Video Palm Sunday Service
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 12:12-19
April 05, 2020

God and Jesus in the Raging River

There was a lot of excitement stirring in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday many years ago. A group of the Jewish people had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.

Remember Lazarus? He was Jesus’s good friend who got sick and died. Jesus stood outside of His tomb and wept. Then Jesus raised His voice and spoke: “Lazarus. Come out of that tomb!” And the dead man came alive again and came out of that tomb in obedience to Jesus’s voice.

Now Jerusalem was jammed with people for Passover. The group of people that saw Jesus raise Lazarus testified about it to others. The word spread like wildfire in Jerusalem.

The people in Jerusalem also heard that Jesus was coming to the City from Bethany. Of course, they had to go out and see this Jesus, and especially, this Lazarus. Was it really true what Jesus did? Did this Lazarus character they had been hearing about really exist? There they are. They see Lazarus and Jesus in flesh and blood in broad daylight.

They get Palm branches. They join the celebration because of the miracle. They take up the words from Psalm 118. “Hosanna. Lord save us. Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

Do they know what they are saying? Do they know what they are proclaiming Jesus to be? How do we answer that when five days from now they will be getting riled up by the Jewish ruling council to shout out: “Crucify Him!” Did He become a bitter disappointment? Are they thinking that the One who raised Lazarus could not now save Himself from those conspiring against Him, and from the filthy Romans? Did they think He was a joke?

Or is it that He didn’t do what they wanted?

Apparently, they did not understand God’s purposes in relation to their deepest need, which is deliverance from sin and death.

Whatever they really understood about Jesus on that first Palm Sunday, what they say about Him from Psalm 118 is true. Jesus really does come in the Name of the Lord. He bears the Name of the Lord in His own person. He completely fulfills the cry: “Lord save us.”

Jesus finds a young donkey, a colt. He sits on it. The words spoken by the Lord through the prophet Zechariah five hundred years before are fulfilled: “Behold, your King comes to you, seated upon the donkey’s colt” (Zechariah 9:9 ESV). It is coming true what the Lord also said through Zechariah: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. . . . I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you” (Zechariah 2:10, 11 ESV). “Daughter of Zion” is a reference to the people of Israel and to Jerusalem.

The Lord comes humble on a donkey among the people. He came among them like this so we can know that He comes for us, for you and me. For we are just the people too. He dignifies us by coming for us.

God fulfills His promises. He works out His plan even over many centuries. All mankind is encompassed in His plan. You are encompassed in His plan.

There were two other groups of people there that day. Jesus’s disciples and some Pharisees. Let’s talk about the Pharisees.

They were probably important and powerful Pharisees from Jerusalem. They see what is going on. They can’t deny what Jesus did for Lazarus. It is a fact staring them in the face. It was testified to by the multitudes who saw it.

But they are so blinded by their own self-importance that they can’t think straight. They are so blinded by thinking that they have it all figured out, especially under the Law, that they can’t appreciate what Jesus did and who Jesus is. They are jealous because the crowds that they wanted to glorify them are now going after Jesus. Their jealousy makes them cynical. They say to one another: “Take a good look and see that you are useless. Behold, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19).

What they say is dishonest. It is not the world that is going after Jesus but their own people; the Lord’s own people. But they call their own people the world, just because they are praising Jesus.

But this is really an indictment of what they think of Jesus. They regard Him as an imposter; a heretic; a deceiver of the people; a gentile; not one of us. They will have to get rid of Him in not so pious ways, using the Law. They thought they knew what they were doing under the Law.

God was doing something else.

Now we see the disciples. The Apostle John was one of them and there that day. He says something important about the disciples that is of comfort to us. He says that the disciples did not understand what was really happening. They did not know, what was going on, not at first. Praise God, they did understand later.

Here is why this is comforting for us. The disciples were witnessing events and swept up in them. These events were historical, epochal events. History would never be the same afterward. They were witnessing the turning point of history. These events were raging all around them, but they did not understand what was happening. It was as if they were caught in a raging river that was taking them they knew not where.

But then Jesus appeared to them alive again on the Third Day, after they had witnessed His crucifixion, when the doors were locked, and they were very afraid. And the living Jesus said: “Peace to you.” Then they understood just how Jesus is the salvation “Hosanna” calls out for. Then they understood that Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord. Then they understood that Jesus is the Lord come among the people, as promised through Zechariah. The confession gripped them: Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

How much are we like them today? We too are caught up in events, historical events. History may not be quite the same after this. We might not be the same after this.

Do we feel like we are caught up in a raging river that is taking us we know not where? The threat the COVID-19 virus poses to health and life can seem so powerful and can make us afraid. And now the economic impact is mounting, as we try to deal with the virus. There is plenty of reason for fear. There is plenty of reason for deep concern. It seems like all we are experiencing is heartache and loss, stress and strain. And it is almost as if time is standing still.

On that first Palm Sunday, our brothers who became our Apostles in the Lord felt like they were swept up in events they did not understand. But then Jesus rose and they understood that God was accomplishing His purposes, even if it appeared otherwise on the human level. It did not seem like God was in control when they nailed Jesus to the cross. But God had a purpose and was accomplishing it.

On that first Palm Sunday, just like today, God the Father knew what He was doing as Jesus His Son entered Jerusalem with Good Friday and Easter Sunday in the offing. The crowds would turn on Jesus and reject Him. The Pharisees would conspire to kill Him. They had to get rid of Him. The disciples were overwhelmed by events that were much bigger than they were. They would be overwhelmed by fear. But God the Father knew and was accomplishing His purposes beneath and through it all.

And Jesus knew why He was entering Jerusalem for that particular Passover. He knew what lay ahead. He did not turn around but went forward unto the days ahead. And He saw the accomplishment of the Father’s plan.

The Holy Spirit knew as well. And the Spirit now testifies to us through the words written for us under His inspiration. And He now inspires our hearts through His words by glorifying Jesus to our hearts and in them.

God knows what is going on and what His purposes are. Events today are big. There is much to be afraid of. There is much to be worried about. There is much to be bewildered about. And maybe there is much to be angry about.

Our leaders are doing the best they can, but the events are bigger than they are as well. There is heartache and heartbreak at loss. We live under the cross.

But we also live in the hope of the Third Day. And the hope and promise of the Third Day is this: that God sees and does and knows and works out His plan, even as the events rage around us. And then in His grace, on the other side of all of this, we may be able to catch a glimpse of what God was accomplishing. Western societies desperately need God to act and to get their attention. Sometimes, it takes the trial and tribulation of these kind of days for God to get that attention, for humans are predisposed to go their own way, in respect to God.  

Whatever the case, we do have one advantage that the disciples did not. We live on the other side of Christ’s resurrection. We know by faith through the Spirit’s testimony of Christ crucified and risen that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Whatever is happening, God’s Word and the Spirit teach us who is Lord.

May the Spirit strengthen our trust in this confession: Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Jesus has taken away God’s judgment against sin and the power of death. He lives. God is faithful and accomplishing His purposes, even in the midst of trial and severe difficulty. To God alone be the glory. Amen.


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