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Dear Friends in Christ,
Of the 66 books in the Bible four are called “the Gospels.” The Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They detail the life of Jesus. If you want to know about the life of Jesus, that’s where to go.
Of those four books, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels. Synoptic means “to see with one eye.” What that means is that many of the same events and teachings are found in each of these books. That’s very important! One might give details that another doesn’t. Think of what all the skeptics would say if there was just one account of the stories of Scripture. They would be calling out fraud, phony and lies. But many of the incidents from Jesus life and ministry have two and three sets of eyes.
The gospel of John is different. In fact, only eight percent of John’s Gospel repeats stories in the other Gospel writers. John’s Gospel seems to have been written later. Perhaps he had access to the other Gospels.
What I want you to know today is that Jesus’ Triumphal arrival into the city of Jerusalem is found in all four Gospels, signifying how significant it was. Jesus had entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the greatest week ever, culminating with his death and resurrection for all. So let’s sing with the people of Jerusalem “Hosanna in the Highest.” 1) Our King came from on high; 2) Our King came to descend to the depths.
The first Palm Sunday began as any other week, but at the end of the week, Jesus would truly change the world by all that occurred to him.
His three year ministry would come to an end. People like to divide his ministry into three parts. There was the first year where people couldn’t seem to get enough of him. He cured the deaf and the mute and the blind. The second year is a year of silence. We don’t hear much about what went on except that he went from place to place and preached the coming of the kingdom of God. The third year was the antithesis of the first. It was the year of opposition. The religious leaders butted heads with Jesus again and again and again. They knew Jesus was more popular than they were. They had to do something about it. They tried to do everything they could to remove him from the scene. Eventually, as we know, they succeeded.
If only the people had known they were messing with the Son of God! He proved it again and again with the miracles he did. He proved it in the events leading up to his arrival into Jerusalem. “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.”
Sometimes when we talk about Jesus and the miracles he did, we are more impressed with some than we are with others. There seem to be the big ones and then there are the minor ones. Raising Lazarus from the dead? A big miracle! Raising the widow’s son at Nain? Big miracle! But when he was passing through the city of Jericho with scores of people around him, Jesus pointed out Zacchaeus and called him by name. We could possibly read that and say, “So what?” Zacchaeus, on the other hand would have said, “How did he know my name?” So we also ask with a bit more thought, “Yeah, how did Jesus know Zacchaeus’ name? That was a miracle. There is really no difference, is there between a small miracle and a large miracle. A miracle is a miracle. So it is here. How did Jesus know there would be a colt that had never been ridden next to its mother near the city gate in Bethany? For that part, how did he know all the other details of this story? How did he know Nathaniel when he called him to be an apostle? How did he know about the sins of the woman at the well in Sychar? Because Jesus is God! He knows everything! He came to this earth from on high!
He knows us too. He knows what is in our hearts. He knows our secrets. He knows the sins we want to keep in secret. He knows we desperately need his forgiveness which he doesn’t keep secret. This is the One who came to Jerusalem so many years ago. He is the God of all.
This is the one who keeps all his promises. Mark doesn’t include this aspect but Matthew does; it bears repeating that first Palm Sunday was not unexpected. We heard about it in the Old Testament lesson, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” When Zechariah wrote over 500 years earlier, the prophet was speaking to a demoralized nation of Israel. Because of their rebellion against God, God allowed them to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire. They were not only overrun, they were taken away into captivity. Israel’s spirit was broken. Yet their situation was only temporary. There was good news. They would return after seventy years. But there was more to the promise of a return. God promised to send them a great king who was “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That king came on that Palm Sunday. The one on high keeps his promises.
If you wanted to paint a picture of anything that illustrates strength and certainty or something that you can set your heart on, what would it be? May I suggest that strength and stability and certainty might be illustrated by painting a mountain? They are a link from the past to the present and even to the future. Yet, compared to the LORD even they are lacking. The Lord existed before the mountains were even brought forth. Secure as mountains might seem to be, at any given moment they can disintegrate because of rain or snow, glaciers, avalanches or even volcanic eruptions. It is this eternal God, yes, it is this Jesus who along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God about whom the Scripture says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” He is the God who came from the heavens! He is God from on high.
Yet he didn’t look like that kind of king on that Palm Sunday. When a king rode into a city one wouldn’t expect him to ride in triumph on a donkey. Why not a grand and great stallion? Then there were those twelve roguish characters following him. They were anything but a sharp, strong high-stepping army equipped with chariots and swords and spears. Their leader was riding on a donkey! But then remember the King of Kings came as the Servant of servants.
People measure greatness in an entirely different way than the way God does. When the world measures greatness, it quantifies it in terms of wealth and assets, influence and power. Greatness is measured by the number of people who will jump when a person gives orders. The trouble with that kind of greatness, it often comes at the expense of others. People look great by making others look small.
Jesus doesn’t work like that. Jesus once said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God’s kind of greatness is measured at the foot of the table, not at the head of the table. Greatness is imitating Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all. That’s why he entered Jerusalem - not take it over, but to be overtaken; not to have people wait on him hand and foot, but to have his hands and feet pierced as the bloody sacrifice for all. There was no me, my and I about Jesus; he was all about you and you and you.
It is an amazing thing that happened that day. Jesus knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He had told his disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” But he was going to go any way! He had all the details right on! There would be plenty of mocking, and spitting and beating and blood. Matthew tells us that the Roman soldiers and the Jews would be really good at that, “And then they twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” Mark says, “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” Who hit you? Think about it, not only could Jesus have told those perpetrators who had hit him, but every family member, when they were born and what they had for lunch last week Tuesday along with a million other things.
While we praise Jesus for creating the world and making us part of it all by giving us life, while we can stand by the mountains and truly be in awe of that big rock that comes out of the ground that he made, while we can view the ocean and be mesmerized by its vastness and beauty, while it is true that the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hand, think about this. If that is all we knew about the Lord and only knew his majesty and power, we would still be comfortless. How would we really know he loves us? What gives us comfort is to know that in his greatness he became the greatest servant the world has ever seen. We do not praise a criminal when he goes to the electric chair; we do not praise a child when he gets spanked; we do not consider it an honor if we are spit in the face. Yet Jesus did go to the cross; he did suffer the punishment of all our sins; he was spit in the face…for us. We praise him not because he wore a crown of gold; we praise him for wearing the crown of thorns. We praise him for the holes in his hand and the scourge to his body. They were all for us.
While they didn’t understand what they were singing about in masse that first Palm Sunday, we sing “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna in the highest! It means “help, I pray.” Our prayer has been answered by him who came from on high and descended into the depths…for us!