MESSAGE FOR PALM SUNDAY, 2003
Today is Palm Sunday and on this day we remember what has been called Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem that occurred only a few days before his crucifixion and resurrection. We want to look at some of the texts that refer to this event in the life of our Lord. However, we also find ourselves in a series of messages on the mission of the church and last week we spoke of the Great Commission—specifically the authority of Christ that is implicitly promised to his people as they carry out his Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. You may wonder how on earth a message about Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem could possible fit within a series of messages about the mission of the church but the truth is, the two fit together quite nicely. It doesn’t take a great deal of homiletical creativity to fuse these two ideas together because when you examine both events in the life of Jesus, his triumphal entry and his commissioning his followers to take the gospel to the nations, you will find that both events have similar purposes.
The purpose behind the triumphal entry was to communicate that Christ was indeed the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews and by extension, the King of the Universe. The purpose of the Great Commission is to spread the truth that God’s kingdom had indeed come and that every person must be challenged to renounce their allegiance to the kingdom they currently serve—the kingdom of self-rule, which is ultimately the dominion of Satan reigns over. When a person rules their life independent from God, they are behaving just like Satan who also rebelled against God’s rule. We can renounce that self rule through repentance and when a person does that the words of Colossians 1:13 are true of them. There Paul says, “For He [Christ] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Repentance, as we said last week is a gift of God—he accomplishes this radical change of allegiance from the kingdom of self-rule and Satan to the rule of Christ in the Kingdom of God. So you see, the triumphal entry and the Great Commission are both inherently kingdom texts.
The account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is one of the few events all four gospels record for us. Let’s turn to Matthew’s account in chapter 21 beginning with verse one. Matthew writes, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5"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.' " 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" 10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" 11The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
Notice first that this event is completely orchestrated by Christ. He carefully choreographs his entrance into Jerusalem. This is near the time of the Passover and consequently thousands of pilgrims are streaming into Jerusalem preparing to celebrate the feast in the holy city. The vast majority of them walked into the city but Jesus chooses to make his entrance in a very specific, highly symbolic manner. He is coming from the direction of the Mount of Olives and has evidently pre-arranged for the donkey but its not just any donkey, it’s a donkey no one has ever ridden on. The choice of a donkey is not mere happenstance, but is made with great intentionality. The donkey was the mount of kings in times of peace in the Ancient Near East. The fact that the animal had not yet been broken indicated that this was a special occasion. We can safely assume that Christ, who could calm the wind and waves and create the world with his word could break a donkey with his word as well. Notice that Matthew tells us Christ’s agenda for orchestrating this event this way. Jesus carefully works out the details of this setting to fulfill what the prophets have said about him as king.
Verse four says, "This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, 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.’” The first words of the quotation come from Isaiah 62:11 and the following come from the ninth chapter of the prophet Zechariah. There the prophet says in 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That’s what Jesus wanted to communicate—that the peace-loving, gentle King had now come. He comes to Jerusalem as a pilgrim and because he is well known to many who have witnessed his ministry-especially the raising of Lazarus, which has just occurred, he is greeted with words from a traditional pilgrim’s Psalm---Psalm 118:25-26. Mark 11:9-10 renders it, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David” Hosanna in the highest heaven!” These people welcome him in a manner consistent with the Messiah. But there is little evidence that they understood the true importance of what they were saying and less still that they understood that this was the actual fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy that the Messiah would indeed enter the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. In their traditional pilgrims welcome they were speaking much more than they knew! It’s fascinating to note in the bible that when prophecy is being fulfilled, especially in the earthly ministry of Christ it is fulfilled by people who have no idea of the significance of what they are doing.
Notice that the manner in which Christ reveals himself as King is very understated. He doesn’t respond to their pilgrim Psalm by saying, “Today, this word of the prophets is accomplished in your presence, welcome me as your anointed King, the one and Only Son of David.” He could have done that if he had wanted to get arrested—Rome didn’t think too much of the idea of a Jewish King—there was room in the empire for only one king in their mind and it was Caesar. Jesus instead uses symbolism here—only those few who knew the messianic significance of the texts in Zechariah and Isaiah and whom God had given eyes to see the significance of the event would have identified this as the triumphal entry of the King of the Jews. We know this event was cloaked in secrecy because in John’s account of this in chapter 12:16 he writes, “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.”
Like so much of Jesus’ ministry, the events of what we call Palm Sunday were a parable. This event was an acted out parable and Jesus reveals why so much of him ministry was parabolic in nature in Mark 4:10-12. Mark writes of Jesus, “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that, " 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'" The secrets of the kingdom were given in parables NOT to reveal truth, but to conceal it except from those whom the Father had determined to reveal it. Think of this as it relates to the events of Palm Sunday. Jesus as he is preparing to enter Jerusalem during this week of his Passion must, as the Messiah, fulfill the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 62 and Zechariah nine. But he doesn’t want to declare his kingship openly because his purpose is to conceal this truth to most of the people there. So he shrouds his self-disclosure as the King of the Jews in a parable-like entrance into Jerusalem and later on he explains it to the disciples as we read in John 12. And as he is seated on the donkey hearing people exclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” He receives their worship, all the while knowing that they don’t know the half of what they are saying or the earth-shattering importance of this moment in salvation history.
In this event of Palm Sunday, the veil that lay over Jesus’ royal status, though not totally removed, was partially pulled back and for those with eyes to see, this was a glorious and historic event. The shroud over his kingship and of his deity wouldn’t be totally pulled back until a week later when the stone was rolled away from his tomb and he rose from the grave in royal majesty having defeated the power of sin and death. But for now, his royalty was only partially accessible. The main message of the events of Palm Sunday, which we can much more fully appreciate than did those pilgrims lining the road into Jerusalem, is, “Jesus is King—Hosanna!”
We must see just how supremely important this event and even more the resurrection is in the flow of salvation history so let’s put this in its larger biblical context. The events played out on Palm Sunday reveal, albeit parabolically a message the entire bible has been gradually revealing from the third chapter of Genesis. That is, Jesus is the King. In the progressive revelation of the bible God has been putting together pieces of a puzzle—a puzzle that gradually, as each piece is added shows us various expressions of the kingdom of God, all of which reach their fulfillment in Christ Jesus. To piggyback on what we have been hearing on Wednesday nights, in the Garden of Eden, there is Adam, who along with Eve are given the role of vice regents of this planet. That’s an expression of God’s kingly rule. Adam fails miserably and forfeits the kingdom but there is another Adam, a second Adam—“the seed of the woman” who will fulfill the kingship Adam forfeited. Where the first Adam fell to the serpent, Christ prevailed over him. After the garden, God expresses his kingdom among the children of Abraham, the Jews, but they too fail to bring God’s kingdom reign on the earth. In contrast to the Hebrew nation, Christ, as a Son of Abraham is the true Israel if you will—God’s chosen Son, the seed of Abraham through whom the entire world will be blessed. Just as Christ fulfilled the purpose of Adam so too does he fulfills the purpose of God’s chosen people. Finally, Jesus is the Son of David. David was Israel’s model king and God promised Him in 2 Samuel 7:12-13, “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Solomon built the temple but David’s kingly line was crushed in 586 BC at the Fall of Jerusalem. How is one of David’s offspring going to rule forever? Christ, who is born in the family line of David fulfills the prophecy by establishing a kingdom that will never fail and by building a house for the Name of God called the church, the temple of God.
In Daniel chapter 7:13-14, the prophet reveals the character of the Kingdom of this Son of David who is to come. He writes, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Notice three truths about this kingdom of Christ. The nature of this kingdom will be universal. “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language”. This kingdom will be eternal “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away.” And this kingdom will be invincible. “…his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Whereas the first kingdom under Adam was anything but invincible—the serpent quickly dispensed with him, the Second Adam crushed the serpent’s head. Whereas the kingdom of the Jews was anything but universal, seldom stretching beyond their geographic borders, the Kingdom of Christ will be made up of every tribe tongue, nation and language. And whereas the kingdom of David was anything but eternal—dismally evaporating in 586 BC, Christ’s Kingdom will know no end. All these other previous expressions of the kingdom of God are simply echoes of Christ’s resounding universal, eternal and invincible kingdom. These other kingdoms are just small plumes of smoke that anticipate the nuclear explosion of this glorious kingdom of King Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. [Isaiah 9:6-7]
The biblical revelation reaches its grand and glorious climax in the person of King Jesus and his kingdom will be fully consummated when he returns to earth. In Revelation 19:11 the apostle John describes our King this way, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse (no donkey this time, this is a stallion-- the mount of a victorious warrior King)...verse 15, “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” On Palm Sunday, the image of the King is veiled in parable, but there is nothing veiled about this conquering King in Revelation 19! Palm Sunday pictures the peace-loving King who is going into Jerusalem to die to restore relationships torn by sin by establishing a new covenant in his blood. Revelation 19 pictures a warrior King who will bring his wrath against all his enemies and destroy them for all time. In a sense Revelation 19 is the final biblical portrait of the King to which every previous kingdom portrait in Scripture points.
Now, what does this have to do with the mission of the church and the Great Commission? …EVERYTHING!! The fact that Jesus is King and the main message of the Bible is the spreading of his kingdom through his saving plan ultimately executed on the cross should have huge implications for how we view Christ, how we view the message of the gospel and how we view ourselves. The first implication for us as we spread the Great Commission is Christ the King is our message. One of the grand ironies of the way the modern church often does evangelism is we do not present Christ at the center and the Christ we DO present has often been functionally dethroned. Far too many evangelistic appeals are targeted at people’s “felt needs” rather than their real need, which is to have their sins forgiven and undergo a radical change to bring them into submission to the loving, joy-inducing rule of King Jesus. Let me give some examples of this. People are suffering from terribly low self-esteem, (so the thinking goes) and Jesus is presented as the One who can come into their lives and restore their shattered self-image. After all, if someone as special as Jesus loves them, then surely they can love themselves. Here’s another felt need the gospel is often pointed to. That is, people crave significance—their lives are empty and devoid of meaning so they just invite Jesus into their heart and He can fill their emptiness with himself. Do you hear how those mutations of the message are utterly inconsistent with Jesus as the King who desires to spread his kingdom by his emissaries as they bear the message of his gospel?
Jesus Christ came and lived a perfect life, died a sin-atoning death and rose from the grave, displaying his defeat of sin and death and manifesting his royal, reigning power. That’s the gospel and the reason the gospel of Christ’s kingdom is absolutely necessary is because humanity is in mass rebellion against the King—living lives of emptiness and futility because sin rules their hearts instead of the King. So called self-esteem plummets in us whenever we make ourselves the center of our universe and we focus first and foremost on us—Our appearance, our wealth, our health, our popularity. A person who focuses on themselves, unless they are severely self-deceived through pride, WILL ultimately come to the inevitable conclusion that they indeed ARE a loser of the highest order. People try hundreds of things to hide from this truth. You can spend years with a therapist who will tell you in a 1000 ways either that you are not a loser or if you are, it’s not your fault. You can become a workaholic and make lots of money and earn much prestige to prove that it’s not true. You can get a face-lift, marry a pretty girl to dissuade yourself of this nagging truth or you can surround yourself with friends who regularly tell you you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But the only REAL solution to this dilemma is to surrender and admit that it is indeed TRUE. That is, that you ARE a wretched sinner who is offensive not only to yourself but much more importantly to GOD and in light of that fact you fall on your face in the shadow of the cross and receive forgiveness for your sins. It’s when you repent of self-rule and become a worshipper of the King instead of a worshipper of yourself—when you gaze on the beauty of His perfection in violent contrast to the vileness of yourself--THEN you will be free to do the only thing that will melt away your self-hatred. That is, with the glory of HIS radiance shining upon you, you can forget about yourself and lose yourself in his mercy and his majesty. That’s the liberating power of the gospel and it is so simple many people miss it.
As messengers of the King, we may begin with a person’s felt need but we must very shortly take them to the heart of the gospel and that is that God has a plan to save lost sinners and that plan is absolutely centered around King Jesus who is worthy to be THEIR King. The appeal sounds something like, “Now, will you receive his kingly mercy, his forgiveness, turning in repentance from your self-rule? Will you come to know the joy of being rightly related to the King? Or will you reject this King who today comes to you bringing restoration to your fractured relationship with him? TODAY he comes to you with a Palm branch, riding on a donkey of peace but if you reject this King, he will one day mount up on his warrior’s stallion and come at you with a rod of iron!”
A second and final implication of this truth of Christ as King should affect the way we see ourselves is as the bearers of his message. Think about it. For many believers, the overwhelming emotion they experience as they think about sharing the gospel with someone else is FEAR. The reason we feel fear is because we think about the mission of bearing the gospel message NOT in relationship to King Jesus but in relationship to ourselves. We are SELF-centered as we think about the bringing the message to others and because we are self-centered we think thoughts like, “I wonder what they will think about ME.”“I wonder if they will think I am a nut?” “I wonder if I will say it just right?” I hope this won’t cost me MY friendship with him or her.” Do you hear how all those fears are in place because we are thinking about the message, NOT in relationship to Christ and His Kingdom but to ourselves? Why on earth should WE factor into this so prominently? It’s not our message-it’s Christ’s. It’s not even our mission—its Christ’s—His Father sent Him on it. It’s HIS Kingdom that will be spread, not ours. We are simply witnesses to what He has done. How foolish it is for we to inject ourselves into the center ring concerning a task that is ALL about Christ and spreading HIS kingdom? It’s his message, his mission, his Name, his glory, his kingdom and HE is the King, not us. We are just his emissaries—we simply bear his message. When you think in a Christ-centered manner as you share the gospel, your fear is replaced by a stiflingly different feeling and that feeling is…honor.
If my giving of the gospel is ultimately about me, my performance, my reputation, my persecution, I will feel fear every time because fear is the fruit of self-centered thinking. But if Christ, the King of heaven and earth is at the center of my thoughts, then I will feel tremendous honor to bear His Name. I have been granted the tremendous privilege of speaking the message of my KING, spreading HIS kingdom, witnessing to the incomparable life, death and resurrection of my KING. And if I am persecuted (and I will be because if they rejected the King they will reject His emissaries), it will be for my KING and I can, with the apostles in Acts 5:41 who, after being flogged by the Jewish ruling council, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” If you are a God-centered, Christ-the-King-centered person you will be honored to bear his Name here and to the uttermost parts of the earth. And if that means you will suffer, then that will be a cause for rejoicing because God has honored you with the privilege of suffering for the cause of your King. When you feel fear in presenting the gospel, repent of your self-worship that seeks to protect yourself from embarrassment and injury and put Christ back at the center. Ask God to help you make it all about Him and feel the honor attached to bearing the message of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords here and to the nations. And if you are here today and you have not received forgiveness of your sins and have not repented of your own self-rule, come to Christ and accept his forgiveness and his loving Lordship over your life. Stop rebelling against Him and accept his loving, merciful, patient rule of your life. This is your greatest need in life. God give us grace to do this. Let’s pray.
Page last modified on 4/27/2003
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