Title - Great Expectations and Major Disappointments. We are used to seeing Palm Sunday as a day of great celebration,

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1 ! 1! Title - Great Expectations and Major Disappointments Text - Psalm 118:26-29; Matthew 21:1-11 We are used to seeing Palm Sunday as a day of great celebration, and indeed it was and is, but not for the reasons we usually think. We associate the day with Jesus being King and riding into Jerusalem as a King, and with children waving palm branches in His honor. The Gospel story in fact tells a slightly different story. It tells a tale of great expectations and hosannas on Sunday, and the acclamation crucify him on Friday, and perhaps in some cases by the very same people! It is a sobering reminder about what happens to a group of very religious people when they raise their expectations of a major triumph to the roof at the beginning of a week, and by the end of the week, dash those hopes so that even the inner circle of the disciples had denied, deserted or betrayed Jesus by late Thursday. As for the crowds, they turned quite ugly. Jesus was handed over to the Roman authorities for execution by crucifixion. What accounts for this incredible turn of events all in one work week? Whatever it is, we need to realize from the outset that Jesus did not come to meet our expectations or those of His fellow early Jews. He came to meet our needs. He did not come to slay our foes and lift us high. He came

2 ! 2! to serve and give His life as a ransom for sin. For at the root, the real heart of the human dilemma is not our political problems but our sin sickness. As Jesus says in Mark 7, from out of the heart comes war, adultery, murder, slander and all manner of human misbehavior. The problem then and now was/is not chiefly how well the borders of the land were protected from alien peoples. The real problem was the unprotected borders of the human heart. It is notable that this is the only time in all the Gospels that Jesus elevates Himself above the crowd. Instead of doing so by mounting a war horse, He gets on a donkey and rides into town. He comes in peace, not with sword in hand. Matthew rightly quotes from Zechariah 9. Listen to what that text says more fully: Rejoice o daughter Zion! Shout aloud o daughter Jerusalem! For your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey. And then the next verse says, He will cut off the war chariot from Ephraim, and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall command peace (Shalom) to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. Jesus comes, quite self-consciously, as the Prince of Peace. But the irony is that the crowds don t get it. Take for example the waving of the palm

3 ! 3! branches. This had a specific symbolic meaning. It was used to celebrate the Maccabean victory less than two centuries before, when the Jewish Maccabees militarily conquered and retook Jerusalem from pagan rulers. It was what the crowds hoped for when they saw Jesus riding into town on a donkey. It reminded them of King David or King Solomon and their ceremonial entries into Zion. They didn t pay attention to the kind of animal Jesus was riding, nor apparently did they share Matthew s interpretation of the event in light of Zechariah 9. Estimates show that at Passover, Jerusalem went from being a town of 50,000 to a city of 500,000. If you want to make existing authorities, including both Jewish and Roman ones nervous, then ride into town making some sort of royal gesture. Calling Jesus a King is part of what made some people nervous during His lifetime; it certainly made Pilate nervous. Misunderstanding the nature of Christ s Kingship, people like Pilate and Herod saw His being King as a threat to their own power. Misunderstanding the nature of Christ s Kingship, others thought it meant a relationship of control and enslavement. But Christ s Kingship is not political. As Pope Benedict explained, Jesus is a new kind of King. This King does not break the people with an iron rod (Psalm 2:9). He rules form

4 ! 4! the cross, and does so in an entirely new way. Universality is achieved through the humility of communion in faith; this King rules by faith and love, and in no other way. It seems clear that Jesus even raised the hopes and expectations of His own disciples, that He was coming to town as the new sheriff, to take over. And then, when everything took a very different turn by Thursday night, the disillusionment became profound. I love the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24, which tells of two relatively unknown disciples leaving town, who ironically say to the risen Jesus, whom they don t recognize, We had hoped (Past tense) He would be the One to redeem Israel. But crucifixion had trashed that rumor altogether. No one was looking for a crucified Messiah in Jesus day. The truth is that Jesus didn t come to be the kind of a king, that would run the Romans out of town. He came to die on a cross even for the sins of the enemies of Israel. Still to this day, we have a very difficult time understanding this. We still tend to think that military solutions to our problems are the final answer. The last week of Jesus life tells us that this is not so. We could win all the wars over our political foes and still lose our souls. Indeed, if we look at America today, I would say we are no better off than ancient Israel in the days of Jesus. If we lose the battle

5 ! 5! for the soul of our nation, no amount of military might could compensate for such a loss, salve such a wound or solve such a problem. Our land desperately needs a revival of the heart. it needs to embrace the Prince of Peace. Our culture has become desensitized in my lifetime. We have become a less civil, a less christian nation in my lifetime. Indeed, we have even become a nation that wants not merely a separation of church and state, but a separation of God from country! Another interesting irony in the Palm Sunday story, is that the pilgrims coming to town with Jesus were singing the so-called Hallel Psalms, the let s go up to Zion songs, rather like the boy scout songs we used to sing when hiking, I love to go a wandering. Now the Hallel Psalms are full of hosannas which means God saves, and hallelujahs which means praise to Yahweh. They are ancient praise songs, and they would sing this whether Jesus was coming into town with them or not. The line Blessed is He who comes (To Jerusalem) in the name of the Lord was what the pilgrims sang about and to each other as they went up to Zion. But here it takes on a special poignancy, because THIS TIME their king really has come to town. This time, the ultimate Son of David really had arrived, and the vast majority of them didn t even

6 ! 6! know it, or if they did, they had a very different vision of what sort of King He should be than what Jesus had. When I went to Jerusalem, I loved going to the Wailing Wall, and participated in the prayers and worship with Jewish friends there. I left little written prayers in the wall as Jews do, so that God will remember them. One of the more interesting aspects of Shabbat worship, Sabbath worship on a Friday night, is that the ultra orthodox dance and sing, and one of the things they pray and sing about is Give us Mashiach, we want Mashiach now. They were praying for the coming of the Messiah. For the ultra orthodox, the current secular democratic state of Israel is not biblical Israel. Indeed biblical Israel will not show up until Messiah comes, in their way of thinking. They believe that the Israel we have political alliances with today is certainly not in conformity with the Law of Moses, or early Jewish expectations about the coming of the Messiah. They saw it as playing the same political games as those of Jeroboam, Ahab and many other early Jewish kings, who beat their enemies with armies and alliances. What is really needed is repentance and the embracing of Jesus of Nazareth, the one and only Prince of Peace. I love the little poem of George McDonald. It s a Christmas poem. The first stanza goes like this, We were all

7 ! 7! searching for a king to slay our foes and lift us high, you came a little baby thing, to make a woman cry. McDonald understood that Jesus, from womb to tomb, from birth to death, did not come to meet our expectations of what a King should be like. He came to meet our deepest needs, our needs for salvation more than temporary political solutions, our needs to humble ourselves in the sight of God instead of trying to exalt ourselves above other nations, our need to let God be King and Lord over our lives, not ourselves, not any other human being other than Jesus. If we want to understand why the original disciples deserted, denied and betrayed Jesus, some of them no doubt had the hopes of the Zealots, hopes that Jesus, especially after cleansing the temple, would then kick the Romans out of town and begin to rule. The irony is that Jesus, during that very week, predicted that a generation of Jews, who tried to establish God s Kingdom, would be destroyed. The temple and the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Roman rulers. Jesus was exactly right. In A.D. 70, exactly 40 years after Jesus death, Jerusalem was torched and became a pagan city. After the second lesser Jewish revolt in the second century A.D., which was also squashed by the Romans, no Jew was allowed anywhere near the Temple remains until 1967.

8 ! 8! Jesus told us there was no military solution to the problems of God s people. When will we believe Him? At least the ultra orthodox Jews in Jerusalem knew this. The followers of Jesus should know this as well. Jesus was bitterly disappointed in both the hopeful crowd of pilgrims and His own disciples during Holy Week. When Jesus dashed the highest hopes of people, it was not a surprise that He ended up on a cross by the end of the week. Today, when we hear the loud hosannas and sing with joy about the coming of our true King, the Prince of Peace, will we remember His words when He said, If anyone would come after me, let them take up their crosses and follow me (All the way to Golgotha). It was not the macho disciples who got the message clearly. It was the female disciples like Mary Magdalene, who were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to see the risen Jesus. Who will we be more like during this high and holy week? Will we be like the pilgrims, like Peter who said he would never deny or desert Jesus, and who said he was prepared to die for or with Him, or like Mary Magdalene? It would be my prayer that sometime during this Holy Week, we would really take stock of what is important, and that we would indeed become like what we admire, even Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Blessed are the peacemakers

9 ! 9! said Jesus, for they are the ones who will one day be called the true children of God. Are we true children of God, or are we just pretenders and contenders, who would have done no better than the Dirty Dozen did during that first Holy Week? Sarah Bowling wrote in her blog, December 28, 2011, Have you ever been mad or disappointed with God? She said, Now that s a loaded question with all kinds of implications. I think that some people won t allow themselves to be mad or disappointed with God for fear of being disrespectful. Other folk go so far as to totally alienate any contribution or participation from God in their lives, because of their anger, hurt or disappointment with God. She inquires, Is there a healthy middle point? Can a person be angry, frustrated, hurt and disappointed with God, but still keep their relationship with Him? She read the book of Job, to bring some closure to the question she had asked. She shared some of her observations. She noted that being honest with God is a necessary ingredient for intimacy with God. She said that she also saw where one must stay engaged with God, because withdrawing or pulling away from God hurts you and is a dead end. She added that one must give God plenty of space and time to respond. Finally she said, we must be willing to adjust, repent

10 ! 10 and change, for arrogance undercuts any constructive dialogue with God. The King has come to us all, riding on a donkey. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN

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