Today marks the day, years ago, when Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem for what ended up being the final week of his earthly life. Today is called Palm Sunday because the Gospel writers tell us that as Jesus entered the city, the crowd there cut down palm branches from the nearby trees and laid them across the road he traveled as a way to welcome him. And the clear meaning of that act, and of the entire event, was to say that Jesus is the King of Israel come to save his people. Jesus is the promised Messiah from the lineage of David.
Today is April 9, the year 2,017 — but the original Palm Sunday was March 29, the year 33 (see The Final Days). And the apostle John tells us how it went. John 12, verse 12–19,
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is 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!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
And what the Pharisees say there is hyperbole. To them, it may have felt like the world had gone after Jesus because there were Jews and Greeks who followed him, and the Pharisees were losing influence, but still we know that the Jerusalem Jesus entered on March 29, 33 was a Jerusalem politically ruled by Rome, and religiously controlled by the Jewish establishment, and both of these powers were against Jesus. They did not like him, he knew it, but Jesus intruded their worlds anyway.
For the Romans, he came as the Lord greater than Caesar; for the people of Moses, he came as the unexpected Son of David — and he forced everyone to deal with him for who he is.
See, one of the great things about that original Palm Sunday what that, among the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem during Passover, the Jesus people had heard about became the Jesus who was there. Talk of Jesus had already been spreading. Word of his miracles had got around, but now, on Palm Sunday, Jesus was “in the room.” Jesus was there, and these people who had heard about him now had to do something about him. And so do we. Which is what leads us into prayer.
Prayer of Confession
Father, we confess that in our sin we much prefer Jesus at a distance. Because of our hardness of heart we prefer Jesus being talked about, but not Jesus in the room, not Jesus in our business, not Jesus for who he really is seeing us who we really are.
And that’s because, very much unlike Jesus, we want for the Romans to love us and for the people of Moses to pat us on the backs. We just want in. And so we’re exhausted, Father. We are exhausted from trying to earn our place; we are exhausted from trying so hard to belong; we are exhausted from trying to be enough. Although we’re surrounded by all this Jesus talk, too often we’re still out to save ourselves. We give our lip service and we go through the motions, but Jesus we prefer at a distance. And for this, Father, we repent. We ask that you would forgive us for wanting all the things that stand in the way of his nearness in our lives. Forgive us for wanting to check all the boxes, but not really be changed. This a great and subtle evil, and so we confess this sin and other sins to you now as we come to you in silent confession. . . .
Now, Father, we ask that your strength overcome our weakness, that your light would overcome our darkness, that your realness would overcome our doubts. We remember again that the gospel anthem rings true: we are not dead, but alive; we are not lost, but found; we are not your enemies, we are your sons and daughters — all because of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us. In his name we pray, amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Church, you have confessed your sins. Now, hear the good news!
When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Therefore, to all who humbly seek the mercy of God I say, in Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!