Matt. 21:1-11 Crowds Can’t be Trusted Palm Sunday, Lent 6 2011
Today is Palm Sunday.
Tradition holds that the story we heard this morning marks the beginning of the end for Jesus. As we know, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem sets off a chain reaction of events that eventually lead him to the cross.
The crowds who welcomed Jesus with open arms and cry “Hosanna” this morning–they’re calling for his Crucifixion just a few days later.
So one lesson we can take with us this morning is that crowds can’t be trusted.
Not in politics, not in religion, not in most of life.
It was true back then, and it’s just as true today. They’ll cheer you into their lives with open arms and all their loyalty one day, and 5 days later they’ll have you flogged and crucified for not being who they thought you were.
If you think I’m being extreme, just think back to all the drama around Basketball star Lebron James leaving Cleveland for Miami.
I know the comparison only goes so far; but the fact remains that crowds of people have pretty high expectations of their heroes.
Cleveland fans are still feeling betrayed; and that was just a game!
The stakes are a lot higher than that with Jesus coming into Jerusalem, you know?
So even though crowds can’t be trusted, we can start to see how complex the situation was.
The crowds were expecting a messiah, you know? A military leader, someone like a brave-heart who would inspire them to revolt and lead them into a new era of independence.
They didn’t get what they expected.
I’ll be honest, I’ve read this passage enough in my life that it’s starting to sound a little tame.
Artwork I’ve seen depicts a Jesus who looks almost as bored as the donkey he’s riding, so it’s hard for me to sense the passion he must have been feeling.
Now, I don’t often use sports imagery in my sermons. But hopefully this will make some sense.
I think that Jesus doing what he did in this story must have been something like if I’d work up the courage to put on a Lebron James jersey and walk onto the court at halftime, in Cleveland, during a game with the Miami Heat (the team Lebron plays for now).
I’d take the court and run a few warm-ups, then I’d start shooting baskets.
The crowd would go nuts. They’d probably understand my actions as making a mockery of their once-beloved hero, and more than likely they’d be cheering me on and adding to the show in whatever ways they could.
My role in that setting would be something like a court jester, you know? I’d be making a fool of myself, but people would understand exactly who my actions were directed at.
I might even gain a few followers in doing something like that.
If you know me, you know that I wouldn’t just do something like that for the attention.
I’d have to have a pretty compelling reason to act like I was Lebron James in front of huge crowds of people.
So what compelled Jesus to pull this stunt, right at the time of the passover?
I can think of a couple of things.
First, it was the trajectory he was on. It has to do with how his life was formed from the very beginning, you know? Not just when he was baptized, but even further back…not just when he was born; but even back when God laid the foundations of the earth, you see?
Jesus is faithful to his purpose from the beginning to the end of time! That’s where we find our hope!
It’s not like he just suddenly decided to ride into town and confront the world, you know?
It wasn’t a sudden change of course, like it would be for me to go to Cleveland and confront Lebron James.
Rather, this was more of a final revelation, where Jesus is saying “Look! This is who I really am!”
* “I’m not a Warrior”
* “I’m not a militant messiah who’s here to force Rome’s hand”
* “I’m riding this donkey with her colt right here with her because that’s the kind of mothering love that’s going to save the world!”
Isn’t it great imagery?! No empire in history could ever arm enough people or wage war long enough to defeat the simple love that even a donkey has for her colt; much less the love that our God has for his people!!!
See!? That’s Jesus’s secret weapon! Matthew has it out there for the world to see…Jesus has both a donkey and her colt right there with him!
So go ahead Pilate! Bring your war-horses and your chariots and your legions of soldiers.
Flex your military muscle right around Passover like you do every year.
Show us who’s boss; threaten us with brute force if a rebellion should arise.
Go ahead, because nothing can protect you from this overwhelming love that Jesus is marching right down main street.
If you can look behind the mockery, that’s the message you can see in this story.
I don’t think the crowds got it, because they had their own expectations of who Jesus was and what he was doing.
They were shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday, but by Friday their shouts of praise had turned into an angry chorus of “Crucify him!”
It’s right for us to give our praise and our worship to Christ who saves us from our sin.
But who’s expectations are foremost in your mind? Are you worshipping this morning because you’re going along with the crowd? Or are you here because you want to see with your own eyes what Jesus is up to next?
Jesus riding these donkeys; it’s an image that pokes fun at the empire, but at the same time it offers such an honest, tender picture of how God rides into town to put things right.
God’s kingdom isn’t built with instruments of war; at least not with Jesus at the center.
Rather it comes on the back of a mama donkey with her colt beside her.
Jesus knew what he was doing, as bizarre as this story seems to me when I read it.
He knew who he was, and he knew where he was going.
Jesus on the donkey is a picture of love going on the offense.
Crowds can’t be trusted, but God is always trustworthy.
So our attitudes should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).