Having grown up in Seattle in a relatively moderate climate with mild winters and generally cool summers, one of the things that I love about living here in Montana is that you truly get to experience all four seasons here. Winter, Spring, 2nd Winter, Construction. Truly, it’s the best.
All kidding aside. I really do love the variety of the seasons here and their distinct and unique feel. It’s without question more interesting than living under the grocery store lettuce mister that is the Pacific Northwest, that’s for sure.
However, the thing I’m still trying to get used to 4 years later is just how unpredictable the seasons are here, especially winter. Throughout my entire life, I’ve associated snow with holidays like Christmas and months named February, not holidays like Easter or months named September. And so whenever it snows at an unexpected time, I often do this weird double take and I have to remind myself what month or time of the year it actually is. It’s like this disorienting time warp that I’m still trying to get used to.
And I say all of this to say, this is undoubtedly how you very well might be feeling about our scripture and message for today. We just read about the triumphal entry, Jesus riding into Jerusalem. It’s a text that is almost always, almost exclusively read on Palm Sunday, on a Sunday in early April, the Sunday before Easter. And yet, here we are studying it here in the bleak midwinter, in the middle of January. It’s admittedly a little strange.
And yet, there is a method to the madness here, where the thinking here is twofold. Where on one hand, this is simply where we are as we make our way through Luke’s Gospel, as we continue our year long sermon series, here now in chapter 19 of a 24 chapter book.
And yet even beyond that, the thinking here is also somewhat strategic in the sense that by turning the corner to Palm Sunday now, we in many ways better reflect the time given and the ink that is spilled by each of the Gospel writers as they give their account of Jesus’s final week on earth.
And here’s what I mean: Historically in the Christian church, we remember all the events that took place in the final week of Jesus’s life, from Jesus riding into Jerusalem to his death and resurrection, and condense it all into a single calendar week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
And in many respects, that makes a ton of sense. These were events that took place in a single calendar week in Jesus’s life and so we as the church remember these events in a single calendar week too.
And yet, here’s what’s really fascinating. Luke devotes a quarter of his entire gospel to Jesus’s final week. Matthew does as well. And as for Mark and John? They devote upwards of a third of their gospel to Jesus’s final week.
All in all, Jesus lived for 33 years, for 1,700 weeks, and each of these writers devote a disproportionate amount of space and ink on Jesus’s final week.
And yet for reasons that are both totally understandable and absolutely crazy, we try to cover all this ground in a single calendar week. But not this year.
This winter and spring we’re going to take the next 12 weeks to really slow things down, to really meditate and reflect on all that Jesus said and did during his last few days, there’ll be stories that you’ll likely be very familiar with along with stories that you might be hearing for the very first time, as together we move from Jesus’s triumphal entry to his death and resurrection and immerse ourselves on all that happened in between. In other words, the journey to Easter starts now.
And so, with all that said, let’s get after it.
For today, we’ll focus our attention on two characters and two emotions and try to make sense as to why they felt what they did on this day. Where we’ll first look at the disciples and their public praise of Jesus followed by Jesus and his personal tears.
First, the public praise of the disciples.
Why is it that the crowd of disciples are publicly praising Jesus? Well, it’s because all of the details in the story had a way of activating their memories and promises that God had made to his people.
First, there’s the setting. In verse 28, we’re told that Jesus and his disciples were headed to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of David, where the greatest King of Israel lived. Jerusalem, where the most sacred sit in all of Israel, where the temple was located.
They’re headed to Jerusalem. A place teeming with memories, full of significance, and then Jesus tells his disciples to go find him a donkey.
Where he says, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you … and you will find a colt (donkey) tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.
And the crowd of disciples that day would have almost certainly known of an obscure prophesy from the prophet Zechariah from 500 years before, a promise that “their king is coming for them, humble and mounted on a donkey.” And so, when they see this Jesus, riding a donkey, riding into Jerusalem, well that checks all the boxes. This is the promised king they’ve been waiting for.
And though Jesus has at various points in the past told his disciples to keep quiet, to keep his identity and mission a secret, here he lets them burst out in joy, for now he is willing to truly go public, and accomplish what he has come to do.
And even more, were told in verse 37 that the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen. They’ve seen him heal the sick, cast out demons, silence the storms, feed the 5,000, and so much more.
And now because of all of this, here they are, publicly praising Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem.
Chances are whether you are a sports fan or not, you’ve been introduced to the name Damar Hamlin over the past couple weeks. Damar plays football for the Buffalo Bills and a couple of weeks ago, my son Noah and I were watching Monday Night Football, okay, I was watching Monday Night Football, during which I saw the scariest thing I’ve ever seen during a football game. Damar went down after making a tackle, stood up, then suddenly collapsed. By the time we got to the third commercial break, we learned that the training staff was administering CPR. Damar had suffered cardiac arrest right there on the field. The whole thing was so traumatizing that they ended up canceling the rest of the game, right then and there and rightfully so.
Now, as a football fan, a Christian and a pastor, what immediately struck me and greatly encouraged me was not only the outpouring of love and support shown towards Damar, but even more so the openness of faith and public prayer and talk of God (and yes, even Jesus!) that happened in the hours and days to come. Football players huddling up and surrounding Damar in prayer on the field. Fans in the stands reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Others holding prayer vigils at the hospital where Damar later received care from. A football analyst praying to God live on ESPN. A former NFL player talking about life and death and how our only hope is in Jesus with Anderson Cooper on CNN. All in all seeing dozens of athletes and people in sports media calling out to God, pointing people to Jesus, publicly living out their faith in ways that I’ve never really seen before.
Since then Damar has experienced a miraculous recovery, and the praise has only continued. It’s been beautiful and heartwarming and in many ways, incredibly hopeful to see and hear.
Friends, what is it that keeps us from publicly praising God in our day to day life, in 1 on 1 conversations, with our family and friends, on our Facebook pages? Maybe there’s a fear of what others will think, maybe we fear it’ll come off as though forced or inauthentic.
Where in your life might you have an opportunity to publicly praise God, to thank Him for the miracles he’s performed, for the work he’s done in your life, to give him the glory and the credit, just as the crowd of disciples did on that Palm Sunday long ago?
I’d encourage you to be thinking about that in the days and weeks to come.
You never know what impact your words or praise might have. The opportunity is great to point people to Jesus and as we turn our attention to what happens next, we’re reminded that the stakes are high.
And this now brings us to the second part of our message today. Second, the personal tears of Jesus.
And here we’re introduced to a moment that Luke and only Luke includes in this Palm Sunday narrative.
Where on one hand, we read of the whole crowd of disciples joyfully praising God as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and yet there’s something that happens at the end, that radically alters the entire tenor of this story, where as Jesus approached Jerusalem that day, as his disciples around him celebrated, Jesus himself burst into tears.
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.
That word “wept” does not suggest the kind of sentimental crying that happens near the end of a Hallmark movie with a bowl of popcorn by your side. No, this is a wail of lament.
Which makes you wonder, why? What does Jesus see when he sees the city of Jerusalem? And what does he know, what does he know will happen in the week ahead?
Well, to summarize, Jesus sees a city and people within it that will reject him. For he says,
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Jesus sees a city and a people within it that will not recognize him. For he says,
“you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Rather than embracing Jesus, rather than welcoming Jesus, he will instead be ridiculed, beaten, spit upon, flogged, nailed onto a cross.
And because of all this, Jesus predicts what will happen to them in haunting, cryptic, ominous detail. Saying that enemies will surround you from every side, they’ll dash you to the ground, tear down every building in Jerusalem and the temple itself. All of it likely points to a future destruction that Jerusalem will experience some 40 years later from the hands of the Roman empire.
In other words, there will be severe judgment for those in Jerusalem who do not recognize the time of God’s coming, who do not recognize that it is God himself who has arrived in the person of Jesus.
This is heavy stuff, I know. And yet, the optimist in me is inclined to find comfort and hope in the midst of these words and predictions of judgment and destruction.
And I find it by looking at the face of Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we don’t see a God who finds joy in judgment or pleasure in our pain. You won’t find Jesus saying things like “I told you so” or “it serves them right” when people reject him or when people get what they deserve.
No, instead, when we look at the face of Jesus in the face of judgment, we see his tears. Our destruction absolutely breaks his heart.
Truth is, he’s not crying because of what will happen to him in the days ahead, excruciating as that will be, but rather what will happen to us should we reject him.
Central to the very heart of God is joy when we turn to him and tears when we don’t.
And so, may we recognize God in the person of Jesus. May we know the things that bring us peace – peace in a person.
Maybe the opportunity will come when we see and serve those around us as those made in the image of God. For when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, invite the stranger whatever we do for the least of these Jesus says, you’ve done it for me.
Maybe we’ll hear and recognize the words of Jesus in the midst of a difficult conversation with someone we love. Maybe God will soften our hearts and open our ears and allow us to recognize that the difficult words of a loved one or friend are really the words of God itself spoken through them.
And as we begin this journey towards Easter, as we see all that this Jesus will say and do and accomplish, may we too proclaim, as the crowd of disciples did on this day long ago:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”