Today is on our church calendar as Palm Sunday. It is the Sunday that signals the beginning of what many refer to as Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday. For many other people, Palm Sunday begins a countdown clock for getting photos with the Easter Bunny, making final purchases of candy, marshmallow peeps, and jelly beans, and purchasing new clothes for Easter. In fact, retailers expect that each American consumer will spend an astounding $150 on Easter. That is $18 Billion. That amount of money is more than the annual economy for 78 countries of the 192 countries in the world. For school children, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday usually signals the blessing of a vacation and a sign that the end of the school year will soon be here. Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are a big deal to the way we spend our money and our time. But does Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday really matter to us? And by really matter, I mean, does what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago on what we call Palm Sunday make a difference in our life, in the way we live, in the way we raise our children and grandchildren? Are you refreshed by Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, or depleted by it, or just indifferent to it all? How we answer those questions determines whether Palm Sunday matters to you?
I know Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday do not really mean anything of substance to a great many people. They are indifferent. Now, that is something new. People were not indifferent on the first occasion when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Jesus was not indifferent. He was very emotional that day. Jesus, the exact image of God, was excited, sad, tearful, and angry. The people who surrounded Jesus were excited or angry. No one was indifferent. That original day mattered to everyone. Does it matter to you and me? I think we should see what happened that day and why it should matter greatly to everyone here.
I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 19, starting at verse 28. The scene of this story is probably familiar to most of us. Jesus and his disciples had been staying just outside of Jerusalem in the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem and instead of walking into the city, today, Jesus wanted to enter upon a young donkey, referred to by Luke as a colt. Jesus charged two of his disciples to find the colt and bring it to him. In verse 35, we read, “35They [Jesus’ disciples] brought it [the colt] to Jesus, [the disciples] threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.” A cloak is an outer garment, typically a long sleeveless coat. They had prepared Jesus to enter the city as the prophet Zechariah said he would when 400 years earlier Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem and the people responded. Luke wrote, “36 As he [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” The people around Jesus were not indifferent to him. They were singing and shouting about him. They threw their cloaks on the ground so Jesus upon the donkey could walk on them. I guess if we focused on Luke’s account instead of other writers who talked about palms being waved, we might call this "Cloak Sunday” instead of “Palm Sunday.” Regardless, this crowd was whipped up and excited. They wanted to bring attention to Jesus and they wanted to be able to say, “I was there the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey!”
Now not everyone shared the crowd’s excitement. They were not indifferent to Jesus either. They held some strong passions. Luke identified this group in verse 39, “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’” Put most simply, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to make everyone shut up. The Pharisees thought the crowd a threat to them and thought the Romans might see the crowd as an unruly mob. People have wanted others to stop talking about Jesus since Jesus walked this earth. You see it all the time in our society. We can talk all we want about Jesus inside this building, but society now says, “Please don’t speak about him in the public square.” But Jesus had a surprise for the Pharisees and it is a lesson we should hear. Jesus said, “40I tell you, if they [the people] keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” God will not be silenced. God will be heard and praised either by humanity made in his own image or by nature itself. The Pharisees were not indifferent to Jesus and the power he had over people and events. They desperately wanted Jesus to stop people from singing and shouting about him.
Luke then records an important reaction to this whole noisy scene. It is a reaction of just one person. In verse 41, Luke wrote, “As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he [Jesus] wept over it.” Jesus was not indifferent to this scene. The scene brought Jesus to tears. The word weeping does not mean, “Jesus’ eyes got moist.” The Greek word Luke used meant Jesus had tears flowing down this face. Jesus was in agony amid all the celebration.
What would cause Jesus to cry? Jesus looking at the city of the Jerusalem said to those listening, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Jesus knew the people of the city would reject him. Jesus knew that those who reject Jesus will be like the city of Jerusalem. They will not have peace. Those who reject Jesus will have nothing solid in their lives. Those who reject Jesus will lead their children to reject Jesus. It is sad when someone rejects God. The city would reject Jesus and the but a few years later the Romans would later dismantle the city, kill its inhabitants, and throw down ever stone of the Temple complex. Only the Western Wall or Wailing Wall is the only part of the temple that remains in place today. The city was not indifferent to Jesus, they would reject him, and Jesus wept.
Luke’s account of Jesus entry to Jerusalem carried one more passion filled element. Verse 45, “When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’’ Every day he [Jesus] was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” Jesus was not indifferent to the conditions of the temple that day so many years ago. He drove out those elements that corrupted the purpose for which the temple was built. This upset many people. They were angry, not indifferent, and wanted Jesus dead. Others wanted Jesus to live and take the next step. While this group waited on Jesus, they listened to his words, absorbing them with great delight. Everyone had powerful and passionate beliefs about Jesus, whether they rejected Jesus or hung on his every word.
What then does this passage mean to us today? Should this passage matter to us today? Are we passionate about today or have we introduced a new emotion to the scene by being indifferent? I think we can see a few things from this passage.
First, Jesus comes into our lives and we must respond. Those who are excited by the message of Jesus sing and shout about his presence and hang on his every word. They may not fully understand everything he said or his purposes, but they hang in there and don’t run away. People who follow Jesus sing with joy. People who follow Jesus talk about him, and at times, shout about him in the public square. They are not intimidated or pressured to be quiet. They want to bring attention to the message of Jesus. This is the wonderful experience of a rich life of faith in Jesus. However, in our day, some follow Jesus but at a distance and without passion. They are folks within the Christian community live like the world and so they behave as practical atheists. They are informed of Christ, they may attend church, they know Jesus’ words but there are no real changes in their lives from knowing him. They are practical atheists. These folks are indifferent to Jesus. He does not penetrate their life and change the way they think, speak, or act. We need to ask ourselves as individuals and as a church, have we become indifferent to Jesus and living the life of a practical atheist? If Christianity became a crime, would there be any evidence to convict me?
Second, our passage reminds us that some will reject Jesus and seek him to be silenced. We should not be surprised when we see it or experience. Here is the good news. God will raise up people to sing and shout or he will command nature itself to do so.
Third, even when people reject Jesus, he still is passionately desiring them. He wept over the city of Jerusalem and I think he weeps today for those who do not come to him. Too often we think of Jesus as a man standing on the gangplank of a ship about to leave port. We see him checking the credentials of those seeking entry and he seeing if there is some way to keep them from boarding the ship. I believe the contrary is true. Jesus is on the gangplank of that departing ship reaching out trying to grab hold of anyone he can reach and get them on board the ship before it sails. The picture in my mind is Jesus reach out grabbing one by the arm, the other by a leg, and a third by the hair to get them on board. Jesus does not anyone to perish and he weeps when he see some people walking away.
Finally, knowing these truths about God’s passions and his desires, does this day matter to you? Do you experience this day as a day of celebration of joy, shouting, and singing about how much God means to you and that he sent Jesus into Jerusalem to set things right for you? Do you hang on Jesus’ every word wondering how do I bring these words into my life? Do you see Jesus as the savior desiring no one perish? If this is who you are, celebrate your life in Christ! You are a new creation!
Perhaps you have rejected him and yet you are here. To say, “I am not sure who Jesus is to me” is to reject him. If this is you, I am glad you are here, and I would hope you and I could have a conversation. You need to make a decision about Jesus, and it will effect you, your life now and forever. We should talk.
Finally, perhaps you are a practical atheist. You are not in the Biblical story we read because people then were not indifferent to Jesus. A practical atheist stands at the bottom of that gangplank ducking each attempt by Jesus to get them on board. If this is you, then you need to decide that Jesus should matter to you. It is time to change and grab hold of Jesus arm as he reaches for you. Let him change your life in wonderful ways.
Jesus’ entry to our lives, like his entry to Jerusalem, matters. It mattered to him so much that he died to get us on board the ship. Does it matter to you? Let us pray.