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From Rabbi to Savior: Today We Shout Hosanna!
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Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying 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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:


“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.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The 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!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Parades, especially long parades, hold a special place, apparently, in the hearts of the publishers of the Guinness Book of World Records. Among the 650 or so parade records, they’ve awarded world record-holding status to the longest parade of hearses, the longest parade of Subarus, the longest parade of kite surfers, the longest parade of Lamborghinis, the longest parade of hula-hoop dancers, and the longest parade of mules. By the way, that last one, mules, to me seems kind of vulnerable. It’s held by a fraternity in Missouri and only stands at fifty mules, so if you happen to have 5 dozen or so mules hanging around, you could put together a parade and rip the award right out of their college-aged hands, along with all of the glory, fame, and fortune that I’m sure goes with the honor. Let me know – even though I don’t know a thing about mules, I’ll probably have some spare time after Easter is over to help you organize it.


What the Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t recognize, though, is the world’s shortest parade. The people of Mequon, a town of about 25,000 people in Michigan, discovered that when they sought the award, but were told by Guinness that category didn’t exist and that Guiness had no interest in creating it. Kind of a shame, actually. Because the Mequon 4th of July Parade certainly deserves some sort of recognition, somehow. The parade starts at the stop sign at 4th and Main and runs to the red and blue mailbox down the block. 88 yards down the block to be exact. But what it lacks in length, it seems to make up for in enthusiasm. The mayor notes that upwards of half of the town’s population shows up, either as spectators lining both sides of the parade route 10-20 deep for the whole 88 yards and a bit beyond, or as participants, walking or riding or driving or cartwheeling or playing their instruments down the street while waving American flags. That mayor noted that if there really were justice in the world, or at least in the Guinness Records Book, Mequon would have its due. Someday my friends, some day.


The people of Mequon, and the people driving Lamborghinis and mules and flying kites and what have you seem to give credence to the idea that we sure do love a parade. And if you didn’t know better, you might think that that love of parades is at the heart of our Gospel reading this morning from Matthew 21, the account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But, of course, a whole lot more than loving parades was going on there. Let’s take a moment and dive into it a little deeper.


The scene we heard about this morning, the scene we celebrated with our own songs and waving of palms this morning, was the culmination of Jesus’ three-year earthly ministry. And actually, we’re told in the gospels, the last 12-15 months or so have been a very long and circuitous journey to Jerusalem, and the events and fate that Jesus knows will face him there; a future of pain and suffering that is in many ways the entire purpose of his time among us. A little over a year ago, Jesus, to quote Luke, “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. He was determined. He left the familiar territory of Galilee behind, and began a journey through towns all over Israel, especially now in Judah, the southern part of the nation. A journey that if he had taken it directly would have only lasted one or two days, but took him over a year. But that, of course, was the intent.


He meets new people, he proclaims afresh the coming of God’s Kingdom to those who hadn’t yet heard the message. The entourage traveling with him continued to grow, well beyond the inner-circle of 12 disciples, beyond even the loyal followers of likely several dozen who had also been following along with him, to perhaps a hundred or more as he approaches the gates of Jerusalem to mark the beginning of what we call Holy Week. As we talked about last week, although previously Jesus had firmly discouraged being associated with the title of Messiah for reasons of timing, as he drew closer to the Holy City, He knows the time has come. His transition from Rabbi to Messiah is nearing completion, and at the end of the week, on that Friday we call Good, the ultimate transition to Savior will happen as well. But now, as they approach the city walls, from the east, likely entering through the Golden Gate entrance into the Temple Mount and the city, the time truly has come.


There we see the ruckus, the sort of unauthorized parade that breaks out as he approaches. The crowd is now all-in on the idea of Jesus being the Messiah – they just don’t understand yet that he’s not the type of Messiah that they’re expecting. By previous arrangement, as we heard in the reading, the disciples have procured transportation in the form of a donkey that Jesus is riding. Our initial reaction views that as a display of humility, but it’s actually related directly to Old Testament images and scriptures prophesying about the Messiah. King Solomon, in his victory, rode a donkey into the city, too. Jesus is entering as a King, even if those present, and many still, don’t quite get the full impact of it all. And a beloved king’s way is traditionally welcomed by coats and cloaks and, yes, palm branches being spread on the ground before Him. 


The shouts come, too. “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!” Hosanna means “save us Lord!” and Son of David is a direct messianic title from the Old Testament scriptures. The messiah is coming – the excitement is palpable! But, still, they’re not looking for the kind of Messiah that Jesus actually is, and that fact will drive much of what happens in the next 5 days. You see, they’re looking for a military figure, a revolutionary. The one who will lead the uprising that will throw off the shackles of Israel’s latest oppressor, latest conqueror, the Roman Empire. They’re excited to see this one they know is promised in the scriptures, who they believe will finally bring them freedom. They just don’t understand, at least not yet, that the freedom this One is bringing is not political freedom, but freedom from sin and death. Freedom from the wall of separation that has come between God and humanity, caused by our sin, by our disobedience. 


Maybe that mistaken belief causes the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” to be even louder that day; after all we humans tend to be more enthusiastic about the tangible things we can see today versus the glory of a promised Kingdom and an unleashed eternity down the road. The ruckus is getting so out of hand, at least from the perspective of the Pharisees, that Luke tells us they demand Jesus stop his disciples from calling out to him with that messianic language. Jesus’ only response is to insist that even if they stopped, the stones would still cry out. The time has come, the time has come.


The Pharisees' concern, in a strange way, is genuine. Rome has beefed up its presence in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday just to prevent a scenario like the Pharisees fear is unfolding. And Rome was at its most brutal when any one or any group threatened its power, and the Messiah, especially the kind of Messiah the people were looking for, was a definite threat to the peace Rome established with an iron fist. A peace that served the Empire by ensuring that the tax money continued to flow, that the trade in salt and spices and other items continued unhindered to Rome. The Pharisees' fears would come true in less than three decades as Rome would literally destroy Jerusalem and the Temple down to the ground in 70 AD to put down a rebellion that broke out in the nation a few years before. 


There was another parade happening that same day, too, a very different type of display than the one we heard about in Matthew 21. It’s not recorded in the Gospels, but historical records from the time confirm it happened every year. Every year, as King Herod himself entered the city for the Holiday. King Herod was actually a Jewish man, at least due to his parents’ conversion for political purposes. He was the Roman puppet-king of Israel. This is a different Herod than the one we read about in the Christmas accounts in Matthew – that was Herod the Great. This is his son, Herod Antipas, and while he lacks his father’s drive to build a beautiful kingdom and a magnificent capital city, he definitely shares his paranoia and lust for power and privilege. In fact, this Herod, Herod Antipas, seems to hate Jerusalem, his supposed seat of power, and only stayed there when he had to, like during the three Pilgrimage festivals, of which Passover was one.


Jewish custom and law required able-bodied Jewish men to travel to Jerusalem for those three festivals, sometimes accompanied by their families. So, Herod, if he was to maintain any image as a king, had to put in an appearance as well. He likely spent most of his time at various palaces and complexes around the nation that had been built by his father, but when he had to, he showed up in Jerusalem with quite a display of power. Temple guards and Roman Centurions leading the procession, thundering horses and chariots, all designed to show the power of Herod, and through him the power of the Roman Empire. Herod didn’t enter the city to displays of public adoration, cloaks and palm branches strewn before him, shouts of Hosanna, with a humble Galilean riding an ordinary donkey. Herod didn’t expose himself in public any more than he had to – you know mixing with the great unwashed crowds rarely has any appeal for that sort. 


No, Herod would enter the city, from the southern or western side, in that thunderous display, and then proceed directly to his private entrance to the Temple Mount, his personal palace sharing the same plateau as the great Temple his father had restored to its position as a wonder of the ancient world. When I was in Jerusalem last February, the tour group I was with, thanks to some connections with the Islamic Historical Society, got to be the first group of westerners to visit the remnants of Herod’s underground private entrance and stables for over 3 years. The massive underground structure, with td stonework, vaulted ceilings, and bricked-off windows and entrance doors, is now rarely visited because of structural issues in the building. It’s adjacent to the Al-Oksa Mosque where so much of the recent tension and demonstrations have been taking place. Here’s a photo of a part of it on the screen. Nowadays, only small groups of a couple dozen or so Muslims are selected every day to attend a service in a Mosque carved out in the space, and it was an amazing, and eye-opening privilege to have seen it in person.


We don’t know the exact hour of Jesus’ triumphant yet humble entrance into the Holy City that day. And we also don’t know the exact time of Herod’s entrance in arrogance and power either. We can’t know if some of the people who shouted Hosanna for Jesus, also welcomed Herod with cheers or looked on his display with fear and dread. Just as we can’t know whether some of those shouting Hosanna! on Sunday would be shouting “Crucify Him!” on Friday. But the idea brings into focus a challenge we have in our world, with our faith, even today. There are a lot of things, a lot of people, a lot of values and forces demanding our attention, demanding our submission. We can call the Herods of our world – the power and the wealth and the self-gratification and self-glorification “Lord”, or we can call Jesus Christ, Rabbi, Messiah, Savior, our Lord. That’s really the whole purpose of Lent (I know, thanks a lot for pointing that out, Jim, as we near the very end of it)! It’s those six-plus weeks that give us a chance to consider what truly takes priority in our lives, to recognize and deal with those things, those forces that have wiggled their way into Lordship ahead of the one true Lord, Jesus Christ. 


You know, in a weird way, our lives are kind of like that picture hanging in your house that magically seems to go crooked, no matter how many times you straighten it out! You notice it’s out of level, so you push up the side that’s hanging lower. You step back, squint your eyes, and decide, Yup – that baby is straight and true now!” You leave the room feeling so good about getting things looking like they should. And then . . . the next day you walk into the room again and you’re surprised to see that the picture is hanging just as crookedly as it was yesterday when you thought you fixed it. You do the same thing, have the same satisfaction at a job well done, and, well you know the rest of the story. The next day, there it is again – as off kilter as it was before. What in the world is going on? 


Then, you finally realize, the wire on the back of the picture isn’t centered on the nail or hook in the wall. So, you firmly take hold of the picture, slide it so its centered, so it’s back to level and hanging straight and true. And the next day – it’s still level, still straight. We human beings aren’t anything if we’re not trainable! Our lives are only level, only the way they’re supposed to be, when we’re centered correctly. When it’s Jesus who is the true Lord of our life, and no thing or no one else. Sure, we can dress things up to look okay, for a little while anyway. But only when we’re centered on Jesus Christ will everything be truly right.


Happy Palm Sunday, everyone. Today really is meant to be a joyful reminder, a celebration of an amazing time when the crowds began to see, when God’s eternal plan of redemption and salvation began unfolding. But it’s also a gateway, a front door to this Holy Week, where we remember other things as well. On Thursday, at 7:00 I hope you’ll be able to join us for our Maundy Thursday Communion Service, here in the Sanctuary. We’ll remember that Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples, as he transformed the Passover meal into the table that we share. We won’t be celebrating Communion on Easter, so if that’s important to you, be sure to be with us on Thursday. Then, on Good Friday, from 2:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon here in the Sanctuary we’ll have an open time for you to drop by at any time during those hours for personal devotion and prayer. We’ll have a devotional guide based on the Scriptural Stations of the Cross available, and we’ll be projecting art related to that. And, at 7:00 we’ll have a formal Good Friday Service as well. 


Then, of course, what it’s all pointing towards – the Resurrection! Easter Sunday. We have our normal two morning services at 9:00 and 10:30, and I really encourage you to arrive a few minutes early to be sure you can get a seat in the Sanctuary. There won’t be any Children’s Sunday School or Adult Classes that day. There will be a time for children at the beginning of both services, but they’ll stay with us here for the Celebration, accompanied by some activities just for them to help them celebrate Easter, too.


Please be praying this week for the many visitors we’re expecting on Easter as well, including some who may not yet understand exactly how much God loves them in Jesus Christ. May God bless the days of this Holy Week to strengthen our walk with God in Christ. Amen.

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