Today, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the week known by many as Holy Week, it is a week filled with emotion, expectation, crowds, excitement, celebrations, surprise, shock, terror, panic, denial, deep sorrow and grief. Truly an emotional rollercoaster. Things were going on in Jerusalem that week 2000 years ago way more significant than any one present could have ever imagined. Most missed the significance because they had their own agendas. They were part of God’s plan and didn’t know it. Isn’t that the way it works?
Let me take you back several years ago to the evening that Laura and I first met Wendy’s husband Craig. You see, Wendy was living in Tallahassee at the time. We had been hearing about her boyfriend, it sounded a bit like someone that she was more than slightly interested in. Of course, as parents we were anxious to meet the guy. The opportunity finally came. Laura and I had made plans to stay at Cedar Key for the weekend. Since Cedar Key was somewhat near half way between Tallahassee and Lake Wales, we invited them to join us. When they arrived, and we were introduced, Craig seemed puzzled when we shook hands. I asked, is something wrong? He responded, “Wow, you are just a little guy!” I said, yes, why? Craig then said, “From the way Wendy has been describing you, the stories that she has shared from growing up, and your reputation amongst my Frostproof friends, you don’t look anything like I expected. I expected that you were going to be a really big man!”
Don’t we all do that? We form ideas and expectations of how things will be, what they will look like and how things are going to turn out. I certainly think this was probably the case for many, if not nearly everyone who was in Jerusalem for the Passover. This Passover time had started out pretty much like many others over the past fifteen hundred years. Jerusalem was crowed with visitors. Every Jewish adult within a twenty-mile radius was obligated to attend the Celebrations. Plus, many, many more crowded in from further afield. It has been estimated that 2 ½ million might have been in Jerusalem; all there to commemorate Passover, an event that had taken place fifteen hundred years earlier. When God delivered His people from the land of bondage to lead them to the Promised Land. In addition, I’m sure some were hoping to see this Jesus person that everyone was talking about. Surely, he would be there! The city was buzzing with recounts of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, only days earlier.
The Pharisees and chief priests were watching for Jesus too! Remember from John’s Gospel, “So from that day on, the Jewish rulers planned to kill Jesus.” A real-life murder plot!
Then from Mark, “They made their plans in secret because they were afraid that the people would get angry with them for plotting against Jesus.” From Matthew, “the sacred feast of Passover was coming soon. They planned to arrest and kill Jesus as soon as the Passover Feast was over.”
For Jesus’ Disciples this trip to Jerusalem is a climax for which anticipation has been building, ever since Peter identified Jesus as “The Christ, the Son of the Living God” at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had been stating that “He must go to Jerusalem.” Today is the day that He arrives! Can you imagine the confusion some in the crowd must have felt when they heard all the shouting and noise as they came upon the parade as Jesus made his way into the city? Laura and I walked up on demonstrations in both Raleigh and Ashville in the last year. At first, we heard lots of shouting and undistinguishable noise. When we reached the street where the crowd was swarming, we certainly had the feeling of confusion, not having any idea what was going on. The thought ran through are minds, is it dangerous for us to be here, we certainly don’t want to get caught up in the crowd. I suspect there were many in the crowd in Jerusalem that day who felt the same.
Many of the people in our crowd today were pilgrims from Galilee on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They too were familiar with Jesus and the many miracles He had performed in Galilee. They knew that the crowd’s spreading garments and palm branches on the road, was often done for kings in triumphal processions, they hoped that it was an acknowledgement that Jesus was coming to set up His reign in Israel’s capital.
Even though no one else in the crowd knew or realized it, this place and moment in time was very significant, in fact Jesus’ arrival on this particular day of the Passover festival is significant, lamb selection day, the day that lambs were purchased for sacrifice for the Passover. The Passover was itself a clear foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death as the Passover Lamb. John the Baptist had introduced Jesus to the world as, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus Christ was proclaimed to the world as God’s Passover Lamb by God’s chosen herald. Jesus knew full well what He was doing in Jerusalem. He was there to present Himself as the Passover Lamb, and He also knew exactly what lies ahead for Him.
The Jewish leaders and Pharisees were hoping that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for Passover would lead to an opportunity to kill him. Little did they know that it was Jesus’ intent to come to die. Many in the crowd were looking for a conquering king. Little did they know that He would conquer death. Jesus’ Disciples hoped to be there to see Jesus as “The Christ, the Son of the Living God”, before it was over they would run off, abandon and deny Him. Isn’t it interesting that the only one in the crowd who had it right was the Centurion when he said, Truly, this man was God’s Son!”
Please pray with me, Lord, I lift this Holy Week up to you, I pray that this is the week that you will break into each of our lives in a new, fresh and deeper way. Because of Your great sacrifice, we will truly know the depth of the love that you have for each of us. Today we are part of the crowd; shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” As we journey through this week I pray that you will touch our hearts, that we will experience the range of emotions that are this week. So that last day when we finally meet you we may be like the Centurion, we will recognize and say, truly you are The Son of God!