Palm Sunday: Conflict, Civil Unrest, Warring Nations & Dirty Politics
Old Testament Reading- Psalms 118:1-2, 19-29
New Testament Reading- John 12:2-16
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -March 28, 2021 Palm Sunday
What a time of conflict, a time ripe with civil unrest, warring nations, and dirty politics. Religious leaders and religions who have lost their way and exploitation of the common people is at a critical level. The young people say that the older generation have lost sight of what is right and fair, and the older generation lives in the past where things were good, except they weren’t any better in the past either, they just didn’t recognize it because they were young and didn’t have anything with which to compare. What a terrible time to be living in; Oh, you thought I was talking about now? No, I am talking about the time of Jesus over two thousand years ago, but I can see your confusion. Sad isn’t it? This description could fit any era in human history. We haven’t changed much, have we? I guess you can see what is meant in Ecclesiastes 1:9 where it says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Sometimes I think that we confuse the fact that God does not change with the idea that we shouldn’t either, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Let’s take a look into Jesus’ era so that we might compare and learn just how we might begin to change our course for the future.
Here we are at Palm Sunday and I know that we have heard this story a thousand times but let’s look from a different angle today. Jesus and His disciples have been traveling the Holy land from north to south and east to west for three years now. I know we think primarily about Jesus and the twelve apostles, but there were many more followers than that. Scripture tells us that at one point Jesus sends out seventy-two people in pairs ahead of Him to prepare the way of the Gospel. The other significant thing about the followers of Jesus was that they were not all men. Many women followed Jesus, not just His mother Mary, in fact, other than the apostle John it was these women that were at the crucifixion, not the men, they had run away.
Jesus has been busy preaching and teaching about God and the Gospel, making disciples, and showing His life as an example on how God wants us to live and love one another. And miracles, don’t forget miracles, all kinds from giving sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, feeding multitudes, healing sickness of the mind and body, and raising people from the dead. In fact, raising Lazarus from the dead has been a recent event that has caused quite a stir. By the time Jesus had gotten to Lazarus’ house he had already been dead for four days. It was customary
at the time that after a person had died and the body had been washed, wrapped, and bound it would be placed in a tomb. This tomb was usually a cave with a large stone placed in the entrance to prevent theft and to keep animals from entering. The body would remain in this tomb for about a year until the second burial which was usually a private ceremony for family members to return to the tomb and take the bones of the deceased and move them to another smaller place in the tomb. Lazarus after four days was beyond the time period when the Jews would wait, just in case the person was not really dead yet.
Jesus stood outside the tomb, and after the stone was rolled away from the entrance and Jesus thanked God for hearing Him, He called out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” To the shock and amazement of all those present, Lazarus walked out of the tomb wearing his grave cloths still wrapped around him and alive.
This was not the first person Jesus had raised from death, but this person had been dead for days not minutes or hours and Bethany was very close to Jerusalem, not even two miles journey. News like the raising of Lazarus travels fast especially when you are less than a two hour walk from a major city like Jerusalem. The Jewish hierarchy has become increasingly more concerned with Jesus, but this has done it, they were now plotting to kill Him. The people soon would listen to no one but Him if He were not stopped and death was the only way they could do it. If the
y have Him shipped off, He may come back and now they knew that if they killed Him they might stop everyone from thinking He was the Messiah and prove that He was just a normal man.
Six days before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, Jesus comes to Lazarus’ home and a dinner is given in His honor. When all the people hear He is in Bethany they flock to the town to see Him and to see the man He had raised from the dead. The common people are especially desirous to have a Savoir because it is extremely hard for them. Between being overtaxed and over worked they are also tired of Roman rule and they are becoming more and more weary from how difficult their own religious officials make life on them. Now here comes this man named Jesus who seems to really care about the people and who talks out publicly about all that the Jewish hierarchy does wrong. This man just could be the promised Messiah, the new and ultimate King of Israel. Wouldn’t it be great if He were to ride into Jerusalem for the Passover and declare Himself King and Ruler? He would first show all the powerful people their proper place and He would cleanse the Temple in a way that has never been done before. Next, He would pull all the people together and throw out the Romans, thus unifying the kingdom and reestablishing Israel to its former glory. When all this is complete, they will march on Rome and show those people what God’s chosen people are all about. It starts now, this is it, He is right here not two miles from Jerusalem and with Passover being such a major celebration, drawing so many people, this is
the perfect time to announce the King.
The next day, Jesus makes ready to enter into Jerusalem and He is riding a young donkey. The people are crowded all along the way and they are waving palm branches and lying them down before Him just as they would for a king. They shout out in their joy and quote Scripture saying, “Hosanna!” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people are in a frenzy, their King has come in the name of the Lord. Even the disciples and followers of Jesus are caught up in it all. They think it odd that He didn’t come in riding a horse, that would have been a more powerful statement for a king, but ok, a donkey means peace, that is alright. Once the right buttons are pushed Jesus will show His power and all will be set straight. What a day, what a joyous occasion to be alive, we are seeing history unfurl right before our eyes. We are witnessing the day that the long-awaited Messiah and rightful King enters into Jerusalem, the Holy City.
Little do they know the significance of Jesus entering into the city on a young donkey. Not only is He fulfilling Scripture, but He is sending a message, a message of peace. He has not come as the militaristic conquering Messiah King that many wanted, not yet anyway, but as a peaceful and humble Son of Man. What they really don’t know yet and I mean even the disciples don’t grasp it yet, is that Jesus has come as the Lamb of God. Exodus 12:1-30 tells us the meaning of this, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.
"Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread. ”Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
"Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.”
Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the one without defect, no sin, the perfect sacrifice. It will be Jesus’ blood that is shed for us for our protection. Just as the Passover Lamb of long ago saved the Israelite’s firstborn from death when the angel of the Lord passed over the houses in Egypt, now Jesus’ blood is our protection from death and our reconnection with God. We live in a chaotic world still, one that is filled with life and death, good and bad, truth and lies. Which way will you choose? Will you take your chances the way the Egyptians did and lose everything, or will you choose to follow God and allow the blood of Jesus to save you? Will you be the one to praise Jesus on Sunday and then shout, “Crucify,” on Friday? It is up to you, it is your choice, but know this Jesus loves you and He has paid our debt in full. Take hold of this, praise God, and be born anew. Amen.