Palm Sunday 2024 - "Save Us Now!"

Today is Palm Sunday---the beginning of Holy Week and the day we celebrate Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  

We celebrate unusually: We unleash a bunch of kids waving palms into the sanctuary while we belt out celebratory songs at the top of our lungs. All the while, we try to keep from having some overexuberant, palm-waving kid poke our eyes out... or at the very least give us a nice lashing on the cheek.  

Can you imagine if someone walked into a church for the very first time on Palm Sunday? What do you think they would make of all of this? I imagine that they would have a few questions, don't you? 

The first would be, "What in the world is this????"  

And then the second one would be: 

"Is this some sort of cult? Am I going to be forced to wear robes, sell my house, and live in a commune of some kind if I start hanging out with these people? I mean, they seem normal enough outside of the crazy palm waving and the singing---Ouch! That kid almost put my eye out!!!"  

The funny thing about all of this is that there were people on that first Palm Sunday who were just as flummoxed.  They had no idea what was happening when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with scores of his followers marching beside him, waving palms, shouting, and singing.  

The people in Jerusalem that day had been expecting a Messiah, a Savior, someone who would remove the yoke of Roman oppression and set the world right. 

Then Jesus showed up and blew up their expectations.  

Which is kind of what Jesus always did.  And kind of what Jesus is still doing.  

His arrival that day was a sign and symbol that just when everyone thought all was lost, that God was never going to rescue God's people, help was on the way. But the Messiah, the "One Who Saves," defied convention.  

You see, Jesus didn't fit their neat categories or expectations of what a Savior should look like.  They wanted a strongman with bluster, confidence, an army, and enough moxy to stand up to the most significant military superpower in the world and win.  

They were at the end of their rope. Tensions were high, and the world was falling apart around them. All seemed lost.  

Sound familiar?  

And then God showed up unexpectedly and offered them rescue from all of it. 

God is still doing the same thing through Jesus. And we still do what so many people in Jerusalem did so long ago: We have our own clear ideas of how Jesus should look and act, how Jesus should save. So many times, Jesus shows up and looks nothing like the Jesus we've imagined.  

I want us to remember this one essential thing today. Hold on to it because it is the thread that runs throughout my sermon.  


Let's read Mark 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

Jesus commanded his followers to go and jack a donkey...  

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

The significance of a "colt" and the palms...  

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

We're going to come back to this---and the word "Hosanna," but it means "Save us now!" 

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

This is kind of an odd story, isn't it?  So what was Jesus doing?  What was he up to here?

Well, to our 21st-century eyes, this may not seem like much... but to the first-century inhabitants of Jerusalem who were gathering in the city for Passover, this was meaningful. It was street theater, full of symbols and signs of what Jesus wanted people to know about him and who he really was. 

In short, Jesus planned and carried out a messianic entry into the city.  He threw down the gauntlet, daring people to accept him as the Promised One.  

There were roughly a quarter of a million people in Jerusalem for Passover.  For the Romans, when you had that many people who hated Roman rule in one place, it was a recipe for disaster unless you were on top of it. 

Some scholars believe that around the same time that Jesus was entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Pontius Pilate, the provincial governor, rode into the city on a huge white horse, surrounded by his calvary, carrying huge banners with the Roman eagle emblazoned on them, and followed by marching soldiers, armed to the teeth.  

Jesus enters differently. He comes into the city on a donkey, recalling a prophecy from the prophet Zechariah about what the true king, the true Messiah, will look like. 

His entry also shows what true Lordship looks like in God's economy.  It's not the military-industrial complex of Rome, it's not the vulgar display of power---it's something altogether different...  servanthood, gentleness, humility, self-giving. 

So there's all this highly charged stuff going on, filled with meaning, causing an uproar and then it gets even bigger.  Because the crowds with Jesus are shouting and singing "Hosanna!  Son of David!  Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  

As I mentioned, Hosanna is an Aramaic word that means "Save us now!"  It is not widely used in the Gospels but is connected to Psalm 118, which is part of the Great Hallel, a prayer that is only prayed or sung during the highest of the high holy days in Judaism.  

So when everyone shouted those phrases, the crowd knew where they were from. It was the kind of prayer you would know.  

All the signs were there! It was very clear what Jesus was trying to do. He was telling all of Jerusalem that the Messiah had come and that God had kept his promises.  

And the city missed it.  

And the crowd that was with Jesus... when things got bad when he got arrested... they ran away and hid or denied him.  

The people gathered there that day had known nothing but oppression. They had seen the cruelty of the Roman Empire firsthand. Their own leaders had sold them down the river. Even their revered religious institutions had sold out to the Romans—the high priesthood was up for grabs to the highest bidder. The Temple complex was run by what amounted to a priestly mafia, bent on making as much money as possible.  

It was the eleventh hour, and everyone was crying out for rescue.  They cried out for salvation, but when salvation came, it wasn't on their terms.  They had a Messiah in mind, and it wasn't Jesus.  

The reason this story is so meaningful, the reason we need to tell it and retell it, the reason we wave our palms and sing our songs... 

We need to be reminded how easy it is to miss Christ when he comes riding into our lives.  When Jesus arrives to rescue us, redeem us, restore us... do we see him?  Do we embrace him?  Or do we miss him?  Or betray him?  Or turn away when he doesn't meet our expectations?  

You see, we want Jesus on our terms, don't we?  We want our Jesus to look, sound, think, and vote like us.  

We want Redemption to be triumphant.  We like to win, and so salvation should look a lot like winning, instead of dying to ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus where Jesus would have us to go.  

We are totally fine with a Jesus who is not going to demand anything of us, not ever going to cause us to re-examine ourselves, or change anything about us that might be uncomfortable or unwelcome. 

And yet, we all are crying out.  "Hosanna!"  "Save Us Now!"  "Hosanna!"   

Because the world feels like it's falling apart around us, doesn't it?  We hear the war drums being beaten.  We cannot trust our governments; our most popular religious leaders seem obsessed with bigger and more.  

In our own lives---we feel the pain of loss when a loved one passes away... we wonder if there will be enough money at the end of the month... we sit and listen to the doctor's bad diagnosis ringing in our ears... our relationships are strained...  we feel like our kids are hostages to fortune...  

It feels like there's nothing left.  And we cry out, "Hosanna!"  

And here is Jesus, riding into our lives at the eleventh hour, when all seems lost—offering us new life, redemption, and restoration on his terms, offering to help us find our lives if we lose them for his sake.  

Where in you life do you need some rescue right about now?  Maybe it's time to name it.  And then turn it over to the Savior, the One who comes in the name of the Lord to seek and to save all those who are lost, including you... and me.  



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