Sermon for the Feast of Palm Sunday, preached at Gethsemane Lutheran:
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
There they were, people from every corner of the known world, celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem. This was a day filled with meaning and purpose and high expectations.
The Passover feast was the day when they remembered God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and looked forward to the day of God’s ultimate deliverance of His people. Jesus triumphant entry on this day of all days, surrounded by crowds of supporters, would raise the people’s expectations high, that just like God sent Moses to deliver them from the Tyranny of the Egyptians so then maybe God had sent Jesus to deliver them from the Tyranny of the Romans who now ruled their country. They expected Jesus to be a great deliver who would save the Jews from their enemies.
For three years Jesus had taught, preached and performed miracles for everyone across the region. Just a short while before His entrance into Jerusalem Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead before the eyes of a large crowd of witnesses. Many from this crowd had continued to follow Jesus after that and now followed him into Jerusalem. They were filled with great expectation and wanted to see what Jesus would do next. They expected Jesus to be a great prophet and miracle worker.
For the crowds that day, the fact that Jesus rode in on a donkey raised their expectations higher. All of the Jews there would have known the story of Solomon and the day he rode victoriously into Jerusalem on a donkey and was anointed the successor of the Great King David and King over all of Jerusalem. They expected Jesus to be a great King, like King David and Solomon of old who would rule His people in peace and justice.
In those crowds there were many visitors, people who were simply travelling and visiting Jerusalem, they wanted to know who this Jesus was and what all of this was about. They didn’t have any expectations for Jesus at all but they could tell that a lot of other people did and they wanted to know why.
With all of these expectations they surrounded Jesus and cried out “Hosanna blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of the Jews, Hosanna!!!” The crowds ran to the nearby Palm Trees and cut down the branches laying them on the ground before Jesus, a symbol of victory and of recognizing the coming king. Many took of their cloaks and laid them on the ground as well showing their respect and honor of being in Jesus’ presence. “Hosanna,” they cried “Hosanna,” filled with high expectations for Jesus.
And there was Jesus, in the middle of all of those expectations. Jesus who would fulfill all of those expectations but not in the way that the people wanted their expectations to be met. The crowds had great and high expectations for Jesus but their expectations were actually to small. They expected a great deliverer like Moses but they only wanted one that would deliver them from the Romans. Jesus was there to be a great deliver that would rescue all of creation from the bondage of sin and death. They expected Jesus to be their own personal miracle worker healing only their illnesses, but Jesus came to heal the whole world, through the sacrifice of His blood. They expected Jesus to be an earthly king, but Jesus was the eternal king of Heaven and Earth through whom all things were created. Jesus had to be who we was meant to be for those people who had no expectations for Him at all, so they could know Him and be saved through faith.
Jesus couldn’t have fulfilled the small expectations that the people had for Him, because that wasn’t the world needed, the world needed Jesus to be what His Heavenly Father expected him to be, the Savior of the World. So in the midst of all of those human expectations, he sets his eyes like flint to what mattered most, the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. He moved from the palms to the cross to be not what the people expected of him but what the world needed from Him.
Because this story is our story as well, the great story of salvation given by God for all people, we can hear our own expectations of Jesus echoed in that crowd as well. Sometimes we expect Jesus to be our own personal miracle worker, sometimes there to heal our bodies from an illness but sometimes there to simply do what we want God to do for us. Making deals with God our simply expecting something just because we want it. Sometimes we expect too little from Jesus as well, not expecting him to really work and act in our lives and not completely expecting Him to be able to save us from our sins. Maybe he needs some help from us after all. Sometimes we expect Jesus to be just another good teacher, like other good teachers in history, from Ghandi to Buddha, but not really expecting Him to be truly the one who is good and holy and the true God from eternity. Maybe we expect Jesus to be the King of heaven and earth but we don’t really expect Jesus to be the personal king of my life. We expect Jesus to run the world and keep the pieces moving but we don’t really expect Him to rule my life and to actually have something to say about how I live. Or we might not actually have any expectations for Jesus at all, were just here, but we do wonder why do all of these people, some 4 billion Christians right now, have all of these expectations for Jesus?
On this Palm Sunday, Jesus is here as well. in the midst of all of our own expectations, but just like for the crowds 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to be the savior we needed not the savior we expected. Jesus came to heal us in both body and soul, not just limited to this life, but to heal our sinful disease so we can be whole and well throughout all of eternity. Jesus came to be good for us who are not good in ourselves and to bring us God’s goodness and love. Jesus came to be the king of our lives, but only done in love and grace, knowing that in the love and rule of Jesus is where we find our peace. Jesus came for all of those that have no expectations for Him at all, so they could know Him for who He is and be loved by Him and love Him back.
So even in the midst of all of our own human expectations, Jesus draws our own eyes to what matters most, not our own expectations, but the God’s expectations, met on the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. Jesus invites us this Holy Week to move from the palms to the cross to see the savior we don’t expect but the one we need.