Editor’s note: Just like in past Easter seasons, CTA is offering seven FREE sermon outlines this year. Use these resources in church services, Bible study, mid-week classes, or anywhere else you’d like to help prepare your worshipers for Resurrection Day. This year, the theme is A Love That Never Dies, based on Jeremiah 31:3. You’ll find the sixth sermon below and be sure to download the entire packet of sermons in CTA’s Resource & Idea Center.
In many churches, children look forward to Palm Sunday as a day of celebration. We wave palm branches and use upbeat music. Yet, we grown-ups can’t help but see Palm Sunday more as something of an enigma, a puzzle.
For example, had the “Palm Sunday Parade” with the crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem been planned in advance? Or was it a spontaneous burst of energy and enthusiasm on the part of the people? Yes on both accounts!
Actually, that procession had been planned centuries earlier by God himself. The prophet Zechariah described it:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9 ESV)
It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that Jesus did what he did in order to fulfill the Scriptures. Yet, it would be difficult to imagine that the people of Jerusalem staked out their places early that morning in the same way people in Pasadena get ready for the Rose Bowl Parade.
John does tell us, though, that the people were hoping to see Lazarus as part of the Lord’s entourage. Who would miss the opportunity to see a man who had been dead for four days, now alive and well and talking about it?! (John 12:17–19).
So who were these people who greeted and cheered Jesus on that first Palm Sunday? With that question in mind listen to this account from Matthew’s Gospel:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1–11 ESV)
Did you catch that? The whole city of Jerusalem had been stirred by Jesus! That is why such a great multitude greeted him. We know from the other accounts of this event that children figured prominently in the noise and cheering. This seems to have bothered the religious leaders as much as anything. Perhaps they knew what we know; namely, that it is often through the persistence of a child that adults are brought to the faith.
People sometimes suppose this was the same crowd that, five days later, would call for Jesus’ crucifixion. But that’s doubtful. The people of Palm Sunday seem more like the individuals whom the Savior described as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV). The crowd in Pilate’s courtyard on the morning of Good Friday was smaller, much more organized. They were perhaps even bribed to be there, pawns of the bloodthirsty priests and scribes.
Still today, the streets in the Old City of Jerusalem are as they have been for centuries—rough and not easily traversed, even on foot. From the back of a donkey, the ride must have been quite rough. What was in our Lord’s mind and heart as he rode through those cobblestone streets, his body jostling from one side of the colt to the other?
Certainly, Jesus knew what lay ahead for him: the pain, the passion, the ridicule, the rejection, the cruelty of the cross he would endure. But that was not uppermost in his mind. Instead, he was filled with sadness, sadness so deep that he wept, not for himself but for Jerusalem’s people, for its children. Jesus knew the city’s future. He knew that the cries of these people were misguided, that they were looking for someone to deliver them from Rome, not from sin.
When we think more deeply about it, the picture of Jesus riding on that borrowed donkey can make us cringe. He enters the city just as King Solomon, David’s son, had centuries before. Solomon, too, rode on a humble donkey. No kingly, powerful, prancing war horse in either case! But just as Solomon’s name, drawn from the Hebrew word shalom, implied peace, Jesus was himself the Prince of Peace. Jesus was greater, far greater than Solomon! He was (and is!) King of kings and Lord of lords!
The apostle Paul had both Jesus’ humility and his lordship in mind when he wrote:
Though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8 ESV)
Oh, how the Lord loved the people of Jerusalem, all of them, with an everlasting love, a love that would not die. For Jesus to receive their songs of praise was an act of grace, accepting their prayer, “Hosanna!—Save us, Lord!” And then doing just that.
Oh, how the Lord loves us, reaching out to us in compassion, care, and forgiveness, saying to us:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
Every time we gather for worship, the Lord receives our praises and our cries for help—all because of his goodness, mercy, and grace. He knows that we do not always pray and praise with a pure heart, with a focused mind. He knows that various life issues, troubles, and opportunities distract us, detracting from our worship.
Jesus also knows that our walk through life is a little like traipsing across those cobblestones in old Jerusalem—rough on the feet, not easily traversed, and with many bumps along the way.
Oh, no doubt all of us have good intentions when we gather for worship. Still, is there not in each of us a longing to see Jesus as someone who can wave a magic wand and take away our troubles, as someone who will be the great Deliverer from all of life’s pain and problems?
Jesus knows all of this, too. He knows our hearts and what’s on our minds and what’s going on in our lives behind closed doors. He knows your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and he knows your many sins. Yet he receives your worship anyway, in grace and abiding love. Because of that love, our Lord allows us the privilege of worship. He takes our good intentions for what they are and sanctifies them by the power of the Holy Spirit. He understands our misguided motives and declares that they are forgiven because of what he has graciously done for us on the cross.
He refocuses our attention from our temporal needs and joys to his undying love and the eternal joy of a relationship with himself. He invites us to lift up our hearts and voices to honor him—not because he craves our praise, but because of the benefits we receive as we remember who he is and what he has done for us. He does not need our worship, but we most certainly need to worship! In never-ending love, Jesus receives the cries we offer from the cobblestones of our lives, the shaky, tentative, uneven times of our journey through life.
In never-ending love, Jesus went from the streets of Jerusalem to the way of the cross. From palms to passion; from suffering to death; and then, gloriously, from death to resurrection. In Jesus’ name. Amen.