Today is a day of many contrasts. Jesus enters Jerusalem to the praise of the Passover Pilgrims and yet He knows that He will die before the week is over. He is incredibly popular with some, but, as with all popular people, He has powerful enemies. Jerusalem welcomes the coming of the anointed one - the Christ - the Messiah. Yet, the crowd's ignorance shields them from the knowledge that this anointed one has come to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. Jerusalem celebrates while all of history holds its breath as it prepares to witness the single most important event in all of time.
Perhaps you can remember anticipating an important event in your life - your graduation, your wedding, the birth of a child, the first day on your new job, the last day before retirement, or some other major milestone in your life. When the day seems far in the future, you might push that event to the back of your mind and almost forget about it. As the time gets closer that event begins to take front and center in your thoughts. If the milestone is something positive, the anticipation begins to build. If the milestone is negative, the dread begins to set in. The emotional level builds. Eventually, the time comes and you must deal with the situation.
Jesus, in His state of humiliation, never used His divine powers for His own benefit. One of the things that means is that He experienced emotional ups and downs just as any human would. The emotional ebb and flow of anticipation and dread were part of His life just as they would be for any human being. Jesus always knew that one day, in Jerusalem; He had an appointment with a cross. Surely, Jesus experienced days when that future appointment seemed to be a long way off. Those days were now behind Him. It was less than a week to His death, and the dread of upcoming events could only grow.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, He knew that He was quickly approaching the point of no return. As He heard the shouts of Hosanna and saw the palm branches in His path, He knew that there was another group of people in Jerusalem who were ready to shout, "Crucify him!"
Many times He had told His followers that a Gauntlet of beatings, floggings, crucifixion, and death waited for Him in Jerusalem. Up until the day that we call Palm Sunday, He had always said, "My hour has not yet come," but after He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." He also said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out." It was clear to Jesus that everything was now in place for His sacrifice. The final events that would lead to His death had begun. The climax of his mission was mere days away.
Anticipation of these events already began to take their toll. He shared His thoughts with the people who had praised Him and now listened to His teaching, "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour." Jesus is the perfect human being and His impending suffering and death bothered Him just as much as it would bother anyone. He knew very well what was about to happen and it troubled His soul.
He could back out. He could call on His Father to rescue Him, but that is not why He, the Son of God, had taken on human flesh. He had taken on human flesh so that He could take our place. He came to live the perfect life that we could not live and He came to take God's wrath in our place. This was His purpose. This was the reason He had taken on human flesh, and this was the reason that He entered Jerusalem to celebrate one last Passover before He died.
As Jesus was sharing His heart with the people who came to hear Him, He once again told them how He would accomplish His role as Christ. "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Here John the Evangelist added an editorial comment so that we could understand Jesus just as the people in the temple understood Him: He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. Here Jesus is saying that His death on the cross will invite all people to follow Him.
Once again, His hearers struggled with the teaching of His impending death. The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" Once again, the human mind resists the teaching of Christ. The plan of salvation is alien to the sinful human mind. The idea of salvation coming from one who suffered the shame of death on a cross just doesn't make sense. The idea that it would be the Christ who would die was beyond comprehension.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Passover Pilgrims saw Him as the one who would restore the Empire of Jerusalem back to the days of King David. They rejoiced. They celebrated. They prepared a way with palm branches and cloaks. They were ready for Jesus to restore the rightful place of Israel back among the empires of this world.
When Jesus told them that He came to Jerusalem to die on a cross, His hearers were confused. This Jesus was not what they expected. They did not understand that although the Christ will establish an eternal kingdom, He must suffer and die to do that. They did not understand that Christ's kingdom is not of this world and that the entrance to that kingdom is through death and resurrection. They did not understand that the Christ's death and resurrection from the dead were a part of that eternal reign.
We are often like the Passover Pilgrims of Jesus' day. We like the idea of a Jesus who will come and make us more important. We like the idea of a Jesus who will make us richer and better looking - a Jesus who will solve all the strife in our family and nation - a Jesus who will bring back the economy and secure our borders. We like a comfortable Jesus who will make us feel better about ourselves. We like that kind of Jesus.
On the other hand, the Jesus who dies for your sins is an uncomfortable Jesus. We don't like to admit that we have sins for which someone must die. We don't want to look at the reality of the cross and realize that that should be us up there. We don't much care for the Jesus who tells us that we are born spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and that we need His forgiveness in order to come to life.
Jesus knows all this about us. He knows about our stubbornness - our hard hearts - our desire to be the center of the universe. He can see the true motives of our actions. He knows that those deeds that seem right to us often flow from a desire for recognition rather than selfless love. He sees deep into our hearts and knows the ulterior motives that drive those actions that seem so selfless to the world. As today's Gospel says, we often love the glory that comes from man rather than the glory that comes from God.
In spite of our self-centered nature - in spite of our total lack of lovable characteristics, God still loves us and sent his Son to ride into Jerusalem - into a situation that will lead to his death. Jesus entered Jerusalem in majesty on Palm Sunday to set in motion a series of events. Those events will lead Him to carry a cross out of Jerusalem on Good Friday.
Jesus carried something else along with that cross. He carried our sins. The one who entered Jerusalem in majesty on Sunday would die in shame outside of Jerusalem on Friday. With His death would come our forgiveness - forgiveness from all those selfish sins - forgiveness from our ulterior motives - forgiveness of our hypocrisy - forgiveness for each and every one of our sins - both those we know and those we do not know.
From a worldly standpoint, the procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seemed a lot more victorious than the procession out of Jerusalem on Good Friday. Never the less, the true victory took place on that Friday. There on the cross, the King who rode in majesty will battle sin and defeat it with His own death. The victory that He won with His death will enable a new procession, a procession that began three days later and has not yet ended. This is a procession up out of the grave and into eternal life. Jesus led the way with His resurrection from the dead and all those who believe in Him will follow Him into eternal joy. Amen
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