Jesus Shook the World
Apr 02, 2023
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
It is that time again; the time for me to sing the “Hosanna” song from Jesus Christ Superstar in my house, my car, my office. I’ve told you about this before, I know; it’s like an illness I cannot shake – more than 50 years of belting it out when Palm Sunday is on the horizon. (It was one of the few times my now deceased cat Sophie hid from me.) But, when you consider that Christians have begun Holy Week with palm branches in their hands and hosannas on their lips since the 4th century, perhaps my little habit is not so notable.
As we gather here today with palms, proclaiming words from psalms, the same scene is reenacted in the streets of Jerusalem and all over the world, including in churches up and down Market Street. People are crying out to Jesus, and whether or not they know it, they are saying, “Save Us”, which is the meaning of “Hosanna!” Scholars are divided on whether, in its use in the psalms, it was a positive shout of jubilee or a cry for help. And what was its significance in that first palm parade, featuring Jesus on the donkey?
I suppose that depended on who one asked, since those who welcomed Jesus had varied understandings of who he was and what he could do, although leading a rebellion to overthrow the Romans who dominated Palestine at the time was at the top of many lists. One thing is for sure, though, there is excitement in the air. So much so that we read that “the whole city was in turmoil” as Jesus entered Jerusalem.
A more accurate translation may be that the whole city was shaken, since the English word for seismic comes from the Greek word used in this passage. So, it is a jarring, earth-quaking situation. There are only three other times that the word is used in Matthew. First, when the Magi came to Herod and asked where they might find Jesus, the city was “shaken” out of fear for how Herod might react. It’s also used at Jesus’ death, when there was a literal earthquake, and when the soldiers realized that Jesus’ body was gone, they were “shaken” to the point of looking dead. Each time the word is used, it is a significant moment in the life of Jesus, a moment that impacts large numbers of people.
It is clear, then, that his arrival in Jerusalem was a big deal, but the question the shaken city asked, “Who is this?” There are hints that would have been more obvious to those first palm wavers than to us. First, Matthew reports that Jesus began his trip to Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives; Jewish expectations of the Messiah’s arrival were strongly linked to that Mount. Second, the fact that Jesus arranged for a donkey to ride and came into the Holy City on it fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, “your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey…”; Jesus was the one to whom the prophet pointed. Third, it was the Passover, so the city was filled with pilgrims who sensed the royal symbolism of his ride. So, the crowd carpeted his path with both their cloaks and branches they had cut from trees. Then, they began chanting phrases from Psalm 118, used in ancient times to greet a returning king. Fourth, they called Jesus the Son of David, identifying him as a descendent of the royal line from which the Messiah was to come. Finally, when the question is asked, “Who is this?”, many identify Jesus as a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Indeed, his arrival that day was the first of the seismic shocks that shook Jerusalem during the coming week. Of course, we know “the rest of the story”, but this still is a good time for us to address the question that was raised that day; who is Jesus, to us?
Commentator Doug Bratt points out that how we answer that question may determine how we respond to our Lord. For example, he writes, if we identify him as one who shapes the political realm, who will fix our country’s and the world’s problems, we may be disappointed. Jesus empowers leaders and directs decision-makers, but it’s clear that some of Jesus’ followers endure unjust governments, even persecution, and there are leaders whose lives do not reflect Jesus’ way.
Or, if we see Jesus as one who fixes our personal problems, we also may be disappointed. Jesus supports and guides us, but his followers are not guaranteed perfect marriages or children or friends or jobs or economic success.
Or, if we see Jesus as the healer who will fix all our imperfections, we may be disappointed. While Jesus strengthens and comforts us, not all his followers recover from illness and disability plagues many of those whom Jesus loves. (1)
Who is Jesus? When he was born the angel said that he had come to save people from their sin. He is the one who closed the gap between people and God by forgiving the sin that separated us. Through Jesus, we are God’s loved and forgiven children; God’s power and presence is with us as we face the challenges of being imperfect people in an imperfect world, and look forward to the resurrection promised us because Jesus conquered death.
One reason this week that we call “Holy” is so important is that during it we become a part of a story that is larger than ourselves, a story that conveys an eternal truth. We not only join the universal church in remembering Jesus’ passion, but as the week unfolds, we follow him, step by step, into Jerusalem, to the Passover celebration with his friends, as he kneels and washes their feet, to his betrayal, arrest, trail and death. And, finally, a week from today, to the empty tomb.
As we do so, we are better able to grasp who Jesus is for us. Today we shout, “Hosanna!” It may be a cry of celebration or a plea for help. In either case, the one to whom we proclaim it shook the world. AMEN
- Sermon Commentary for Matthew 21:1-11, April 5, 2020, www.cepreaching.org