Welcome to our live streamed service today!
On this Palm Sunday, we continue in our focus of “listening” and Pastor Mick’s series on “Encounters on the Road to the Cross”. The Bible reading is from Luke chapter 19:28-44.
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I find it difficult to celebrate this story. In fact, as I read the story I find it quite a difficult story in and of itself. I find it quite a sad story, actually. Now the reason for that is in the text itself, I wonder if you picked that up. The story actually finishes with Jesus in tears, crying over the city of Jerusalem.That’s not often an image we think of on Palm Sunday, is it?
Early last year, just before the pandemic and the restrictions, I got visit Israel and as part of that I got to visit Jerusalem. And while I was in Jerusalem I went up the Mount of Olives, where this story takes place. At the top of the Mount of Olives is a viewing platform that looks over the old city of Jerusalem. And as I stood on that platform I understood that I must have been around the same place as where this story took place and I found myself getting emotional.
As I reflected on the centuries of violence in the city that I looked at and considered the events that took place there pertaining to my own faith – including the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was an emotional experience. I stood where Jesus did and cried over the city.
But why was Jesus crying? It doesn’t seem like a sad story at first glance, and as I’ve mentioned already, we tend to celebrate it as a joyous occasion with palm leaves and praise, but it does end with Jesus crying. And it tells us that he is crying because the people didn’t recognise him. Now that seems strange to me because as we read the story we see people praising Jesus. Surely if they are praising him then they know who he is, right? Well, apparently not. He was weeping because the people didn’t recognise him.
This is of course affirmed later on in the Bible narrative, as a week later the same people who were in this crowd would have been among the people crying ‘crucify him!’- Only 1 week later! How do you arrive there? One day you are crying Hosanna and no more than 7 days later to the same individual you are chanting crucify him? How do we get there?
Well, the people thought they were getting something different in Jesus. Their understanding of God and a saviour was very different from what Jesus came to reveal to us. They were expecting a liberator, a warrior. Someone who would come and free them from the captivity of the Romans. Scripture foretold it in Zechariah 9. History had affirmed it in the Maccabean Revolt, 150 years previous. Its leaders, after their victory, rode into Jerusalem to the waiving of palm branches. And so people when they see Jesus coming must have been thinking the same thing is happening again. But they had it completely wrong. Jesus wasn’t coming to bring violence or war, he was coming with a message of peace. The people wanted violence. Later in the week they would call for Barabbas to be freed over Jesus. Violence over peace. Jesus knew all this and that is why he wept over the city. The people were hoping for a saviour of a different kind.
Now, before we are quick to criticise the crowd for this we need to realise this passage provides us with an opportunity to ask ourselves the question, ‘are there times when I am guilty of this?’ Not seeking a violent revolution but looking for our salvation in a different kind of saviour? Do we ever look for safety in other things? Our hope and our trust in things other than the Jesus of the Scriptures?
Finances, education, career, status, romance, sex, there are many things in our lives we might develop an unhealthy dependence on – The Bible might call this idolatry. And on a day where we usually make palms and wave them and lay them down, but we can’t today, are there other things in our life that we need to lay down? Things that we have put our hope in instead of a peaceful saviour.
As we think of this even more and the state of the world right now. Does this provide us with an opportunity of introspection? What are the things we are missing right now? What are the things we will pick back up when things return to normal? What will we leave down? Take the opportunity to reflect.
Holy Week is the annual reminder that this journey of following Jesus leads to death. That’s what Lent is all about. So what are the things in our life that need to die? That need to be cast off and laid down in front of God?
But remember that in dying we find new, better and resurrected life!
So on this Palm Sunday, let’s take it as an opportunity to admit that we sometimes get caught up in the crowd, and sometimes we put our hope and trust in the wrong thing. And so instead of laying a palm down I’m going to lay the things I’ve sought for safety in other than Jesus.
Like the crowd, we are so good at singing the hymns and the songs – Hosanna! – But if this story teaches us anything it reminds us that we can sing the right songs and pray the right prayers but still miss the point completely. So let’s take this as an opportunity to cast off our idols and lay them before God.