there was a processional – a parade of people walking into the service, carrying/waving palm branches. Some of you have been to churches where palm leaves are formed into the shape of a cross and given to each participant. Some of you, just like you’re supposed to, took those palm leaf crosses home and prominently displayed them. Even though you never really thought about Christ for the rest of the year.
Some of you know the palm branches used in Palm Sunday services will be burned – and the ashes saved for Ash Wednesday the following year. Rich symbolism – a beautiful picture. But all of that is worthless if it’s just a spectacle. You see, just like the crowds gathered that day to see something special, to see something different, some of you, having been reminded of palms and coats and donkeys and Hosannas like you’re supposed to, will hardly think of Jesus the rest of the year. Because there’s no relationship.
I want to tell you this morning the purpose of the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead which led to a triumphal entry is so some would believe. I want to encourage you to believe this morning – to accept, by faith, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God – that He came to die for your sins on that first Good Friday, and that He was raised from the dead on the first Easter. Don’t turn off the computer, and go about your day like the crowds – amazed by a story, but unchanged.
- Which leads to the third response – one which I believe most of us have experienced – and that is a response of faith. Many of you have looked on Jesus, and have believed. You understand the importance of this week – we call it Passion Week – a week commenced by the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.
You understand that entrance into Jerusalem put into motion the events of the Passion week – the cleansing of the Temple, the rising conflict with the religious leaders, the many parables, including the parables of the ten virgins and the talents, the Olivet Discourse, the Last Supper, the bread, the cup, the washing of the disciples feet, the Farewell Discourse, the new command that you love one another, the garden of Gethsemane, the great drops of blood, the betrayal, the kiss, the arrest, the denials, the cock crowing, the trial, the spitting, the beating, the slapping, the crown of thorns, the mocking, the purple robe, the scourging, the via Delarosa, Golgotha, the place of the skull, the cross, the nails, the robbers, the sayings, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, “It is finished,” the veil of the Temple, the spear, the centurion, “Truly this was the Son of God,” the burial, the three days, the first day of the week, the earthquake, the stone, the angels, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen, just as He said,” the report of the women, the empty tomb, the two on the road to Emmaus, the glorious resurrection.
One third of the gospels cover that last week – it is the week for which He came – it is the week we celebrate this week – it is His passion which has led to our salvation. Sickness and death do not have the last word. So which one are you? Opposed to Christianity, indifferent and unchanged by Christianity, or changed by faith in Christ? There is a number across the bottom of the screen – if you want to talk with someone, pray with someone, it is available to you.
It is Palm Sunday – we wave the palms, we raise our hands, we praise the Lord – “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!”