Palm Sunday, A.D. 33

28And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he drew near to Bethpage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat.  Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  (Luke 19:28-40, ESV)

 

 

In my mind’s eye, the scene of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion—what we as Christians call the Triumphal Entry of Christ—is alive with a flurry of activity. Even as we read Luke’s account (which is paralleled in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; and John 12:12-19), we see how the writer highlights the seemingly frenetic pace of the action.  Jesus’ gaze is fixed upon his glorious fate ahead in Jerusalem.  To be sure, Jesus went to Jerusalem willingly and with a divine purpose in mind.  All the while, we see the Lord sending disciples to fetch a colt and make preparations (cf. Zechariah 9:9).  Shortly after this, on his descent down Olivet, we find “the whole multitude”—that’s code for a lot of people—erupting in rapturous praise to God.  Matthew’s account tells us that, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matt. 21:8).  (Imagine a slightly scaled back version of President Donald J. Trump’s recent inauguration parade—only with the mode of transportation being a colt rather than an armored motorcade.)  Listen as the desperate crowds shout, “Hosanna (or, “Save us now!”) to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9; cf. Psalm 118:26).  Undoubtedly, many of the bystanders at this spectacle were there just for the thrill of seeing Jesus.  Scads of people were in Jerusalem for Passover and word must have traveled fast that Jesus of Nazareth—a man who had healed scores of people, taught with unparalleled authority, and had even raised a few people from the dead—was on his way into the city.  But, there were some genuine admirers of Christ in the crowd, too.  It isn’t hard to imagine that many of the people who had been touched by Jesus’ three-year ministry firsthand were among the throng of voices praising God in jubilant worship (cf. Luke 19:37).  What an amazing, and perplexing, scene it must have been!

However, the text carefully notes that not everyone was pleased at the people’s loud praise directed towards Jesus. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” said a few of Pharisees in the crowd (Luke 19:39).  The religious leaders of the Jewish people were indignant at Christ for stealing the spotlight.  Either Jesus would silence the crowd or these Pharisees and religious leaders would figure out a way to silence him.  Something had to give.  John’s account tells us: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing.  Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:19).  The Pharisees knew that they had to act quickly.  Things were getting out of hand.  The Romans wouldn’t tolerate this tumult very long.  The time to rub out this radical rabbi was finally at hand. 

Jesus’ reply to these jealous Jews is interesting, isn’t it? Luke tells us: “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out’” (Luke 19:40).  What is that all about?  Many scholars have made the connection between Jesus’ statement here with the second chapter of Habakkuk.  The obscure prophecy of Habakkuk is perhaps best known for the statement: “but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4).  This is the statement which the Apostle Paul famously expresses in Romans 1:17: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”  However, Jesus’ words about “stones crying out” may also come directly from Habakkuk.  For in Habakkuk 2:11, the prophet poetically captures the hope of God coming to the aid of His people saying: “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.”  Thus, in essence, Jesus’ retort to the self-righteous Pharisees was that even if the masses outside Jerusalem were somehow quieted, the very stones themselves would rise up in audible praise at the promise-keeping faithfulness of God taking place in their midst.  Jesus, God anointed one, had come to save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).
It’s sobering, isn’t it, how very quickly would the shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn into demands of “Crucify him!” (cf. John 19:6)? How regrettably fickle is the human heart; no, how treacherous is my heart?  In the span of just under a week, Jesus would go from triumph to tragedy back to triumph once again.  In all the noise of Palm Sunday, where do you stand when it comes to the gentle teacher riding into Jerusalem on a donkey?  Would yours be one of the voices in the crowd shouting for deliverance from worldly troubles?  Or, would you side with the stiff-necked, self-righteous Pharisees trying to hush the sounds of holy praise?  Do you want to crown him or crucify him?  I wonder: Do you understand why Jesus the Son of God had to come to earth?

 

Dear God,

Open the eyes of my heart this week to behold the glory of Christ Jesus’ agony. Expose my true motivation in remembering these sacred events which transpired so many years ago.  Help me, O Savior, to have a voice which magnifies your holy name rather than demands my own glory and praise.  Grant and strengthen me with the gift of faith in order that I might not only crown thee Lord of life but that I might follow thee by taking up my own cross.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us” (Psalm 118:26-27a).  Amen.