Summary: A message on the capriciousness of the human heart, the compassion of Christ, and the constancy of God’s saving provision.
Palm Sunday, 2003
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, TExas
Palm Sunday is a rather schizophrenic day. It begins in triumph and ends in tragedy. It is inaugurated by a joyful entrance and concludes with an ignominious departure. It starts with cheers, is punctuated with jeers, and finishes with tears.
In this brief message this morning I want you to see the capriciousness of the human heart, the matchless compassion of Jesus Christ, and the unshakeable constancy of God’s provision in effecting your forgiveness and redemption.
The day which sets in motion the events that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution, and which started the clock ticking on the last few days of His pre-resurrection life, was a Spring Sunday morning, probably in A.D. 30. It is known both as the Triumphal Entry and Palm Sunday.
Because the event was of such import, all four Gospels record the events of Palm Sunday. All four Gospels also share a similar description of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, though they differ in minor details, each accentuating or downplaying different aspects of the day as they relate to the literary picture the writers want to paint of Jesus.
You of course recall that throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry He told the disciples He had come to die. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Jesus was not ambiguous, and His words were not opaque: I will be betrayed in Jerusalem, handed over to the Gentiles, crucified, and after three days rise again, He said. And I tell you this now, Jesus continued, so that when these things occur, later you will remember and believe. The Gospels record the Disciples receiving this revelation in the same spiritual stupor they heard much of what Jesus told them. And they were afraid to ask Him what He meant.
Since, however, our Lord’s destiny lay in Jerusalem, and since He came not to do His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him, the day came when Jesus entered Jerusalem. That day came at the highwater mark of Jesus’ popularity. The religious establishment hated Jesus and were determined to find a way to have Him killed. But the common people who followed Jesus everywhere He went loved Him—or so it seemed. He healed the sick; He fed the hungry; He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and mobility to the crippled; He preached; He even raised the dead.
On Palm Sunday our Lord mounted a donkey and rode into the city, amidst loud acclamations by the crowd. Some of city’s residents, usually numbering 30,000, but probably swelling to over 200,000 because of Passover pilgrims, strew blankets and cloaks, others palm branches, before the animal Jesus rode on.
The event was loaded with significance. Firstly, it had been predicted by the prophets. In Zechariah 9:9 we hear:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The crowd cries out “Hosanna!” meaning “Lord, save us!” and with the words of Psalm 118:26 “Blessed is who comes in the name of the LORD!” Secondly, our Lord’s entry was a political statement. In the ancient world, when a conquering king entered a city after a battle, he rode on a stallion or something even more impressive. Judas Maccabeus, after having driven the Syrians from Jerusalem in 163 B.C. entered the city on a majestic stallion. The residents of the city came out and waved palm branches as he entered, and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Julius Caesar had returned to Rome in a golden chariot harnessed to 40 elephants in 45 B.C. But whenever a king entered a city in peace, he rode on a donkey.
Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst adulation, clapping, shouting, smiles, and dancing. The reception the U.S. Marines got from Iraqis as they entered Baghdad this past week paints a similar picture of the scene. It was a day of cheers, but the cheering wouldn’t last. This same crowd would less than a week later shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” before Pilate’s judgment seat.
The crowd was fickle, because our human hearts are fickle and untrustworthy. Napoleon and his army were once marching through Switzerland and were receiving thunderous applause wherever they went. The crowds shouted: “Long live the king! Viva la France! Hail to the emperor Napoleon!” But the general was unimpressed. An aid asked, “Isn’t it wonderful to hear the roar of the crowds and the love of the people?” Napoleon replied, “The same people that are cheering me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.” You remember in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar the Palm Sunday crowd sings, “Christ, you know I love you. Did you see, I waved?”