One thousand nine hundred and eighty years ago this special day marked the turning point in Jesus ministry. For about three and a half years He had taught, healed, delivered and performed other amazing miracles. He had been constantly traveling from place to place preaching and ministering but on this day, this Sunday before Passover, that season came to an end. Never had the public excitement about Him been higher. He was at the peak of His popularity. He had just performed a miracle so stunning that even the religious leaders in Jerusalem were beginning to believe He was the Messiah. People lined the road and waved palm branches to welcome Him, but all this enthusiasm ended in a frustrating clash of wills. He absolutely refused to be who they wanted Him to be, and they absolutely refused to accept who He said He was.
As we prepare our hearts for communion on this wonderful day, lets re-live the story as John tells it. He recorded a side of that day we dont often hear. Then lets place ourselves in the midst of that crowd and ask how we would have responded. Would we, have we, listened to what Jesus had to say about our sin? Would we, have we, let Him show us how God wants us to welcome this King?
(vs1-8) Judas and Mary of Bethany illustrate the two responses well see today. Judas watched Lazarus raised from the dead, but wants to pilfer money, Mary understands who He is and knows He must die. She is prophetically led to prepare Him for burial.
(vs9-11) The crowd is excited because He raised the dead.
(vs12-13) They are challenging Him to bring the prophesied Messianic Kingdom.
The palm branch was the symbol of the Maccabean kingdom. It had been stamped on the coins of that era of Jewish independence. This was a dangerous political environment, but it was also a moment of spiritual defiance. The people were saying: quit talking to us about our sins, quit talking about the Messiah needing to die. Heal our sick, deliver us from the Gentiles, prosper our agriculture and business.
(vs14-15) Jesus answers them by riding into the city on the foal of a donkey. In this way He was reminding them that the prophets also described the Messiah as a humble suffering servant who would bring spiritual salvation. Remember what Zechariah said (Zec 9:9, 10).
(vs16) Not even His own disciples understood what He was saying by riding in on the foal of a donkey, because they had never been taught about a suffering Messiah. Such passages must have been ignored or explained to mean something else.
(vs20-22) His season of public ministry had ended and His hour to depart had arrived (Jn 13:1).
(vs23-24) In the spiritual world death precedes life and reproduction.
(vs25-26) This spiritual principle doesnt just apply to Me, said Jesus, It also applies to you. I must die on the cross, but you must choose to die to your own passions and ambitions daily and become My servant (Gal 5:24). You too must die like a grain of wheat.
(v27) At that moment Jesus was freshly aware of the horror that lay before Him, and once again He chose to obey. He fully understood what the prophets said about the suffering Messiah. He knew they were speaking about Him, and He knew what was going to done to Him.
(v28) The Father openly honored His willingness to die and assured Him that He had understood correctly.
(v29) The audible voice from heaven exposed the spiritual deafness in the crowd. Apparently their subconscious minds refused to acknowledge what their ears heard, so they dismissed it as thunder.
(v30) Jesus told the crowd that God had spoken audibly to them to confirm the truth of what He had just told them. If that message had been meant only for Him, the Father could have spoken inaudibly and He would have heard.
(v31) Looking toward the coming cross and resurrection Jesus said the grip human sin and the devil had on this planet was about to be broken. He said what He was about to do would set people free. Gods judgement would fall on Him and when it did, sin and the devil would lose control.
(v32-33) Just like Moses lifted up the brass serpent in the wilderness (Jn 3:14), said Jesus, Im going to be lifted up on a cross making it possible for God to save all humans, even the worst sinners. Through my death God will call all people to salvation.
(v34) The crowd understood what He was saying, but they rejected the idea that the Messiah would suffer. They reminded Jesus that the prophets had said God would lift up the Messiah to rule at His right hand, He would rule over His enemies (Ps 110:1-7). The Son of Man would be given dominion over peoples, nations and men of every language (Da 7:13, 14, 27), not crucified.
(vs35-36) Jesus answered, Im not going to argue with you. If youll open your spiritual eyes youll see who I am. You are being given an amazing opportunity right now, that will quickly pass. You need to respond now or you will slip back into greater spiritual confusion.
(v37) The real issue was a refusal to repent, to acknowledge that their sins had created a great moral crisis which could not be atoned by the blood of bulls and goats (Heb 10:4), to acknowledge that the prophets had said the Messiah must die for them before He could bring the blessings of Gods Kingdom to earth (Mt 11:20-24).
(v38) Just before he described the Messiahs suffering in gory detail (Isa 53:3-10), Isaiah said most of Israel wouldnt recognize Him when He came (Isa 53:1, 49:7; 50:6)
(vs39-40) Earlier Isaiah had explained that the reason for this was because their spiritual eyes would grow blind and their hearts hard (Isa 6:10). Spiritual insight grows when we obey what God shows us, and declines when we reject it (Mt 13:10-17). Human and divine elements are both at work in this process. We tend to harden ourselves when we dont like what God asks in order to lessen the impact of His appeal, and He withdraws the presence of His Spirit from those who refuse to listen.
(v41) John says Isaiah saw in a vision how people would respond to Jesus and described it. The widespread rejection that was taking place had been prophesied.
(vs42-43) But this spiritual blindness didnt envelop everyone. There were people who had the faith to see who He was, and to acknowledge the depth of their sin. Many among the religious leaders believed but didnt have the courage to confess Him openly for fear of being disfellowshipped (Ac 6:7).
(vs44-48) Jesus told the crowd, By refusing to believe that God would send a humble, suffering Messiah to atone for your sins, you arent just rejecting Me, youre rejecting Gods plan of salvation. Youre refusing to repent and put your faith in the One He sent to die for you. I came to save you, not judge you, but by rejecting Me, youre bringing certain judgment on yourselves.
(vs49-50) Youre fighting the Father, not Me, Im only telling you what He says. This is His message of eternal life.
The struggle we see being expressed on that Palm Sunday takes place in every human heart. The crowds wanted God to bless them and God wanted them to repent. They had been delighted when Jesus healed, delivered, and fed them with loaves and fish, but they were amazed and confused when He talked about dying on the cross for them. In every age we tend to be more concerned about our physical needs than about sin and eternity. We dont see the spiritual danger were in like God does. But we do real damage to ourselves when He tries to show it to us and we refuse. We make it even harder to hear His voice the next time.
Just as He did on that first Palm Sunday, God wants to reveal two things: my sin and His Son. Yes, Jesus will someday come in glory to fulfill all those Kingdom promises, but first He had to come and die. Today, on this Palm Sunday weekend Hes asking me to believe for the first time, or to believe afresh that He sent His Son to die for me. How will I respond?
1) Was it hard or easy for you to see yourself as a sinner? When did that happen?
2) When did you first realize Jesus had died for you? How long did it take for you to surrender to Him?