It was Michael Jordan who said, “Some people wish it would happen, some people wait for it to happen, other people make it happen.” Jesus made it happen, no matter what “it” happened to be! No where is this more evident, than on that first Palm Sunday. Let me explain.
In the 5th century B.C. Zechariah prophesied the coming of a new and mighty king, the Messiah, saying:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter
of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and
victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the
foal of an ass.”
Five centuries later, in the time of Jesus, this prophecy was as familiar to the people of Jerusalem as the wall that encircled the city, or the gates that opened to those who would enter it. In that time, Pilate, and his officials and soldiers, and other proud Romans and Gentiles, often rode into the city on horseback; but few devout Jews would dare to ride into Jerusalem. As the typical devout, Jewish traveler approached the city, he would dismount, and then lead his beast into the city, so that people would not accuse him of being bold enough, or foolish enough, to enter the city in a manner that the prophet had reserved for the coming of the Great King.
On the Sunday we call Palm Sunday, Jesus did what few Jews in their right mind would have done. When Jesus drew near Jerusalem, walking, he sent his disciples into a nearby village to procure for him an animal exactly like the one described by Zechariah. It appears that Jesus had arranged for the animal in advance, indicating that he had been planning his triumphal entry for sometime. Anyway, when his disciples returned with the colt and threw their garments upon it, Jesus sat himself upon it, and entered the city in the exact manner that Zechariah had prophesied of the King who was to come.
Mark tells us that when the people of the city saw Jesus riding into the city on the colt, some of them came out to greet him with enthusiasm. They spread their garments on the road, and stowed his path with leafy branches they cut from the surrounding fields. And those who went before him and those who followed after him, cried out:
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus did what he did, because he knew that the common people who heard him gladly, and loved him, would come out and give him a royal welcome. Jesus did what he did, too, because he knew that other people, important people, would give him a very different kind of welcome.Three times in the gospel of Mark (8:31, 9:31 and 10:33), Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer. He tells them that he must be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, who would condemn him to death, and deliver him to the “Gentiles”—or, Romans, who would mock him, spit upon him, scourge him and kill him, which the Romans alone had the power to do. Then, on a hopeful note, Jesus told his disciples that after three days he would rise. In predicting his resurrection, Jesus was counting on the God he called his Father to vindicate him, and put a seal of approval on his obedience unto death, even death upon a cross.
There is little doubt that Jesus expected to die on a cross. We know this, because in Mark 8:34, just after predicting his own death, Jesus predicted a cross for his followers saying, “If anyone would come after me, let them take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus expected the Romans to crucify him and his followers because that is what the Romans did. The day they crucified Jesus, they crucified two others, two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. And Josephus , the Jewish historian, reports that, in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked the city of Jerusalem and razed the temple, they crucified so many Jews on the hill of Golgotha, there was no room for another cross, and no trees left from which to fashion them. There is a sense in which Jesus chose the manner of his death, and a sense in which he did not.
Anyway, things went exactly as he predicted. Jesus was welcomed by the common people; rejected and condemned by the important people; and mocked, scourged, and killed by the Romans. We know, too, that a friend, a respected member of the council, who was looking for the kingdom of God, named Joseph of Arimathea, too courage, and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave the body to him, and he laid it in a tomb cut into rock. And rolled a stone before it. And two of the women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (and James the Lesser and Salome), who were brave enough to follow Jesus even to the cross, even after his disciples forsook him and fled, saw where the body was laid. And for three days, the body of Jesus rested in the tomb. And, then, on the third day, God raised him from death, and hi”…ghly exalted him, and gave him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ to the glory of God the Father. ”
Now some people will accuse me of running ahead with the story. They say, “Worth, when we came it was Palm Sunday, and you have rushed us through that, skipped over four days, including Maundy Thursday, briefly touched on Good Friday, and Great Sabbath, and then rushed right along to Easter Sunday.”
That is true, and because it is, I hope you will spend this week with us as we share the Holy Week Readings.
However, I also want you to know, that I have done what I have done to illustrate a point. Some people wish it would happen, and some people wait for it to happen, and some people make it happen. Jesus made it happen. When Jesus mounted the colt and rode into Jerusalem, he was like a chess master, executing not one move, but a series of moves, based upon his knowledge of the board, the situation, and upon his knowledge of his opponent. Besides, the triumphal entry led directly to the cross, and apart from the resurrection the cross is meaningless. Without the resurrection, the cross of Jesus is just the bad end of a good man; but add the resurrection, and study the cross in the light that breaks forth from the empty tomb, and the cross of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the King, is revealed as a road traveled once, for all, by our now victorious Lord and Savior.
Next Sunday, we will talk at length about the resurrection, so, today, let us spend just a few minutes on the cross, on which Jesus choose to die. I will say just this:
1. Jesus died for a reason, and that reason is my fault, and yours. In 1st Corinthians 15:3, St. Paul said, “he died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” We are all sinners. The scripture tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together (we) have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.” Life also teaches us that we are sinners. Sin is anything we do, or fail to do, by which we hurt ourselves or another, and we are constantly tearing at someone, even if that someone is ourselves. People who don’t believe in God believe in sin. We know that when we reach down inside ourselves we dredge up that which is unworthy to be spoken of. The New Testament is reaching back to the Hebrew Bible for inspiration when it teaches that Jesus Christ died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,” the righteous, for the unrighteous, like a lamb without spot, or wrinkle or blemish. St. John verifies this when he calls Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
2. Jesus died in accordance with the will of God. Mark tells us that, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, not once, but three times saying:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.”
There are those who say that Almighty God would like nothing better than to dangle us all over the fires of hell until we are roasted and toasted. They say that a Jesus had to appease God’s anger for us to be saved. The New Testament will not allow this. The New Testament teaches that God the Father so loved the world, that he sent his only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. There is a picture in London’s National Gallery which describes the relationship between Jesus and his father perfectly. It is a picture of Jesus on his cross, surrounded by clouds and darkness. You can see his nail pierced hands, and the crown of thorns that his been pressed down upon his head. More than that, you can see the look of abject poverty upon the face of Jesus when he cried out, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabachthani?”, which is to say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, if you look closely into the clouds and darkness, you will see something more. Look closely and the figure of God the Father emerges, and it is his hands support the outstretched hands of his son, which received the nails, and his tears, drip hot upon the face of Jesus, even as it is twisted up in agony. We will forgive the artist this anthropomorphism, for he has beautifully captured the truth that God not only willed Jesus go to the cross, but fully participated in the event with him. Jurgen Moltmann says, that, in the cross of of his son, Jesus, God takes death into himself. It is the cross of Christ that justifies human beings before God, yes; but it is also the place when God is justified before human beings.
3. Jesus died on the cross to ransom us. In Mark 10:45 Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The question becomes to whom does Jesus pay the ransom? Some say that he paid it to the devil. The Bible will not allow this. God owes the devil nothing, ever. The true answer is that Jesus ransoms us from sin and death. Jesus must ransom us from sin because sin permeates every aspect of human life. We think that sin is a choice. That may be true of our first faltering steps into sin, but as soon as we make our choices, our choices make us, and sin takes control and leads us into places we would never willing go. The Japanese have a saying about Saki, a powerful liquor. They says, “First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; and then the drink takes a man.” That is true of sin, too. But in the cross of Christ, we see that God can defeat sin, and the effects of sin. He delivered Jesus and he will deliver us.
Likewise, Jesus must ransom us from death, because death hangs over our heads from the cradle to the grave, and it cast a pall over all that we do, especially as we grow older. Apart from Jesus, we live in the anxious middle. We don’t know where we have come from or where we are going. But in Jesus we see that we have come from God and we are going to God, and because he lives, we will live also, and death no longer has a hold on us.
Perhaps you have heard the story of a boy who made a model boat, about ‘so long,’ and he set it out in a city pond, and then, storm came up, and he lost it. Weeks later, he saw it in the window of a shop. With joy he went in and explained to the shopkeeper than he had made the boat, and lost it. The shopkeeper responded, “Well, you may have made it; but it is mine, now.” The boy left the shop saddened, but he went to work, and he earned the money to buy back his boat, and he went to the shop, and he bought it, and as he left the shop he said to himself, and to his boat, “You are twice mine. First I made you. Then I bought you back.” In the same way, we are God’s twice over. First God made us, then God lost us to sin and death, and then God ransomed us, or bought us back.
Let me say it one more time. Some people wish it would happen, and some people wait for it to happen, and some people made it happen. Jesus made it happen!
He made it happen for us. Now it is for us to seize the opportunity he has given.