A Sermon preached on Palm Sunday 14 April 2019 by Rev Peter Coley
Readings: Psalm 118 :1-2 and 19-Luke 19:28-40
AIM: to see that the way to peace and freedom is seldom the way we choose
We enter into the Easter story through the gates of Jerusalem. The events that will shortly take place in this special city will of course have enormous repercussions not only on the future of Israel, but upon the whole world. And not just upon a certain period of history, but upon history itself!
And it all starts when a couple of disciples are told to collect a pair of donkeys from a local village. And in case they were accused of horse napping they were even told what to say to the owners if challenged! After all we wouldn’t just go up to someone’s house and drive their car away and not expect any reaction!
Isn’t it a reminder to us straight away that there is no service of God that should be regarded as trivial – that as apprentices of Jesus Christ obedient to his call, we can never underestimate anything that we are called to do or say, we will never know the wider picture of things that are eternal.
‘Teach me my God and king, in all things thee to see; and what I do in anything, to do it as for thee.
This is the famous stone, that turneth all to gold; for that which God doth touch and own cannot for less be sold.’
So from Bethpage, on the suburbs of Jerusalem the disciples go to a nearby village, almost certainly Bethany, where Jesus is probably quite well known, collect the donkeys and return. The crowds are building up on the notorious road from Jericho, for people are flocking to Jerusalem for the great festival – the Passover! Josephus, a Roman historian writes that as many as a million people would descend on the city at Passover.
They might even have been singing that Passover Psalm we had earlier.
And now as they take off their cloaks and put them on the donkeys, Jesus sits upon them. Why ? Is he tired? Not very likely, they were used to walking, just remember they had walked nearly 100 miles to come down from Gallilee. Perhaps to be seen? Certainly he would be seen more clearly by the crowds on a donkey, even better on a horse! No he sits on the donkey to fulfil the scriptures that talk of him.
The prophet Zechariah speaking of the Messiah hundreds of years before said
‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey….’
Of something like 330 prophesies of Jesus in the Old Testament, over which he had little control, this one he himself acts out. So far Jesus has not allowed his disciples to talk of him openly as Messiah. Even now it is in action rather than in word that the claim is made. It would not be until he was before the Sanhedrin, the religious court that he will state his Messiahship. But the time has come to call people to decision about himself. His arrival is making a clear point to those who had eyes to see. It is picked up by the crowd. They have understood the allusion to Zechariah, Jerusalem’s king is coming into his capital, and he comes to re-establish the long lost kingdom of David. It was David who first set up his capital there and it was his descendants who ruled there until 600 years earlier the Babylonians had destroyed it. Since then there had been no Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem.
As they shouted out Hosanna, ‘save us’, their was only one thought in their minds, it was to be saved from the mighty and cruel hands of Rome. The Son of David, was coming to restore peace and freedom as in the glory days. But as we know, those shouts would soon change inside a week.
As Jesus approached the city gates behind him and in front of him would have been his own people – Galileans! The people were streaming down from the north and these people were not like the people of the city.
We know that Galileans spoke with a rough northern accent and that there was quite a north – south divide. The south was where all the best people lived, in and around Jerusalem, where the money and the Temple was – they were a cut above those rough necks from the north. Jesus himself was from the north from Nazareth and would have spoken with an accent. Do you remember how Peter was recognised in the courtyard after Jesus arrest as being a Galilean?
So here was this Northern man being acclaimed by his own supporters as he entered the city. There had been many others who had tried to usurp the mighty Roman presence with limited success, but this was Jesus – the one who could raise the dead, heal the sick give sight to the blind this was their moment.
So these are the forces at work. A growing crowd with northern support, others joining in, but very much in mind that there was to be a confrontation with the Roman occupying power. And if he were the true Messiah long awaited, then not even the might of Rome could stand against him.
So what changes in the hearts of the people that in a few days they would call for his execution?
Towards the centre of Jerusalem is the Temple, and overlooking it was the great Roman fortress of Antonia – one a powerful symbol of Jewish national identity and pride, the other a symbol of their subjugation to a foreign despised power.
Now Jesus makes his move! Not to storm the fortress and take control in opposition to the Roman oppressors, as you might expect any would be King to do, – but rather to storm the Temple, and expose the corruption of his own people in the house of God!
The next day, as he turns the tables of the money changers, suddenly all thoughts of any kind of earthly kingdom the crowd may have entertained, evaporated – and so did their support. For here Jesus was in effect attacking their own nation and all the hypocrisy and corruption associated with their national worship in that temple.
Oh yes he had come to set them free all right, but not in the way they thought! He was to set them free from a more insidious slavery and a far worse tyrant than the Romans presented!
The slavery was sin, the tyrant was death, and Jesus had come to liberate from the first and to destroy the power of the second.
The sad fact was that the people, despite the obvious way that God was powerfully with this man from Galilee, evidenced in his words and healings and miracles, were blind to God’s agenda, because they followed their own.
All the time the people saw the Romans as their biggest problem, all the time they followed the Barabas’s of this world in trying to change their situation they would never see the kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing in.
They longed to be free and at peace, in fact their whole history had been one of seeking freedom, right back to their time in Egypt. There had been moments of freedom, when in utter despair they had turned to God in faith. Moses the humble servant of God had brought them out of slavery to the beginnings of freedom, but faith and obedience evaporated when they got into the Wilderness! They had known freedom under David the humble shepherd who had so utterly depended upon God in his meeting with Goliath. But these periods of freedom and peace were rare.
Nothing had changed, lessons had never been learnt. The nation was under judgement and in a generation that judgement would fall when Jerusalem would be reduced to rubble. And as one Roman historian described it ‘a plough share could be run through the middle of it!’
No wonder as Jesus walked down to the city he wept over it – ‘If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.’
I can’t help wondering if Jesus weeps over the state of our nation as we seek a way forward in the world at this time. Is there something at the core of our nation that is breaking the heart of God? A country that has seen God’s blessing and taken God’s blessing around the world, now alienated from the living God:- one of the world’s richest nations and yet 4.1million children live in poverty and 200,000 live in abject poverty, whilst executives get millions for failing companies; a nation with a growing ignorance of God and a growing confidence in an atheistic stance; a nation that tops the polls in locking people away in prison, where young people are growing up in fear, where even young children carry knives to protect themselves; a nation that only this week had to bring in a law against upskirting! A nation that no longer welcomes the alien.
Don’t get me wrong, there is so much that is good about our country, we are still generous, we are creative, we can still laugh at ourselves, even Brexit is a tribute to our struggle to maintain democracy – but much of this has stemmed from a Christian root that is rapidly disappearing. And God sees right through our injustice and idolatry, and our false sense of security, and weeps.
We are no different are we? We are so often blinded by our own agendas to find the true freedom and peace that only Jesus can bring us. We are so often attracted by the power of the world rather than the apparent weakness of the kingdom of God. We increasingly choose the instant over the long term, we choose our comfort over the needs of the world, we spend our energy and time on the trivial instead of the worthwhile. Lent is like a football team losing at half time, our manager is calling us to regroup and do something different with our lives that will bring change.
He’s calling us to be honest about ourselves and our need for forgiveness, our need of the presence and power of his Spirit. He wants true humility that acknowledges that without him we can do nothing.
If the life of Jesus teaches us one thing, then surely it is that the life of humble obedience and dependence upon God is the one that brings us the true freedom we all long for.
As we go through the Easter story again, see the freedom that Jesus enjoys. As the world turns its hatred upon him, as his friends desert him, as he is rejected and despised, somehow, God’s Son never loses his freedom. None of this that would capture us and paralyse us and turn us in upon ourselves, affects his poise and inner life as he goes to his humiliating death.
This is the freedom he wants to bring us. It takes true honesty with God, it takes humility, to reach out to him for healing, it takes faith to allow that inner life to set us free to be the person God wants us to be.
Let’s welcome the carpenter from Nazareth, into our city, into our hearts and let him rule over us.