Jesus Triumphal Entry Matt 21 v1-11 & Matt 27 v15-26
Most people around the world love a parade or carnival. As a child I eagerly awaited the month of June. Why because it was my birthday and near my birthday was the annual Leyton Carnival a massive event which always stopped half way for a refreshment break in my street. I had the added bonus of not just glimpsing at the floats or things being exhibited but also the chance to examine them in more detail close up.
I guess as we get older such things especially birthdays don’t hold the same excitement for us do they! For years I had a friend who often frequented Disney World and tried to get us to go with him to Florida. Having been to Disneyland California many years previous and now a bit long in the tooth I declined his offer. Till one day he phoned me with a cheap deal he found online, an offer I could not refuse! So off we went to Orlando Florida. I must admit Maggie and I loved it. The only trouble with Disney World are the all kids! So many, I think they should have an adults only week! We had the advantage that my friend Dave having been there so many times, made sure we never missed the highlights. For example if we had gone alone we probably wouldn’t have stayed for the spectacular night shows and parades. Nearer to home we have such annual events as The Lord Mayor’s Show, even locally we have The Dagenham Show and parade, here from years ago we have The Famous Dagenham Girl Pipers, or the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, these events still draw large enthusiastic crowds. Of course some parades aren’t just for pleasure but publicity or propaganda. For example, military parades such as Russia and Korea put on to show there military muscle. Certainly in some of these countries it’s compulsory to go and watch!
Most parades routes aren’t pathways to meaningful destinations. They only serve to put people and things on display. But unlike almost every other parade we know of, this parade mentioned in our reading, known as Jesus’ Triumphant Entry to Jerusalem, had a unique purpose. Its route had a final destination that meant something more. The street that Jesus strolled down was not simply an artificial reason for a celebration. It provided the path to a destination that would bring Jesus great pain and sacrifice, the Cross of Calvary.
Jesus was not the first to make a Triumphant entry along this route. In 332 BC Alexander the Great rode in on His might war horse after defeating the Persians and much to their amazement and joy he joined the Jews in worship to their God in the Temple which he gave back to them along with other privileges denied by the Persians. Also in 166 BC the Jewish freedom fighter Judah Maccabee’s triumphantly rode in after victory over the Seleucids who took over the rule after the death of Alexander. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates this victory and the re-dedication of the Temple after it had been defiled by the slaughter of pigs by the occupying regime.
No wonder there was great excitement and expectancy when Jesus rode in although probably puzzlement as well regarding his mode of transport! Some of the crowd were aware he was someone with special powers. Only days before he had brought to back to life the rotten corpse of his friend Lazarus, not an everyday occurrence! They were hoping for another victor like Alexander, Judah Maccabee or even the mighty and powerful King David to defeat the Romans who now were the occupying force.
Jerusalem would have been heaving with extra people as it was only days before the annual festival of Passover. Any Jew living within a 20 mile radius of the city had to by Jewish Law attend the temple and anyone else were encouraged to travel if they could for this once a year celebration. It has been estimated there could have been over 2 million people in the city at this time. Having been to Jerusalem I find it hard to imagine so many in such a small city. I’ve been on duty as a policeman at Notting Hill Carnival many times and it’s chaotic with about a million extra people attending! Iâm sure it would also have had a carnival atmosphere for the Passover celebration. It was the tradition to wave Palm Branches to salute victors and heroes. The chant of Hosanna has a significance as it was the Hebrew phrase meaning ‘give us salvation now’. I guess the salvation the crowd sought was liberation from the oppressive Roman regime not the salvation of the cross that Jesus was to offer.
Yet as our second reading indicates within less than a week the fickle crowds had turned against Jesus demanding His death.
Apart from watching the Leyton Carnival for many years I used to watch football at Leyton Orient until I too like the crowd at Jerusalem became fickle and changed my allegiance to West Ham. Maybe it was the fact that whereas I paid to watch the Orient, West Ham paid me to watch them. Well not exactly but I went there on duty as a policeman often on overtime! One of the best players I ever saw play for Leyton Orient was Alan Comfort who later in life became an ordained minister in the Church of England. I had the privilege of meeting Alan years after watching him when he spoke at a Church men’s Banquet I organised. Like many Orient fans, I was devastated when Middlesbrough FC bought him off Leyton Orient. He was too good to remain there and they made an offer that couldn’t be refused! He was sharing about playing his first season for the then First Division Middlesborough he was at the pinnacle of his career. He had been voted player of the month in only his second month at the club. The fans sang his praises from the terraces and treated him as a king. Then the following month whilst playing against Newcastle something snapped in his knee cap and his career was finished. He told us how the fans attitudes changed rapidly, some were really awful spitting at him and kicking his car. Alan sums up how he felt in a book called ‘More than Champions’ he says “You go from being worth an awful lot to people to absolutely nothing. When you realise that, your self-respect just falls apart. You are nothing. You’re less than that. People don’t treat you well at all”. I wonder how Jesus must have felt as the crowds turned on him. Like Alan Comfort he had done nothing wrong, in fact he had done every thing right, even during that week he had been healing people. Yet the crowd when given a choice, choose to free an evil man Barabbas, and sentenced to death Jesus the epitome of goodness.
Today I want us to consider if we are fickle a bit like the crowd who acknowledge Jesus then shortly afterwards demanded his death. OK I accept that some of the original cheering crowd may have gone home after the Passover celebrations but many of the locals remained.
There are a number of questions we need to ask ourselves as we prepare to celebrate Easter.
What expectancy do we have of Jesus Christ? Do we have excitement about His pending second coming and the implications that would have on our lives.
Have we lost our first love for Christ? You know that burning enthusiasm that comes when we first invite Jesus into our heart and lives. If you have never had such a feeling or no longer feel that way, I suggest maybe this Easter you rededicate yourself to him and invite the Holy Spirit to fill you a fresh with the love and joy of knowing Jesus. James 4 v8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Do we feel disappointed or frustrated by situations that effect us or family and friends. Do we doubt God’s ability to heal us physically, emotionally or spiritually. Like a trip to Disney do some people miss out on all that Christ has to offer. It’s never easy being a Christian a follower of Christ, especially when we leave the confines of the Church building on a Sunday and go into the real world!
How easily we talk about God’s love especially here in church. How hard it is for us to truly accept it. Do we really understand that he went willingly to Jerusalem knowing he faced death on a cross for us? J. I. Packer writes; “If I understand God’s love, why do I ever crumble or show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God places me? Why am I ever distrustful, fearful, or depressed? Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal, and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so? Why do I ever allow my loyalty to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” Packer asks the right questions. God’s love was so costly! Why don’t we trust Him more?
The other point I want to bring out from our second reading is that we must be careful not to be swayed by those around us. There can be no doubt there were religious and political agitators in the crowd who demanded Christ’s death. The Romans feared an uprising and the religious leaders feared for their jobs and standing in the community.
It amazes me how long and how many disagreements take place at church leadership meetings whether it be the PCC or Deacons. You see if every member actually listened to God seeking his agenda not their own ideas or preferences, such meetings and decisions would be made much easier. How many churches have become divided on such minor things as worship or even the colour the curtains should be. How many times have I heard the words “We don’t do it that way here” or “Why change the way we do things”. If we are honest none of us feel comfortable with change, although I’m so pleased I no longer have an old black and white TV but colour and HD. I’m also pleased I drove here in a nice comfortable car and not on a donkey or a sedan chair! Poor donkey or men if they had to carry my weight! Do you see my point? Some changes work out for the best.
One of the biggest changes God made was his new covenant with us his people on earth! Highlighted by this Triumphant ride into Jerusalem and subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Although the God of the Old Testament Covenant and New Testament Covenant are without doubt the same God, he changed the order of things. No longer did we have to sacrifice doves or sheep depending how naughty we had been. No longer did he demand rituals and a strict legalistic lifestyle following mainly man made amendments to his laws. No more circumcision. Now the way to heaven, the new covenant was through Jesus. Our salvation is achieved only when we turn to Christ acknowledging his ultimate sacrifice for our sin, repenting and being baptised in his name.
Like my trip to Disney and Orient’s sale of Alan Comfort, salvation through Christ is an offer too good to refuse! Yet so many people do! The majority of people in this country prefer to go shopping on a Sunday looking for a bargain than seeking or worshiping God.
I throw out this challenge to you all. Why don’t you be bold and step out of the crowd and stand up for Jesus this Easter. Never mind Easter eggs, bunnies or daffodils how every nice they are, give someone the gift of salvation through Jesus. Gossip the gospel to your friends, relatives and neighbours.