Pastor Cliff Bergman
Given the disruption of the normal flow of life this year, it would be easy to overlook this Sunday is Palm Sunday; the Sunday when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem amid the people’s acclaim. The fact it is recorded in each of the 4 Gospels: Matt 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-22, highlights its importance.
Perhaps reflecting on that historic day in history is helpful in keeping things in perspective as we face uncertainty and unprecedented restrictions due to COVID-19.
Jesus and His disciples began the day at Bethany, a town some 2 miles southeast of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Jesus had spent the previous evening there with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom He had restored to life. They went through the neighboring village of Bethphage from where Jesus sent 2 of His disciples ahead to arrange for a donkey for Him to ride on. From the Mount of Olives, Jesus had a panoramic view of Jerusalem and the majestic Temple on the other side of the Kidron Valley which runs between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem. When Jesus’ disciples returned with the donkey, they continued their journey to Jerusalem and likely entered through the Golden Gate.
Undoubtedly, as Jesus and His disciples made their way from Bethany, people joined them on their journey to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, pilgrims, perhaps from Galilee who had come for the Passover which would be celebrated in just a few days, formed a large part of the multitude who welcomed Jesus. They spread their cloaks before Him and waved palm branches while praising God, using the prophetic words of Psalm 118:26 which pointed to that very day.
The chorus of praise is described in:
Luke 19:37–38 (ESV) 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
It was only a few days earlier Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and the news spread quickly. Jesus would make the ideal king; He would surely put an end to the oppressive rule of the Romans; at last they would again control their own country. Watching with dismay, the Pharisees, who were also present, were troubled at the prospect of Jesus becoming king. As they listened to the shouts of praise they told Jesus to rebuke His disciples. To which Jesus replied, Luke 19:40 (ESV) He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
This event was of such significance that the inanimate rocks would not be able to restrain themselves from shouting their acclaim for Jesus as He came to secure His Kingdom. Few realized at the time it was fulfillment of the prophecy recorded 500 years earlier by the Prophet Zechariah.
Zechariah 9:9 (ESV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
That prophecy was fulfilled down to the detail of entering the city, not on a horse of victory as the people would have expected, but rather humbly, on a donkey. Examples of fulfilled prophecy serve to authenticate the reliability of our Bibles.
The unfolding of history since Adam and Eve had disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden looked forward to this week which would end with Jesus’ victory over sin and satan. The people that day stood on the momentous watershed of history – the week when Jesus would voluntarily lay down His life as the price for people’s sins and secure His invitation to people to repent of their sins and place their faith and trust in Him for their salvation. It is no wonder that if the people were silent, the rocks would cry out – Jesus had come! If the people didn’t acclaim His arrival, they would! Jesus had come to complete the mission He was given by His Father when He left the glories of heaven to come to earth where He clothed Himself with humanity at Bethlehem some 33 years earlier. He was about to do what no one else in the entire universe was qualified or able to – deal with sin, a condition far worse than any imaginable infection or hardship. Sin is the biggest issue humankind faces.
There is one point in the Biblical record of that triumphant day which may at first seem a bit out of place. It is only mentioned in Luke’s Gospel,
Luke 19:41 (ESV) “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it.”
The following verse gives us some insight into why Jesus, despite all the acclaim He received, wept.
Luke19:42(ESV) “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Sadly, despite the shouts of acclaim for Jesus, most failed to understand that the way to peace was not political, it wasn’t about defeating their arch enemy the Romans, or securing victory over the domestic problems of the day, but it was spiritual. First and foremost their greatest need was peace with God, and it was sin which stood between them and God. Obtaining peace with God could only be accomplishing by Jesus going to the cross as a sacrifice for sin, something which had been foreshadowed by the endless scarifies for hundreds of years. Something they would be reminded of in just a few days as they sacrificed their Passover lambs. Jesus wept, because the crowd that day failed to understand as prophecy was fulfilled before their very eyes that the road to peace meant they needed to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus as God’s provision for their sin and transgressions. They needed to unequivocally place their faith in trust in Jesus, rather than in their own self-effort, commendable deeds and qualities, and so on. They needed to realize that the sole means of salvation, then and now, is by grace, through faith, in Christ alone. They, and everyone since, needed to experience the newness of life Jesus offered and be set free from their sins.
As we process the uncertainty and worldwide disruption and death due to COVID-19, our own sense of security and stability may be eroded. Some of the effects of this pandemic are very real; we live in relative isolation and need to turn to social media and technology to maintain contact with our family and friends; Beverley and I, with the help of our family, have learned about Zoom, a means to visually connect with our children and grandchildren. Many are affected by the downturn of Canada’s economy, or you may have children or grandchildren, or perhaps friends and acquaintances, who have experienced job loss or severe financial disruptions. It is very conceivable we will know someone who is infected, or someone who dies as a result. A friend of ours in Calgary lives very near the McKenzie Towne seniors home which has a large number of infected residents and as of yesterday, 8 had died.
Consequently it is important for us to remind ourselves that our hope is in the Lord, that Jesus is the Solid Rock upon whom our confidence rests. As much as we appreciate so many things around us, it is our relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ that is our paramount value and which lasts throughout eternity.
This experience is an opportunity for each of us to be reminded of the fundamentals of our faith and the reason for the hope we profess; that all of us who have repented of our sins and placed our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life, are His children, and therefore recipients of His provisions for us.
John 5:24 (ESV) Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
For some, COVID-19, represents an invitation to address their sin and turn in repentance to God, through His Son Jesus Christ. To accept the frequently repeated invitation throughout Scripture, to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and be born again.
May each of you be reminded today that Jesus reigns and is seated at the right hand of His Father because He triumphed over sin and satan. We are therefore secure in Him!