Right and Wrong
Palm Sunday is the day every year when Christians around the world remember on the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Sunday of the week he was crucified. The significance of Palm Sunday is confirmed by the fact that all four gospels record this event. Neither Mark say anything about shepherds and magi and mangers and Bethlehem – all of the characters we traditionally associate with Christmas – but they both describe this key event.
In a brief but powerful text in John 12.12-16, John describes this event:
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey's colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
Dangerously Right and Wrong
This text is about people being right and wrong about Jesus. Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time? I was both right – and wrong once – when I had been tasked by Jean to cook up some barbecue chicken. Now I’ve gotten barbecue chicken right many times, and there are a few basic things that have to come together to get chicken right. Mainly, you need good chicken, a good cooking process, and good flavours. So my favourite cooking process is to start it cooking in the oven, then transfer to the charcoal grill outside to finish it off.
So on this one day I had good chicken, I had my process well designed, and so the missing ingredient was simply some good barbecue sauce. Now, normally I’m a creature of habit, but every now and then something will catch my eye and I’ll say, ‘Let’s give this a whirl!’. So I was over there at Tesco, in the sauce section, making this all-important decision, trying to select the right sauce.
Suddenly, a bottle caught my eye – it was a barbecue sauce I had never used before. So I picked it up and took a look. The name on the bottle should have given me an indicator of what was coming: Insanity. The name of this barbecue sauce was ‘Dave’s ultimate gourmet insanity sauce’. It should have given me some warning when the tagline across the top of the bottle said, ‘The hottest sauce in the universe’.
In hindsight, I’m actually impressed they went everywhere - to Venus, Mars, and the Icarus solar system to test all the hot sauces in the universe. Now, I have to admit to being slightly sceptical – the Icarus solar system is 14.4 BILLION Light years away … I have no idea how they got there and back in time to publish the results.
But there it was on the bottle. The hottest sauce in the universe. INSANITY. Now the word insanity can mean extremely foolish or irrational. And that’s exactly what I was – foolish.
So when I got home In was excited about trying thisnew sauce. I turned on the oven, prepared the chicken, and then – rather than just putting a bit here and there, I thought, AH, let’s go for it. And so I poured the entire bottle on that chicken. What I did not do is read the directions on the back of the bottle. They said: WARNING: Do not use as a sauce but only as an additive, one drop at a time.
So I put that chicken there in the oven, did a little clean up and left the room … when I came back in about in about 20 minutes, it was like walking into a zone of chemical warfare. I needed a gas mask. I started crying … got down low, crawled over to the windows, opened them up left the room. It was miserable!
Right and Wrong About Jesus
So here’s the point. The crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem got it both right – and wrong. They were right about the man, and they got the right title, but wrong about the meaning. And that's really dangerous.
This is what I mean. The kind of praise they gave Jesus was for the Messiah. And Jesus was the Messiah. Let’s go back and look at this text, and then we’ll set this in larger context to see what it means for us.
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. John 12:12
In just a moment we’re going to go back and look at the movement of Jesus to Jerusalem, but the key thing here is that this was all part of God’s plan. Jesus had been planning to come to Jerusalem; in Luke 9:51 we read that
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
And so this was the culmination of the journey of Jesus to go to Jerusalem. This is not a minor point, but major:
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” John 12:13
The Palm branch had become a symbol of Jewish national hopes. Going back to a brief period of independence between the Old and New Testaments, when he drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem, Simon the Maccabbee had been celebrated with music and the waving of Palm branches. (141 BC). When the temple had been rededicated, the people waved palm branches. The Jewish coins struck to commemorate the victory of insurgents over Romans also used palm branches. In short, these were a symbol to 1st century Jews of their nationalistic hopes that a messiah liberator had arrived on the scene.
The people longed for a political messiah who would deliver Israel from the Romans; eventually, at his second coming Jesus will destroy all oppression – all political, social, financial bondage will be eliminated when Jesus establishes his kingdom. But first, Jesus has to die so that people can enter that kingdom. They don’t know that; at this stage they are simply rejoicing in the king because he’s’ been doing good things.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
This quotation is taken from Psalm 118:25-26. The previous verse, 25, says, ‘Save us Oh Lord’. This is our source for Hosannah, a transliteration of the Hebrew hoshiana which means ‘give salvation now’. So in Psalm 118, there is a prayer for salvation, and a blessing on the king who comes in God’s name.
This Psalm originally depicted the king leading pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to worship at the temple where they would receive a welcome from the priests, probably after some great victory. So Jesus here is acknowledged to be the king coming in the name of the Lord.
After the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the people had cried out, ‘Hosanna to the king of Israel!’. So the hope of the people, the point that people are making, is that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised king.
On one hand, their praise is completely appropriate, because Jesus is God’s king; He is the promised messiah. But they are being set up for disappointment because he is not the kind of messiah they envisioned.
And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!”. John 12:14-15
This whole idea of riding the colt of a donkey is not because Jesus is tired after the journey up from Jericho. Rather, he is fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9
The scripture tells Jerusalem to rejoice because the king is coming, riding on a donkey. Jesus is coming as the king who is righteous, the king who has salvation. And so the people got this right – Jesus is the king coming to Jerusalem with salvation. The scriptures had foretold it. They got that right.
But they also got it very, very wrong. What they got right was the Jesus really was the king. But what they got wrong is that He was going to fight a different battle than the one he wanted them to fight. He was going to defeat a different enemy than the one they wanted him to defeat.
The people in Jerusalem wanted a political Messiah, but God was giving them a sacrificial saviour. They wanted a king to defeat the Romans, not a saviour to deliver from sin.
Now, remember that verse 12 reminds us that Jesus arrived at the Jerusalem; we saw that in Luke 9.51 Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Now that phrase set his face means that he turned with resolute determination. He turned to face something difficult.
At the end of this passage, John let us know that the disciples still did not understand the reason Jesus came to Jerusalem.
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. John 12:16
This is a key theme in the gospels: Jesus told his disciples why he was going to Jerusalem, and when he went, and when he did what he said he was going to do, they didn’t understand it.
A great example of this is from Mark chapter 8:29. Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was;
Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
Peter got the right answer. You are the CHRIST! The Messiah, the promised one who will save us! But Peter was also very, very wrong. Because when Jesus started to explain what it meant that He was the messiah, Peter didn’t like it.
Not only that, but Peter tried to correct Jesus’ own understanding.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mark 8:31-33
Peter was setting his mind on the things of man, not God, because he didn’t understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was. The things of man – the kind of Messiah people want – is a political saviour – or an economic saviour – or a medical saviour.
But our need is for a saviour who can cure is of the most dangerous, toxic, virus of all – the contagion of sin. When use the word sin, we’re talking about the things we do that are wrong from God’s perspective.
Sin is doing anything God says is wrong. And the ultimate sin is idolatry – that is, when anything other than God is the most important things in our lives. Sin is the ultimate human nemesis – not coronavirus or political upheaval or economic down turn.
All those things impact our lives in the moment, but sin impacts us for eternity. We are all born sinful – that is, we are born with a natural tendency to sin, and a broken will that loves to choose sin. And because of our sin we are separated from the God who loves us most of all.The story of Jesus is one about dealing with the problem of sin.
- When Jesus was born, the angel told Joseph, he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1.21).
- When Jesus was baptised, John the Baptist said, behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29).
- When Jesus was with his disciples at the last supper, he told them ‘This is my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28).
- After the resurrection, Jesus told his disciples that forgiveness of sins of must be proclaimed in all nations (Luke 24:27).
The point Jesus made over and over and over was that he came to deal with the problem of sin. That’s why he came to Jerusalem. Jesus had been coming to Jerusalem for a long time. This is the story outline of the gospels … Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, and then he goes to Jerusalem to die.
That’s why it’s important to remember what happened at the end of this week. Jesus came into Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey, he was betrayed on Thursday, and crucified on Friday. Luke 23.33 uses the most straightforward, understated description:
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him.
And this is really the main point. Many people are right and wrong about Jesus. They are right – they know he was someone special, they need he was a good teacher, they know he set a good example of how to live, how to love, how to serve.
But Jesus is much, much more than a good teacher and a good example. Jesus was God in the flesh who came to save us from our sins. So don’t be right and wrong about Jesus.
YES – you need him in your life. But you need more than a teacher, more than an example, more than a religious guru – you need a saviour. You see, not only does Jesus save us from, he saves us to eternal life – participation in the eternal fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus came to deal with the problem of sin so that we could enjoy the promise of eternal life with God.
For those of you who are Christians – you have believed this good news. Jesus is the long-promised king who died to save us from our sins. How does that work?
Simply; Jesus lived the life we should have lived; Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross that we might be forgiven. He was raised from the dead in glorious demonstration that the sacrifice for our sins had been accepted. We can’t be saved from sin by trying really hard and doing lots of good stuff; any good works we do pale in comparison to the perfection and holiness of God. That’s why only God can save us, and this is what He has done in Christ.
So on this Palm Sunday – yes – like these people in Jerusalem – YES! – welcome Jesus as the king. But in addition, if you have not yet turned from and believed that what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to save you, today is the day of salvation. This is God’s good news – you can be restored to God through what Christ has done.