This sermon was preached last Palm Sunday in the English Service of Kamuning First UMC.
I also preached a similar sermon for the Vesper Service that same day.
Today is Palm and Passion Sunday where we celebrate the journey of Jesus from his triumphant entry to Jerusalem leading to his betrayal, torture and death in Calvary, and so I would like us to start journeying with Jesus by looking back into his triumphant entry. The gospel of Luke tells of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem as the king. It was a big parade and there were lots of people there. People praise him because of the goodness he has done. Jesus was leading his crowd of disciples as they literally go up to Jerusalem.
We see Jesus choosing to ride a donkey, a donkey whom no one had ridden before, just like the king Solomon rode a donkey in a peaceful and humble manner as next to the throne of David. In Zechariah 9:9, we read; “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” As Jesus riding on a donkey enters Jerusalem for all the public to see and all the crowd gathered around, we can see a picture of Jesus announcing himself as the messiah – the King of Israel.
We see people excited and happy to see their king arrive. People are waving palms and some people removing their cloaks to spread in the streets as an act of honor and respect to the entering King. Do you feel like we want to take part in that celebrations and welcome the king too? Do you also want to remove your cloaks and wave palms and spread it in the road for the entering king?
I always picture this triumphant entry of Jesus like one great parade that I am watching. Do you remember attending a parade and seeing some celebrities or personalities. I remember attending the Penagbenga Festival and waking up early to get a spot for the parade. We wanted to have a good spot so we can have a good look with all the celebrities and personalities. When the parade started, people were lining up to have a picture taken with the lead group who were riding a wrangler jeep. The crowd were excited to have their pictures taken but I just stared there because I did not know who these people were. Apparently it was the mayor and his council but I do not know them so I did not join in the frenzy that excited the crowd. Then the flower floats came with the celebrities and personalities and the crowd got excited again as they ran to have their pictures taken and ask for autographs. Again, I just stood there in the land because I did not recognize the celebrities… because they belong to GMA 7, eh kapamilya po ako eh… so hindi ko sila kilala. So I just ended up appreciating the flowers to enjoy the parade.
You see, my dear brothers and sisters, to be able to participate fully and enjoy such parade, you must be able to have an appreciation of the people involved in the parade. And so when Jesus enters Jerusalem and welcomed by a multitude of crowd, you know that these people recognize who Jesus is and the great things that he had done and can do. Now, that is the next question – who is Jesus to the crowd watching in the parade. To the disciples of Jesus who were there, they wanted to praise God for the good deeds he has done. They were welcoming a king who comes in the name of the Lord. But I was wondering, weren’t there some people who do not know who Jesus is. Like me when I attended the parade, who do not recognize Jesus?
There are people who just happened to be in the crowd but do not really know what was happening, just like many of most of the time. We find ourselves in the middle of a celebration or a parade and we don’t know who is in there. We do not recognize Jesus as king but just an ordinary guy like any of us. We do not see the greatness and the majesty of that person and so we cannot really appreciate his worth. And so like in that great parade, it is difficult for us to fully participate in the celebrations because we do not recognize the great person that is making an entrance. We cannot appreciate the significance of that person and the great things that he has done. So we do not care to have our pictures taken with him, we do not busy ourselves to get some souvenirs or autographs from him. We do not care – Keber, malay ko kung sino yan, pakialam ko.
And because we do not know him and recognize him, how can we even care when later he gets mocked, and humiliated, and tortured, flogged and punished. Further in the account of Luke, Jesus is blindfolded, they mocked him and beat him and insulted him, despite his innocence. Does it matter to you? How can we care for a person that does not matter to us? We may have pity for his pain and suffering because of how he looks but what would it be like if the person was somebody dear to us.
In the hospital, I always see patient who suffer and in pain as they get diagnosed with life threatening diseases – a mother gets diagnosed with breast cancer, a father suffers a heart attack, a little girl having leukemia or a little boy with congenital heart disease – I pity these person whenever I see them and that is the best I can do. But it becomes different when that sick person is somebody I personally know and have a relationship with – the pity for the woman with cancer turns into a personal concern, I now want to offer help to the best of my ability to the man who suffered heart attack, I want to donate my blood, share any of my resources for the girl with leukemia or simply give my time playing and taking care with the boy with a congenital heart disease.
It all becomes different if the person who suffers is somebody you recognize and care for – somebody like a king whom you worship and adore – a king who has done a great deal for your benefit, a king who will sacrifice himself even in death for your own goodness. But if you do not know the person, if you do not have a good relationship with that person, he will not matter and you will not care. You will not care if you do not know who Jesus is. It will not matter if Jesus enters Jerusalem, or if he gets tortured, humiliated and even killed because you do not know who this Jesus guy is.
But then, there were another group of people in the crowd during the triumphant entry of Jesus – and these were the Pharisees and other religious leaders. The Pharisees recognize Jesus and yes they acknowledge his claim to be king as legitimate. What these Pharisees and religious leaders see is a Jesus who is a threat to them, a king who might overthrow the powers at that time. These same religious people are the ones who plotted against Jesus that led to his betrayal, torture, mockery, suffering and death. Now, we find ourselves in the court of Pilate.
Jesus is arrested and the same crowd that welcomed him in Jerusalem shout crucify him, crucify him. Jesus was a different kind of king in the eyes of the Pharisees, scribes and his enemies – he was a threat to the status quo – a threat to those who are in power at that time and therefore they needed to get rid of him. And the crowd, he was not the kind of king they expected. And Jesus is still such a threat to most people even today – a threat to those in power – a threat to those declaring themselves as king. But Jesus entered Jerusalem and declared himself to be the king who will take over everything including their lives.
That proclamation of Jesus as king is reason for todays people to kill him, to crucify Jesus. Jesus announces that he is king – and you feel threatened. No Jesus, you will not be king. I and myself is king – my desires, my priorities in life- my career, my business, my education, my lovelife - these are the kings of my life and I want it that way. The human empire that we have built for ourselves stands in judgement against the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims. The human empire includes the church – as we have made into an organization of good people who in the outward do good things especially on Sundays. You are good, I am good and so let us form a committee for our ministries. How many committees are you a member of from the local, to the district, to the conference level? But how many of these committees respond to those in need? If there are, how many have actively participated in these ministries? And how many actually did this because of love of Christ our king? What makes us different from the Pharisees, scribes and religious people that Jesus rebuked?
Do not shake the boat, do not change the status quo, Jesus do not assert your kingship or else we will crucify you. But to establish the kingdom of God here on earth, Jesus needs to proclaim his kingship as he enters the Jerusalem of each person’s heart. And because our priorities are all mixed up and something else sits as king in our heart, we do not want Jesus to be king and so we shout, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
Yes, we are shouting crucify him, crucify him with much gusto and passion when we also declared Hossana in the highest, blessed be the king of Israel. We have betrayed Jesus, just like the disciples. Just like Peter. Everyday, we betray Jesus with our misdeeds, but unlike Peter we did not only betray him once, not twice, not even thrice… but everytime.
Yes we are part of the crowd, we are there when we shout blessed be the king and we are there when we cry crucify him. And with the sins in our hearts, we crucify Jesus.
Sometimes we think that the triumphant entry of Jesus is just another story in the passion narrative in the Bible. That the life, suffering, torture, passion and death of Jesus is a true to life movie worth remembering once a year. What we fail to recognize is that, everyday of our lives, every actions that we take, every word that we say and even every thought that comes to our mind is part of the reason Jesus courageously entered Jerusalem despite the knowledge that it will be the culmination of his suffering and death within a week time. We often forget that the things we celebrate holy week for is not, it is NOT just a memorial or a celebration of things that happened more than two thousand years ago. The significance of Christ life, sacrifice and death is felt even today, and should be felt everyday of our lives.
In the early church, the celebration of palm and passion Sunday is the culmination of the long years of preparation for the new converts to Christianity. The Palm/Passion Sunday is the day wherein the new converts will begin intense preparation as they will be baptized and receive communion on Easter. The Palm/passion Sunday is a time to reflect upon the question, “do you confess Jesus Christ as your Saviour and King?” For us Christians, it is a time to reflect upon our baptismal vows. It is the recognition that the one who claims to be King will willingly die in our place to give us eternal life and that we will be steadfast in our claim that He is our King.
My dear brothers and sisters, the parade has started and a certain Jesus is leading the way as he enters Jerusalem, as he enters your heart. Do you know him?
The good news my dear brothers and sisters, even before you call him your Saviour and King, even before you acknowledge him, Jesus already included you in his plan of salvation when he entered Jerusalem .
Are you going to join in the celebrations? Will you be able to recognize Jesus in the crowd? Are you going to shout, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord?” Will you declare him to be your saviour and your king? Or will you be frustrated in your expectations and cry out, crucify him. Crucify him?
Who is Jesus to you?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.