Palm Sunday Sermon Rev. John Sovereign
Thousands of Roman soldiers were killed by barbarians in a great slaughter that took place a scant four centuries before Jesus was born (390 BC). The Romans fled before a bunch of wild men from France. It did not happen again.
After that, Roman soldiers were never allowed to lie around. They built fortifications, public buildings, harbours, aqueducts, roads, and so on. The Roman army became well disciplined, well trained, and tough, with a single-minded allegiance to their local commander, and later, a strong allegiance to their Emperor. Roman soldiers were adept at killing – better at it than all their enemies. They were there to get the job done.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today we celebrate the way Jesus stormed Jerusalem. It took the same kind of single-mindedness, training, and confidence in what he was doing. Jesus trusted God explicitly, and trusting God he attacked.
What and who were enemies of Jesus?
People were enemies because Jesus served God with wholeheartedness and love. Jesus shows us that loving God is really possible, and that hearing God’s voice and doing God’s will is also possible. People who didn’t like listening to God didn’t like Jesus very much.
The Principalities and Powers of this world were his enemies. Jesus did things a different way. Jesus did not impose his will from above. Jesus followed love, and he used truth like a bullet. Power justifies its existence by its ends – power loves to inflict order and uniformity – Jesus loved truth and diversity. Power judges the world out of its own selfishness – Jesus loved the world.
Satan and his minions were his enemies, just because they were. The world is an attraction for the demonic. It is a place to play, a place to hurt God, a place to unleash enormous spite. Satan delighted in the cross, and tormented Jesus while he was on it, but as Jesus said, “He had no real power over him.”
The Kings of Israel always entered Jerusalem on a donkey when they came to be crowned. For three years, Jesus was careful not to tell anyone he was Messiah. Suddenly, as he rode into Jerusalem, the whole world took notice. Jesus entered as only a King of Israel might enter – riding on a donkey with a procession of palm branches and cloaks before him. The procession could not be mistaken. The chief priests, the scribes and pharisees, the rulers, the Romans, the merchants – here was a new king come to rule.
Most of the time I wish God was tame. Jesus did some remarkable things, and must have been the preacher of the ages. He was galvanizing, and many times the pharisees, chief priests, and rulers tried to bring him over to their side. They could have used a man like Jesus. But whenever the people wanted to grab him and make him king by force, Jesus slipped away. Jesus could not be tamed and domesticated. If God was tame, then things could stay the same.
The leaders hated him. No one wanted a Messiah who would overturn the world the way Jesus overturned Temple merchants and money changers’ tables. No one wanted a Messiah that wouldn’t put up with the old boys, the traditions, the deals. Jesus could have played the game. Instead, he was an upstart, outside the system, showing no respect, a threat to order.
The chief priests and the pharisees saw a threat to the Temple, Torah, and all that Jewish history and religious custom created. Jesus acted independently in forgiving sins, healing the sick, preaching about God, and violating Sabbath customs. Jesus placed human worth far above the clap trap of religion. Jesus rejected their religious ways. “People were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for people.”
The Psalmist says, “The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” Jesus did just that. He entered Jerusalem in procession. He moved about in Jerusalem during Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, he went up to the horns of the altar. A Roman altar built of rough hewn timbers, and standing on a hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha. The priests were at the foot of the cross to sacrifice him. Not holy priests, filled with love, making expiation for the people. Temple priests making good and sure that a threat was removed. Their instrument was Rome.
Pilate, washing his hands, is no different from most people today, who still want nothing to do with this Saviour who changes things.
In the wings stood Satan, the accuser, braying nasty thoughts about Jesus upsetting world order. Everybody listened to Satan. It was his finest hour.
The soldiers took Jesus and mocked him, plaiting a crown of thorns and finding an old purple robe. Our own mockery, our own deceit, our own decrepit attempts to say, “Sure, I believe,” when all the time we are not sure what believing is all about . . . in the soldiers that mocked, all peoples and all times before the one who is Judge.
A good king’s first act is to make war on his enemies and reclaim lost territory. This Jesus did – by rigidly following God’s ways. The territory lost was the territory of goodness, love, self-control, and the knowledge of God. This Jesus regained.
A weaker Saviour would have struck back. An uncommitted Saviour would have run off. Jesus faced his attackers, and left the end result to his Father. Jesus refused to turn in anger on the very human beings that hated him. In his death, Jesus illustrated his love for us, and attaches to himself all who are willing to follow him.
The Roman armies were invincible in their day largely because they were trained, strong, determined. Jesus himself set his face like flint to conquer Jerusalem. If we are to follow him, we ought to follow in his footsteps, to be like him, to seek the relationship with God that he had.
May we be determined to make this Saviour ours – not in hollow mockery like the soldiers – but in our broken-heartedness, like Peter; in our weakness, like Mary who wiped his feet with her tears; or like Joseph of Arimathea who was able to say, “Here, I will take him. I am willing.”