(A sermon based on Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm Sunday 2014)
“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’”
The reactions that Jesus got from the crowd that accompanied him as he rode into Jerusalem and that the got from the people in the city were reactions that, we may be sure, he anticipated—indeed, that he intentionally provoked.
After all, he went to Jerusalem with his followers on purpose.
After all, he sent for the donkey on which he would ride into the city, knowing full well that his doing so would make a statement that he was carrying out the prophecy that Matthew quoted in verse 5.
After all, while he at times tried to tamp down the fervor of the crowds over the expectations and hopes that he provoked in them, this time he not only did not try to snuff out the flames but seems to have purposefully fanned them.
After all, the first thing that he did upon entering the city was to go to the temple and cause a commotion there by running off the merchants and money-changers who were callously getting in the way of people’s—and especially of Gentiles’—worship of God.
Clearly, Jesus intentionally stirred things up on Palm Sunday.
But Jesus did not stir things up just to be stirring things up; he stirred things up for very particular and important reasons. He stirred things up because it was time for him to complete his mission of showing the people of the world just how far God would go to love them. He stirred things up because he wanted to call attention to who he really was: not a militaristic and nationalistic Messiah who would take power and rule by force but a humble Messiah who would win the victory over sin, death, and oppression through service and sacrifice, through death on a cross and through his resurrection from the dead.
Jesus’ effort to draw attention to himself worked. His followers spread their cloaks and their palm branches on the road in front of Jesus as he rode the donkey into the city and the people in the city got all worked up wondering what all the commotion was about.
But…whereas on Palm Sunday people adored him, on Good Friday they would turn their eyes away from him. Whereas on Palm Sunday people laid their garments before him, on Good Friday soldiers would cast lots for his robe. Whereas on Palm Sunday people praised him for who they thought he was, on Good Friday they would be silent in the face of who he really was.
Five days after Jesus rode into Jerusalem, no one would be praising him and no one would be wondering about his significance as his body hung lifeless on a cross. The exuberant celebration and wondering consternation provoked by his entry into the city would be replaced by the oppressive horror of crucifixion.
But now … well, now we know who Jesus really is; we know that he is the Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world and that he is the Suffering Servant who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. When we really get hold of those truths, Jesus still shakes things up. When the Church gets hold of those truths and begins to live out his way of radical love, amazing grace, and selfless sacrifice in the world, then the Church shakes things up like Jesus did.
Your ministers have decided that it’s time to shake some things up around here. You will have noticed that this morning’s service was a little bit different than what you are accustomed to and you will notice other differences over the next few weeks. Beginning today we are going to be offering Children’s Church every Sunday. Over the next few weeks we will be announcing some changes to our schedule for the summer months and some very special events and emphases that will take place during those months.
We have good motives in making some of these changes. For one thing, we frankly want to get your attention. For another thing, we want to try to make some positive steps to increase participation in worship and in discipleship. For yet another thing, we want to listen to some of your heart-felt recommendations.
But please know that our primary motive is not to increase attendance in worship or to increase interest in church activities; our main motive is to draw attention to our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, we want to draw attention to our Lord Jesus Christ not as we want him to be, not as we imagine him to be, and not as we expect him to be, but rather as he really is.
Whatever changes come and whatever efforts we make to increase the level of participation, please be assured that they are motivated not by a desire to have big crowds or to make a big impression. We are shaking some things up because we want people, starting with us, to see and to know who Jesus really is.
Attendance and participation were high on Palm Sunday when it looked like Jesus was going to be and do what everyone wanted him to be and do—when it looked like God’s way for his people was going to be smooth, easy, and desirable. But on Good Friday, when God’s way for his Son and for his people was most clearly seen—a way that demanded love, humility, service, and sacrifice—attendance and participation bottomed out.
Yes, Jesus on Palm Sunday shook things up—but that shaking was but a faint prelude to the way he would shake things up on Good Friday.
Our shaking up of things around here is intentional and purposeful, but it is not a shaking up of things for the sake of shaking things up; it is a prelude to what will really shake things up: our being crucified with Christ and raised to new life in him …