The Grand Welcome

On Palm Sunday we’re celebrating the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, welcomed by a crowd shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches. They threw their cloaks on the road before him, and sang praise to Jesus for all the wonderful things they had seen and heard.

Read Luke 19:28-42, Psalm 118:1-2,19-29 here.

Listen here:

I don’t know if you know this or not, but the really big news this week is . . . that there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out in December.  Friday they announced the title: The Rise of Skywalker, and the trailer also came out Friday.[1]  I might not be as big a fan as the Dashiell family, but I haven’t missed any of the movies.  I even stood in line to see the very first one back in 1977[2]…wait, no, I didn’t, because I was only 14 then, but my husband Rob tells me he did, because he’s a lot older than me. I did stand in line to see it a few years later at the Cinerama dome theater in Hollywood.  A few years after it hit theaters, it was still in theaters.  That’s how big it was…and still is.

One of the reasons we love the Star Wars movies is that they are epic battles between good and evil, battles that are fought in grand scale on planets throughout the galaxy and in the unseen recesses of the minds where their heroes listen to “the force.”  Fear and hatred are the true enemies in these movies, and in the end they never win.

I’m glad there’s a new Star Wars coming out, because that means it’s not too outdated for me to tell you that when I think about victory celebrations like the one we’re celebrating today, I always think about the ending of the first Star Wars movie. Guided by the force, the three heroes, Luke, Leia and Hans Solo, have destroyed the death star and saved the galaxy from the Empire, and they celebrate their victory with a regal ceremony.

Maybe it’s the music that makes it feel so victorious.  Horns are the sound of triumph.

If everyone had fully comprehended who Jesus was, this is the kind of grand reception they might have had for him.  Instead, Jesus makes a more humble ride into Jerusalem.  No trumpets.  No medals.  Just a donkey, and people paving the way with their cloaks, and waving branches.

  • Jesus is celebrating the victory of the spiritual battles he’s already won as he’s been ministering and preaching,
  • and the victory he is about to win over sin and death on the cross.
  • It’s also a foreshadowing of the victory celebration in heaven that we read about in Revelation, when people from every tribe and nation are standing before the throne of God waving palm branches (Rev. 7:9)
  • And it’s a celebration of who Jesus is – God in the flesh. Through the symbolism of riding a donkey, he’s showing that he is the prince of peace and the king of kings, though people didn’t fully comprehend the symbolism until later looking back and remembering.

donkeyAll four of the gospels tell us about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Luke’s version of the story gives us little bit different perspective from the other three.  In Luke’s story, we can clearly see two kinds of people: those who are celebrating the miracles that Jesus has performed, and those who cannot see anything but trouble because they cannot see who Jesus really is, and so they tell Jesus to make his disciples stop shouting.

Maybe they thought Jesus was trying to do something like what Adonijah did in the Old Testament in 1 Kings 1.  King David was near death, and it was soon going to be time for one of his sons to take over.  David had nineteen sons.  Son #4, Adonijah, had decided he would take over.  He threw himself a party and declared himself king.  But David had already promised that Solomon would be king, so David called his priests and advisors and instructed them to put Solomon on a donkey and had him ride into town.  There Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king over Israel. Then they blew the ram’s horn and shouted, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ (1 Kings 1:34) And all the people followed Solomon into Jerusalem, playing flutes and shouting for joy. The celebration was so joyous and noisy that the earth shook with the sound. (1:40)

The gospel writers don’t tell us if the celebration for Jesus was that noisy, but they do tell us they were shouting “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”, words we also heard as Gordon read Psalm 118 for us earlier.   Luke tells us that those shouting were disciples, the people who had been following Jesus and seen him healing people and casting out demons.  Just in the past few days, they had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead, and give sight to a blind man.

blindmanThe blind man had been sitting by the side of the road when Jesus walked by on his way to Jericho.  The blind man called out, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”  He kept calling out until Jesus stopped.  Jesus asked him, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  The blind man said, “I want to see,” and Jesus gave him sight. (Luke 18)

Zaccheus-Jesus-01Not long after that, as Jesus came into Jericho, and people were clamoring to get a glimpse of him. A tax collector named Zacchaeus was too short to see over the crowds, so he climbed up a tree. He wanted to see!  Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in the tree and said, “Come down!  Today I will stay at your house.”  The people grumbled about this because they knew Zacchaeus didn’t have time to run home and clean up his dirty clothes before Jesus came over.  No, not really.  They grumbled because Zacchaeus was a tax collector.  But Zacchaeus promised to change his ways and pay back all the people he had cheated, and Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  The son of man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10) Zaccheaus and the blind man both wanted badly to see Jesus, and were rewarded with sight.

When Jesus got to Jerusalem, the disciples were shouting to celebrate all that they had seen, and give thanks that God was at work among them.  But some of the pharisees couldn’t see God in this at all, only that rules weren’t being followed, and that Jesus was stirring people up.

All of these events call us to decide: Where do we stand in the story?  Do we stand with the disciples celebrating all that we have seen and heard?

Or are we with the ones who are upset about the uproar, and the disruption of the normal patterns of life?

I’m not sure how those pharisees could see Jesus healing a blind man and raising a man from the dead and not see God at work, but they didn’t.  They saw trouble.  They saw rule breaking.  Maybe they assumed that this was just another false prophet. They miss out on receiving the peace that Jesus brings, and Jesus weeps about this, about the number of people in Jerusalem who hadn’t seen who he was, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)

When we look at what’s happening in the world around us, what do we see? What are some signs of God’s work around us today?

One of the remarkable things we see in this story is that praise happens because Jesus is who he is.

When the pharisees tell Jesus to make his disciples be quiet, Jesus says, “If they didn’t shout, even the rocks would cry out.”

It’s not the first place in the Bible where creation gives testimony to God.  In Genesis, after Cain kills his brother Abel, God asks him about it. “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)  The dirt is giving testimony about what Cain has done.

Psalm 19 says,  ”The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

Aquaman arthur aquariumThis is also what happens in the movie Aquaman.[3]  The boy Arthur is the son of a human man and a sea-goddess woman, and because of who he is, he has a special connection with the ocean and its creatures.  He’s living life as a normal human boy until a class trip to the aquarium where he discovers that the sea creatures respond to him because of who he is.

If the disciples don’t praise Jesus, the skies are already doing it, and the rocks will join the chorus, because Jesus is worthy of our praise, whether we recognize it or not. Praise happens because Jesus is.

The other remarkable thing we see in the Palm Sunday story is that our praise of Jesus draws others to him.

The disciples were praising Jesus for the works of power that they had seen him do.  People were drawn to the excitement and joined in.  Jesus told us this would be true when he said in John 12:32 – “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  This is an allusion to Jesus being lifted up on the cross, but also a reminder to us that people are drawn to celebrate what they see others celebrating.  When we praise Jesus for what he’s doing in our lives, others are drawn to him, too.  One of the benefits of gathering together to worship is that we encourage one another to praise Jesus.  We are encouraged by each other’s enthusiasm and devotion to Jesus. When we see passion and joy on each other’s faces, our hearts are stirred too.

We’re in a season of special celebrations – today celebrating Palm Sunday, and next week Easter.  It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of reenacting the events, singing the songs, feeling the energy and excitement without really thinking about the deeper meanings.  That’s why we’ve provided some ways to help us see those:

  • There’s a bulletin insert which gives you readings for each day this week so we can walk with Jesus to the cross and remember more deeply what transpired.
  • We have worship on Thursday night to have communion together like Jesus did with his disciples on that night, and to remember Jesus’ words.
  • Friday, Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died, the Methodist church will have prayer stations, another opportunity to ponder and pray about the importance of what Jesus did.
  • Sunday morning at 6:30 we have Easter sunrise worship at the cemetery. That’s where the women went looking for Jesus that morning.  They went looking for him among the dead because they’d seen him die.

I may have told you before that for many years I would see people passionately praising Jesus and think, “I don’t want to be like one of those crazy Christians.”  I was curious about what that was like, so I was a good spectator, but I didn’t want people to think I was a Jesus freak like them.  But the closer I got to God, the more I got to know who Jesus is and saw how he was at work in my life, the more I couldn’t keep from praising.

After Easter, we’re going to be looking at the surprising ways God worked through the disciples in the book of Acts, and the surprising ways God works in our lives today.  God’s not just working in my life, he’s working in yours, too, and I’d love for us to share more of our stories.  If you’d be willing to tell yours, please let me know.  If you don’t want to stand up and talk, there are other less scary ways we can do it.

These disciples on the road into Jerusalem can’t help from celebrating all that they have seen and heard. They can’t stop praising because of who Jesus is.  This is God in human form, the messiah.  This is salvation.  If they don’t praise him, even the rocks will cry out.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” He is the God who saves us.  He is worthy of all our praise.



[3] 2018 film

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