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Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019
14 Apr 2019

Matthew 21:1-17

(watch here: https://youtu.be/zU8BrHpSAA4)

1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry 16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

For some reason, there isn’t a lot of funny stuff out there having to do with Palm Sunday but there’s always the one that’s been popular for years about little 5-year-old Annie. It was Palm Sunday and poor Annie was suffering from a sore throat so she stayed home from church with her mother. When the rest of the family came home, they were carrying palm fronds. Annie asked them what they were for. “People held them over Jesus’ head as he rode by on a colt,” her father explained. “Wouldn’t you know it,” Annie fussed, “the one Sunday I’m sick and Jesus shows up and offers pony rides!”

Sorry, folks, that’s the best I could come up with this week. Maybe my Maundy Thursday material will be better…stay tuned! Unlike Annie, Jesus actually showed up for what would turn out to be the longest, most miserable week of his life. Jesus knew what awaited him in that brooding city of Jerusalem. He knew the chief priests and the religious order had plotted to destroy him for quite some time. For three years he had caused quite a stir in the region around Jerusalem with his miracles and radical teachings. People had come to regard him as the Messiah, the one who was to save them from Roman and clerical tyranny. He was a powerful threat to the Church and Roman order and needed to be destroyed. And the people loved him all the more for it! The people had had enough of the corrupt Church and the corrupt government. They needed a Savior and the good people of Jerusalem saw their rescue in Jesus. So they gathered palm branches to lay at the feet of his colt as he processed into town. For them, palm branches represented freedom the way our flag represents freedom. Their gesture was a great symbolic plea for freedom from the evil forces surrounding them. And what does Jesus do immediately upon entering the city? He gets to work cleansing the temple. He gets to work giving the good people of Jerusalem what they want—freedom. Jesus wasn’t so much concerned with the tyranny of the Roman empire as much as he was of his Father’s house. Getting rid of the greed and corruption that had infested his Father’s house was his main priority and he wasted no time addressing it. And it’s what eventually got him killed by the angry and exasperated religious authorities. They didn’t want anyone criticizing them for their corrupt practices and they certainly didn’t want to change. Few people like to change…even fewer institutions like to as well. Jesus was bound to receive resistance yet he went through with what he was tasked to do by the Father.

The good people of Jerusalem wanted someone more than a miracle worker and teacher. They wanted someone to free them through whatever radical means necessary. The biblical authors have labeled Jesus’ procession and cleansing of the temple as his “triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” Jesus went in there to battle evil forces and triumphed over them. The money-changers and merchants had created this “pay-to-play” environment in the temple that restricted access to God’s free gifts of grace and mercy. Jesus could see the evilness of their ways and fought them and triumphed over them. Why? Because this is what Jesus does! He fights the evil forces that keep us from knowing the love of God. Jesus is more than a healer and teacher…Jesus is a fighter too. He will triumph over all evil in whatever forms it presents itself. He’s always going to battle in our defense. Jesus loves us! My are his beloved brothers and sisters, of course he loves us and fights for us!

So Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem was ultimately an entry into battle on our behalf. And we are forever changed by it whether we like it or not. You see, Jesus’ entry was also a transformational event. He immediately got to work ridding the temple of corrupt ways and transformed it into the house of prayer it was intended to be. So, too, can Jesus get to work on you and me ridding us of the evil and corrupt ways within us. But we have to want him to come into our lives. We have to want him to be more than a healer and a teacher. We have to want him to be a fighter. We have to want to be transformed and changed by him. I know how scary change can be. There is great uncertainty in change. We don’t know who or what we’ll become so we, like those angry religious authorities, can put up great resistance to change. But we have to trust that Jesus fights for our own good. Remember, Jesus loves us! Jesus only wants what’s best for us. He fights for us, not against us.

The apostle Paul understood this all too well. In his letter to the Romans, he writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:2) There are forces at work in each of our lives that seek to destroy us. Jesus is willing to fight them and in so doing reveal to us the good and acceptable and perfect will of God…if we but ask him to come into our lives. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17) We can also hear this as, “so if anyone has Christ within them, there is a new creation…” What a gift it is to have Christ within us, battling all the forces that threaten to destroy us! Sin, death, and the devil no longer have control of our lives! Christ and Christ’s love guide our lives. We rejoice with Paul as declares in his letter to the Galatians, “And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (2:20)

We celebrate today not only for Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem but also for his triumphal entry into our lives. In going through the pain and suffering of the week ahead, he triumphally enters into our lives whether we know it or not. And isn’t that the best kind of change and transformation, the subtle kind?! We don’t even know it’s happening! I pray that you welcome Jesus into your life this week. Heed God’s words to the prophet, Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26) Open your heart to Jesus this week of all weeks. He will most assuredly transform your life. Sing with David through his psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (23-24)

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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