Summary: Palm Sunday turns us from the for-awhile to the forever.
It must have been quite the sight, the people lining the lingering road that lead from the Mount of Olives down and then up into the city of Jerusalem. People were scrambling to get a glimpse of the man who they heard about, but maybe never got a chance to actually see themselves. This wasn’t the first time that Jesus had been welcomed by people lining the streets or drew such large crowds of people. Jesus regularly throughout the last three years of his ministry had thousands who would come to hear him preach and teach. Remember that account of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000? Crowds would wait and line the roads when they heard that Jesus was coming to their town. So maybe this day described in Matthew 21 which we call Palm Sunday wasn’t quite as unique as we think. In fact, it probably wasn’t even the largest or maybe even the loudest crowd that Jesus had experienced.
But there WAS something different about that day, something different about the atmosphere, something different in the actions and the message of the people. They had cut down palm branches and used their cloaks to line the roadway, something that was reserved for arrival of a king or head of state. Suddenly the crowds were not afraid to publicly proclaim who they believed or wanted Jesus to be. They cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9). However, it was the one thing to think that about Jesus, or to even say it up north in Galilee where no one really cared what happened. But it was a totally different thing to say it out loud in Jerusalem, during the Passover Feast that packed full this city, when Romans soldiers were keeping a close watch for even a hint of rebel activity against the Roman Empire. If word got back to government officials what these people were saying, that there was a new king in town, this could ugly rather quickly. It could end in executions.
But the crowds didn’t care. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus said to those who were telling him to keep these people quiet, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 20:40). The cries of the crowd could not be contained! “Hosanna” which means, “Save us!” continued to come from the people. But FROM WHAT did they what Jesus to save them? And FOR WHAT did they want Jesus to save them? What did they actually want Jesus to do?
How many of them simply looked to Jesus to save them from the problems of their lives? Save them from the oppression of the Roman Empire, foreigners that had invaded their land, treating them like second-class citizens at best and were taxing them into submission. Save them from the problems that they knew waited for them when they went back home: a sick child, a difficult marriage, the pain of chronic disease, the uncertainty of employment, the sadness of having lost a loved one, the loneliness of an empty house. They cried out to Jesus, “Save us!” but what did they want Jesus to save them from? How many were looking to Jesus and thinking, “Jesus, take away the problems and make our lives more enjoyable , more of the way we think it should be…more of the way we would like it to be. Jesus, save us!”
It makes me wonder, if Jesus decided to make a visible appearance today in our world, how many people do you think would line the streets and cry out to him, “Hosanna! Save us!” Now there might be cynics that would say, “Not many” but I’m not so sure. How many people have already been doing that WITHOUT Jesus making a visible appearance? How many people throughout our world have been calling out to God, “Save us!” If you listen carefully, I think there have actually been quite a few. It’s kind of the natural response when tragedy strikes, when sadness overwhelms, when life is hard, when the future seems uncertain, when financial ruin stares us in the face – when we are reawakened to our limitations, to our weaknesses, to our mortality – people are quick to cry out, “Jesus, save us!” But again I ask, FROM WHAT are we looking to be saved? And FOR WHAT are we asking to be saved? Saved from the things I don’t like, that are uncomfortable, that are scary? Save me from those things so that I can have the life I want to have? So that I can do what I want to do? What are we looking for Jesus to do for us?