The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 28, 2021 – Palm Sunday
Jesus came to reconcile people to God and to build, of those reconciled people, a community that would, under His loving reign, reconcile one with another, and together reconcile still others to God and each another. To fulfill that purpose, Jesus orchestrated the events of Holy Week to insure He would die. Every step He took was part of the set up for the crucifixion to happen. Jesus didn’t die as a result of circumstances spinning out of control; Jesus deliberately precipitated His death. He planned His work of grace, and He worked His plan.
We can see this, in today’s scripture, by noting how Jesus had, ahead of time, set up His Palm Sunday parade to make it say what He wanted it to say. We can also see His set up for Calvary in His next major step the following day, when He “cleansed” the temple and provoked the religious leaders already bent on killing Him. Jesus was determined to die in order to bring about God’s beautiful dream of a worldwide family made up of everyone redeemed by His Son’s blood.
To explain what Jesus meant by riding into Jerusalem Palm Sunday as He made sure He did, two of the Gospels quote a prophecy of Zechariah that makes clear that this “one who comes in the name of the Lord” is not a military Messiah who’d take to arms and rout the Roman oppressors from the Promised Land, but a redeeming Messiah who’d end war and reconcile even enemies from every land. Zechariah 9:9-10 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the war horse…[and] the battle bow…and…command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea; and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Jesus entered Jerusalem, not for the destruction of any nation, but for the construction of a community made from every nation. Jesus entered Jerusalem to realize God’s dream of folks from the ends of the earth joining together as one in a shared, common submission to the earth’s one true Ruler.
It is significant that, according to John’s Gospel, immediately after the Palm Sunday parade, some “foreigners” sought to meet with Jesus. In response, Jesus declared for the very first time that his “hour” – that is, the moment for His crucifixion – had finally come. He took the drawing near of those foreigners as a sign that the time had arrived for Him to be “lifted up” and so “draw all people” to Himself. In other words, His grisly execution on the cross was the grace-filled execution of His plan to draw together people of every nation, race and culture together in a world-embracing redemption.
Jesus’ intent to fulfill God’s dream is shown even in His violent vandalism the next day in the cleansing of the temple. When that Monday He cleared out its courtyard, overturning the tables of exploitative money changers and cutting loose the animals of price-gouging vendors, He justified His actions by two prophecies He wove together. The first, from Jeremiah, deplored how God’s holy place had degenerated into a “den of robbers”. The second, from Isaiah, deplored how Israel’s spiritual leaders had betrayed God’s expansive and inclusive vision to have His temple be “a house of prayer for all the nations” – a place where those of every type and background would unite to engage with God and be energized to serve everyone in His name.
Isaiah’s prophecy expresses God’s broad, world-wide desire to bring together and bless every kind of human being. The prophecy says, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…to love…the Lord, and to be his servants…these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer…Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”
In other words, then and also now, Jesus means to add anyone and everyone to the community He’s already gathered…both those who once were a part of it but had ceased to be and those who had never before been a part of it.
If that is Jesus’ dream, then to love Jesus is to extend His invitation to people whom we don’t yet know well in the faith conviction that they’re well-known and dear to God; to reach out to strangers to us and welcome them in with gracious and open-hearted hospitality; to make God’s house become their home by making for their sake adjustments and accommodations those that involve letting go of cherished traditions and preferences; and to value those for whom that is done as gifts the Lord has sent to lead us, whom He’s already gathered, into becoming all the more the community He wants.
Jesus went to infinite pains to set up the fulfillment of God’s beautiful dream. Let us then spare no pains to become God’s community completely!