Summary: Palm Sunday message focusing on the 3 groups of people who were in Jerusalem to see Jesus: the opposition, the fickle, and the followers.
“Triumph, Yet Tears” Luke 19:36-44, Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (Palm Sunday 2015)
During the Civil War, chaplains served on both sides, but were not authorized transportation. Usually the troops chipped in and provided their padres with a horse. However, one chaplain wasn’t well-liked, and thus he had no horse. So one day while marching past a farmer’s field, he stole a horse. The General quickly learned of the theft and called the chaplain into his tent. “Chaplain,” he said, “I’ve been informed that you stole someone’s horse.” The chaplain explained, “Sir, remember that Jesus rode a donkey on the way to Jerusalem.” The General stood up. “Chaplain, there are three things you need to know: First of all, you aren’t Jesus; second, we’re talking about a horse, not a donkey; and third--you’re not going to Jerusalem, you’re going to the stockade!”
As we consider Palm Sunday, let’s also focus on three things, the three groups of people who were there to see Jesus: the opposition, the fickle, and the followers.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, stirred with emotion and high hopes. Today we roll out the red carpet; in Bible times, people spread out their cloaks. When I mentioned this to a group of pre-schoolers a few days ago, they didn’t like that idea! Other gospel accounts mention that the crowd greeted Jesus waving palm branches. Palms were used to welcome kings; according to the Book of Revelation (ch 7), our Lord will once again be greeted with palms at His return.
The religious leaders had everything to lose: their reputation, their power and influence. Jesus had been exposing their corruption and shaming them in public debates. They sought to discredit Him, only to be discredited and humiliated. And now He is arriving in triumph! So they tell Him to rebuke the crowd. Jesus bluntly tells them that if the people keep quiet, the stones will cry out. If they had, that would’ve been the very first “rock music!”
40 years later, the stones of Jerusalem did “speak.” Jesus prophesied that the city of Jerusalem would fall, that devastation would come. The Roman army came in 70 AD and utterly destroyed the city, so that the stones were scattered. All that remained intact was part of the Western Wall of the Temple (the so-called “Wailing Wall”). This terrible event is annually mourned by a day of fasting (Tisha B'Av).
Jesus said if the crowd was silent the stones would speak; they would’ve made better followers than most who were present that day. Because of the attitude of the religious leaders and knowing of the rejection of the crowd, Jesus came in triumph, yet with tears. Days later He tells the crowd to weep for themselves. Their rejection is the real tragedy here. Think of all the pictures you’ve seen of Palm Sunday. Nearly all show Jesus smiling; yet He was broken-hearted. The city rejoices; He weeps.
Jesus entered the city without a display of power, a show of force. He could have ridden a war horse, with armed soldiers. What a message that would have sent to Rome! Instead, He enters unarmed, riding an animal that kings rode when on errands of peace. Kings come with a purpose; Jesus came to die.
The crowd was blind to Jesus’ true mission; they missed the whole point of His humble entry into Jerusalem. They were consumed with desire for a military leader, a revolutionary. In Mark’s account, they cry out, “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David” (11:10). They wanted a return to monarchal rule, the golden age of Israel. Jesus knew they were not interested in a servant-messiah; they wanted a warrior-king, a political solution. Jesus came with a spiritual solution.
Roman oppression caused the Jews to (understandably) hope for deliverance. Remember the time-frame; it was the Passover, a festival that looked back on the liberation of their ancestors from Egyptian bondage. So they cried out “Hosanna!” –a cry for help, which literally means “save now.” They were demanding that Jesus forcibly remove the Romans from power by setting Himself up as a military commander.
The crowd put aside all thoughts of a Man of Sorrows—they wanted nothing of that. They knew of Jesus feeding of the 5,000—no problem with rations for an army. They knew He healed the sick and raised the dead—no problem with casualties. So when He did not follow-up His Triumphal Entry with an armed conquest, many of the people began to lose faith in Him. Like Pilate, they washed their hands of Him when they saw how unresistingly He allowed Himself to be arrested and led to execution. They couldn’t see that this was why He came, to be our sacrifice for sin; to die in our behalf.