Palm Sunday. What are we celebrating? Let’s start with these questions:
What are some things you celebrate every year?
What celebrations are most enjoyable for you? Why?
Today as we celebrate Palm Sunday, it is the remembering of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week leading up to His arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. This story is found all over the gospels and is worth reading and examining as we lead up to Easter. It can be found in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. (Side note: this week's Bible reading plan is designed to build a multi-Gospel perspective as we walk into Easter next Sunday.)
Our conversations this week and next week on Sunday mornings will be beautiful as we process this together–celebrating Easter. What does it mean for following Jesus or being a Christian? We will walk and talk into the complexity that it is not something that just happens by being in proximity, just as hanging out at the gym doesn’t make you fit or hanging out at the library doesn’t make you smart or anging out at the coffeehouse doesn't make you caffeinated.
Let me encourage us to engage in the process. The process is the key. Participation in the process over time is essential.
In all of the Gospels, Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem and we see many things: People were celebrating His entering into Jerusalem. People were seeing Jesus as their savior/answer/helper/deliverer/king. People were filled with hope or adoration. People saw Jesus coming and freaked out–it’s finally happening! God is no longer silent–He's sent us a savior!
Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. The religious authorities really wanted to eliminate Him. They viewed Him as a disruption of their power. He was speaking against the religious hierarchy and He wasn't following the established religious systems. He threatened disruption to the political relationship between the Jews and the Romans. The religious leaders said:
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:48)
They were worried about their people, about themselves. Their response, while easy to look back on today and say it’s bad, made sense for them. But before they could arrest Jesus, He made his way into Jerusalem.
The people of Jerusalem were well-versed in Old Testament history. They knew the hyperlinks of their cultural history–they were brought up immersed in them. They lived in them. They knew them backwards and forwards. They knew the book of Zechariah, which gives an outline of the course of God's dealings with His people down to the time of the coming of the Messiah. The people seeing Jesus enter Jerusalem knew the words of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
And now here right in front of them, Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a colt. And they freaked.
The people were excited to see Jesus coming into Jerusalem. They saw Him as a deliverer from their political oppression, as the fixer of their pains and struggles. He was a healer of their ills and a provider of food, standing against the oppressors of their people.
And while I can see why they thought that, Jesus was not coming to set them free from political oppression, but coming to set them free from the the things that separated them from relationship with God. That’s a loaded statement, but let me ask you a question in context here:
What would it take for you to “freak out” with excitement as you see or meet someone?
Today we celebrate what Jesus did as He entered Jerusalem. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke in this context, and in John in a different context (please see our series on John for deeper understanding or Google it), we see Jesus enter into the temple and things get tense:
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21:12-17)
Remember, the people present there and the writers of the Gospels all knew the Old Testament texts and would have been blown away by Jesus’ words. As Jesus was freaking out, flipping the tables and sending out the moneychangers, He first said:
“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’” (Matthew 21:13a)
I can quickly say yeah, we should pray in here, not sell doves. But the hearers in that moment and the Gospel writers heard something different. They heard the words of Isaiah:
This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this— the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:4-7)
Eunuchs and foreigners had no place in the temple. They were unclean, unexpected, unwanted, marginalized, looked down upon. And Jesus storms into the temple and points back at the words of Isaiah–there is no outsider here! Welcome to being an insider.
Then Jesus continues:
“You are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13b)
Yeah! Robbers, taking people’s money. Mean people! Let me flip your tables. But the hearers and the Gospel writers would have heard the hyperlink again:
“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7:6-11)
Peace with God. Dwelling with God. Connected with God. It is available if you don’t oppress.
Jesus recalled the words of Jeremiah. The hearers would have recognized the hyperlink. After this, Jesus called the people together in the temple. He healed the sick, and the religious authorities grumbled. This walks us into the last hyperlink:
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:16)
The religious authorities knew the reference. The hearers knew the reference. The Gospel writers knew the reference. Jesus is pointing back to Psalm 8:
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:1-4)
When I consider the great things You have done, what is humanity that You are mindful of us, of me?
We have been and will be working through a series on our ethos–who we are. But who we are has to come through the filter of who Jesus is and how He sees us. What are we celebrating as we come to Easter–yes it is Jesus’ sacrifice and His resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins–but what we are celebrating is the character of God that is exemplified in these things: The character of God that removes outsiderness. The character of God that seeks relationship with us and hopes for the removal of the things that separate us from Him. The character of God that has mindfulness of us all.
What do you feel and how do you respond as you are reminded of God’s character that removes outsiderness, seeks relationship and is continually mindful of us?
Celebration is important and there can be many reasons for it. But in this moment–why do we celebrate?
We think of Your character, God. We think about Your eyes on us and not seeing an insider and an outsider. We think of Your love for us all. We think about all the things that can interrupt relationship, but we see Your character wanting nothing to separate us from relationship with You. We think of Your capacity–You are all-capable, all-powerful, all-knowing, in all time and all places and yet You are mindful of us.
What do we celebrate? Why would we “freak out?” Because God is so great and Easter is a clear window into His character and His passion for us.
Here’s a final conversation:
How do you want to celebrate Easter this year, externally and internally?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 21:12-17.
- When you see an injustice, do you tend to act without thinking or think without acting? Why?
- What upset Jesus as He saw what was happening in the temple?
- How do Isaiah 56:1-12, Jeremiah 7:2-11, and Psalm 8:1-4 inform you about why Jesus responded as He did?
- How does Jesus’ response inform us about our relationship with Him today?
- How are you challenged, focused, encouraged, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Palm Sunday - Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–11, Luke 19:28–44, John 12:9–19.
- Monday - Matthew 21:12–22, Mark 11:12–19, Luke 19:45–48
- Tuesday - Matthew 21:23, 26:5, Mark 11:27, 14:2, Luke 20:1, 22:2, John 12:37–50
- Wednesday - Matthew 26:6–16, Mark 14:3–11, Luke 22:3–6
- Thursday - Matthew 26:17–75, Mark 14:12–72, Luke 22:7–71, John 13:1,18:27
- Good Friday - Matthew 27:1–61, Mark 15:1–47, Luke 23:1–56, John 18:28, 19:42
- Saturday - Matthew 27:62–66
Easter Sunday - Matthew 28:1–20, Mark 16:1–8, Luke 24:1–53, John 20:1, 21:25united