The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
A couple of weeks ago we heard about the Israelites not recognizing the manna that God so graciously and abundantly fed them with. “What is this?” they asked when they saw this bread from heaven for the very first time. Now, if you remember, we cut the Israelites a little slack in this area. After all, they had never seen this bread before. It was something brand new and completely out of the ordinary. Centuries later, as our Gospel lesson records, we hear these Israelites’ descendants living in Jerusalem asking a very similar question as Jesus’ procession draws near amid a flurry of excitement and loud hosannas and waving palm branches. Instead of asking “what is this?” they ask “WHO is this?”
What do you with this question? Can we cut these folks the same slack as we did their ignorant forefathers? Jesus wasn’t exactly “brand new” by this time. Maybe they were asking this in a snotty, incredulous kind of way. “Who is this? Who does this guy think he is?” Maybe they already knew it was the carpenter’s kid from Nazareth who had twelve loser friends and kind of a little cult following. “Who is this entering into my town with such pomp and fanfare? Who does this guy think he is? Who do all these morons think he is?” That would make sense, at least for more than a few people in Jerusalem. Remember: This is only six days before He’ll be hanging on a cross! There were definitely more than a few people who knew Jesus and hated Him. They saw Him as a threat to their power, and when the threat gets bad enough, you deal with it.
Then again, maybe those asking this simple question were asking out of genuine ignorance. There’s a possibility….but I don’t think it’s very likely. After three years of ministry in and around Jerusalem; all those miracles, all those healings, all those very public confrontations with the powers-that-be, was there anyone in Jerusalem who was truly ignorant as to who the guy on the donkey was? The two-mile stretch between Bethany, which is where the Palm Sunday procession started, and Jerusalem (where it ended) was packed with people singing loud hosannas to Jesus, throwing their cloaks down in the street, and waving palm branches. They ALL knew who was headed into Jerusalem that day. Even the blind guy sitting on the side of the road recognized Jesus. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And if any doubt still remained among any of those gathered along the parade route, Jesus healed that blind guy, right then and there. That kind of miracle gets people’s attention. That news spreads fast. Honestly, did anyone in Jerusalem NOT know who Jesus was? Could anyone in Jerusalem not know who Jesus was?
Here’s the thing (and this may surprise you): Maybe we’re focusing on the wrong thing by focusing on the question. The problem isn’t with the question, but with the answer. “Who is this?” “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Okay…what’s so wrong with that? Technically, nothing. It’s all true. But…there’s so much more to it, isn’t there? This isn’t just some smart and popular guy from Nazareth who has a lot of people who like Him. This is the Son of God. This isn’t just some charismatic guy coming to Jerusalem in the name of “change,” promising the moon to people who like Him, or even actually doing really cool and miraculous things for all kinds of people. No, this is the promised Messiah, entering into Jerusalem in order to bring His Father’s plan of redemption to completion; to bring about the great reversal from eternal death to life.
Think about the people giving this answer. We’re never told specifically who answers like this. Scripture leaves it rather ambiguous. We do know this: The very same people who are crying those loud hosannas and waving their palm branches and telling everyone that this is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth are ALL going to be absent the day of the crucifixion. In fact, some of them will have even flipped sides and will be crying out for Christ to be crucified by week’s end, maybe out of anger that Jesus didn’t do all that they had expected, maybe out of sheer mob mentality and they just go with the most popular flow, not having the ability to think for themselves, or maybe out of fear and self-preservation. You know…the writing was on the wall, and they didn’t want to be lumped in with all that. “I didn’t sign-up for all this!”
Most, though, will have simply tucked tail and left, never crying out for crucifixion, but also not sticking around to see how it all ends, never raising their voice in opposition to those who sought to destroy Jesus. They simply choose to remain quiet, not rock the boat, and not draw any unnecessary attention to themselves. Semper me! They save themselves. Maybe their great and glorious guy turned out to be a fraud in their eyes. Maybe they were embarrassed for supporting Him in the first place. Then again, maybe He was simply outmatched. He may have been great and all, but He couldn’t overcome those establishment folks who held the real power; those who had sway with the Roman government. You can’t fight city hall, right? All those people who gave answer on Palm Sunday as to who Jesus was, in the end, really didn’t know Jesus at all.
And bear in mind that I’m not just referring to the mob of frenzied people lining the road between Bethany and Jerusalem (as well as all those in Jerusalem). I’m talking about those closest to Him; His twelve apostles as well as the loyal and faithful women who supported Him. There’s no doubt that these folks were probably crying out their hosannas the loudest, leading the cheers all along the way. There’s no doubt that they would be making the loudest proclamations of who that was on that donkey riding into Jerusalem. That was their guy! That was their buddy! They were in tight with Him!
And yet…by Friday evening, one disciple has committed suicide after selling Jesus out for a fistful of coins, another disciple (the proudest and most confident of all the twelve) has, not once, not twice, but three times denied that he even knew Jesus, calling down curses from heaven in an attempt to prove his self-professed ignorance and save his own hide, and the other ten are holed up and hiding behind locked doors out of fear that the same fate could befall them, their Old Adam sense of self-preservation drowning out any sense of faithfulness they may have had hours earlier. And the women? They’re no better. (How’s that for equality?) The women are the first ones heading out to the graveyard on Sunday morning, not to greet the resurrected Messiah (which He told them many times over He would do on that very day), but to anoint a corpse. They encounter the stone rolled away from the tomb and find that the tomb is empty, and their first thoughts aren’t “He is risen, just like He said! Jesus, the Christ, lives! Alleluia!” but “Oh no! Who has stolen His body?!” “Who is this?” They all may have given very good answers to this question, but the fruits they bore showed quite clearly that they really had no idea.
And you already know where I’m going with all this. What about you? What do you say about Jesus? We can and do use all the right terminology. “He’s the Son of God. He’s the Lord. He’s my Savior. He’s my redeemer. He’s my substitute. He’s my prophet, priest, and king.” Those words roll right off the tongue without even having to be rehearsed. We can regurgitate the soundtrack of faith better than anyone. And yet…do our fruits reveal a sad reality that maybe we really don’t know Him as good as we think we do? Think of the answers we give, not with our mouths, but with our very lives, when it comes to matters of Church, worship, Word and Sacrament.
But here’s the thing: Let us focus on THEE ANSWER. Here is God’s answer to our sin. Here is God’s answer to our cries of “Hosanna,” which is Hebrew for “save us now!” God sent His only-begotten Son to save us from our justly-deserved death sentence of sin, and saved we are. “It is finished!” I stress this only because so often we look to Church to provide us answers to all the wrong things; things that don’t save us; things that only placate us, entertain us, or deceive us with false comfort and assurance. Only God can make the blind see and the deaf hear. Only God can give life that which is dead. Only God can save us. Well…here He is! Here is God and His Word and His means of grace! Here is Christ Jesus. It’s that simple. It’s that pure. It’s that powerful. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That’s a good and faithful question with an even better answer! That’s the answer of someone who gets it! May this Christ-centered, Savior-centered reality be witnessed in you and through you today and all your remaining days.
In Christ’s holy and life-giving name…AMEN.
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