Today is the first day of a dramatic week. Most of us like drama. At least we like watching drama. It’s not much fun to be involved in it. We talk over coffee about the latest drama on television. We talk with our friends about the latest political drama with Park Geun-hye or Donald Trump. Because drama is mostly entertainment, we easily tend to forget that in many cases these are real people.
It might sometimes feel like that with the drama of this week, Holy Week. It is so familiar. Every year at this time we replay the same drama. It’s great drama, isn’t it?
I always feel excited and hopeful at Easter. I love Palm Sunday. It’s dramatic, but it’s not a television drama. Today is the great and glorious day when Jesus led a triumphant victory parade into Jerusalem. God is winning on this day. Then Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. It feels as though Satan is about to be defeated. Jesus is about to purge the evil from Israel. And then on Thursday we find out that one of Jesus’ closest companions has sold him to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver (worth about 120 days of a worker’s pay). Now suddenly it looks instead like Satan might be about to strike the winning blow.
The tables have been turned. From here it is a rapid descent into total disaster as Jesus is arrested and then killed the next day. Satan appears to have won. Nobody thinks this is the victory that they had anticipated on Palm Sunday. Wait. Now we get the greatest dramatic twist of them all. Satan has failed. He didn’t understand the deeper truth. Next Sunday we learn that Jesus is resurrected. On Easter day, God wins after all. But of course that’s not the end of the drama, because we are now living in the last days.
One day, when it’s all over, you’ll be able to tell the future generations that you were alive at the end of the world.
At this point in the story, let’s turn back to Luke 19. You all know the story. Look at verse 28. “Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples.”
Jesus is leading a parade or procession. God and Jesus are the only ones who know what is going to happen to Jesus when he gets to Jerusalem. With all the pilgrims making the journey with them, there is a party atmosphere. Then Jesus has his disciples bring him a colt to ride on. All the people start singing. They place palm branches on the road. It is why we call today Palm Sunday.
Turn to verse 37.
When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.
“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
Everyone is happy. Everyone is excited. The disciples can sense victory within sight. It’s as though Jesus is about to be crowned King of the Jews and all their troubles are about to be over. Now is a good time to remember that this is a real story about real people.
What did God feel as he watched this procession? Was God happy? What was he thinking?
God is watching his only son walking and then riding obediently and submissively to his death. God knows about the betrayal to come on Thursday. God knows what they will do to his son on Friday. God knows what he is asking his son to endure.
How often do we consider God’s situation. How often do we stop at this point to think what it must have been like for God. Praise and worship is the right response to his son. God is not upset that people are singing. He may be sad that so few are singing. In verse 40 Jesus says that, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” Trees and animals welcome Jesus. Even the stones in the road welcome Jesus.
It’s not that God wants his son to be famous. That’s not why God wants people to praise and worship Jesus. It’s because those who don’t praise and worship Jesus are those who don’t know who he really is. The people who don’t welcome Jesus are the ones who will suffer as a result. God wants to save these people. He’s sent his son to save these people. But they don’t understand. There hearts are so hard and filled with sin that they cannot see what is right in front of them.
Jesus, the person who is totally able to know God’s heart, weeps when he sees Jerusalem. Jesus speaks the words that are weighing on God’s heart in verse 42. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.” God came to his people to save them and now he is crying for the pain to come, “because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
God has been preparing these people for such a long time, and now when the day is finally come they do not understand it. The pilgrims are singing on Palm Sunday, but on Friday most of the people of Jerusalem will be screaming for the Romans to crucify the Messiah.
Which of these two do you think God wants? Obviously he wants people to be singing and worshipping Jesus as the Messiah.
Even though the crowd with him do not understand what is going on, not even his own disciples, Jesus knows what lies ahead. It is a heavy weight that he carries on his shoulders as he approaches Jerusalem. Like Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrifice, Jesus walks in total trust and obedience to God. But for Jesus there will be no sheep to take his place. Jesus is the sheep who takes our place.
The love of Jesus for all the lost sheep is so deep, and so wide, and so pure that he gives a party on his last evening with the disciples. Even the one who is selling him to death.
On Thursday evening they gathered in the upper room for the passover meal. They broke bread together and drank wine together. This is what we’ll do together later to remind ourselves of this event. Jesus gave them the bread. Jesus poured the wine for them. Jesus washed their feet. And Jesus prayed for them. He prayed for them all, even the one who was about to betray him.
And Jesus said that this is what we should do. We who are his followers are to do this.
It’s not that he said we should re-enact the meal. We aren’t instructed to re-enact the procession into Jerusalem. Jesus doesn’t want us to wash each other’s feet. We do the act of Holy Communion to remind ourselves that we should serve each other in love. It’s our reminder that even in the most terrible situation, or perhaps especially in the worst situation, we are to be like Jesus. We are called to give live and love to others.
Please understand God’s heart today. He wants you to understand him. He wants to hear our songs and he wants to see us serve each other. He wants it so badly that he was willing to die for it. God has come to us today, so let’s recognise him and follow him.