Palm Sunday 2017

 

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Palm Sunday 2017
John 12:12-19

You know, I don’t usually think of Jesus as a “party” guy… but there’s actually pretty good evidence for it.  His first miracle was supplying the wine for a wedding banquet.  Over and over he’s invited to somebody’s house for dinner. He was even accused of being a drunkard (which He wasn’t.)

I’m not saying Jesus lived like a frat boy, but I’m saying that He was no stranger to celebration.  And that makes a lot of sense when you think about the work that He did: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead.  If Jesus did something like that for someone in my family, I’d throw him a party.  Wouldn’t you?

And that’s what we’re doing today: celebrating along with the people in the story that the King of Israel has come to save us!  Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

Of course, with 2000 years between us and the actual events we’re remembering today, we have little bit different perspective than the people in the crowd.  We know what Jesus actually came to do.  Most of the crowd couldn’t guess how the next week would go – and probably a lot of them had a complete change of opinion about Jesus by Friday.

Ironically, the most clued-in people that day were probably the Pharisees.  They had a better sense of just how much would change if Jesus was king.  He was out of control, and idealistic, and impossible to argue with. And Pharisees were professional arguers!

It was so frustrating for those Pharisees to see people celebrating Jesus this way!  But why?  Was it a personal grudge against Jesus? After all, He keeps making them look bad in front of everybody.

I think that maybe part of it, but I think they were driven more by fear than jealousy.  If Jesus is who he claims to be, it is extremely threatening to them… And to fully understand that, we really need to talk about Jewish life in Jesus’ day.

There was a very high view of the priests, rabbis, and religious leaders.  Now, when I say there was a “high view,” I don’t necessarily mean that these men were well liked, but they were respected as authorities, and your average Joe would never consider himself to be on the same spiritual level as the religious leaders.

And that makes even more sense when you look at how the Holy Scriptures were understood in Jesus’ day.  They were seen principally as a book of spiritual laws – and no mere “sinner” could be expected to understand it for himself.  Hence the Word of God wasn’t taught nearly as much as the writings of the various Rabbis.  And the modern rabbis debated endlessly on how to interpret those writings.

And then, of course, there were different schools of thought (factions… what we would call “denominations”) that would fight over all kinds of doctrines.  How could a layman ever expect to have a clear understanding of God’s Word when the folks who devoted their life to study it couldn’t agree?

So, if you were a teacher of the law or a priest, you held a lot of power in the Jewish community – power that couldn’t really be contested because only the elites could claim to understand God’s Word and His Will.

And these folks wound up with a fairly cozy arrangement with the Roman government.  So long as they were more or less peaceful and compliant to Caesar, they could maintain their way of life more or less unbothered.  If you were a Pharisee, you were probably well-to-do and relatively affluent, and upsetting the status quo would threaten that.

And then Jesus shows up.  He teaches God’s Word without filtering it though the tradition of the Rabbis.  He never backs down, He never compromises… and people flock to Him.  The longer His ministry goes, the harder it is to argue that He’s from God since He keeps on doing miraculous and wonderful works – even raising the dead!

It’d be convenient to think that they conspired to kill Jesus because they thought He was a heretic or false prophet.  But it simply isn’t the case.  Over and over, they don’t kill Jesus because they were afraid of the people.  If they feared God (as they ought) they would have stoned the false prophet.  But they didn’t fear God, they feared the people.  They feared the cost to themselves.

That is, until the Jewish people began to call Jesus their King.  And that was a step too far.  If they had been faithful – if they had been hoping in God’s prophecies of the Messiah who was to come – they would have embraced Jesus and joined in the celebration.  But they were afraid of what it would mean if this Jesus was their king.

And what kind of King would he be?  His clothes weren’t as nice as the Pharisees.  He was homeless and penniless.  His disciples were mostly blue-collar nobodies. He couldn’t be bought or bargained with.  And He refused to side with any of the current administration.

His presence challenged everything they knew.  He was a man of peace, meek but powerful.  He was wiser than any of them, but disclosed the mysteries of heaven in the simplest of words.  He was a holy man, but he showed love and kindness to sinners.

What kind of King would He be?  The kind who wears a crown of thorns.  The kind who leaves His throne to serve the lowliest.  The kind who wages war by laying down His life willingly.  The kind who reigns forever.

That’s what is so threatening to the Pharisees.  With a King like that, what would his Kingdom be like?  What would His people be like?  Under Jesus’ reign, there is no room for pride, for elitism, for self-importance, for greed, for jealousy.  Under Jesus’ reign, these things must give way to humility, grace, love, gratitude, and service.

This King Jesus would literally stop at nothing to rescue His people.  That’s what this parade is – it is a conquering king come to liberate his people, and it is the lamb of God come to die for the sins of the people.  It is the culmination of God’s justice and God’s mercy coming to offer the ultimate act of love for people who would reject and despise Him.

He isn’t the kind of king we would make for ourselves – thank God!  But He is exactly the king that we need. And He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.

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