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The darkness at mid-day, the earthquake, the missing body. Nothing made sense. It was like they had just run over a roadside bomb. They were dazed. Everything was spinning. And a man whom they don’t recognize is speaking to them. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…” “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:27,44).
In other words, it didn’t just happen the way that it happened BY CHANCE. It happened the way that it happened BY PROPHESY. The entire Old Testament points to the Christ and Him crucified for the sin of the world and the salvation of those who believe. And the entire New Testament points to the Christ and Him crucified for the sin of the world and the salvation of those who believe.
And the DEVIL is not in the details. The GLORY OF GOD is in the details. And the closer Jesus comes to the cross, the more and more the details all start to come together in Jesus like iron filings to a magnet.
Let us consider Palm Sunday from all four gospels.
A. The Day Before
John writes, “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised form the dead. They gave a dinner for him there. Martha served.” NO SURPRISE THERE. Martha was just being Martha.
“And Lazarus was one of those reclining at table.” BIG SURPRISE THERE. Lazarus was NOT being Lazarus. If he were, he’d still be dead in the tomb. This is Lazarus, once dead now alive, just like you when Jesus raised you from the dead in your baptism. This is the resurrected Lazarus eating at table with the resurrection and the life, just like you do when you recline at this table.
“Mary took a pound of expensive ointment… and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.” NO SURPRISE THERE. Mary was just being Mary. The disciples object. They don’t get it. Maybe Mary doesn’t even get it. But Jesus knew that she was anointing Him for his burial. Just “six days before the Passover.” It’s all happening pretty fast now.
“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” Large crowds had been flocking to Jesus for some time.
But this ‘large crowd’ is not ‘those large crowds.’ The definite article “THE,” identifies this large crowd as a particular crowd. John identifies them. “THE crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.” (Jn.12:17) These were the eyewitnesses of Lazarus’ resurrection, and they told others what they saw. And word spread.
John writes, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death AS WELL…” What do you mean, “As well?” It means that they had already but the death tag on Jesus. Now they were putting the death tag on Lazarus, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” (Jn.12:10).
B. The Next Day
John writes, “The next day…” That makes it FIVE DAYS before the Passover. Five days before the Passover was the day that each household was to choose the lamb it would sacrifice for the Passover meal. LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR MOSES. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male, a year old.” (Ex.12:5)
FIVE DAYS BEFORE He would be bound to a spit and roasted over the fires of hell.
FIVE DAYS BEFORE the blood of the Lamb would mark the cross beam, so that the angel of death would pass over all who live under it.
“The next day, the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” This is a different crowd than the one that witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection and was at the dinner in Bethany. John writes, “The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”
“So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. The whole world has gone after him.” They are the teachers and experts in the Scriptures and they don’t see it. But you do.
LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR ISAIAH. “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” (Is.49:22) “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.” (Is.60:4)
The primary road that connects Jerusalem and Bethany cuts across a high spot called ‘the mount of Olives.’ Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus left Bethany to go to Jerusalem, a distance of two miles. Jesus left Bethany ON FOOT to go to Jerusalem.
NO SURPRISE THERE. He had made this trip a lot. Jesus is being Jesus. Only this time He has “THE crowd” following Him.
When He got half way there however, He was met by the crowd coming out of Jerusalem at a little village called “Bethphage.” So Jesus had a crowd in front of him coming from Jerusalem and a crowd behind him coming from Bethany.
C. The Donkey and Foal
Matthew writes, “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you…” That would be the village of Bethphage.
“And immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Unite them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say to them, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” (Mat.21:2-3).
BIG SURPRISE THERE. Jesus was not being Jesus. For all of the times He had made this trip, never had He insisted on riding. And why a donkey AND its colt?
John writes, “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.” (Jn. 12:16).
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…” And one of those disciples was John and another one was Matthew. And they interpret to us what Jesus interpreted to them.
LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR ZECHARIAH. “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt the foal of a donkey.” (Matt. 21:5).
Like I said, none of this is happening BY CHANCE. It is all happening BY PROPESY.
We should pause just long enough to give credit to the disciples here. They’re a good example for us to follow. Even though they don’t get it and think and probably think that this is a very strange thing for Jesus to ask, THEY GO.
They don’t ask for an explanation before they go. They let their REASON be TAKEN CAPTIVE to the Word of the Lord. LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR PAUL. “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5).
D. The Cheers and Palms
Matthew writes, “They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus and put on them their cloaks, and he sat them.” Zechariah said that the King would come “MOUNTED on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He didn’t use them to carry His gear while He walked. “He sat on them.” The glory of God is in the details.
This is just Jesus being Solomon, the son of David. LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR DAVID. “Have Solomon, my son, ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zakok the priest and and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!” (1 Kings 1:32-33)
Matthew writes, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds THAT WENT BEFORE HIM AND THAT FOLLOWED HIM were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
“Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon! And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.” (1 Kings 1:39-40)
E. Weeping over Jerusalem
I think that it is fair to say that in our celebration of Palm Sunday, we are real KILLJOYS. As the crowds are singing and celebrating and filled with hope and tremendous optimism for their future, what were we reading, ‘The account of the Passion of Our Lord.’ Talk about taking the life out of the party.
The disciples “understood none of these things.” The crowds “understood none of these things.” BUT WE DO. We know what’s coming. We know how fickle this crowd can be and how manipulative and irresistible the forces of evil can be.
And Jesus knew it too. He knows everything. So in the very midst of his own party, he breaks down and cries.
Luke writes, “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it.” There are only two times in the gospel’s where we’re told that Jesus wept. One was at Lazarus’ tomb and the other is here.
But it’s two different words in the Greek. At Lazarus’ tomb it’s “dakruw”, which means that He got ‘teary eyed.’ But here it’s “klaiw”, which means that He ‘cried OUT LOUD.’ It’s the word that applies to babies when they cry. He cried like a baby.
NO SURPRISE HERE. Jesus is just being Jeremiah, who in his LAMENTATION cries like a baby over Jerusalem. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people… Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow… For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.” (Lam.1:1,12,16).
I’ve stood somewhere near this place on the Mt. of Olives where Jesus looked down on the city of Jerusalem. It’s a beautiful sight for a tourist. But for Jesus it was heartbreaking. ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes… because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Lk.19:41-44).
LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR ISIAH. ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Is.6:9-10)
But praise God, He has opened our ears and given us understanding. He has opened our eyes and we perceive. Just outside of Jerusalem there is a high spot called GOLGATHA. It’s a beautiful sight for a believer.
LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR JOHN. “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev.21:1-4).
But first, the darkness at mid-day, the earthquake, the missing body. In five days, the Passover Lamb must be sacrificed.