I really like Palm Sunday. Today we can look forward to Easter Sunday. Chocolate eggs and….
Obviously, I do know it’s not Palm Sunday but the reading we have today, as part of our series on Mark, is the story of Jesus parading into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting hosanna.
I want first look at the background to this story. Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the east. I think this is significant because there were two processions into Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. The Roman army came from the west. Jesus came from the east. The population would have increased from about 20,000 to about 50,000. Perhaps more importantly the Passover was celebrating the liberation from Pharoah in Egypt so Rome would have been uncomfortable about its anti-imperial content, hence the Romans entry into Jerusalem. Roman demonstration of power from the west, Jesus staged a counter demonstration from the east. Jesus came from the opposite direction in more ways than geography. The Romans arrived in power, Jesus arrived in a humble way on a donkey.
A word about the donkey. Jesus sent two of his disciples into a village to nick the donkey. Was Jesus breaking the 8th commandment? I think that was unlikely. It seems more likely that it had been pre-arranged and the words they were given, “The Lord need it and will send it back here shortly.” were a secret password. Jesus was well known in the villages. That would have been where his supporters would have been, certainly not in Jerusalem. For this reason I believe that the crowds shouting hosanna and laying palm leaves were not from Jerusalem. They would have been the many disciples who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem as it suggests in verse 9. Contrary to popular belief there is no evidence to suggest that these people shouting hosanna were the same ones who were shouting for Jesus to be crucified. In fact there is strong evidence to the contrary view.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. Great! This is what we came for. He’s now going to take over the temple by force and we are here to help him.
Hang on! That wasn’t what happened. Jesus entered the temple, had a good look round and went back to Bethany for the night. We have to wait for next week to see the fireworks.
That’s the story and its background. Now for the sermon.
You may have heard of Mendelssohn’s songs without words. Here are two sermons without words. They are different to the usual because Jesus says very little. Jesus arrived from Bethany. The village where Lazarus lived. The man who Jesus is said to have brought back to life. Also just down the road was Jericho, where Bartimaeus was healed from Blindness. Two recent events which had angered the religious authorities but thrilled the ordinary people. Jesus chose an un-ridden donkey. Who, in their right mind rides an untamed animal. Jesus did. First of all, the donkey was an important animal. It was connected with nobility, even royalty. This ride on a donkey may be Jesus stating who he was. previously he had tried to hide it. Now he declared it for all to see. he was the King. This would not have been lost on the crowd. Neither would have another point been lost. In the Old Testament (Numbers 19:2) it decreed that for an animal to be used for sacred purposes it must not have been used for any other purpose. This was surely a sacred purpose. To carry the Messiah into Jerusalem. Was Jesus that important? The people certainly thought so. They threw their cloaks onto the ground. It was a sign of homage. As it was for Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I. The crowds shouted hosanna. This was a quotation from Psalm 118. It was a cry to God to save them. It only later became a word of praise in the Christian church. The people believed that Jesus had come to establish God’s Kingdom. He had, but not as they thought. It was a completely different kind of Kingdom. How do you see the purpose of Jesus? To save you from oppression from whatever source or to establish a kingdom based on a love for others. One is selfish the other is for the benefit of all.
The second sermon is based on one verse. Verse 11. What did he do? Jesus entered the temple. Why the temple? Why not Herod’s palace. Why not the Roman barracks? He had a look at everything. The altar, the animals, the money-changers. Jesus was taking in all that was wrong with the place. Jesus left the temple. Mark said it was late. Perhaps the temple closed at 6 or whatever. Perhaps Jesus was too upset at what he saw. Jesus left Jerusalem. he went back to Bethany where he knew he would be welcome.
What do his actions tell us? I picked out three things. Firstly, our greatest need is not what we often think it is. Going to the temple was not what the Jews expected. It wasn’t Rome that was on Jesus’ mind. It was the temple. The Messiah was not there to give them what they wanted but to give them what they needed. Our greatest need is not for political reform, although that may be important, it is to follow Jesus in his teaching and example. Jesus’ followers honoured him and that Sunday. Within a week he was dead. Many of his followers had deserted him. Isn’t it great to come together on a Sunday to sing praises to our King. Isn’t it wonderful to be with like-minded people. Isn’t it inspiring to learn more about Jesus and his life. It’s much easier to applaud Jesus on a Sunday than it is to follow his teaching during the week. But that’s exactly what he asks of us. That video we had at the beginning was certainly powerful but it means absolutely nothing if it only applies to Sunday. Jesus doesn’t demand your worship or adoration; he tells you to follow him and what he wants is for you to act in the same way that he did.