BIBLE READING:†† Matthew 21: 1-13
I think we've all seen the images on the news, images from Syria, Afghanistan and other hot spots.
How many have died now? Children attacked with the insane logic of the violent. The whole thing reduces me to tears. It's not about politicians or armies or terrorists. Itís about people. Millions of them. Thousands and thousands have died.
It's complex. Messy.
Violent and bloody.
Mixed motives all over the place.
We see it. The world sees it. Everyone knows that's what's happening is not right. The only winner is death, right now. Something needs to happen.
The UN's attempts to bring peace by alleviating the suffering- but finds itself putting their own peace-keepers at risk. The USA thinks military force and economic sanctions will bring peace.
At least, that's the plan. Results are uncertain, at best.
And we and the world waits and hopes.
But will the diplomats bring peace? Will the tanks and helicopter gunships?
One week before Easter we see all this, and at the same time join millions of people around the world today who read the same piece from the Bible. The story of another one who comes bringing peace.
Jesus enters Jerusalem, the city of peace.
It's a story you can't read without noticing the contrasts to what's happening right now. Huge. No armies. No high level diplomacy. No economic leverage.
Just a simple man on a simple animal, surrounded by little people - common folk. He's come bringing peace.
It was an intense time in Metropolitan Jerusalem. Passover season. Like the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, only more so. One historian suggests there may have been almost 3 hundred thousand tourists in the city at the time. Some of them would have been from the Galilee area and witnessed some of Jesus' miracles. They'd seen the dead raised, sick healed. They'd heard the wise, compelling words.
They, no doubt, were also aware that till then Jesus had been almost secretive about what he was doing. Never failed that after Jesus would heal people, he'd tell them not to tell anyone. Of course, they rarely could contain themselves. But - bottom line - he didn't want the publicity. Till now!
Now, deliberately, he seems to seek the limelight. His followers get a donkey, and they begin to enter Jerusalem.
Pretty soon there's a parade headed to Jerusalem. And you know how parades are. They build their own momentum. People get into them, sometimes without even knowing what it's all about. The Bible even says as much - v.10 "who is this man?" "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee!" "Here, have a branch! Here, wave this to greet him, for it's a wonderful day!"
You need to understand that this wasn't the first time there'd been a parade like this. In 175 BC Judas Maccabees, known as Judas the Hammer, had defeated the hated Syrian king Antiochus. He'd then gone into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple that the king had desecrated with a pig (2 Maccabees l0:7).
Looks like a repeat is on the way.
Jesus even goes into Jerusalem and cleanses the temple after the parade is done! The people grab branches and begin to wave them. Impromptu banners & flags. They throw down their robes like a red carpet of sorts. They cheer. And they sing. They sing a song that was sung every year at Passover. A song that Judas' followers had sung. A bible song -
We know it today as Psalm 118. It begs God to save the people, and speaks of the coming of Messiah, the servant of God who would set the people free - free from suffering, free from oppression, the one who would bring... ... peace.
"This is the day the LORD
has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O LORD save us.....
(that, by the way, is the meaning of this word "Hosanna!")
O LORD, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar."
Now the words took on an immediacy and excitement. They thought they had found the one whom the psalm spoke of - the one who came in the name of the LORD, the one through whom God would answer their cries of "Hosanna! Save us!"
And Jesus goes along with it all. For He IS coming to bring peace. He, deliberately, is fulfilling what a prophet spoke of him many, many years before:
Zechariah 9:9 "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey."
Now there's the difference. Judas the Hammer came with open power, troops beside him. When the Romans came, bringing their Pax Romana, they came with standards flashing in the sun, swords at their sides
Jesus comes...... lowly and riding on a donkey. He's not King David. He's no hammer figure. In fact, that same prophet I just quoted, said in the very next breath:
"The Lord says, I will take AWAY the chariots of [Israel] and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim PEACE to the nations."
The peace Jesus brings will
come another way than by chariots, tanks or gun ships.
Because Jesus isn't out to simply impose an external quiet on the world - the
way USA tried to impose its will on Afghanistan and Iraq
- the way the Romans tried to impose quiet on Palestine
External quiet isn't peace. Just because people aren't dying, doesn't mean everything is all right. Just because no foreign troops are in your city, doesn't mean everything's all right. Just because your superannuation is topped up and your mortgage is paid off, doesn't mean everything's all right. Just because your grades are good at school, doesn't mean everything's all right.
There's something deeper. Something no sword or suicide bomber can get to. It's something deep - something spiritual.
It's the lack of peace that comes from a curse - the curse of sin on all creation; on Syria and the USA; on you and me. And to break through the defensive lines of sin; to destroy it at its core, Jesus needed to go down - - all the way down.
That's why the parade was humble. King of the Cosmos on a donkey..... bringing peace. Simple people gathered at the parade - no dignitaries. Children cheering him in the temple area.
No big banners & army standards - just free palm leaves. Another prophet, Isaiah, talks of him like this (Isaiah 53)
He had no beauty or majesty to
attract us to Him.
Nothing big, bold and beautify.
Nothing flashy and fantastic.
Isaiah continues -
He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed... The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
The New Testament picks that same theme up - the theme of Jesus carving a place of peace in this broken up and hate-filled world:
Being found in appearance as a man He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.
From a throne in heaven..... to a donkey's back in some enthusiastic but humble parade..... through one more week with a cross waiting at the end.
Suffering and death in order to wipe out the curse that was holding back peace from ever possibly resting on earth. A suffering and death we'll remember next Friday when we come back to this place. Bringing peace.
This parade is the last big, bold statement Jesus will make about His intentions before heading into the greatest battle with the forces of sin; the battle He waged while hanging on the cross.
It's the beginning of the week. And what a week for those disciples of Jesus, the ones that walked beside him in the parade. They excitedly told people about Jesus that Sunday as he rode into Jerusalem! And on Monday they were excited about Jesus, and on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Ö and on Thursday Ö and on Friday - No! -
But wait a minute. By Thursday the disciples weren't excited at all about being with Jesus. By Thursday they weren't bragging to anyone about getting to walk into town with the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee! By Thursday they weren't handing out palm branches but were hiding behind trees and beneath bushes; they weren't stripping off their shirts to make a royal road, they were wiggling out of them. When someone grabbed them by the sleeve, they were wriggling out of them and running away naked, because they were so afraid!
For we who know the whole
story; we know what these happy disciples do next.
Judas danced with joy that day. Judas who later sold Jesus out.
Peter danced with joy that day. Peter who later denied even knowing who Jesus was.
Matthew and Mark and Andrew and James and John and Thomas and Bartholomew and Thaddeus and the other James and the second Simon all danced for joy that day and then they ran off into the shadows, abandoning Jesus and leaving him to face his captors alone.
These disciples - running in terror in that coming week, unable to see what was needed to bring them peace. These disciples........so much like us!
If we'd been alive that day, we'd have been laying out our robes on the road that Sunday morning. We'd have been dancing for joy, waving and handing out palm branches. We would have been blissfully unaware that in only four days we'd do our best to disappear, to lay low 'til the trouble blew over.'
And the others in the crowd - "Hosanna" today. "Crucify him" on Friday. What makes them so fickle? We don't know.
But what will this week bring for us? Will we duck in shame when someone challenges or misuses Jesus' name? Will we forget all about Him in the hum drum of our day to day activities?
Where will next Friday find you?
Thank God that Jesus didn't
quit, or change His direction.
He kept standing up to the authorities and confounding the leaders.
He kept on loving His followers.
He kept wrestling His fears into submission through disciplined prayer to His Father.
He kept His cool under Pilate's interrogation.
He kept struggling on to Calvary beneath the weight of that cross.
He kept the faith, He won salvation
Hosanna, He comes to SAVE!
And as a result, we are freed from sin, lifted up to follow once again; and shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
And we will. All who believe will take part in that kind of a parade. The second parade. The last book of the Bible describes it - believers from all nations gathered in the place of eternal peace:
"...before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:9).
A place where no little children will need to worry that they will be shot going to school - or that their school house will be bombed or their bus blown up- a place where there is freedom from bombs, bullets and terror.
A place where death won't terrorise; temptation won't haunt; and sickness won't cripple.
A place in the presence of God.
A forever place.
A Hosanna! place.