Today’s sermon was a little different than what we normally do. It was three commentaries on Holy Week from the crowd’s perspective. We started with Palm Sunday, moved to Thursday morning, and walked to Good Friday. What follows are each of the three commentaries.
Part A: Jesus’ Arrival
Palm Sunday begins the Passion Week, or Holy Week. It is the most important time in our faith, as we celebrate and remember Jesus’ arrival as king, his rejection, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. The stories and lessons we share during this time are familiar to us. Yet, they also come with a challenge for the preacher. How do we share these important stories in ways that are meaningful and help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ?
Today, you will notice that the sermon is separated into three sections, which coincide with our Scripture readings. My hope is that this will allow us to think about these moments and give us time to reflect on each stage of the Holy Week. We do so, however, with a twist. I want you to picture yourself in the crowd in each of these moments that we will discuss.
Imagine, if you will, that you are in the crowd on that Sunday morning some 2,000 years ago. Perhaps you were getting ready to go to the market or maybe you were just out for a stroll before doing some chores. It was the start of the Passover week, so the streets of Jerusalem would have been crowded, as pilgrims traveled to the holy city to remember what God did for them in securing their freedom from Egyptian slavery.
You likely wouldn’t have noticed many of the people passing through the city gates. But you would have had a hard time not hearing the commotion when this one person comes in. This man comes riding on a donkey, with people shouting and laying palm branches on the road.
Interested, you immediately wonder who this man is. So, you go up to take a look, and as you do, you realize he is Jesus of Nazarus. He is the Galilean teacher many claimed to be the long-expected Messiah. You wonder about the expectations of a Messiah. Even though the Old Testament never directly speaks to what the Messiah would look like, there was an expectation growing in the community. The Messiah would be the Son of David, who would redeem the people and establish the kingdom of God. He would come and save the people from Roman rule and restore Israel as a nation and as a people. He would be the prophet of God who would save the people. As you think of that, your mind goes to Zechariah 9:9, where the prophet tells of the expected Messiah coming humbly on a donkey’s colt.
Keep in mind, this is the people of Israel’s John 3:16. It is the passage they placed their hope in. John 3:16 is our verse we hoist up and put on signs at sporting events for all to see. If you meet someone who doesn’t know John 3:16, of course, you’ll tell them what it means and what it says. The same was true of Zechariah 9:9. For the people of Israel, they placed their hope on the Messiah, the King, coming to redeem the people. We have privatized faith so much, in recent years, that we’ve lost the notion and meaning of the Messiah as King. This was a life or death hope for the people of Israel, as it should be for us.
With that, as you think about being in the crowd you start to believe that this is the time of the Messiah’s coming. You get a big smile on your face and tears begin to roll down your face. Jesus is triumphantly entering Jerusalem as the king. Though Jesus is quiet and is not saying anything, you know that this is the time and this is the moment. With this realization, you join in the crowd. You lay down your cloak and you shout as loud as you can: Hosanna! Hosanna! You join in shouting in the praise of adulation directed to Jesus. It is a praise which originally meant “save, I pray.” The people were crying out for Jesus to save them.
In this moment, you know the long-expected Messiah is here, and he is going to fulfill all the people’s expectations. The kingdom will soon be inaugurated, and God’s reign will begin.
Part B: Humility of Christ
By Thursday afternoon, Jerusalem is not the same place it was on Sunday. It has gone from a city filled with excitement to a city on edge.
You felt it as you went to the Temple to offer the Passover sacrifice for your family. The entire Temple court was abuzz about all that had transpired in the week and how the religious leaders were always talking amongst themselves. You are confused, because by now you thought the Messiah would have inaugurated the kingdom, but the town is full of stress. You can’t help but think back to all that has taken place.
First, there was the fact Jesus didn’t say anything when he came into town. It still bugged you that he went to the Temple and then immediately returned to Bethany. Why didn’t he say anything? At least, you thought, he could have acknowledged that he was the king and Messiah. He was quiet and he didn’t say anything. Why?
When Jesus finally goes to the Temple, you thought it was going to be the moment that the kingdom would come. Yet, Jesus goes in and he clears the Temple. He goes in and gets rid of all the money changers and the marketers and says the Temple is a house of God. Certainly, this was the time for the military revolution, but it wasn’t. He left again.
Then, there were the confrontations with the religious leaders. There were these disagreements where Jesus got the upper hand, but you could tell the leaders were not happy. He told them that they were rejecting the cornerstone, that they didn’t understand that God is the God of the living, and that they desired places of honors instead of living what they taught.
This isn’t what you expected when Jesus came on Sunday. You expected a military revolution and a leader like David to get rid of the oppressive Roman government. Why hadn’t that happened? Did Jesus let us down?
Or is it that Jesus didn’t come as the Messiah in the way everyone, and perhaps we, expected. He didn’t come seeking a place of honor, but humbly took the place of the servant. In taking on the role of the servant, Jesus was inaugurating the kingdom, not by force, but by a life led in obedience to the Father’s will. It was an inauguration that began at Christmas and continued throughout his ministry. He taught life and shared life. He healed and restored people. He opened the way for the forgotten and neglected to find God again. His life and ministry showed people, both then and today, what it means to be in relationship with God through the gift of faith.
The kingdom was coming, and it was coming in a way that would bring glory to God and redeem the people of their lostness and separation from God. Jesus is saving the people of Israel, and us today, but not in any way that we would have expected. He came as a humble servant whose greatest act of humility and self-sacrifice was just hours away.
This should cause us to think: how would we have responded on that Thursday night? Our expectations have been shattered. Jesus is not coming in the way we wanted or expected, but is coming in a way that leads all to a relationship with God. How do we respond? Are we still shouting “Hosanna” or are we confused about what to shout?
Part C: The Crucifixion
After you finished the Passover meal, about midnight on Thursday, you started to hear a noise. It’s a little too late, you thought, for a crowd, but you look at your window and you see Jesus with the Roman soldiers and the religious leaders. He was under arrest.
Surely, you thought, Jerusalem was going to riot. So, you join in the mob that had formed, in order to see what was going on. You learn that the religious leaders had paid one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, to betray him. He led them to Gethsemane where Jesus was praying and they arrested him. It was out of jealousy and resentment and he was being taken to a trial where the religious leaders would try to to charge him something with to get rid of him.
As you walk with the crowd, you start to feel as though you are not just walking with them, but you are becoming one with the mob. You are chanting and cheering the arrest along with the mob. You cheered as the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious authority, found him guilty of blasphemy. Any person who claimed to be the Messiah and who claimed to be on equal footing with God was going to be in trouble, you thought.
You joined with the crowd as it went to Pilate’s palace. He questions Jesus for some time, but he doesn’t find a reason to execute him. They people are not happy. You are not happy. Eventually, you hear a noise in the crowd. They are shouting something. It’s not the same words they shouted Sunday. Sunday’s chant was filled with hope and jubilation. This chant was different. It was loud. It was vile. It was anger-ridden.
They are chanting “Crucify him!,” and you are joining along. You want to see Jesus take on this most repulsive form of criminal punishment, because he didn’t do what you expected. You start to think, why is Israel is still being oppressed if he truly was the King? He needed to go, you thought. This wasn’t the Messiah you wanted and you turned your back on him in the hour of his greatest need.
In this moment, the fickleness of faith is made clear. When our expectations aren’t met by Jesus, we run and seek to do away with Jesus. Jesus didn’t come as the militaristic Messiah or even the Messiah who would look like David. Instead, he came as a servant who gave of himself for the kingdom to come. He brought people into a relationship. He opened the channel of God’s grace to all. He came to save us all in a way that brought glory to God.
Christ didn’t meet their expectations, or ours, because Christ’s expectations and desires are bigger, deeper, and much more meaningful than anything we could have imagined. We would have never dreamed of a servant Messiah, who clothed himself in humility, and who led, by both his words and actions, what it means to be in a relationship with the Father.
It wasn’t just our fallen expectations that led us to chant “crucify him.” Our sin led the chant as well. Jesus died on the cross for our sin. We crucified Christ by our act of disobedience. It is our sin, and our inability to live for God’s desires, that led Jesus to the cross to secure the victory over sin and restore humanity to a relationship with God. On the cross, Jesus became forgiveness for all by his voluntary act to be the atonement offering for our sin.
You can hear it in his words. While hanging on the cross when words would have been difficult, Jesus looked out onto the crowd, he looked deeply into their eyes … he looked into our eyes as well, and then he looked toward and heaven and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It was a prayer that brought about the forgiveness and grace of God to all people.
On this day, how do we respond? We’ve shouted Hosannah! We’ve questioned what was going on and we’ve shouted “Crucify him!” Will we respond to the prayer? That prayer was Jesus’ offering of grace for you because of your sin.
As we honor the King on this Palm Sunday and prepare for the loss of Good Friday and the separation that comes on Holy Saturday, how will we respond to the prayer? Will we shout “crucify him,” or will we pray, “Father, forgive me?”