Summary: Appluading Jesus is important, but it is not the only measure of commitment. A message for Palm Sunday.
March 28, 1999
This Friday you’re going to die.
Those very words might have crossed Jesus’ mind on this Sunday some 1,970 years ago. The day we now call Palm Sunday was the first day of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.
This Friday you’re going to die. But today – today is a day of applause.
We know that…
I. THE APPLAUSE WAS DESERVED
When Jesus approached Jerusalem the scene was intense.
He arrived at Passover time. A crowd of Jewish religious pilgrims had already flooded the city. And into this throng rides Jesus on the back of a donkey, and with him, his own parade.
The text tells us around v. 37 that the crowd “began joyfully to praise God.” The lifted up shouts of Hosanna! Which means, “Save!” (Luke doesn’t include this word b/c it might have been strange to his Gentile readers – but you find the word in Matthew, Mark and John). They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The other 3 Gospels say that the crowd waved branches (John says they were palm branches).
These had in the last few hundred years become one of the nationalistic symbols of Judea. Consistently used to celebrate military victories, and probably stirred up messianic hopes.
The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had written:
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
This was to be the last spontaneous display of public approval of Jesus, and it was also to be the greatest.
Why would these people applaud him at all? The text gives us some clues.
v. 37 says, they “praised God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.”
They had seen the crippled walk. They had witnessed the blind receiving sight. Even the dead were raised. Lazarus was proof!
In a word, He brought hope
He imagines a Roman soldier galloping up to check on the disturbance. He has attended processions in Rome where they do it right. The conquering general sits in a chariot of gold, white stallions pulling at the reigns. Behind him are officers in polished armor carrying the colorful banners of the defeated enemies. At the rear comes a ragtag procession of slaves and prisoners in chains – living proof of what happens when you get in Rome’s way.
In Jesus’ triumphal entry, the adoring crowd makes up the ragtag procession: the lame, the blind, the poor and children from Galilee and Bethany. When the soldier looks for the object of their attention – he sees a man riding on a donkey using a borrowed coat as a saddle. Not a very impressive sight, perhaps, to a Roman. But it was the best display these people could give. The reception of a meek and peaceful king.
To these people Jesus was the hope of better days physically, economically and politically. Even though not all of these concepts were not correctly understood, He was their “Messiah.”
There’s another reason why the applause was deserved. As the crowd cheered, they witnessed…
God pass by
At the end of v. 44 we read that Jesus is disappointed with the city as a whole for not recognizing the time of God’s coming to them. In Jesus Christ, God was physically there in their town, and not everyone could see it.
The applause was certainly deserved.
But we are also aware that
II. THE APPLUAUSE OF THIS DAY PRECEDED BETRAYAL
There is something ambivalent about this day of excitement. If you know the rest of the story you’re probably aware that the week goes downhill from here all the way to Friday.
The story comes to its climax, not in Jesus entering Jerusalem, but in his weeping over it. While Jesus deserves a triumphal entry as king, Luke emphasizes that he is moving instead to the place of his rejection.
Eventually the applause ends. Quickly the mood will change. And a great truth is dramatically reinforced. That truth being that voice of the people is a fickle voice.
Illus – W. Frank Harrington, a minister in Atlanta, tells the story of Marvin Griffin. Marvin ran for governor of Georgia in the early sixties against Carl Sanders. His strategy was to have great gatherings around barbequed dinners all over the state of Georgia. Sometimes over 10,000 people would show up at just of these dinners to eat Marvin’s BBQ. But when the election was over, he had lost decisively. At a news conference that followed he simply said, “They ate Ol’ Marvin’s barbeque, but they didn’t vote for me.”
Yes, politicians know very well that the voice of the people is a fickle voice. Remember how popular George Bush was after the Persian Gulf War? Remember how few votes he received in the ’92 election?