Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Palm Sunday 29th March 2015
|Mark 11 vv 1 – 11 – Jesus’ triumphal entry (read in the square)||Visual aids|
|Philippians 2 vv 5 – 11 – follow Christ’s humility||1. Palm cross|
|Mark 14 v 1 to 15 end – The passion narrative.||2. ‘When heaven is silent’|
- Introduction. This palm cross (VA1) holds together the two themes for Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and of his suffering and death, his passion, in Jerusalem. Firstly we had the reading of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with people in the crowd calling out, ‘Hosanna’, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ and ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David’. Such enthusiasm is typical of the introduction of a new regime, such as we have seen in recent years in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, following military overthrow and action. Right from Jesus’ infancy the question of Jesus’ kingship had been a matter of great concern to those in authority. Herod the Great had taken very brutal action to try to ensure that any threat to alternative kingship was eliminated. Now the matter of his kingship is raised again by this popular uprising. The national leaders are very perturbed. I plan to look with you at the two events, one, of the triumphal entry and the other, of the passion of Christ; the two superbly represented by the palm crosses, and see how they relate and what their significance is for us.
- The triumphal entry. The crowd that accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem were predominantly Galileans, who were already, in some way, disciples of Jesus (Luke 19 v 37, ‘The whole crowd of disciples’), perhaps some believing in him as a prophet, others as the Messiah, others as a Davidic king. Mark and the other synoptic gospels make much of the arrangements for Jesus to enter Jerusalem. Matthew, writing predominantly for Jews, sees Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah, ‘see your king comes to you riding on a donkey’ (Zech 9 v 9). Educated Jews, familiar with the Hebrew Bible would have understood this quotation as a link into the whole of Zechariah 9 and even into the final section of Zechariah’s prophecy of restoration, in Chapters 9 to 12. Zechariah 9 v 9 actually says’ your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey.
The prophecy continues with, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war horses from Jerusalem and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations (Zech 9 v 10)”. Jesus was coming as a peaceable king not as a political threat. He did not come in armour, riding on a war horse or in a horse-drawn chariot. Why then did he come? He had the insight that the national leaders were leading the nation, with a very legalistic understanding of their religion, rather like the Taliban today, into a situation of conflict and the downfall of the nation, as actually happened in 70 A. D. Jerusalem remained in Gentile control from then until 1948 A. D. If only the national leaders could see that he really was the Messiah, that not only was he not a political threat but that he offered a peaceable alternative to the present policy of the religiopolitical Sanhedrin and the general leadership of rabbis. Jesus knew he had to make a clear statement.
- Christ’s passion. And so Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, to face the Jews arriving from all round the Mediterranean countries to celebrate the most holy festival of the Passover, to celebrate God’s great saving act in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land, to face the leaders of the Jewish nation, the High Priest and members of the Sanhedrin, to face the Roman authorities in the form of Pilate the Roman Governor, to face Herod the Tetrach1, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, whose father had so ruthlessly but ineffectually sought to kill Jesus in his infant years. The charges brought against Jesus were blasphemy, a threat to destroy the temple and a claim to kingship. With all these groups and individuals conspiring against him, surprisingly, it was not Jesus who felt threatened, but everyone else. Jesus had come to Jerusalem knowing that he would face death but in so doing would effect God’s even greater saving act of the New Covenant.
‘Greater’, because it would effect not just the saving of one nation but be available to all nations, his kingship was to be universal, for his kingdom is not of this world, as he said to Pilate, his saving act would not effect a temporal salvation only, but an eternal salvation. To carry this into effect, he was prepared to face the unjust trial, the humiliation and suffering and finally crucifixion, that altogether we call, ‘his passion’. As Zechariah says of the restored Davidic king, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” (Zech 12 v 10). The crowd, briefed by the religious authorities to cry out for his crucifixion, was I believe of a very different composition to the crowd on Palm Sunday. His followers were by now keeping a low profile. Anyone with a Northern accent, from Galilee, would be viewed as an associate of Jesus. The crowd, I suggest, probably had a similar composition to that which gathered 50 days later, with people from Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Rome and Crete, to whom the Apostle Peter said “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
- Injustice. Does God care, does he care about the injustices, the unfairness of life, the death sentences meted out to Christians in Pakistan and Iran on trumped up charges of blasphemy, the Christians and others fleeing from their homelands in Iraq and Syria because of violence from ISIL and their own government? We see in Jesus, who is God, and who fully identified himself with the injustices and suffering of this world, that ‘Yes’ he does care. The Old Testament in many places wrestles with this question of the justice of God, with the basic premise that a person commits a sin, offends God and God then punishes him or, that his chosen people of Israel sin by worshipping idols, by the rich oppressing the poor, and God sends them into exile away from their beloved promised land. But there are problems with a rigorous application of this doctrine. The disciples ask Jesus about a man born blind, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” If there were always a direct cause and effect, if always judgement immediately followed sin then we would live in a very harsh world. To anyone with an affliction, an illness or suffering hardship, one’s response would be, “I mustn’t interfere with God’s judgement, I must not support or comfort this person. He must learn the lesson that God is seeking to teach him”.
I recently read a very interesting book (VA2), ‘When heaven is silent’, that someone kindly put into the Church library and that I will return immediately after this service.
The author Ronald Dunn, a Baptist minister in the US, whose son suffered from bi-polar disorder and in his late teens committed suicide, says that ‘Why?’ is not even a relevant question to ask in the face of suffering. He himself suffered serious depression in a setting where Christians just don’t have mental illness, for it is a sign of a lack of faith and especially in a pastor. He wrote his book to counter this prevailing attitude to mental illness and says that the relevant question is ‘God, what next?’ In other words, being positive, ‘Where do I go from here, even if it is learning to live with mental illness?’, ‘What does God want me to do now?’ The appalling deliberate crash by the depressed co-pilot of the Germanwings Airbus A320 emphasises the importance of openness about mental illness.
- Conclusion. In conclusion this is a world of suffering, of injustice and of sickness, in which we suffer because of the sin of others as well as our own sin, in which the sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, as well as the tsunami, hurricane and flood destroying the homes and possessions of rich and poor, but especially the poor. They afflict the person looking to God, as well as the atheist and unbeliever. We do however learn to see in Christ, not only the Davidic King of Israel but also the King of the nations who demonstrates to all peoples the love of God and invites us to follow him in the way of the Cross. May our new palm crosses (VA1) be a reminder to us in the coming 11 months, until next Ash Wednesday, of our Lord and Saviour who triumphed in the most extreme suffering, who speaks to us in his resurrection, that God does care and invites us to trust him and to triumph through all the circumstances of life. What next?
1500 words approx.
- The Herods
(1) Herod the Great. Born 73 B. C. King of the Jews 40 – 4 B. C.
(2) Archelaus (Herod the Ethnarch). Elder son of H the Gt. Reigned in Judea (Matt 2 v 22) 4 B. C. to 6 A. D.
(3) Herod the Tetrach (Antipas). Younger son of H the Gt. Reigned in Galilee and Perea from 4 B. C. to 39 A. D, from Tiberias (22 A. D.), which he had built, on shore of Galilee. Luke 2 v 19 etc, 13 v 31, 23 vv 7ff, Mk 6 vv14 – 28.
(4) Herod Agrippa. Son of Aristobulus and grandson of H the Gt., referred to as ‘Herod the King’ in Acts 12 v 1. In A. D. 37 given the territories in the NE of Palestine by the Emperor Gaius (Caligula). In A. D. 39 given Gaililee and Perea, when Antipas was banished.
(5) Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa, born A. D. 27. Received title of King from Emp. Claudius and given the territories north and north east of Palestine. Territory extended by Nero in A. D. 56. Ruled from Caesarea Philippi and change its name to Neronius.
From ‘The New Bible Dictionary’ – IVP Article ‘Herod’