Using Jesus' last five days as an example, how do we stay focused on Him in the week leading up to Easter?
This Sunday is a celebration of Palm Sunday. We’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about that. Its designation is associated with what historians and theologians often refer to as Jesus’ moving towards Jerusalem with what’s called the triumphal entry. Which is the theme of this little two-week mini-series that we’re doing as a lead into Easter. The incident, like most of the incidents that occur in the last week of our Lord’s life, is referred to in all four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each one of them takes a slightly different approach. They all have a common theme. Much of the New Testament is about the life of Christ. If you look at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John you’ll note that the vast percentage of the book is just devoted to the final week of the life of Jesus, specifically to what happens heading toward the cross. With that in mind, I want to revisit a passage we looked at last week. John 12 as a way to reset. I don’t want to assume or presume that everyone here has already made a decision to follow Jesus. I realize some of us are seeking or just starting our journey of faith. Others have been following the Lord for a long time. Honestly, my overt goal is to get us all thinking more clearly about how to move into these coming days.
John 12 says, “the next day, a great multitude that had come to the feast,” they had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a great historic festival that is still celebrated today by Israel and the Jewish people commemorating their miraculous deliverance from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. Passover and the overlaps that have to do with the blood of the lamb and Jesus’ giving of Himself is so rich and multi-layered. John 12 says that when this group that had come to the feast and they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they moved outside of the town and met Jesus on the road. They took branches of palm trees and they went out to meet Him. That’s why we call this Palm Sunday. “They cried out Hosanna,” which is a joyful Aramaic expression of praise rooted in Psalm 1:18 carrying with it this idea of anticipated deliverance, hence its association with saving. It says, “They said, “Blessed is you who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.” Then Jesus, when he had found a young donkey sat on it as it is written, “Fear not daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” Jesus clearly has in mind a sense of how the scriptures that He was immersed in, the Older Testament as we call it, and the words that were always on His lips were connected to and intertwined with everything He had come and was born to do.
This significance of coming in on a donkey is a symbolic connection to a prophecy that had been made in the book of Zechariah. Jesus would’ve been very well aware of it. Zechariah 9:9 says, “That rejoice greatly o’ daughter of Zion, shout o’ daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king is coming to you. He is just in having salvation lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus clearly has this in mind. Those who were in Jerusalem at the time who understood national history were very familiar with the writings of the prophets. The significance of Jesus’s decision to enter the great city of David riding on a donkey would not have been lost on them. They immediately would’ve known it was Jesus who was making a statement. His followers were making a statement. Jesus was making a declaration of sorts. It spoke clearly of His decision to publicly identify Himself as Messiah king, the promised one.
In that regard, it was a declaration of majesty, humility, and prophetic alignment. Jesus did not do this haphazardly. There were times before when others tried to get Him to declare Himself Messiah or king. Jesus wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t cooperate. He would leave. He would make it a point to say, “My hour is not yet come.” Now Jesus makes the decision to move towards the moment that He was born for. He knows what’s ahead of Him. It would not be an exaggeration to say at the outset here that this was the greatest moment in the history of the nation of Israel, their long awaited king. The one that had been promised through the centuries from the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The fulfillment of so many hopes, prayers, and dreams had finally come. Jesus was here before them. This promised one, presenting Himself, unveiling Himself, and revealing Himself. The promise which the father had handed down to the son and mother had handed down a daughter with generational continuity.
The moment was at hand. The moment that the prophets said they had longed and hoped to see, anticipated in types and shadows was now at hand. It was being fulfilled before their very eyes. You would’ve thought everyone would’ve welcomed this moment. Yet, we know that the reactions were mixed at best. For every sincere, true believer out there waving their palms and crying out, “This is the God who saves,” there were at least five others who were unconvinced. If you looked outside at the crowd and those in Jerusalem and asked their opinions of Jesus, they were the cautious, curious, hopeful, suspicious, critics, and cynics. The offended. They would be some of the ones who would end up crying out, “Crucify Him.” All who had come to witness the event were not all pleased.
On this day, at this moment, the enthusiasts held sway. The question was what is Jesus going to do next? What about Rome? What did they think? The truth is they probably weren’t impressed. We know that. Rome was constantly having to deal with so-called messiahs. They really didn’t care about what people were saying as long as they paid their taxes, no one tried to take up arms, or start a revolution. At the time, the Jewish people had been given an unusual amount of autonomy. Part of that was because Rome felt that was the best way to keep things calm as much as possible. They told the Jewish leaders at the time in Jerusalem that they did not have the right to capital punishment. Rome reserved the right to make that verdict or judgment. It explains in part why when they decided that Jesus was guilty, Pilot, the Roman governor, had to sign off. He has to agree to it and execute Jesus. It’s all intertwined together. If you were a common Roman or soldier watching what was going on, you would’ve looked at this comparatively as a pathetic display of adulation. A donkey, a rag-tag band of followers from Galilee with their Northern accents freshly arrived to celebrate Passover. Throwing their clothes and garments like a makeshift carpet, waving palms, crying, “Here comes the king.” Who is that? That’s this Jesus. Jesus who? Jesus, they call Him Jesus of Nazareth. Nazareth, that place up north no one goes to? People asked, “Did anything good come from there?”
Rome would’ve been unimpressed. They weren’t threatened by it. I don’t think Rome’s regal qualities thought anything of it. They could not appreciate the significance of what was at stake. It would’ve seemed sad and laughable. Maybe even a little pathetic, meager certainly, jor harmless. They could not appreciate how the balance of religious power was being threatened in Jerusalem. How moves were already being made by the temple authorities to secure their power. Who could have seen that in a week’s time, in just five days, this same Jesus of Nazareth would be hung on a tree? The same one that everybody was crying out as the coming king would hang on a tree for all to see His suffering and pain for you and me. See His love unquenchable beyond despair, essentially forsaken. Who could have seen it?
What’s more, who could foresee that Rome would ultimately be overwhelmed. This is even more ironic, by the very one who was now being welcomed in at the outskirts of Jerusalem. Who, in a mere five days, would hang so helplessly on a Roman gibbet with a crown of thorns on His head naked and dying. Who could have ever imagined at that moment that it would be the Roman empire that would vanish? The way of this Nazarene, as we are testifying to, would continue on way after the greatest power of the world had ever known would end up now as just a page in history with ancient ruins to testify to it. It’s amazingly stunning in terms of scope. The same Jesus, who no one would’ve even noticed beyond a very small group of people and some fierce opponents would ultimately turn the world upside down in the way of love and by giving His life away so we might have it.
I want to switch over to Luke’s account because he includes a couple of extra details that John’s account doesn’t. One of which I just love and find so humorous. Luke 19:28. This is Palm Sunday. Luke gives us some background detail of the donkey that Jesus rides on as He makes His way towards the city of Jerusalem. You can still see today the number of olives looking down on the ancient city. There’s something powerful about this, to know this is exactly what happened. When you get to the Mount of Olives, you come into the valley of the Kidron, up to the gates of Jerusalem. The group met Jesus on the outskirts. Jesus is making His way to the city. Before He does that, He’s got it in His mind that He needs to get a donkey because He’s connecting Himself to the promise of Zechariah 9. Jesus has an intentional way He’s going to enter. It says, “When He has said this, He went on ahead going up to Jerusalem and it came to pass that when He drew near to Bethpage and Bethany at the mountain called Olivet, Mount of Olive, that He sent two of His disciples.”
I’ve always been amused by this saying go into the village opposite you. Hey guys, come here. I need you to go and get something for me. Really? What is it? I need you to go to the village, you know that one. that’s not that far away. As you enter you’re going to find a colt that is a young donkey tied, which no one has ever sat before. When you get to that donkey that’s tied, I need you to loose it and bring it here. If anyone asks why are you loosening that? Say to him,” Because the Lord has need of it.” I can imagine the two of them looking at each other and saying, “That’s it? That’s what we do? Okay, let me double-check we have this right. We go to this village and look for a young donkey that doesn’t appear to have been ridden that’s going to be tied to a post. If no one says anything, we untie it, take it, and go. If someone says, “Hey, what are you doing? That’s not yours.” We say to them, “The Lord needs this.” Then they will let us have him. We just want to double-check that we don’t need any money or anything, we say, “Because the Lord needs him, and that will do it?” Exactly. All right.
I mean no disrespect with that, but it’s like being told, “Hey guys, we need a car before we head into the city. So I want you to go to the Ford auto dealer in Daly City, by Serramonte, and get me a car. Now make sure it’s brand new, not a used one. The keys are in it. Drive it back here. But if any of them say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You can’t just drive off with that Mustang.’ Say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ They will say, ‘No problem. It’s all yours.’” Now don’t try that. I had someone telling me last night they’re going to try it. “I just say the Lord has need of it.”
Verse 32 says, “Though those who were sent went their way, and they found it just as He said to them, but as they were loosening the colt, the young donkey, the owners said to them, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Why are you loosening that colt? That’s not yours.’” I imagine them looking at each other, “The Lord has need of it.” Right? Okay, you got it. Anyway, they bring it back to Jesus. They throw their own clothes on the colt and set Jesus on him. As He went, spread their clothes on the road, and as He was drawing near to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples started rejoicing, all these people, this entourage that Jesus had with him. The disciples are super excited because they don’t see the cross. Everybody is saying this is the moment, Jesus is finally cooperating. He’s making it known who we already believed He was. We’ve left everything behind to attach ourselves to Him. Groups of people are running out of the city to meet them on the road. It’s quite a parade, a celebration. It says, “The disciples begin to rejoice, praise God with loud voices for all the mighty works they have seen. Verse 38 says, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven. Glory in the highest.” It’s a beautiful moment. Praise fills the air, and then something happens.
Some of the Pharisees, who had also come out to see Jesus, called to Him from the crowd, saying, “Teacher. Teacher rebuke your disciples. They’re out of line here. They’re taking this way too far. Surely you know this. They’re calling you the Messiah. They’re quoting praises that only should go to God. Surely, you will adjust this. You will correct this. You will address this. Clearly, their emotions are getting the best of them. We suggest you silence them.” Jesus answered, and said to them, “I tell you now that if these should keep silent, the very stones would immediately cry out, “Rebuke them.” What is happening here is so great that if they were silent, these very rocks would cry out. Nature would break open in praise. Do you understand what I am saying?
From a natural standpoint, Jesus’ refusal to silence the people and His blatant audacity, His unheard of unwillingness to so clearly allow Himself to be declared what to His critics he clearly was not, nor ever could be sealed His fate. For the upper echelons, the temple authorities, there was nothing more to discuss. Jesus must be dealt with. This issue must be finished once and for all. In five days it would go down, and what made it even more deliciously beautiful was that they had found an insider to turn on Jesus. One of His own agreed. We’ve been working on him. We think we have a real shot here. We also know that Jesus is not under any illusions.
One of the things you’ll note in the account of what’s happening, Jesus is very aware of how things are moving. That’s the whole point of Him coming this way. He knows exactly where He’s going. He has an exact understanding of where it’s going to end. It’s the purpose for which He was born, to pay for us a price that we could never pay for ourselves. To give Himself away as the ultimate lamb. All those sacrifices in the Older Testament covered temporarily the sins of a people. Never able to take it away. But the perfect lamb of God, the very blood of the Son Himself. His life is given for us that we might have life. Let’s look at what it says here, “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and He wept over it.” I’ve rarely read these verses and not been moved. It’s like He says, “If you had known, even you, especially in this, your day, the things that make for your peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes.” I pause and try to imagine in my mind’s eye, Jesus is coming out of this moment, the crowds are in a frenzy, everybody’s excited, He’s getting to the edge where He’s going to start His descent down in the valley of the Kidron near the Mount of Olives. He can see the city and knows what is coming. He starts to weep, not at what’s going to happen to Him but what they are missing. He makes his way in the midst of all of that. He keeps going with water coming down His cheek saying, “If you only knew. You’re missing your day. The peace I want to bring to you.” It’s powerful.
Here are a couple of things. My motive is to help us think about how we’re going to go into this week. So many people are making their way to honor Jesus that it creates a unique dynamic that is unlike any other time of the year. The reason is that so many are turning to honor the death and the life of Jesus. It creates an opportunity at a spiritual level that is powerful, a dynamic. I want to suggest, number one, that our praise matters to Jesus. One thing that comes out here is the acknowledgment of who He is matters to Him and it changes us. It’s two things. When we praise God, sing to the Lord, and say, “Give our thanks and our praise and our honor to the Lord,” it matters to the Lord to acknowledge who He is and it changes us.
The power of worship changes us because we become like the things we worship. That’s one of the reasons why God told his people, Israel, when they were coming out of Egypt. Do you remember the 10 commandments? Part of it was they had been enslaved in a land that was filled with idolatry. There was an Egyptian God for everything. They were coming out of that environment and God was trying to remind them that that’s not who you are to be. He said to them, “Don’t create gods that you can make with your own hands and then worship them as they can somehow reflect who I am. Nothing that you can ever craft on your own can ever properly represent me and yet alone worship it.” God wanted to remind His people that what they worship they became like. It’s still true. We’re modern, sophisticated, and educated. But what we worship, we become dominated by. That’s why praise matters. That’s why worship matters. That’s why this week really matters. We become like the things we worship. What we praise is enhanced in our eyes. I think at our truest self, we were made to love God. I believe we were made to know God. I believe that at a spiritual level praise is as natural as breathing is. We were made for it. We are made to know God and His love.
Secondly, in light of that, let’s welcome Him intentionally as our king in special ways this week. One way is to start by doing what we’re doing right now, which is marking the moment. Different Christians in different places in different types of expressions have what’s called a Christian calendar. In some places, certain times begin to prepare us for Easter, sometimes lent, in different traditions, Holy Week. Palm Sunday typically marks the beginning of what is known as Holy Week. Oftentimes, that idea of Palm Sunday is a lead-in to remembering. This ultimately brings us to Good Friday and then to Easter itself, which is the moment of tremendous victory and promise. This is designed to begin a journey of a week.
In the same way that they welcome Jesus in with palms, there’s been a tradition in the Christian Church of welcoming the Lord in. In some places, they’ll pass out a little piece of a palm or something to mark the time. Sometimes they’ll turn it into a cross. Some way of saying I’m beginning this week by marking the moment with Jesus, and I want to create a marking point for it. There’s something powerful about any religious symbol in and of itself, but it can sometimes be a reminder for us. On your way out, take one of the things we did for you.. They’re available for anyone as a way of marking the beginning of this week.
One of the goals would be to take some time and shift the way in which we approach these coming days. I would encourage all of us to slow our pace a bit. Anyone who is sincere about following the Lord and taking advantage of this opportunity the Lord is going to present us, I truly believe it. It is there. Slow the pace a bit. Take some time and intentionally reread the last week of Jesus’ life and ponder it. Think about the love that God has given us. Think about what that means. Pull back on some things we are normally so committed and intense about. This week we can be more reflective, thoughtful, careful, and prayerful. There are different ways to remember.
That of course leads us into Good Friday. It’s a perfect opportunity to do what I want to suggest here. That is, ponder His death, which we mark and how it represents. If you notice, the worst thing about the death of Jesus is it represents the worst of humanity, but the best of God’s love. Even the vertical and horizontal symbols remind us that God meets us on the human plane. What we could not get to, He does for us, and at the center of that is the giving away of His life. The idea that Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves was humanity’s worst.
On the cross, there are, in so many ways, the ugliness of humanity on display. It shows the inhumanity of human beings to one another. The cruelty. The fact that God would allow Himself to be so utterly human and humiliated. The fact that He would allow Himself to be broken, bloodied, beaten, harmed, and abused. The worst of humanity was showing. Yet, it is there that we see the best of God’s love. John tells us in that great verse that so many of us have memorized that “God so loved this world, that He gave His only begotten son, whoever would believe in Him would not perish. Death would not be the final word, but you would have everlasting life, the undying life of Christ now and yet to be. That promise secured in Him.”
Romans 5:8 says, “But God commences love toward us and that while we were yet sinners almost like enemies of God separated by our own willfulness and brokenness that Christ died for us. He took our place.” It’s an amazing thing when we think about it. Fourthly is that when we go here, may we look to Him with open eyes and hearts and experience the peace that He longs to bring. I can say this is probably one of the things that is most motivating to me about how some of us should be thinking about this week. Jesus said, “The things that make for your peace, I wanted …” Je wants to calm our hearts and minds and bring us peace.
I was thinking about it because I’ve been dealing with my own self. I was getting ready to share this Word. I was looking at this idea of what the Lord wants to do this week. I was wrestling with the idea of surrendering certain things that I’m struggling with to trust Him. There are a lot of different things. There are things that I’m trying to figure out. I am feeling responsible for our church, staffing and financial issues, things that I have to look at to help create an environment here, to be responsible for helping lay out a vision, and how we’re supposed to be a representation of Jesus in this city. There’s constant pressure going on in a number of directions. That’s not even mentioning stuff that’s going in my own life, my own relationships, and my own heart. I was finding myself getting really tight. I said, “Lord, I know this, you’re inviting me this week into your peace.” Are there areas in your life right now that you’re feeling stressed about? Maybe we’re afraid? Some stuff we talked about earlier, what are we carrying right now? Is there some stuff that is real and we feel it. What is the Lord wanting to say to us this week about His peace? What about His peace in this situation that is hard for us?
Some of us are really having a hard time. We’re misaligned on the inside and it shows up in different ways. When we’re messed up in our thinking process or feeling disconnected between how we’re living our lives and what we believe, that creates dissonance. That dissonance will show up in our physical health, emotional wellbeing, and in our relationships. Wherever there is a lack of peace, it will show up in some way. The Lord is the author of peace. What is the peace that He wants to bring, and where does He want to bring it? I encourage all of us to take the areas of our greatest tension and bring them to the foot of the cross. Enter into this moment and say with our own heart, “Lord, here is an area of my life that I want to bring before you. I want to welcome your peace into it.” I look at Jesus again. I’ve wanted to give you my peace. Philippians 4, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Let your request be made known to God.” The peace of God that passes human understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. We welcome your peace, Lord. We welcome your peace into places of confusion. We welcome your peace in places of fear. We welcome your peace into places of death. We welcome your peace into our lives. We take this seriously.
The last thing I’ll say is e the simplest one of them all. Let us not miss the moment in His song of love. I know it sounds so simple, but Jesus said to them, “I wanted to do this for you, but you would not have me. I’ve wept.” He wept. He said, “You’re missing your moment.” This is your moment. That’s what He’s saying. This is the moment when I want to give you this and you won’t have me. I think that there are some of us the Lord is saying this is the time of opportunity where He wants to sing something of His love over our lives. He wants to bring us something. He waits to be welcomed. He will not force Himself. It’s not the way of the Lord because forced love is no love at all. He waits to be wanted. He wept because He said, “You’re missing your hour. I’m here for you. I want to be here with you. You don’t have me.” That’s powerful to me. Help us Lord to let things be, sing your song. That’s what we’re going to do in these next few days, let’s be open to the song of the Lord. The song of His love over our lives. Keep my eyes open, Lord. Don’t let me close my eyes to the things that you want to do in, through, and around me. New things, refresh things, reawaken things. Let me not miss this moment, Special one.
Let’s pray and close out. Even now, Lord, I thank you. I thank you for having a church for us to be able to come together. A place where your name is loved. I thank you for all the faithfulness of those who allow it to be what it is. Whose faithfulness and giving makes it possible. I thank you for all those who serve so beautifully. I ask that you would be with us this coming week. I truly do. As we seek to lay a table out with some type of a display of your beauty that would be life-giving. I know that you want us to have something of your resurrection life at work in us, in dead zones in our lives, in places where we feel very powerless or paralyzed. I know that feeling. I have to want it, but I feel so weak. Lord, remember we talked about this, your power shows up best in our weakness. I ask that you would show up, out of the brokenness of the cross comes the power of resurrection. I ask that we would create room for you and not miss our moment. I ask that you would visit us with unique peace, remind us to not clutch, but to yield and trust. That it be open this week to the words you have for us. When we hit that Easter moment, may there be a flow of life that goes right through us. This is what I pray in the name of Jesus. Bless our giving time and our closing song. In your name, we pray. Amen, Lord.