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Main Street Community Church, Frodsham

Loving God
Loving Frodsham

Palm Sunday 2018

This talk was given by Neil Banks on .

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Transcript

Paul Wintle: Please, do be seated and let’s pray for Neil as he comes forward. Father, we thank you for Neil, we thank you for speaking to him about whatever you want to speak with us about this morning. Would you give us ears to hear. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

Neil: Good morning.

Congregation: Good morning.

Neil: I think the last time I preached was in the run-up to Christmas, another momentous event for Christians. That baby that was born was full of potential, the potential to fulfil God’s plan for us. Today, obviously, as we come to Palm Sunday, we see the culmination of that plan. Today, we are talking about palms and prophecy. Now, during His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ touched and transformed countless lives. Like other events in the life of Jesus, His miracles were documented by eyewitnesses. All four gospels record the 37 miracles that Jesus carried out, Mark’s Gospel recording the most.

These accounts, we’re told represent only a small number of the multitudes of people who had their lives touched by Christ. We know this because, in the closing verse of John’s Gospel, he tells us, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” The 37 miracles of Jesus Christ that were written down and preserved as part of the New Testament always serve a specific purpose. None were performed randomly, for fun, or for show.

Each was accompanied by a message, met a serious human need, or confirmed Christ’s identity and authority as the Son of God. It was the teaching that mattered when it came to miracles. I often assumed that Jesus did not want people to know about any of the miracles he performed but I found since that it depends on the situation. If awareness of that miracle would draw people to hear His teaching, then all to the good. If it merely brought others who wanted a miracle without the life-changing salvation of God, then ultimately, it was useless. Jesus didn’t perform miracles for the sake of it, and when Herod asks him to do so, something that could have prevented His death sentence, he stayed silent.

Now, today, we are looking at the beginning of what we call Passion Week. I’m going to focus on John 12:12--15. All four Gospels cover the momentous events that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus and ultimately His resurrection from the tomb. Now, John devotes almost half of his entire Gospel to the last week of Jesus’s life. Matthew devotes around two-fifths, and Mark around three-fifths, Luke one third. This week is the culmination of everything and all the events that lead up to our redemption are highly significant. If you read from John 12:12--15, the triumphal entry.

The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion;
see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

(NIV)

As Jesus approaches the city, word gets around that He is coming.” Verse 12 tells us that a great multitude who had come to the feast took branches of Palm trees and went out to met Him and cried, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Now, this crowd would be made up of many different people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover as it was one of the mandatory feasts of Judaism, the others being Pentecost and Tabernacles. Now, if you could get to Jerusalem from where you lived, it was expected that you would make the journey. We have no historical numbers for how big the crowd was on this occasion but we can estimate that it was big. Two reasons why I think we can do that.

One, census records from around the time recorded that 250,000 lambs were often slaughtered for a Passover Feast. Now, I’m making the rough assumption that one lamb would feed 10 people, that would say that that, at least, 2.5 million people were in Jerusalem for Passover.

We also know, from the passage we’ve read, that the Pharisees are concerned that everyone in the world has gone after Him. In order for them to say this, clearly, the throng around Jesus is massive. He is diverting attention from the Feast. The problem was, although a central part of Judaism, Passover was ultimately the same thing every year. The same rituals, the same rules prescribing how it was to be celebrated. Herein, Jesus was a direct threat to that traditional religious observance and to the status quo.

Now, as an oppressed race with an occupying force in charge, the conditions were pretty much always ripe for a change, for freedom from captivity, for salvation. The people had grown tired of rules, rituals, hierarchies, and as word of Jesus’s work spread around, people began to see that possibility. Here is a man who teaches inclusiveness where their religion is exclusive. Jesus mixes with tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars, those in society that are ignored, despised, judged by religious leaders of the time. Not only that, crucially, here is a man who can heal, can feed thousands of people with nothing, who can raise a man from the dead. Could this be the king to save the Jews from their oppression?

Mark tells us that the common people heard Jesus gladly, that He was a breath of fresh air. Here, in the midst of another normal religious festival, is a far from normal situation. Thousands upon thousands of people come to greet Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt. They shout out, “Hosanna,” which means save us now and they throw palm leaves at His feet. One meaning of the palm leaves is an expectation of the arrival of a victorious king, in this case, triumphing over the Romans.

In effect, the actions of the crowd are to say, “Do for us what our religion has not done for us all these years. Save us, bring us salvation, deliver us and bring it now.” I think that’s what they are crying out. On the face of it, and to the disciples and others who were travelling along with Jesus, this looks like a slam dunk, the people love Him. Finally, the day has come when the anticipation of the long-awaited Messiah seems to have come to fruition. Finally, He has come. It was probably a bit of a party atmosphere and the huge crowd was undoubtedly with Him and His disciples. This angers the Pharisees.

We already know from John 11:45 that they are plotting against Jesus. When the Pharisees say, “Look, the world has gone after Him,” they see people turning towards Jesus and against Judaism and Passover. This is a problem because, ultimately, this erodes their power base but far more than that, the Pharisees had made peace with the Romans and any destabilization of that peace would have severe ramifications for them and for Israel. At that moment in time, Jesus may have been more appealing than religion to those down in Jerusalem but He’s not there to lead these masses nor is He there to be the figurehead of a new religion.

It is hard not to read of His triumphant entry and the cheers of the crowd without comparing it to the jeers and taunts that would come from the very same people only days later as Jesus, beaten and wearing a crown of thorns, drags His cross through the streets on the way to Golgotha to be put to death. Ignoring the fickle crowd with their selfish self-interest and curiosity in the celebrity of the man Jesus, most of these were not His followers after all. This is the start of what has to happen to fulfil scriptures and to bring salvation from eternal sin. Jesus captures the moment for Himself because he knows his hour has come.

On previous occasions, we know Jesus avoided confrontation, but now is the time that He must go to die. Jesus entered the city at the exact day, the exact moment that the prophet Daniel had foreseen, it didn’t matter what was going on with the Pharisees and Romans. Jesus would now provoke outrage and forced the issue to ensure that He is on the cross at the prescribed moment. By way of build-up to this momentous event, He raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew Lazarus was ill but He stayed where He was by the Jordan for four days. By the time He got there, Lazarus was not only dead but the Jewish tradition believes that after four days the spirit departed the body.

Lazarus was dead and buried when Jesus came to see him and, at that moment when He raised him from the dead, He knew He would set the stage for his own death.

Earlier in the gospel of John, He said, “No man takes my by life from me, I lay it down of myself.” The news of this miracle spread quickly and people started to take notice of Jesus and were keen to see and hear more of this man who had raised the dead man. Now, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on the 10th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, but why is that important? On the 10th day of Nisan, Jewish families would select the lamb for slaughter and bring it into the family.

On the 14th day of Nisan, that lamb would be sacrificed, the day of Passover. It is not insignificant, therefore, that for the first and only time that Jesus presents Himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, it is on the very day when those lambs are selected. Why is the Messiah sitting on a donkey? It wasn’t that He was tired or He’d always fancied a donkey ride and it was festival time. No, John tells us that He’s doing this to fulfil what the prophet said, that the Messiah will come, the king will come riding on a donkey.

In Zechariah 9:9--11, he says:

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.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
  and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
  and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
  His rule will extend from sea to sea
  and from the River to the ends of the earth.

(NIV)

In times of peace, kings would parade on a donkey. It was only in times of war that they would ride on a horse. The symbolism of the donkey explains Jesus’ intentions, He isn’t coming as the great deliverer of the Jews to wipe out and banish the Romans, He is coming as the Prince of Peace. He’s riding on a colt, an innocent unridden animal. He is the sacrificial lamb along with all those hundreds of thousands of others that have been chosen for the Passover and will be put to death. In short, this has to happen. Now, I grew up in a Roman Catholic family and for me, one of the most powerful childhood memories of Easter was mass on Good Friday. When arriving in church, everything was silent, stripped, and dark.

This mass is a solemn remembrance of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, including the reading of one of the passion accounts from the gospels. For me, this period of quiet solemn reflection was a powerful remembrance of exactly what Jesus endured at the hands of humans, being horrifically punished and put to death for our benefit. There is no greater sacrifice. In the face of this act, it is almost laughable when you think what He’s asked of us in return. All we have to do is follow Him and believe; but there is a catch: you have to mean it. This is crucial.

If we go back to the thronging crowd welcoming our Lord into Jerusalem, how many of them were there to go through the emotions, to be seen to be participating along with the rituals, but with nothing much there behind it? How many people in churches and fellowships up and down this country are doing the same thing today? Follow Jesus then and believe in what you are doing.

Jesus’s death took away the need for empty worship and ritual for those who choose to follow him. Some religions may exclude you from membership because you broke one of the key rules of their constitution. Your life choices or circumstances may not be compatible with a fellowship’s view of the world and this might cut you off. I believe Jesus isn’t religion. Like the sign that greets people as they enter this place, all are welcome to follow Jesus because He knows what is truly in our hearts and He accepts us as we are. Amen.

Paul Wintle: Shall we just have a few moments of silence to reflect on those words of Neil? Thank you.

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This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0 license logo

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.