Palm Sunday

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I’m going to invite you to… John chapter 12 is where we’re going to be today. We’re going to look at two sections of scripture. We’re going to look in John chapter 12 and in Luke chapter 19. So you can get both of those passages ready as we’re going to start in John 12 and then head over to Luke 19 in just a moment.

But we are this week celebrating the Holy week and that Holy week begins with what we call Palm Sunday. This week was, I think, the darkest week in history and it also became the greatest week in all of human history. It starts on a Sunday that we refer to as Palm Sunday, which for me, if you just hear those words, you might think, “What does this have to do with Jesus and why in the world should I even care?” Palm Sunday, what does this mean to me and why should this even matter?

I think that’s an important question to ask and an important question to answer. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about this morning. Why should you care about Palm Sunday? Why does this matter to your faith? And why is this such an important day leading into an important week for us to celebrate?

The first Palm Sunday would’ve been an incredible day of celebration in Israel, had Israel understood what was happening.

And point number one in your notes, and this is where we’ll start, is Jesus presents himself as king. On this particular day, what made Palm Sunday such an incredible day of celebration was this was the day Jesus presented himself as king to Israel. And if you read through the gospels, you might ask the question, “Well, hasn’t Jesus done this before? Hasn’t Jesus already talked about his kingship in Israel?” And I would just say, probably not to the degree that you might expect.

In the beginning, Jesus is pronounced by John the Baptist, “Prepare the roads. Here comes the King.” And at Jesus’ birth you see this correlation of Jesus being compared to an earthly king. In the beginning, when Herod wanted to kill Jesus, it sort of does this contrast and especially the gospel of Matthew, between King Herod’s demeanor as ruler and here comes little Jesus born in a manger and people are bowing down to this baby in a manger and refusing to obey King Herod. So there’s kind of this contrasting idea between Jesus and then when Jesus is baptized, there’s this Messianic promise given by the Father as the Spirit descends on Jesus illuminated that way.

But when you watch Jesus’ ministry, the way that Jesus conducted himself in His ministry is He sort of diminished the idea of His kingship. And what I mean is He gave the evidence of it through the miracles that He worked, but He often told people regularly, He said at the end of the gospel of Luke chapter eight and the beginning of chapter nine, after He performed some miracles, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Keep this a secret. Or in John chapter six, right after He feeds the 5,000 in verse 15, it says Jesus understood that people were going to take Him by force and make Him king so He withdrew himself alone up into the mountains to pray. So, Jesus, when it comes to the idea of being presented as Israel’s king, He continued to stiff arm this idea. And the reason I think Jesus stiff armed this idea was because the way that the people during Jesus’ day understood the idea of kingship and what they expected of the Messiah was far different than what Jesus presented Himself as the true king before Israel.

And so Jesus was constantly moving further from this identity that they were placing up on Him as this ruler king that was supposed to come and conquer Rome. They had this expectation that Jesus would do this physically and so Jesus continued to push away from this idea. But finally, when you get to John chapter 12… Now Jesus openly declares His position as king and He does it without even saying a word. And the people begin to praise Him, and different than all other times in Jesus’s response, when they would attempt to make Him king, Jesus finally, in this moment, He embraces the adulation.

And in John chapter 12, verse 12, it reads like this. “The next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast, heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” This is the final moments to his crucifixion, the final week to his crucifixion. “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out ‘Hosanna, blessed it as 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.'”

In first century Israel, the imagery that this would’ve conjured up in their minds, prophetically, would’ve been incredible. And to take words out of the Rock, Dwayne Johnson’s mouth, it would’ve been electrifying. And the kind of moment that this would’ve built up to, to what Jesus was presenting Himself. He’s riding on a back of the donkey and the crowd would’ve known the prophetic statements from the book of Zechariah. These are just the final prophetic words to the end of the Old Testament. In Zechariah chapter nine, verse nine, there was this promise, this Messiah that would come for Israel and deliver His people, this king, and He would come on the back of a donkey. And now all of a sudden the country for the last three years has been stirred by the healings and the works and the miracles of Jesus.

There’s this buzz around Him, and it’s created a crowd and they would’ve been aware of this prophetic statement in the book of Zechariah and now coming into Jerusalem, which is the capital of what the Jewish people represent, this is where the temple rules, this is where their kings would’ve stood. And now Jesus is riding on the back of a donkey entering into Jerusalem as if to fulfill this prophecy. There would’ve been jubilation. In the midst of this jubilation of Jesus’s arrival, they sing this phrase to Christ, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel.”

And when Israel would make this journey to Jerusalem, they would do so during this Passover, and they would sing the customary hallel, these songs, Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 113 to Psalm 118, that would’ve been the regular Psalms… That Israel from the tanakh, they would have sang together the praises of the Lord. And the particular journey into Jerusalem, they would’ve sung, especially Psalm 118. And Psalm 118, as they would make this journey, in verse 26, gives that pronunciation of praising God. “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel.”

And as they see Jesus fulfilling this prophecy of Zechariah coming into Jerusalem as their king, they give the verbal pronunciation of Jesus, as such. It recognizes in this phrase, both the Messianic promise, the one who comes in the Lord, that God would bring them a deliverer, a rescuer, an anointed one. That’s what the Messiah represents. And not just that He was a Messiah, but He was the king. And Jesus, receiving this praise, the people began in this moment to wave these palm branches as they sing in celebration.

I try to think, what could we compare this to? Because for Israel, there was this national identity in what Jesus represented for them, but also there was this familiarity of song, of regularly singing these Psalms surrounded Passover. So there was this national identity and there was also this worshipful identity. I’m trying to think in our culture, what do we have that’s comparable to something like this. I think maybe something that’s… Last few centuries for people around the world and particularly maybe here in America, song Amazing Grace. It doesn’t matter whether you call yourself a Christian or not, that song, Amazing Grace, has a particular recognition that we all might adhere to to some degree or another.

I couldn’t even come up with the best way to correlate, to exactly how this identity for the Jews, this moment for the Jews was happening. For me, I think, the best illustration I could think of is you picture yourself, it’s the eighties, you’ve got the best boombox you’ve ever been handed in life and the greatest rock song that you love has just come on the radio and you’re home all by yourself. Your hair’s done up like the best 80s Cindy Lauper look you’ve ever had in your life and you’ve got a hairbrush in your hand and you play the meanest air guitar anyone’s ever seen. And it’s just you, your mirror, your song, all by yourself. What comes out from your heart in that moment? That’s about the best I could correlate.

But that’s the Jews here in this circumstance. They’re thinking… I guess my spirit animal is Cindy Lauper, I don’t know why I went there. But the Jews in this moment, there’s so much identity in these Psalms. There’s the history of making this journey to Jerusalem during this Passover. And they would sing Psalm 118 and all of a sudden they turn and they see Jesus on the back of a donkey and they know Zechariah 9:9. And they recognize that moment is also when they’re coming to that exact verse, in verse 26, that declares who Jesus is. This would’ve been a powerful moment. And the people are just moved to pick up these palm branches and just celebrate Jesus. It’s not just this random idea of picking up these palm branches. These palm branches are rich in Biblical history for the Jews. The palm branches, they came to symbolize for the Jews a place of celebration, a place of God’s provision, a place of life, a place of hope, a place of victory, a place of jubilation. That’s what this palm branch has historically represented to the Jewish people.

So when Jesus starts to make this journey, they can’t help but just grab these palm branches and begin to wave at Christ as they celebrate His presence. In fact, in the book of Leviticus, chapter 23, when God tells the Jews, they celebrate the Feast of Booths, He says to celebrate this way. “And on the first day, you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, and branches of trees with thick branches and willows from the brook. And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God, for seven days.” You don’t even have to really read Biblical history to know palm branches are just a tree to celebrate.

This past week, my family, we take now, we have a tradition that during spring break, we like to find somewhere that’s got a pool and swim and just relax by a pool and to do that, we’ve got to get somewhere warm. And to get somewhere warm, we head south. And as we head south, we see boring desert, you see cactus, cactus, cactus, palm tree, and then you start to celebrate. You see a palm tree and there’s just something inside of you that’s like, “Palm tree.” Especially after you go through winters in Utah, you see a palm tree and it’s an exciting time. So just palm trees in themself, there’s just something that’s wonderful about them.

But even in Jewish histories, you start to understand how God has used that to shape Israel’s identity. During the Feast of Booths, they were supposed to take palm trees and celebrate the Feast of Booths. And the Feast of Booths, it was a time when Israel went through the wilderness and they saw God’s hand of provision and God’s hand of provision, traditionally, was given to them every time they got to a group of palm trees. It’s a place of hope, a place of life, a place of provision, a place of celebration. God loves His people. The palm tree came to represent that.

In fact, when Solomon built the first temple, all over the temple, First Kings chapter six, verse 29, and throughout this chapter, “Then he carved all the surrounding walls of the house with engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers for the inner and outer sanctuaries.” It’s a reminder of their history of God’s hand and God’s care for them. So when Jesus comes to the streets of Jerusalem, it only makes sense that the people would celebrate with Psalm 118, lifting up palm branches to represent the good hand of God over His people.

But, here’s what happens. Luke chapter 19. And this is the next blank in your notes. We rejected Him. We rejected Him. In Luke 19, this is right after Jesus starts to… He enters into Jerusalem and in the gospel of Luke, right after all of the jubilation celebration, from Israel, the Pharisee’s turn to Jesus while this is happening in verse 39, this is what they say. “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.'”

It’s an incredible contrast here in this story. In the gospel of John, you see this jubilation and it transpires into, a similar comment is here in Luke, but you see the jubilation in John 12 and here in Luke 19, all of a sudden this contrast of the jubilation of Israel to the posture of Jesus. And Jesus, in this moment, He comes in with some heavy words. Everyone else, excited about what they’re seeing, but Jesus drastically contrasts this moment. We start to see why as Jesus explains from the moment of joy, to really horror, or the pronouncement of Him and His glory to His pronouncement of doom.

The Pharisees want Jesus to rebuke the people and Jesus says, “If I do that, even the stones will cry out.” And honestly the stones will very soon cry out as they ultimately end up rejecting Jesus when the temple is torn and destroyed. In 70 AD, the Jewish temple is destroyed and really the stones end up crying out that the Messiah has been rejected and Jerusalem’s temple, or Israel’s temple, has not been rebuilt since. So the stones ultimately do end up crying out because of the rejection of Jesus.

But Jesus, in this moment, it says in verse 41, “When He drew near the city, He wept over it.” The Greek word for weeping here is the strongest Greek word that could be chosen to express Jesus’ posture in weeping. It’s one of agonizing sobbing. Jesus is upset over the city for the superficiality, the hypocrisy, the shallowness, and ultimately what will be the rejection of Him. And He gives the statement, He says, “If you had known this day, the things that would make for peace, but now they’re hidden from your eyes.” When Jesus is talking, He’s talking about peace here, He’s not talking about political peace from enemies, He’s not talking about social peace. He’s talking about peace in your relationship with God. He’s talking about peace before the Lord. “If you had really understood what this day was about…” The first century missed Palm Sunday.

That’s why it’s so important for us to ask the question, “Why should this matter to me? Why should Palm Sunday even matter?” Look at this, and you think the points that I’d give you morning would all be positive points, but point number two is a negative point. But the reason point number two is a negative point is because historically it was a negative point.

And also when you see the darkness of this moment being played out in the lives of people, it really brings to life the importance of what Palm Sunday is all about. The Jewish people rejecting Jesus, and ultimately starts with the Pharisees and ultimately the entire crowd rejects Jesus. The reason they rejected Jesus is because they didn’t realize the kind of king Jesus would be. They had an expectation they continued to place upon Jesus and why Jesus continued to push away from the idea of them calling of Him king. In John chapter six, verse 15, when they tried to force Him to be king, they had this expectation of what they wanted Jesus to fulfill when they identified Him as king. It wasn’t about what King Jesus came to accomplish. It was what they wanted their king to do for them. They had a wrong picture of Jesus and the wrong picture of Jesus brought a shaky faith.

Now you think about how Jesus chooses to introduce Himself to Israel as king. He could have ridden on a horse. In fact, most kings do. When a king rides in on a horse, it’s a demonstration of one of authority. It’s a demonstration of one who’s prepared for battle. But Jesus didn’t come in on a horse. He came in on a donkey and He came on in a donkey to fulfill prophecy, that’s for sure. They recognized it in Zechariah 9:9. Here comes the king on a donkey, just as Zechariah said in chapter nine. So it must be the king, right? But it wasn’t just to fulfill prophecy that Jesus decided to ride on the back of a donkey. Jesus riding on the back of a donkey was also declaring to us the kind of king that He was and that He is. A donkey is one of a servant. And kings sometimes in Israel’s history, would ride on the back of a donkey, but it wasn’t to make war. A king would ride on the back of a donkey during times of peace. It was a demonstration of peace.

Israel thought that a king would come and He would conquer and the Jews would dominate the world. But Jesus came as a lowly servant. And His kingdom was for something bigger than just Israel. His kingdom was to rescue the hearts and souls of people in every kingdom around the world. In Psalm 118, verse 26, the same Psalm that the Jews used to celebrate the presence of Jesus coming into Jerusalem, also says in verse 22, that He was the stone which the builders rejected. The same Psalm that they used to praise the name of Jesus is prophetically the same Psalm to tell us that they would reject the very Jesus that they praised.

But what did Jesus do? And this is makes Palm Sunday so incredible. In point number three, He remained faithful. He remained faithful. Knowing the crowd would reject and abandon him, Jesus remained faithful. In Second Timothy, chapter two, verse 13, it says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Now there’s a bigger context to explain really what Second Timothy chapter two, verse 13 is saying and I would tell you if you have some free time, look up verse 12, it’s a very sobering, sobering statement. But I want you to see the nature of God is to be faithful, despite anyone else’s lack of faithfulness. Jesus remains faithful, which means this. As He went to Jerusalem, even if He had to walk the road alone, He was willing to walk that road for you and for me. In fact, He did walk that road alone, ultimately, to the cross with a crown of thorns as the same people who praised His name now cursed Him. He remained faithful.

Would you do that? You go to help someone in need. They reject your help, they attack you. Would you still help them? That’s what Jesus did. That’s what Jesus did in this moment. And that’s why this week it’s referred to as the Passion Week. The idea of the word passion, it comes from the Latin word, which means suffering. This passion week, yes, Jesus was certainly passionate about what He did for us at the cross. But, more than that, this was a week of suffering that Christ endured for us, that He journeyed to Jerusalem, knowing that the praise of the crowd was superficial. The same people that claimed to love Him, would reject him yet He still chose to walk the road. He had that passion, that willingness to suffer.

Passion Week means for us, God has our best interest in mind, even when we don’t. Passion Week for us means God remained faithful even when we didn’t. Passion Week means for us God bore the suffering that we deserved when He didn’t have to do it. The Palm Sunday, it’s not a celebration about us, but a recognition of the greatness of who He is. When you realize that on this moment, here they are celebrating Jesus, but then they go to reject Jesus. But Jesus still remained faithful and Jesus still gave His life for them. This doesn’t just take Palm Sunday in the first century and say, “You know it’s a great opportunity.” But it continues to paint the picture for us for how important Palm Sunday becomes because Jesus didn’t give up. Jesus didn’t give up.

And point number four, then, leads us to this thought. His faithfulness delivers hope. His faithfulness delivers hope. When we gave up, because He refused to give up, it brings with us a promise that there’s an opportunity for life and in faith in Jesus you are not lost because He did not quit. He is still good to me. And when you look at Jesus’ faithfulness, His faithfulness is spurred from His holiness. Let me say that again. Jesus’ faithfulness is spurred from His holiness.

When you think about the idea of holiness, it carries with it two thoughts. Holiness, one is sinless. But holiness is more important than just sinless. Holiness is being set apart for an entirely different purpose, contrary to sin. Holiness carries… There’s, two ideas with this. One is that there is no sin. It is holy and it’s lived for an entirely different purpose, a holy purpose. And that was Jesus in this moment that when we sinned in faithlessness to Him, that He doesn’t respond that way. He remains faithful and He remains committed to His purpose. He’s holy. He’s holy.

And guys, when you think about how important that is for us in this world today, you find people, people are just jaded by the experiences of life. And we get tired of being lied to, trust being broken. We need something dependable, something reliable. Somewhere we know at the end of the day, if I put my trust here, and trust is so important to relationships, I will not be disappointed. Relationships are built on trust. And in the faithfulness and holiness of God, that is exactly what we’re communicating. Because God can’t sin, that means God can’t sin against you and therefore you can trust Him.

And because God is holy, He also has a purpose that He lived His life for and that purpose was for you. And He was faithful to that, even when you weren’t. And therefore you can trust Him. In fact, out of everything in life that you might put your trust in the greatest thing that you should rest your trust towards is Jesus and recognizing the importance of this week. Because when He had every reason in the world to say, “You know what? Forget it,” He remained faithful. And His faithfulness delivers hope. His holy faithfulness is healing to your soul. A God committed to you even when you quit on Him.

How does this practically work? I think in Christian history, there is a beautiful picture of God’s people as they demonstrate the nature of God in His faithfulness and holiness. What I mean is throughout Christian history, you can see the repetition of faithfulness and how it’s made a difference in the life of Christians.

Let me give you an example. A couple years ago, one of the Christian heroes, especially in America, Norman Geisler, some of you may not know him. I had to read a lot of books of Norman Geisler in school, but he was a great apologist in Christianity. He wrote, probably the most famous book if anyone’s ever read anything with him, is a book he co-authored with Frank Turek called “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.” Norman Geisler passed away a few years ago, but it’s told of his life that he didn’t become a Christian until in his later teenage years. But he started to go to church as a young boy. And the reason he went to church as young boy is because his church faithfully drove a bus by his house and would pick him up and bring him every week. Norman Geisler estimated that somewhere along the lines of over 400 times that church faithfully showed up to his house every week, picked him up on a bus, brought him to church, told him about the love of Jesus before he finally gave his life to Christ.

And it makes you think as he gave his life to Christ, he went and faithfully served Christ in incredible ways. The impact of his ministry, many of you may not have read books, but guarantee whatever church you’ve been a part of, probably the ministers that have hopefully that have. The effects of what God did in him just made known, especially throughout our country. And I just think to myself, what if that bus driver gave up on trip 395? What if they just said, “You know what? This kid is just a… He’s out the way, waste of my time. I’m going to go pick up someone else that might be easier to reach with the gospel.” What if that was the story?

Or what about this one? There’s a famous missionary by the name of Robert Moffat. The way Robert Moffat came to know Christ, he was from Europe and there was a minister leading this church in Europe. One of the congregant members came up to the minister one day after service and said, he basically said, “You know what? You stink.” The way the story goes is the congregant member came up to the minister and said, “It’s been a whole year in this church. Only one person’s come to know Christ and the one person that came to know Christ is just a child. You’re probably not very good at this. You should think about quitting.” And the minister next Sunday, he prepared a sermon, he showed up next Sunday and he says to himself, “I thought about preaching my sermon. And when I got done, I thought maybe I would just resign.”

And then he said at the end of the service, this young child, the only child that came to know Christ in that ministry that year, the only person that came to know Christ in the ministry that year came up to him and he said to the minister, he said, “Minister, if I study God’s word like you’ve studied God’s word, do you think I could teach people about Jesus like you teach people about Jesus? Do you think God would be with me?” And the minister stopped and he said, “Son, I see God’s hand all over you.” And that young man was Robert Moffat.

Robert became a missionary, went to South Africa and served in Africa all the way up to the Congo, saw incredible works of ministry. In fact, some of his children went into full-time ministry, his daughter ended up marrying David Livingston, if you know, David Livingston also an incredible missionary in Africa. Robert Moffitt was such a person of high integrity that when people spoke his name in Europe, they spoke with such a great reverence. He was invited to homes of dignitaries, he was a man praised because of his faithfulness to the Lord. All because that minister did not give up.

Faithfulness. It’s a beautiful demonstration of the Lord. It’s a reminder of what Palm Sunday is all about. And some of you may hear stories like this, and you think, “Well, that’s great for Norman Geisler. That’s great for Robert Moffat. But where is my Norman Geisler story? Where’s my Robert Moffat story?” And I will tell you it’s Palm Sunday. That is what Palm Sunday is. It’s a God who gave everything for you.

And every day you have an opportunity to be renewed in this gospel because every day, guess what? You and I, we blow it. We blow it. We will do something and fall on our face and just feel so foolish. But you know what Jesus does? He goes to the cross anyway and He dies for you anyway. And He loves you anyway. And He gives you opportunity every day to be renewed in His grace, because the goodness of His cross never stops giving to His people. And when you think about the importance of a day like today, one of the reasons I think it’s worth just recognizing is because when you see the picture of eternity in the book of Revelation, it says this. John records, “After this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'”

John’s picture of eternity as a people who recognize the importance of this week and see the faithfulness of a God and want to go into eternity, praising His name. And as they failed in the first century to see the importance, the true importance of that moment, it’s as if John is saying to us, “But church, today you have the opportunity to practice the grace of God made known in your life because one day when all of God’s people are gathered together, we, in one voice, will praise the goodness of this king, who refused to give up on us when we continue to fail before Him.” Why? Because He is faithful.