Today I preached at Elm Park Baptist Church in Rosewood Avenue Elm Park.
As it was “Palm Sunday” I concentrated on the events of the First Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and then moved on to look at the price he paid, the price of love.
The Bible reading comes from Luke 19 v 28 – 40:
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, `Why are you untying it?’ tell him, `The Lord needs it.’ ”
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.”They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!””I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Do you ever get a song or a piece of music going round and round in your head for hours or days at a time?
I believe that these are known as “ear worms”.
Sometimes it’s a snatch of a hymn or worship song, other times a pop song or a jingle form a TV advert. Whatever it is it can stick around for ages.
Well for the past few weeks every time I have been thinking about today’s sermon I have heard in my head the song originally by the Everly Brothers called “the Price of love” which of course deals with romance and the relationships between men and women but seems to be a reminder of the events of Holy Week and especially Good Friday:
“That’s the price of love, the price of love
The debt you pay with tears and pain
The price of love, the price of love
Costs you more when your to blame”
Not entirely accurate as we know how much it cost God and he was not to blame.
The Bible is full of people who knew the price of love. Much earlier in Luke’s gospel (Luke 7:33-43) we come across the “woman who had lived a sinful life” who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair before pouring very expensive perfume over them. A woman letting her hair down in public was not done and just think of what those feet had trodden on and in on the dusty roads of Judea! That’s the price of love for this woman. A similar incident is recorded in John 12 when Judas Iscariot says that the perfume used could have been sold for a year’s wages.
Today, we start on the great roller coaster of Holy Week, with its amazing highs and its despairing lows in the depths of human sin and iniquity. On Good Friday we realise the price of love. Just how much God was willing to pay for us because he loves us so much.
We start on a high as Jesus enters Jerusalem proclaimed as a saviour by the crowds. We will go through the depths of betrayal on Maundy Thursday, the sheer horror and agony of Good Friday the anxious wait of Holy Saturday and the wonderful unbelievable dawn of Easter day and the resurrection of Jesus.
We are today nearly at the end of the series of processions we see Jesus lead through the New Testament.
Firstly we have the quiet sedate journey of Christmas as Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. This is followed by the flight to Egypt, the pilgrimage to the temple when Jesus was a young boy.
Then comes the three years travelling around the Holy Land followed by crowds wherever he went. The arrival at Nain causes almost a collision with a funeral procession out of the town. The result is death is defeated and the young man restored to life.
Coming into Jericho, Jesus called a man down from a tree and brought him to salvation – Zacchaeus.
Jesus’ final earthly procession will be on Good Friday when he leads the way to Calvary and his crucifixion.
The final procession mentioned in the Bible that Jesus leads is in Revelation 19 but this time Jesus is on a white horse and we read “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war…. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
That is for the future. Lets see what was happening on that first Palm Sunday.
Lets start with a brief history lesson. Israel was then part of the Roman Empire, it had been for quite a few years. Even though Herod Antipas was king over part of the area, he was only there with the permission of the Roman Emperor. He was a descendent of Herod the Great, the man who had tried unsuccessfully to kill Jesus by massacring the boy children in Bethlehem. By the way, Herod the Great was not a Jew even though the Romans gave him the title “King of the Jews” and he had started the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
I guess the same is true today that just because people do things for the church it doesn’t mean they are believers.
Like many kings and rulers, Herod was desperate to hold onto power and would imprison and murder anyone who might pose a threat to his rule. He had imprisoned and subsequently beheaded John the Baptist who had dared to criticise his lack of morals. John the Baptist knew the price of love. The price he had to pay being faithful to God.
So Herod was likely to see Jesus as a threat not only because he was popular with the people but, as we shall see Jesus was showing himself to be the rightful king descended from the Jewish royal family.
Most of the Jews hated the Romans. However a few, like the tax gatherers such as Zacchaeus and Matthew, had done very nicely thank you.
People were waiting for a liberator, someone to drive the Romans out of the land and restore Israel to its former glory. The Zealots couldn’t wait and carried on a guerrilla campaign against the Roman Army of occupation. Indeed one of the Zealots, Simon, was a disciple of Jesus.
I have to say that many people outside of the church are waiting or looking for a liberator. Someone who will set them free from the tyranny of sin, the disasters of broken relationships, the awfulness of addiction and everything else that ruins life here on earth.
Perhaps people in Jesus’ day felt that God had forgotten them. The last prophet Malachi had died more than 300 years ago and people seem not to have heard from God. There were many who claimed to be the Messiah or the one sent by God, to bring liberation and restore the kingdom. Yet they had all proved to be fakes.
But suddenly onto the scene comes this preacher from Nazareth. He talks like no one else. He heals the sick, drives out demons and performs miracles. He is popular with the ordinary people and he deals with the Pharisees and religious leaders who have made life so miserable with their dead religion and their endless rules and regulations.
Could he be the Messiah? The Liberator? Is he the one to lead the revolution and get rid of those hated Romans?
Those are questions which the events of Holy Week would answer very clearly. We however have another question to answer:
What’s all this with the donkey?
The military and the rich used horses and chariots. Everyday folk had the humble donkey. But the answer is deeper than that.
Way back in the history of the Jews was a man called Jacob. He was the grandson of Abraham and the father of the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. When he was an old man, dying in Egypt he called his sons into his tent and gave each one a blessing. This is what he said about his son Judah and his descendants. It is recorded in Genesis 49 v 10 & 11:
“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch“
The Jewish people knew their scriptures and understood this to be a prophecy about the coming Messiah, the Messiah who would be rule as the rightful king over the nation of Israel. And by taking a colt that’s tethered, Jesus is symbolically applying this ancient prophecy to himself.
Now look at the circumstances at how he gets this colt in vv. 30 – 34. It’s possible that Jesus had made preparations ahead of time in this village to have a colt waiting. But it’s also possible that what we have here is an example of what’s called “the royal right to transport” in the ancient world. A king or other high ranking ruler had an inherent right to seize a horse or other animal for official transportation if he needed it. This right is similar to what we see in the movies when a police officer flashes his badge to commandeer someone’s car to chase a bad guy.
In the ancient world, as long as the animal was eventually returned to the rightful owner, a member of royalty had the legal right to seize an animal for transportation. That’s likely what’s happening here, which is why Jesus tells his followers to say, “The Lord needs it.” Obviously the Lord here is Jesus. As the royal Lord, the rightful king of Israel, Jesus exercises his royal right to transport by borrowing this colt. Its not certain whether this is a miracle or if Jesus has made prior arrangements. But the point seems to be Jesus as the rightful king exercising his royal right of transport.
So Jesus mounted a donkey and rode into the city, amidst loud acclamations by the crowd. Some of the city’s residents, usually numbering 30,000, but probably swelling to over 200,000 because of Passover pilgrims, strew blankets and cloaks, others palm branches, before the animal Jesus rode on.
You may not realise how much it cost those people to praise Jesus that day. The scriptures I don’t know how many coats you have, but most people in Jesus’ time had one coat which had to last for years. The coat was very important as it not only kept you warm and dry during the day, but served as a blanket at night and could also be used as security for a loan. These people wanted to praise Jesus and were willing to pay the cost. After all, could they guarantee finding their coats after the procession had passed and goodness knows what condition they would be in having at the very least been trampled on by many feet…talk about the sacrifice of praise. Praise costs!
How many of us would rush off home now and put our bedding and the contents of our wardrobes out on the road for Jesus to ride over?
Now Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem on a colt also had incredible symbolic significance to the people of Israel. One of the ancient prophecies about the coming of the Messiah looked forward to just this. About 500 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zechariah had predicted this very thing.
“Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion! Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious but humble and riding on a donkey – on a colt the foal of a donkey. The Lord says, I will remove the war-chariots from Israel and take horses from Jerusalem; the bows used in battle will be destroyed. Your king will make peace among the nations.. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
Jesus is purposefully acting out this prophecy, and by doing so he’s claiming that he’s the true king, he’s the one who’s righteous and who brings deliverance to Israel. He’s the one who will bring God’s peace to all nations and rule as king not just in Israel, but over the nations. Jesus is symbolically acting out this prophecy.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that this prediction of Zechariah also looks back to an earlier event from 200 years prior to the prophet Zechariah. You see Zechariah is actually predicting that what happened at King Solomon’s coronation as king back in 790 BC would one day happen again when the Messiah comes to rule as king. The book of 1 Kings describes Solomon’s coronation this way:
Zadok the priest, [and] Nathan the prophet…put Solomon on King David’s mule and escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil…and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon.” And all the people went up after him, playing flutes and rejoicing greatly (1 Kings 1:38-40 NIV).
Can you see the similarities between Solomon’s coronation in 790 BC, Zechariah’s prophecy two hundred years later in 520 BC, and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in about 33 AD? You might remember who Solomon was: He was the Hebrew King David’s rightful heir to the throne. So Zechariah was looking forward to another rightful heir from David’s dynasty to one day rule in Israel, and Jesus is symbolically applying that claim to himself.
The crowd cries out “Hosanna!” meaning “Lord, save us!” and with the words of Psalm 118:26 “Blessed is who comes in the name of the LORD!” Secondly, our Lord’s entry was a political statement. In the ancient world, when a conquering king entered a city after a battle, he rode on a stallion or something even more impressive. Judas Maccabeus, after having driven the Syrians from Jerusalem in 163 BC entered the city on a majestic stallion. The residents of the city came out and waved palm branches as he entered, and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Julius Caesar had returned to Rome in a golden chariot harnessed to 40 elephants in 45 BC.
But whenever a king entered a city in peace, he rode on a donkey.
Perhaps the modern day example would be the pictures we see of TV of military rulers riding triumphantly into captured cities on a tank, or the American president in his armoured limo. Yet Jesus has the equivalent of the delivery moped from Pizza Hut, hardly a threatening way of riding into town.
Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst adulation, clapping, shouting, smiles, and dancing. You may recall in 2003 seeing on the TV news the reception the US Marines got from Iraqis as they entered Baghdad at the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
For Jesus it was a day of cheers, but the cheering wouldn’t last. This same crowd would less than a week later shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” before Pilate’s judgment seat.
The crowd was fickle, because our human hearts are fickle and untrustworthy. Napoleon and his army were once marching through Switzerland and were receiving thunderous applause wherever they went. The crowds shouted: “Long live the king! Viva la France! Hail to the emperor Napoleon!” But the general was unimpressed. An aide asked, “Isn’t it wonderful to hear the roar of the crowds and the love of the people?” Napoleon replied, “The same people that are cheering me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.”
The human heart is sinful and fickle and until we are born again we cannot truly respond to Jesus.
How do we respond when Jesus asks us for something as he asked to use the donkey?
How would react if like those two disciples we are told to go and take someone’s donkey? Its risky. As is saying to the owner “The Lord needs it”.
Are we prepared to give up our possessions, our time or even our positions and titles for Jesus? Or do we hold on tight to them as they are ours!
Are we willing to make a sacrifice to praise Jesus? It cost those people in Jerusalem a great deal that first Palm Sunday. Are we prepared to pay the cost? After all Jesus sacrificed himself for each one of us.
As we contemplate the events of Palm Sunday and look forward to Good Friday and Easter Day lets reflect on the words Paul wrote in his letter to The Philippians. In chapter 2 we read:
The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to become equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant, He became like a man and appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name. And so in honour of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So today are you prepared to fall on your knees before Jesus and proclaim him Lord of your life?
Are you, like Jesus, prepared to give up all you have and be obedient to God no matter where that path may take you?
Jesus paid the price of love for each and everyone of us. Indeed for everyone in the world. Every time we gather around the Lord’s table we are reminded of the price of love, Jesus’ body broken for us and his blood shed for us.
Lord Jesus, Through the power of your Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire with love for you that we may truly praise and worship you, our King. May we be ready to give you what you ask of us when we hear that the Lord has need of it. Amen.