Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this Sunday of the Passion is from John 12:12-19: 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!” (John 12:12-13). Today is the Sunday of Holy Week, a day that we know as Palm Sunday. But what is the deal with these palm branches anyway? We’ve become quite accustomed to them in our celebrations as we do what the crowds did in welcoming Jesus, but what is the deal with these palm branches?
Why were the crowds waving them? Well, date palms are plentiful around Jerusalem, and palm branches were to be used in celebration during one of the main Jewish feasts…but that was only for the Feast of Booths, which occurred much later in the year. This was Passover, an entirely different celebration that never traditionally involved palm branches. So, what is the deal with these palm branches then? Well, a couple hundred years earlier during the Maccabean Period, palm branches had become somewhat of a national, or even nationalist symbol. They were waved at at victory celebration and they became such a symbol of the Jews that palms even appeared on Jewish coins from that period. The deal with these palm branches is that in waving them, the Jews were welcoming the man who they thought was the messianic liberator who would deliver them from the Romans. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” They wanted nothing more than for this man to deliver them from those oppressive Romans and to re-institute the glory days of Israel. The Jews thought that Jesus had come to bring them exactly what they wanted.
2. How often do we have the same thought? How often do we make up our minds of whatever it is that we want from Jesus and expect him to grant that to us? This is human nature—sinful human nature—isn’t it? We get caught up with the things of this world and desire a savior to help us physically. We want a savior who will free us from financial troubles. We want a savior who will free us from relationship problems. We want a savior who will free us from career problems. We want a savior who will free us from COVID problems. In short, we want a savior who will love me above all things. But am I prepared to love him above all things—even if that means surrendering my idea of who Jesus is supposed to be for me?
3. Well, here’s the thing about Jesus—he is the King, but he’s an unexpected King—he’s a King who doesn’t always act the way you think he should. And Jesus makes that clear to the crowds during his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel writer continues: 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). Jesus refuses to reinforce the political and nationalist aspirations of the crowd by riding into Jerusalem on a war horse. He rides into Jerusalem humbly, riding on a donkey, of all things. Jesus was not here to win some military victory or to help his people with their physical problems. Jesus came to deal with a much larger problem: sin. Sin is a disease that infects us all. It’s the cause of everything that is wrong in this world. Sin is the reason why our world is a mess. Sin is the reason why your life is a mess. No, you don’t need a better budget to solve all your problems. No, you don’t need better relationships or a better job to solve all your problems. No, freedom from COVID isn’t going to solve all your problems. As long as sin remains in this world, as long as sin remains in your heart, you’re going to continue living in the miserable mess you’ve created for yourself. But this is the beauty of Jesus—Jesus didn’t come to put a bandaid on your problems. Jesus came to fix the root of your problems. Jesus didn’t come to bring you the salvation that you want. Jesus came to bring you the kind of salvation that you truly need. Jesus came to give you a new heart and to make you whole again.
4. But Jesus knew what accomplishing this was going to entail. It was going to entail surrendering his life. To save you from your sin, Jesus let the most evil, twisted, sinful parts of humanity kill him so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. But not even Jesus’ closest friends understood this, as our reading goes on to say: 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. 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. 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. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:16-19). This is the point where the story takes a turn for the worse, as we heard in the Passion Reading of Mark chapters 14 & 15. These religious leaders didn’t like what Jesus was doing. They were not happy with the large following that Jesus had, as they said, “Look, the world has gone after him.” So, these Pharisees conspired to put Jesus to death. But what they didn’t realize is that this was precisely the reason why Jesus had entered into Jerusalem. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die. And maybe if these Pharisees had spent less time worrying about how “the world has gone after Jesus” they might have realize that it was actually Jesus who was going after the world: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Palm Sunday is not about palm branches. It’s about Jesus, who came to be your savior—a savior who died to save you from sin.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.