Palm/Passion Sunday – March 20th, 2005
Matthew 21, Matthew 27, Revelation 7
I. Introduction –
This Sunday is unusual, in that it has two names. First, commonly, called “Palm Sunday”, it marks one week before Easter, and we remember the day when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to inaugurate Holy Week. But because it is also the last Sunday before Easter, it has also been called the Sunday of the Passion. The idea is, that on this Sunday, we would recall ALL the events of Holy Week, and of Christ’s Passion, including (and especially) Good Friday. You might say then that this Sunday has sort of a split personality. Trying to fit all this in, can make us feel a little bit crowded. Crowds…. Hmm.
It’s also common on this Sunday to point out the 2 crowds we meet in the 2 events. The crowd of Palm Sunday, and the crowd of Good Friday. In fact Pastor Poppe used this contrast just this past Wednesday, as we listened to the voice of “the shouting mob”. We’ll revisit some of that today, but also go a bit further, and in a slightly different direction. We’ll also see a third crowd.
Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of crowds. Even a few too many people in the elevator bugs me a little. I’ve never understood those people who go to Times’ Square, New York for the New Year’s celebration every year. Or amusement parks with long, long lines – cranky kids and crabby adults – I just don’t really like crowds. People bump into you, you have to wait, they slow you down – and on top of it all, they can be loud! The crowds we see today are loud – shouting, even – but it’s more than noise.
One final note about the Passion of our Lord, and that is that as we read the account, it is full of (what I call) prophetic irony – people speaking the truth of God in spite of themselves… Like the Chief Priest who said it was better that one man should die for the whole nation. Like Pilate, who wrote that Jesus was, indeed, a King. Like the Chief Priests who reminded Pilate that Jesus intended to rise from the dead… And then, there are the crowds.
So picture with me today 3 shouting crowds. 3 large groups of people, with loud voices and different messages. But taken together, they preach a sermon. Unknowingly, in spite of themselves, the crowds bring us a message on this crowded Sunday. They shout: Hosanna!, Crucify!, Salvation is done!
II. The Palm Sunday Crowd – “Hosanna!”
The crowds…shouted…’Hosanna to the Son of David’!
The electricity in the air – the arrival of the Messiah
Long expected, Long awaited, could this be the one?
His miracles spoke for themselves. He healed, he fed, he even raised the dead! He had quite a following, and his teaching had its own authority.
Rumors may have spread about his lineage – descended from David, born in Bethlehem. Look – he’s riding a donkey, just like David and his sons did. It’s a sign of peace – not a horse of war – could he bring us such peace? Could he be the one? The Messiah, the Savior?
“Save us!” they shouted, “Hosanna!”. They knew they needed a savior. But they didn’t know from what. They waved their palm branches. They knew they were oppressed, but they didn’t know by whom. They spread their coats before him. It wasn’t the Roman tyrants, but Sin and Death were the real enemies. And Jesus would indeed save. He was David’s Son and David’s Lord.
How many Christians today get caught up in the shouting, the singing, the praising, and forget the cause of our joy? Not just that God is powerful and righteous and holy – though all that is true. But it means nothing to us if He is not our Savior! HOSANNA! SAVE US! Save us from our sins, Lord, Save us from the wages of our sin. Save us from guilt for our iniquities. And rescue us from death and hell. Let us join our voices with those of the Jerusalem crowd. SAVE US! HOSANNA!
They knew Why Jesus had come – to save them. They just didn’t know how he would do it.
III. The Good Friday Mob – “Crucify!”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd…
They shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!” –Matt. 27:20,23
Then, another crowd. A crowd that has gathered early to see a spectacle – a trial. Perhaps some of the same people waving palms a few days before, perhaps not. Either way, they too become a part of the plan, unknowingly, perhaps. They too serve a purpose, speak a message, teach a truth. That truth is just this – Jesus must die.
It may have seemed to all of Jesus’ disciples that his arrest, trial, suffering and execution were a terrible miscarriage of justice, but in reality is was God demonstrating his own justice. They might have thought this was all terrible misfortune, but there is purpose here. God is in control, directing the events. Jesus went willingly, to his arrest, to trial, to death. Even the call of the crowd would mean nothing had he not permitted their riotous threats to sway Pilate.
And what about that crowd? Stirred up by the enemies of Christ. Were they paid? Were they trying to earn the favor of their leaders, or just star-struck by those influential priests and holy men? Were they simply a bunch of bored travelers seeking some excitement while away from home- and who doesn’t like to see a blasphemer get his come-up’ns?
Or were these some, maybe many, of the Hosanna crowd – who were perhaps impatient or disappointed with the “supposed” Messiah. He wasn’t doing any saving. He wasn’t over-throwing the Romans – in fact, they had him in custody. Perhaps they felt betrayed, or let down by a false Messiah – and in vengeance called for his death.
Don’t we sometimes become impatient, frustrated with God – for not being the kind of savior we desire in any given situation? We know we can turn to him for help – but when that help doesn’t seem to come, or at least the way and in the time we want it – do we turn on Him just as easily?
Whatever the motives of the crowd – vengeance, boredom, currying the favor of the Jewish leaders – whatever their agenda or agendas – their cry was prophetic. They participated in the pre-ordained plan of God for the salvation of all. In spite of themselves, they called for the one thing that was needed. Blood. The blood of Christ.
They even said, “His blood be on us and on our children” How ironic. How prophetic. They meant it as a statement to take long-term responsibility for the death of one man. But his blood on us, and on our children, is the only thing that removes from us the responsibility of our sins – and of an eternal death sentence.
Crucifixion was the worst death imaginable in that day, and perhaps even since then. But by it, Jesus saves us from a death beyond imagination. He saves not just us, but the world – all the crowds of history – born and yet unborn, by his blood.
The “Crucify” crowd knew how Jesus would die – by crucifixion. They just didn’t know why.
IV. A Great Multitude –“Salvation!”
A great multitude that no one could count…wearing white robes, and holding palm branches…cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God…and to the Lamb”
Pastor Poppe pointed out on Wednesday how sometimes we are a part of both the “Hosanna” and the “Crucify” crowds. And it’s true. But of all the crowds gathered in scripture I could think of only one other that shouted. It’s not part of the Passion week narrative, or any other passage we might hear in church this time of year – unless, that is, we are at a funeral.
Revelation 7, a passage often used in the Order of Christian Burial – speaks of this other shouting crowd. A large group, a “Great Multitude” of white-robed people. They too, waving palms, like the Hosanna crowd. They too, well aware of the blood and death of the Lamb. And they too, a crowd of which we are a part!
John sees them as part of his vision, a crowd so great that “no one could count”. They come “From every tribe, nation, people and language”. Someone asks John who they are, but John doesn’t. Then John is told, “These are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!” In other words, this crowd is the church. All believers in Christ from all times, all places and races, all gathered before the throne of God in heaven. The crowd, that by our baptism and in accordance with our faith – includes you and me!
And that crowd in heaven shouts, cries out, sings – with a loud voice. They complete the sermon of the three crowds by proclaiming, that “Salvation belongs to our God… and to the Lamb!” It is an accomplished fact. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world, the Lamb who once was slain, but who now is alive and reigns. You can see why this is a favorite passage for funerals.
What a crowd of crowds we have seen today. And what a message they bring. And in as much as we belong to each of these crowds, we can hear our own loud shouting:
Admitting our need for saving. Acknowledging the need for His blood. And joining all those who are cleansed by his blood. The great multitude of believers destined for, and already there. All that is worth shouting about. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Palm Sunday crowd shouted, “Hosanna!”, but just 5 days later, another crowd shouted, “Crucify!”. As we recall the Palms and the Passion, let us also thank God for making us part of still another crowd- the Great Multitude of Heaven. In Jesus Christ. Amen.