Far Beyond Our Expectations

Mar 24, 2024

Palm Sunday
Text: Mark 11:1-11
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     It’s always interesting to be corrected by a preschooler. This was my week to lead preschool “religion class”, so I decided to talk about Palm Sunday. The cardinal rule of such interactions is to keep it simple, so I began by saying that this Sunday will be a special day for everyone who loves Jesus, and a little one proclaimed, “It’s Easter!” So, I affirmed that Easter is a special day, but before Easter we have Palm Sunday, and this Sunday is Palm Sunday. I was then corrected by the same child; the day is Easter. So, I repeated my previous affirmation about Easter, but … and quickly began to share the Palm Sunday story. It was then that I heard a mutter from a familiar source: Easter!
     One can hardly blame that preschooler since Easter is more exciting than Palm Sunday and certainly more fun than the other services during this week that we call holy. In many congregations the entire passion narrative is read today to make sure the account of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion are heard before Easter arrives, since fewer and fewer people attend the Thursday and Friday services.
     Here at Faith Lutheran Church, we take one event at a time, beginning with Palm Sunday, which, admittedly, was over almost as soon as it began. Before you know it, the Palm Sunday parade ends and the people who waved the palms were rejecting Jesus. It’s because they did not see Jesus for who he was, but who they wanted, that is expected, him to be.
     Here’s the context: Israel was dominated by Rome. During a festival like the Passover, when pilgrims came to the Temple, if they looked up they saw the rooftops of the Antonia Fortress, which abutted the Temple, on which Roman soldiers stood, their spear tips gleaming in the sun. Still, the Jews had not given up hope. The ancient prophecies said a Savior would come – that king would someday ride into Jerusalem to deliver God’s people from their oppression.
     It was said this would happen on Passover. So, on the Sunday we remember today, hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world were in the Holy City for Passover. Quoting Pastor Kevin Miller, “As they fill the streets, a victory parade starts to form at the edge of the city – a two-pile parade that will go into the heart of Jerusalem. People turn to each other and say: ‘This prophet from Nazareth – Jesus – he’s the one. He has to be. He just healed two people who were blind. It’s incredible!” (1)
     And, so, Jesus arrived, riding on a donkey just as the Prophet Zechariah had predicted: “Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey, even on a donkey’s colt.”  (Zechariah 9: 9) Not only that, he came from the Mount of Olives, where the Prophets said the Messiah would arrive.
     Jesus received a king’s welcome as cloaks and leafy branches were thrown down to create a royal carpet. The crowd shouted, “Hosanna,” which meant, “Save us! Deliver us!” It was a cry for help reflecting their belief that Jesus was coming to their rescue. And, they recited a line from Psalm 118, words used to welcome a king.
     “Suddenly,” writes author Jason Porterfield, “the scene looks less like a jubilant pep rally and more like the start of a political rebellion. These people were not simply celebrating the arrival of a religious hero. They were trying to make Jesus their king.” (2)
     The irony was that Jesus was their king, but not in the way they desired or expected. He was a peaceable king, the Lamb of God who called his followers to embrace the way of sacrifice. This is not what the people…and a disciple named Judas…had in mind.
     In his book, Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace throughout Holy Week, Mr. Porterfield offers his opinion that the only reason you betray a friend is because you believe that friend first betrayed you and Judas had come to realize that Jesus was not the Messiah he expected. I’ll quote him, “On Palm Sunday, Judas watched in confusion as Jesus wept upon a donkey while the crowds hailed him as liberator. On Monday, Judas stood aghast as Jesus drove some of his fellow countrymen out of the temple instead of the Gentiles. On Tuesday, Judas listened in horror as Jesus ordered his followers to not fight for the temple’s survival. And, finally, on Thursday Judas could hardly believe his ears when, not once, but twice, Jesus spoke of his imminent death. Jesus had betrayed Judas’ expectations, so now Judas would betray him.” (3)
     During Holy Week, before we become indignant at the crowd and Judas, perhaps we should admit that like them there are times when our expectations of Jesus are not meant. Pastor and author Barbara Brown Taylor gives a good summary of how this happens: “You want the Messiah to come and you want him to come right now. You want clear, helpful answers to your questions. You want to be relieved of the burden of waking up every day without knowing what you’re supposed to be doing next. You want to put your hand under the pillow and find the answer there like a quarter from the tooth fairy, but morning after morning all you feel is the sheet.” (4)
     In other words, we want Jesus to be a simple solution to our problems. The question becomes, “What can Jesus to for us?” not “What can Jesus do in and through us?” Listen to these thoughts from Pastor Leonard Vander Zee.
Sometimes we wonder if the crucified Jesus is the one.
We thought maybe he’d make our lives easy, but he calls us to live more deeply.
We thought he’d erase our suffering, but we discovered him next to us in our pain.
We thought he’d put us on top, but he tells us to identify with those on the bottom.
We thought he’d make us strong, but he calls us to learn strength through our weakness.
We thought he’d destroy our enemies, but he asks us to love them.
We thought he’d make us leaders, but he invites us to be servants. (5)
    Jesus is not quite what Judas, the crowd or we expected, but he is the Savior we need, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. During this Holy Week we will again be reminded of what he did and who he is – for us -  which is far beyond our expectations. AMEN      
  1. Regime Change” by Kevin Miller, Matthew 2:1-13, April 5, 2009
  2. Fight Like Jesus: How Jesus Waged Peace throughout Holy Week by Jason Porterfield, Herald Press, 2022, pg. 32
  3. Same as #2, pgs. 114-115
  4. “Disappointed with Jesus” by Leonard Vander Zee, 2016, Church of the Servant, www.cepreaching.org
  5. Same as #5