Summary: Palm Sunday: We have a foot in both crowds - the one the praised Jesus on Palm Sunday and also the one that shouted, "Crucify Him." But Jesus willingly took on the Cross for our double-mindedness and hypocrisy. We are forgiven!!
[Note: This is an original sermon. It is partially based on an outline provided in "Concordia Pulpit Resources" from CPH.]
Our worship today started with the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. There was a huge crowd there to receive Him. They shouted hosanna, hosanna – blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. And yet thinking about that crowd - we know that something was wrong. Why? – Because we know that Good Friday follows Palm Sunday. And there was a large crowd around Jesus on Good Friday too. Large crowds of people gathered around Jesus on both days.
But there’s a big difference between the Good Friday crowd and the Palm Sunday crowd. On Good Friday, the shouts of “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna,” were replaced with shouts of, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him.” I wonder if there were people who were part of both crowds?
It seems reasonable to think that at least some people were present to greet Jesus with shouts of hosanna and then were also present in the Good Friday crowd. Being sinful, hypocritical even - some would hail Jesus and greet Him with waving palm branches only to turn against him a few days later. This day – Palm Sunday - they pave his path with branches cut from palms and the clothing from their own backs. But only five days later they will demand that Jesus be stripped naked, beaten and crucified.
One reason why this happened to Jesus is simply because He was humble and lowly. He wasn’t the kind of king the crowds and their rulers had expected. They killed Jesus for coming as the Lamb of God – for not showing his divinity. Have any of you watched the hit television show, Weakest Link. People compete against one another to see who has the quickest and best mind. Throughout the show, the slow or the unintelligent are mocked and ridiculed. The centerpiece of the show is an insulting host, who sends the losing contestants off the stage by saying to them, “You are the weakest link – goodbye.”
You see, that’s how our Savior was regarded by the Good Friday crowd. They saw the Son of God as the weakest link. They thought his message was absurd and the kingdom He proclaimed – just ridiculous. “The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” say the scriptures. And we see it in the attitude of the crowd, the Chief Priest and Pontius Pilate.
The Chief Priest thought that Jesus was a Blasphemer. They saw weakness when they looked at Christ. You see, Jesus did not intend to establish the kind of kingdom that the religious leaders wanted. They wanted power, and what Jesus talks about won’t keep them in control. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gets into trouble with the religious leaders by pointing out their evil intentions. Jesus consistently condemns them for wanting the positions of greatest honor. He tells them that they are hypocrites; that they burden people with their traditionalism and legalism (Mark 7:1-23); that they don’t trust God but demand signs (Mark 8:11-13); that they have corrupted the temple (Mark 11:12-18); and Jesus tells them that they have mismanaged God’s vineyard his church and rejected God’s Son (Mark 12:1-12).
Jesus’ plan was to do something entirely opposite of the religious leaders. Our Lord came to establish a Kingdom of peace for all people and nations. It is a Kingdom that comes by the grace of God. But there’s a problem. This is not the kind of kingdom that either the Palm Sunday or Good Friday crowds wanted. You see, God’s grace is the enemy of all “institutionalized religion.” Institutional religion wants to control people by misusing the Word of God. It looks for power. But God’s grace comes to set people free. And that was Jesus’ plan – to liberate; to set free; to offer grace and forgiveness and peace and to release condemned prisoners.
And so the crowds and the religious leaders said that Jesus must die. Human pride allows no challengers - even God. Jesus is arrested by the religious leaders and turned over to the Roman Governor – Pontius Pilate. After talking to Jesus, Pilate comes to the conclusion that Jesus is a fool. There it is again – the weakest link. But this time, the normally very astute Roman Governor is gravely mistaken. To Pilate, it is obvious that the peasant Jew before him is no king at all. Kings have bodyguards and armies and money and power. Jesus has none of this. Any reasonable person would defend himself against the aggression of his enemies and save his life.
But not Jesus – He refuses to be reasonable. He claims to be a king, but his refusal to even defend Himself - even against the false charges of his opponents - betrays Jesus. If He is a king, his kingdom must not be one of power and might. His definition of ‘Kingdom’ doesn’t pass the test. And so Jesus must die. Pilate thinks He is a fool - too unreasonable to tone down his language or even to compromise in order to save his life. Pilate goes against his better judgment. He knows that Jesus is not guilty of anything even close to deserving the death penalty. But the crowds press in. They shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him.” They press more and shout louder. And so the sentence is pronounced – death by crucifixion.