Today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H. H as in Hosanna? Home? Health? Heaven? Happy? My grandson would add Hudson!
In the church calendar this Sunday is the celebration of Palm Sunday. Loud Hosannas rang out from the joyful crowds welcoming our Lord into Jerusalem. The Gospel of John records, “(12) … the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. (13) They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 (NIV) Yes today’s lesson is sponsored by the letter H but not the word Hosanna! There is another H word, maybe even two, that came to mind as I looked at the events of that week in our Lord’s life.
No treachery is worse than betrayal by a family member or closely trusted friend. Julius Caesar knew such treachery. Among the conspirators who assassinated the Roman leader on March 15, 44 B.C. was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, he had favoured him as a son.
“According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, Caesar ceased to struggle and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face, asked the famous question, “You too, Brutus?” (Today in the Word August 13, 1992).
Many years ago, when I pastored in Pincher Creek we put on an inter-church pageant of sorts. I got the dubious role of Judas Iscariot. Lynda even made me a pouch for my 30 pieces of silver! When it came time for the kiss it really sank in how low can a friend go!
We tend to think of Judas as an unbeliever and a traitor, and thus we place him in a category all by itself, rather than to see Judas as a man not all that different from you or me, which is exactly where the discomfort comes from.
Judas was a man who seemed to be a genuine follower of Jesus, a close trusted friend. He was a man who had experienced and had been a channel of God’s power displayed. He was very much like the other disciples, he did not stand out from them, nor was he ever suspected by them. He even seems to have been somewhat of a leader among those disciples. They trusted him as a friend trusts a friend.
Judas’ downfall came from a flaw evident earlier in his life, in a secret sin kept within. He was a man who seems to have loved money too much and Jesus too little. He was a man who heard Jesus’ teachings first hand, but failed to obey them. His failure was progressive, taking place over 3 years, and — by means of a sequence of decisions.
Judas was not forced to sin by Satan, but was surely tempted and assisted in his fall. He was made vulnerable to Satan’s involvement by his sin of greed. Satan got a “death grip” on Judas by means of his fleshly desires and their dominion in his life. He did not choose to follow Satan, but he did choose to follow his own desires. And while it is clear to the reader that Judas became possessed by Satan, we do not know that Judas was ever consciously aware of this.
To put it differently, Judas made choices which resulted in his possession by Satan, but we are never told that he actively sought to be possessed.
From Judas’ twisted point of view his sin was not all that bad. In fact, he thought what he was doing would help Jesus to claim His throne that very week. And those loud Hosannas, that jubilant entrance into Jerusalem gave Judas the gumption to do what he did. For Judas the ends would justify the means, or so he thought.
Remember this infamous villain of Passion Week was just a person like you and me! He was not born a betrayer, but he became one, by a progression of increasingly wrong or sinful choices.
So what was it about that Triumphal entry that gave Judas the gumption to betray his closest friend?
It was an event that would fully proclaim to all the leaders and people of Jerusalem that their Messiah had come. An event that was orchestrated and carried out by Christ himself in fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies.
Here’s another H word.
To us anyway. Jesus is and was the HERO of that passion filled week. To the common person Jesus was a “prophet from Nazareth”. A man who had done many wondrous things. As the procession began the people gathered around, some out of curiosity no doubt, wanting to perhaps see a new mighty work, or to gaze upon this man who raised Lazarus from the dead. Such a hero had to be seen if opportunity arose. And the scriptures record that all of Jerusalem was stirred by this brief appearance of the Messiah.
As I read before, some got so caught up in the excitement that they “took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! “ “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”” “Hosanna to the Son of David”…”Hosanna in the highest!”.
Had the Spirit of God brought to their remembrance what the prophet David had written a thousand years before? Ps.118:25 “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you”.
It seems that the people began shouting cheers for their HERO, and their Saviour. They were fed up with the Roman occupation and they wanted the promised deliverer, the one whom Zechariah had also prophesied would come. “See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. But they wanted him on their terms not on His. They wanted Him to wipe out their earthly oppressors. And yes, Christ truly was their Messiah, even his mode of transportation proved that. The disciples had found that donkey just as Jesus had foretold. They even had to speak the words Jesus had forewarned them so that the owners didn’t object. And in fulfilment of the prophets Christ rode before them.
So they proclaimed Him their king…loud Hosannas to ‘the king of the Jews’. But in their Hearts, it was only if he ruled on their terms! Hearts! -yes there is another H-word.
We too, at times approach God in this fashion. We may even utter praises and platitudes of servanthood but when it comes right down to it, Jesus is only our Messiah, our Lord, when it suits us. The rest of the time he is that historical ‘prophet of Nazareth’ who lived years ago. Who is Jesus in your Heart? (pause)
The owner of a photographic studio tells the story of a college boy who came in with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. In removing the photograph from the frame, the studio owner noticed the touching inscription on the back, written by the girlfriend:
“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you for ever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.” It was signed “Dianne” and contained a P.S. “If we should ever break up, I want this picture back”.
The very next Friday the same people who shouted Hosanna could be found shouting, “Crucify Him!”. Hypocrisy, don’t you agree?
Well how did the disciples react to all these events? Did they take them to Heart?
Some of the disciples were sent ahead for the donkey as I’ve already mentioned. Can you imagine their reaction when they went into Bethphage and there was the donkey just as Jesus had said it would be? And wouldn’t your jaw drop and hit the ground when the challenge came and the answer accepted just as you had been told?
Of course, it happened that way. They knew it would– they had walked with the Lord and saw all the miracles and healing and other wonders. So they brought the donkey back to the Lord and they placed their cloaks over it as a saddle.
And then the Scriptures recorded that they stood silently as the rest of parade went on. HAH! Hudson would say, that word has two h’s!
They began excitedly telling how all those mighty works had come to pass and they praised God loudly for all they had seen Jesus do. They hailed him as God’s king and chanted that the effect of His coming was “peace in Heaven” (as Luke records) and glory in the Highest” Praises befitting only the King of Kings –God Himself. (Luke 19:38)
We too are called to give praise to God for what he has done in our lives and to bear witness to what he is doing in the lives of people around us. The disciple’s reaction was to lead the people of Jerusalem in worship of the King. Like them we are to proclaim Jesus Christ the Messiah and get all excited about our faith. But more often then not, we are quietly telling nobody of the greatest thing that ever happened in our lives. Go-figure!
Now, lets look at the reaction of the Pharisees. The scriptures tell that they too were present in all this hoopla. But they didn’t join in. Instead we’re told that they got in a HUFF, they were ‘indignant’. They stubbornly refused to believe that this man riding on a donkey was the King of Kings. They told him to rebuke his disciples! Tell them to stop praising you as king. (cf. John 12:19)
Exasperated, they cried out in another HUFF that “the whole world had gone after Jesus” (John 12:19). Of course, they didn’t realize that the interest of the crowd was to be a quickly passing thing. It was Hypocrisy! They were a fickle bunch who weren’t worshipping Christ. Sure, they shouted loud Hosannas but in their Hearts this Hero was worse than a thief.
Only a remnant, a chosen few would be true worshippers, believing in Him as God.
Sometimes, we’re even like those Pharisees, aren’t we? We tell people that if they aren’t worshipping God the way we believe they should, well they shouldn’t worship him at all. This has been a major stumbling block of the faith since it began. Long before Palm Sunday. In fact, it started way back in Genesis with Cain and Able. Really! Cain murdered Able over his style of worship.
But on that Palm Sunday, the people worshipped with shouts of praise, perhaps even with hands raised and they certainly were waving palm branches. They even gave Christ the red-carpet treatment with the cloaks off their backs.
So what was the Hero’s reaction? At first it appears that Jesus is elated with the response — but it isn’t long lasting. Christ knew that the “people worshipped him with their lips but their hearts were far from him” (cf. Mark 7:6) And as he drew near Jerusalem, he wept for them.
They had missed the golden opportunity. If the people had only received Him as the Messiah, it would have meant peace for them. But they didn’t recognise that He was the source of peace. Now it was too late. They had already determined what they would do with the Son of God.
Remember, those who had been shouting Hosanna on Sunday were by Friday Shouting Crucify Him! They rejected Him and their Hearts were blinded. And our Savior looked on and lamented for Jerusalem.
A.W. Griffith Thomas has said, “Let us sit at Christ’s feet until we learn the secret of His tears, and beholding the sins and sorrows of city and countryside, weep over them too”. Do we weep over the sins of our city, our province and our nation? When injustice and immorality are condoned by the masses are we moved to our knees in prayer? When we see people rejecting Christ are we moved to tears, knowing that they have taken another step closer to hell?
With tears in His eyes, Christ foretold in detail of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. “Not one stone “would be left “upon another” (Matthew 24:2). And in a few years’ history records that Jerusalem was destroyed, just as Christ had said it would be, as he wept for the lost. He had visited the city with an offer of salvation. But the people only wanted Him on their terms.
We often celebrate Palm Sunday as a day of worshipping the King. And rightly so! It is good to worship our Messiah! But let’s not forget the anguish that Christ experienced as he saw before Him a nation who rejected salvation and brought upon themselves destruction. The prophecies were fulfilled that had long awaited the Messiah.
Even today, many call themselves Christians but like the people on that Palm Sunday they do so on their own terms. Christ is the Messiah, The King of Kings. And the Lord of Lords. But He is the Messiah only for those who come to Him on His terms. For those hypocrites, Jesus laid down His life. It’s Palm Sunday but Good Friday is coming! Are you ready?