Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-40
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Sermon: “Jesus the Giant Killer”
There are times in life when how we make an entrance is hugely important.
- Imagine a bride and her proud father standing at the end of the church aisle while the organist opens up all the stops and plays The Wedding March.
- Think of when a loved one strides across a stage to pick up a diploma.
- Goodness knows how many hours are spent broadcasting the entrances of those whom we call “stars” on countless red carpets for any one of the multiplying-like-rabbits award shows that fill the airwaves.
Every once in a while, though, someone comes along who turns convention on its head, as happened with this less than grand but still unforgettable entrance in a classic film.
Clip, Duck Soup
In the movie Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly was supposed to be the savior of Freedonia. Honestly, he knew next to nothing about running a country. He did know how to make an unexpected entrance, though.
This morning we remember Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the day that we call “Palm Sunday.” Like Rufus, Jesus knew how to make an entrance, too. And, like Rufus, Jesus would use his entrance to turn expectations upside down.
As we read Luke’s Palm Sunday story, the whole things sounds like a spontaneous, unrehearsed, outburst of joy and hope. Really, though, it was as carefully choreographed and on message as an appearance by any one of the rapidly growing field of presidential candidates.
Jesus and his disciples went out of their way to send an unmistakable message, deliberately fulfilling Hebrew scripture and prophecy.
The donkey Jesus rode, for example, was important, going back to Zechariah 9:9.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
The route that donkey took was no accident, either. It was the same one that Solomon rode when he was crowned King of Israel at David’s command.
The garments thrown on the path go back to 2 Kings: 9, when Elisha had one of his prophets anoint Jehu king of Judah. When Jehu’s men heard the news, scripture says,
They all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.” (2 Kings 9:1-13)
Last but certainly not least, the shouts of the crowd came from Psalm 118. Using the word “King” was an extra, added touch.
None of these carefully worked out details was lost on the crowds. They thought their long-awaited Messiah had finally come.
The Pharisees noticed, too. They told Jesus to keep his followers quiet before the Romans figured out what was going on. He was putting not just himself, but the crowd and even the city, at risk.
The crowds couldn’t have cared less about the Pharisees’ worries. They were glad to welcome their king. They hoped that Jesus, like David, would slay a giant, the Roman Empire, and break its grip on their country. There was just one thing wrong with this picture. Their agenda wasn’t Jesus’ agenda, not by a long shot.
Jesus won’t follow our agenda, either. We don’t like it any more than the crowds of 2,000 years ago did. After all, we have a few giants of our own we’d like Jesus to tackle.
The Barna group did a survey of Americans back in 2013, asking them to share the things that tempted them most. The folks at Barna noted that the more serious or shocking the temptation, the less likely folks are to admit having it. Still, the survey paints an interesting picture of our society today.
New temptations include spending too much time on media, cited by 44% of us, and losing our temper with someone in a text message or email, mentioned by 11%.
Then, of course, there are all the old favorites, including over eating, at 55%, overspending, at 44%, gossiping, at 26%, jealousy, at 24%, pornography at 18%, lying or cheating at 12%, abusing alcohol or drugs at 11%, and sexually inappropriate behavior at 9%.
The Barna group also found that we Americans, obsessed as we are with working hard and making money, have a set of temptations uniquely our own. That includes procrastination and worry, both at 60%, as well as being lazy or not working as hard as we think we should, at 41%.
The most powerful and threatening giant of them all is the giant of regret, the personal list of “couldas, wouldas, and shouldas” we each carry.
Another study broke those regrets down into twelve basic groups, but psychologists found that most of them fall into the top four.
- Education comes out on top. Regrets along these lines would be something like, “If only I’d studied harder in high school, college, or grad school.”
- Career comes next at 22%. Regrets in this area might be something like, “If only I were a dentist or a police officer, a firefighter or a pastor—how much better things would be!”
- Next on the list is romance, at 15%. This would include regrets like “If only I’d married Fritz instead of Hans, or Gretchen instead of Gretel!”
- Finally is parenting at 10%, voicing the regret that always comes too late, “If only I’d spent more time with my kids.”
Whichever of those giants you struggle with, friends, know this. Jesus has broken its hold on you forever by taking away its most powerful weapon, fear.
He does that by facing down the two terribly fearsome giants who rule them all, giants that have plagued people of every age and place. Their names are sin and death.
Jesus had his own battle plans that flew in the face of the war-fueled dreams of the crowds shouting his praises. Jesus conquers, not with a sword, but with sacrifice. He does so, not with an army of thousands, but with a single death, his own.
We’ve struggled to understand the saving work of Jesus’ death since the dawn of Christianity. Somehow, on the cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of separation between God and us, making whole what had once been a broken relationship.
The broken is made whole again when we join with Jesus in his saving work. It may mean comforting a grieving friend or church member. You might end up lending an ear to a troubled soul, welcoming a stranger, or helping a coworker. Maybe you’ll be the one to reach out to a classmate, friend, relative, or neighbor who’s retreating more and more into him or herself.
Paul told the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That mind and that heart look at the world in terms of distance-spanning, sin-conquering, self-sacrificing, gracious love.
The Palm Sunday crowd couldn’t see that. As we look back now with 2,000 years of hindsight, we do see it, and much more besides. We know that Christ’s work will continue all during the week that follows, and even beyond the darkness of Good Friday.
When God raises him on Easter morning, Jesus will slay the last and fiercest giant, as Paul told the Corinthians.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)