Palm Sunday – Coming to Jerusalem

“And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (Luke 19:28).

I’m writing on 24th March 2022. I note that because it was exactly 20 years ago today that I heard a stirring sermon on Luke 19 by a student minister at our church. It was Palm Sunday 2002 and I was so moved by the sermon that I asked for a copy of it. Easter is later this year, but as we continue through another season of Lent, I find his sermon continues to illuminate Luke’s description of ‘The Triumphal Entry’. I share some excerpts with you.

The introduction begins with the London bombing in WW2 which sadly today reflects the devastating experiences of those in cities in Ukraine like Kyiv and Mariupol. Here is the start of the sermon:

On the 7th September 1940 the city of London began to be bombed by the German Army. It was not altogether unexpected since the Germans had started using their new tactic, called ‘Blitzkrieg’ in the war as early as 1938. But this was different – the attack was against the populace, the civilians – a co-ordinated effort to play mind games with the British people and to break their resolve. Part of the power of the blitz is that once it has started you live in constant fear, in constant expectation of it. Night after night, for 67 consecutive nights London was bombed. The trouble was, of course, that you didn’t know when it would start. You might be on your way home from work, or preparing dinner, or listening to the radio, and then the sirens would start, you’d move yourself and your family to the nearest air raid shelter, and you’d wait for the pounding of the bombers, not sure if tomorrow you’d still have your home, or if your neighbours would be alive, or even, in extreme cases, if you yourself would survive. Thus you lived with a sense of impending doom, a sense of expectation that one eyewitness described like this:

‘I am nerveless, and yet I am conscious that I when I hear a motor in the empty streets I tauten myself lest it be a bomb screaming towards me. Underneath, the fibres of one’s nerve-resistance must be sapped.’

This introduction was then connected to Luke 19 in this way:

It is with a similar sense of impending doom that we are to read Luke 19. Jerusalem, the city of David, has loomed out of the misty horizon of this gospel with ominous force as a potent of impending doom – it is the place of trial, the place of suffering, the place of crucifixion and glorification…Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the name hangs over us as we read this gospel, especially from Luke 9:51 where we read that Jesus resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem, where ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things’. We are always aware of it, always intrigued by it, always dreading it.

“And so, as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, Luke presents in a dramatic and emotional way, the paradox of Jesus the King. We see this presented from several perspectives and at the heart of each section of this climax to his journey to Jerusalem there is a paradox – a misunderstanding about who Jesus is and what he has come to do. The paradox of Jesus is one that confronts us, that confronted both his followers and his opponents: Jesus makes us uncomfortable.”

The preacher then went on to expound upon the passage noting the references to the Old Testament Scriptures of Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118. Here’s a later segment:

Psalm 118 gives us a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a triumphant victory Psalm, it rejoices in God and in his salvation and in his deliverance. And it set up the king as God’s servant to accomplish all those things for Israel. And yet, on the other hand, it gives a dire warning, saying this: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. The warning is this: you might not recognise God’s king when he comes.  The crowd of course don’t realise this – they really think that they are about to crown a new king over Jerusalem. The crowd don’t seem to have any doubts – Luke 19:11 informs us that they were expecting the kingdom of God to appear immediately – their efforts to acclaim him as king are ecstatic, exultant. The point here is that the further you are from Jesus the greater the gap between who he really is and who you think he is. The disciples see him and place him on the donkey – but this is to be seen more as an expression of faith than expectation. The crowd approach him with expectation. The irony only deepens when the Pharisees, seeing who the crowd thinks Jesus is, reject him. Once again, the further you are from Jesus relationally, the less you recognise who he really is, and the closer you come to rejecting him altogether.

The sermon concluded with these challenging words:

In conclusion: let Jesus make us uncomfortable. Let him be our paradoxical king. Let him be an enigma that we trust absolutely with everything in our lives. Know this: that he hasn’t come to make us comfortable, but to make us disciples. When our world rejects the crucified King, when they mock him, when people claim that his sacrifice on the cross is barbaric or unnecessary or that his demands are too severe, or when people fail to see the relevance and significance of this poor Jewish carpenter making his way slowly to Jerusalem on a donkey, being acclaimed as her great king, being rejected by her leaders – don’t be fooled by appearances. Know that this is God come in power to save his people. It is God come to His house to enable his people to worship him in spirit and in truth. Know that his determined pressing on into Jerusalem where he can only die is because it is where he can only be raised from the dead to lead his enemies in triumphal procession behind him as his captives. What response can you make to this kind of king? You can trust him. You can give your life to him. You can get with his programme. You can expect the unexpected.

Wise words which we do well to meditate upon as we approach Jerusalem once again in this season of Lent 2022.

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