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Sunday March 28, 1999
Palm/Passion Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11

[See notes for a brief discussion of the lectionary texts for today]

Focus Text: "When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, 'Who is this?' " [Matthew 21:10]

Paradise Lost and Found
All Roads Lead To Jerusalem

All roads lead to ______ ?

Did you by any chance answer that question with Rome?In the world of western history or military history perhaps, all roads lead to Rome.

But  -- in the bible and in Judeo-Christian history, all roads lead to Jerusalem. Ever since David made Jerusalem his capital, and the glory of God descended upon Solomon's temple, Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of Israel.

Though occupied by "foreigners" for most of modern history, even the sound of the word "Jerusalem" has turned Jewish eyes misty with love and longing.

The Psalmist wrote that well known blessing upon those who pray for the "Shalom" of Jerusalem; "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you." [Ps.122:6]  Devotion to Jerusalem is a part of every Jewish soul  -- "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!  Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." [Ps.137:5-6]

When Israel had been utterly destroyed as a nation, the redemption and renewal of Jerusalem became  synonymous with salvation. "But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight." [Isa.65:18] Since the day  Abraham set his steps toward a "Promised Land" --  and Moses led a group of slaves out of Egypt -- Jerusalem has represented the hopes and dreams of God's people. To truly understand Jerusalem is to understand what it means to love.

Perhaps some of you have had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and fall in love with Jerusalem. Trust me -- if you ever have the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem --  as a Christian person with spiritual ties to this city,  when you see the panorama of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, your heart will fill with love for this place!

Yet, this is a bittersweet love -- for God it is a loves that breaks the heart. Jerusalem is like a wayward child -- constantly wandering away and then crying out in times of trial.  Jerusalem is occupied by a series of foreign nations over the course of biblical history it has never been really, truly free from discord and violence ever since.

You can see that broken heart of God in Luke who adds these words to the account of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem.   "As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you had recognized on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes." [Lk.19:41-42]

The Mystery of Jesus' Journey to Jerusalem

Ever since Peter had identified Jesus as "The Messiah, the Son of the Living God" [Mt.16:16], Jesus had taught his disciples that his destiny included two seemingly contradictory things:   1. He had to go to Jerusalem and  2. He would endure suffering and death in Jerusalem.

This creates a terrible conflict -- especially for Peter.  When Jesus told his disciples that he would have to suffer and even be killed in Jerusalem, Peter asked for a private conference and presumed to admonish Jesus.  "No way!  God forbid it!  This must never happen to you!" "How in the world," Peter is thinking, "Can Messiah be killed in Jerusalem of all places?  Jerusalem is the City of David!  Messiah is the Son of David!   Jerusalem is supposed to fling wide the Eastern Gate and welcome Messiah with tremendous rejoicing!"

The Christ rejected in Jerusalem?  Inconceivable!  How could it be?

Jesus gives Peter the answer, still in the privacy of this personal conversation.  Listen carefully. Here is the key to the mystery of Jerusalem. "Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." [Mt16:23] 

And there you have it.   There is a great divide between the way most of Jerusalem thinks about Messiah and the way Jesus comes as Messiah.  In fact there is a gap between Jesus and his own disciples when it comes to understanding Messiah. Just before Jesus ascends into heaven in the first chapter of Acts, the disciples will ask if Jesus is now going to restore Israel to its former world class status!

The mystery of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem is that he says in effect, "Yes, I came for Messiah's crown, but I must first bear Messiah's cross." He can not save before he suffers. He can not bring us back to God until he brings God back to us in the amazing mystery of the cross.

All of this plays out on the stage of Jerusalem -- the center of the world's spiritual life and the symbol of the soul's center.  In one of the final visions of the book of Revelation the New Jerusalem descends and it is there God's presence is fully restored to God's people! [Rev.21:2]

He Came for the Crown and Accepted the Cross

Jesus' final journey into Jerusalem comes at the beginning of the incredible week we call Holy Week.  The picture of Jesus on a donkey brings clearly to mind the picture Matthew quotes from just over five hundred years prior to this day. In a time when hopes for the intervention of Messiah into Jerusalem's sad plight was at a fever pitch, the prophet Zechariah said,

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." [Zech.9:9]

The followers and supporters of Jesus break out in spontaneous praise and celebration singing the words from our Psalm (118:25-26).   What joy!  What a glorious day it is when Christ comes to Jerusalem! Here is fulfillment for the hopes and dreams of generations of oppressed and distressed people!

"Here he is Jerusalem!  Here is your King!  Fling wide the gates, roll out the carpet, let the sound of royal trumpets pierce the air!  He has come for the crown.  In the words of the Psalm,  "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" [118:29]

But wait...  What's this?  The words of the prophet shatter the air:

"I gave my back to those who struck me!  And my cheeks
to those who pulled out the beard;  I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting."

There is going to be no crown for the Christ!   At least not today -- not this week.  The words of St. Paul strike at the heart of those who wanted the throne for Christ.

"... he emptied himself taking the form of a slave...
he humbled himself and became obedient to the
point of death -- even death on a cross!"

He came for the crown, but he accepted the cross.

A City in Turmoil

The last verse of our Gospel reading is the key to understanding this amazing Sunday. We celebrate the happiness of the Palm Sunday procession and reflect on the heartache of the Passion which lay ahead.

"When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking 'Who is this?'  The crowds were saying, 'This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.' " [21:10]

Literally, the meaning is that the city was thrown into concern and agitation over the meaning of this Jesus who came in the image of the Messiah Zechariah preached about.  There's a critical lesson here.  Jesus brings turmoil wherever he goes until he is understood and either embraced or rejected.  Mark it down.  All of us are present in Jerusalem that day and all of us will render the decision to offer the crown or the cross!

The key to understanding Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday is to come to grips with this fact. All of us are on a journey through life which puts us on a road that finally leads to Jerusalem!

Our Journey to Jerusalem

In the most personal way, Jerusalem is a symbol of the inner core of our lives -- the center of our souls.  There is a temple in this personal Jerusalem and there is a throne in the temple. The promise of Palm Sunday can only become a reality when we enthrone Christ as the One who reigns in the temple of our living.

There is no precedent for this in human experience.   This is the mightiest Ruler of all time -- the One the book of Revelation calls the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords," -- yet, he will not seize the crown nor take the throne within us by force. He reigns by invitation only.

Zechariah said, "Your king comes to you -- humble..."  Jesus comes to us as a humble king saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into them and have fellowship with them and they with me."  At last it is up to us to make the choice to surrender the crown to him, "...casting down our golden crowns around the glassy sea!"

Our journey home to God -- to the life that is Paradise Found, nears its conclusion when we find ourselves on the Road to Jerusalem embracing the One who offers himself as  Ruler of our lives.

Notes On The Text

Lectionary Texts:  The revision of the lectionary places the celebration of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday on the same Sunday.  As Palm Sunday the assigned Gospel text is Matt. 21:1-11.  As Passion Sunday the assigned Gospel is the lengthy portion from Matt.26:14 to Matt. 27:66.   The Palm Sunday Psalm (NRCL and BCP) is Psalm 118 and the Passion Sunday Psalm either Ps. 31 (NRCL) or Ps. 22 (BCP and RC)

Attempting to deal with all the lessons could be overwhelming to the preacher and yet so many in our congregations who will not participate in Holy Week services need to hear something beyond the joy of "Triumphal Entry" before moving directly to Easter.  Our approach is to use the Palm Sunday Gospel from Matt. 21 and the NRCL Psalm (118) along with the Isaiah 50 and Philippians 2 readings.   Our focus deals with the "mixed feelings" of what has traditionally been called the "Triumphal Entry" as we combine the mystery of the Messiah who at once "Saves and Suffers".  If your congregation does not normally have access to the text of the readings, today's sermon assumes they are hearing the following readings.  A bulletin insert would be a good idea to hold together the twin themes of Palm/Passion Sunday -- admittedly a difficult task.  [Matthew 21:1-11,  Isaiah 50:4-9a,   Philippians 2:5-11,  Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29]

Matthew 16:21ff.  The conflict is so great for Peter because it is inconceivable that Messiah should suffer, much less be killed  and incredulous that he should be executed in Jerusalem!

v.5 The NIV is closer here by translating "praus" as "gentle" rather than "humble". The idea is one of "meekness" or "gentleness" rather than "humility" which would be "tapeinos".  However the text from which the quote comes is Zechariah 9:9 which uses the Hebrew "aw-nee" which is closer to the Greek "tapeinos".

In 538, Cyrus the Great, emperor of the Persian Empire, issued an edict (Ezra 1:2-4; 6:3-5) allowing the Jews in Exile in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. Over the next two decades, many Exiles took advantage of Persian leniency, returned home, and began to reestablish life in Jerusalem or Judah.  Their hopes were high for the intervention of Messiah to speed up the process of renewing Jerusalem and restoring complete sovereignty to Israel.  In chapter 14, Zechariah paints a picture of Messiah standing on the Mt. of Olives as it splits in two.  A powerful image... "On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward" [14:4].

v.9 The procession calls to mind the jubilant royal procession of King Solomon in I Kings 1:32-37 when David had him anointed King of Israel. The words from Psalm 118:25-26 are words from the last of the Hallel Psalms sung at Passover.  Hosanna is originally "Save!  We beseech you!"  By this time, the shout is essentially a religious "cheer". 

v.10  "turmoil" (Gk. "seio")  Literally to rock or shake.  Figuratively... to throw into a tremor of fear or concern.  See Matthew 2:3 - Herod and all Jerusalem troubled at the news of a King who was born.

Alternate Sermon Ideas

A Clash of Kingdoms ~ Matthew 21:10

A message can be centered in the question Jesus' appearance in Jerusalem brings about as the "whole city was in turmoil". "Who is this?"

You might explore this question in terms of all the ways the question about who Jesus is has been asked and how his "kingship" or "kingdom" has been consistently understood. Here the people say that Jesus is a prophet.  The passage Matthew quotes from Zechariah 9 leaves no doubt that Messiah will bring restoration of Israel's fortunes.

Jesus himself asked the question of his disciples in Matt. 16:13. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is." (Actually "Who do people say that I the Son of Man am?") Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The disciples show consistently that they see the Kingdom as the restored Kingdom of David. (Acts 1:6)

Look at Jesus' appearance before Pilate in John 18:33-36. Here Jesus says directly that his kingdom is not of this world.  Use Romans 14:17as a focus for developing Jesus' meaning of the Kingdom which is "not of this world".  [For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom.14:127]   The Isaiah 50:9 text can bring the sense of dependence upon God as one of the qualities of persons who are under the reign of God.  See also Eph. 2:19 for the "citizenship of God's people -- Phil.3:20; "Our citizenship is in heaven..."

Use a question to focus people's thoughts.   "What kind of a Kingdom did this King on a Donkey come to bring?"   The above make it clear that the Kingdom of God is no longer equivalent to a geographical location on planet earth -- but a place within the spirit of those who choose the reign of Christ. The kingdom of God is wherever God is in charge.

The Mind of Christ ~ Philippians 2:5-11

If you choose to do something with a focus on this passage --   (You've preached on the Triumphal Entry for 20 Palm Sundays for instance) -- you might use the "Humility" theme of Zech. 9:9 along with Matt.21:5 and Isa. 50:6.

Then go to the Philippians passage.  You can also tie in Isa. 50:9 with Philippians...  "Therefore God has highly exalted him..."  If you did not already use the meditation for Christmas '98, you will find an exposition of this theme in the message:  "The Mind of Christmas."  (Change it to simply the mind of Christ -- or "The Mind of Palm Sunday."


Worship Helps

A Call To Worship   (Psalm 118:24-29 - Responsively) [NIV]

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.

The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give you thanks
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.


A Prayer of Dedication (Adapted from Psalm 118)

We give you thanks and praise O God, because your love will
endure forever. You have given us the gift of your salvation and
have placed a deep joy within our hearts. We are more than
blessed to be here in your presence.  Amen.