It’s not what we expect, but what God wants…
The Palm Sunday sermon at the Long Ridge Congregational Church (non-UCC) in North Stamford, Connecticut, was delivered by Rev. Kevin Butterfield. His text was John 12:12-15.
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!” [Save us]
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
“Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt."
The feast of the Passover was a joyous occasion for the Israelites at any time. But for the great crowd following Jesus into Jerusalem and rushing out of the city to greet him, there was an almost delirious expectation that Jesus was about to become their earthly king who would deliver them from the rule and taxes of Rome.
The problem for those people was not the Romans, but themselves. They had drifted far from the real spirit of the Mosaic covenant between God and the people of Israel.
They expected earthly, material blessings. They failed to see that the issue was not who ruled politically, but whether God ruled their hearts.
Probably some of the people who welcomed Jesus with Hosannas when he arrived in Jerusalem would soon thereafter be among the crowd screaming to Pontius Pilate, “Crucify him!”
Even Jesus’s disciples did not yet fully understand the nature of the kingdom of God that Jesus had come to establish. They were arguing among themselves about who among them would hold the highest position in what they expected to be the earthly kingship of Jesus.
Without understanding what they were doing the great crowd that surrounded Jesus as he entered Jerusalem was welcoming God into a new covenant with the whole world, through the blood sacrifice that Jesus was about to make of himself in his crucifixion and resurrection.
We now in our churches should fully comprehend that our worship in this Holy Week ought to be a welcoming of God into our lives. We should rededicate ourselves to preparing the way to welcome Jesus for the kingdom of the spirit.
We will, however, be sorely disappointed if we expect that following Jesus will lead to a trouble-free life. As Jesus warned his disciples:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
Jesus’s repeated message was:
Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
Following Jesus is not for the purpose of getting our selfish prayers answered. It’s to glorify God by living the best lives we can, by loving each other, by being decent, thoughtful people. It’s about praying to God for His guidance; it’s about listening spiritually for His inspiration telling us what we need to do to help others.
Palm Sunday communion reminds us of Jesus’s sacrifice of his life to enable our spiritual rebirth. It reminds us that our selfish nature too must die if we are truly to accept Jesus as our Savior.