I like to read letters more than once. So, I will save them a few days and read them over again. My family accuses me of reading them again because I haven’t paid attention to my first reading. I prefer to think that I read them because of my training. I have been taught to read hastily the first time, then rapidly a second time, and finally to make slow progress through the writings for detailed understandings.
I like to read the Scriptures more than once. Every time that I read some portion of the Scriptures, there is a truth which becomes clearer than ever to me. I will sometimes read a passage, and although I know that the words are going to be there, some new image just leaps off the page at me.
That is what happened to me recently as I read again the passage from the Gospel of Matthew for Palm Sunday. As I reread that story from Matthew 21, every part of the story was familiar — the disciples being sent into the city to find a donkey, the instructions Jesus gave about where to find one, the way to borrow it, the way Jesus mounted the animal, the cloaks of His disciples covering the animal, the people throwing their garments on the road, the waving palm branches, the shouts from the pilgrims along the way. Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, and the people ask the question, “Who is this?”
I knew that question was there. I had read it many times. But now those questioning words have taken on a new importance. That question is much more than a question from the past. It is a contemporary question. It is our question.
As joyful as we may be as we enter into the Palm Sunday celebrations, there is deep within us a lingering question, “Who is this who comes?” There are factual answers, theoretical answers, and personal answers.
Who Is This Who Comes?
The expected, practical, factual answer is “Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet from Galilee, the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter.” That is an honest, truthful answer. It is certainly not all there is about Palm Sunday, and it is not all there is to say about Jesus, but it is an honest answer. It is a factual answer. The one who comes is Jesus the Man.
It is possible to know Jesus as a man, as a person like ourselves. But to know Jesus as a man is not to know the full meaning of His life nor to understand the significance of His purpose.
We can be as frustrated with this factual answer as the preacher’s child who was called in to wash up before dinner after an afternoon of play. Like all boys he wanted to know why he needed to wash. The mother’s reply was typical. “Son, we have to wash to get rid of the germs.” The boy responded with disgust, “Germs and Jesus. Jesus and germs. That’s all I hear about around here. And I’ve never seen either one.”
Jesus was a person, He was a man. Jesus was a man from Nazareth. But, to know the simple facts is not to know the full significance of His life.
Several years ago, I became acquainted with a man with the same first name as myself. He had visited the church I pastored, and I became acquainted with him as he continued to visit our congregation, finally joined, and became an active leader. He worked for a large company and lived in a large home. He and his wife attended a Bible study I was leading. Harold soon accepted responsibilities of leadership in the church. I felt that I knew him well.
Then, I began to see his picture in the newspaper on the business pages. There were articles about him in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week. He began to appear on local and national television news reports. He was still my friend and fellow Christian, and we still worked together as equals. Yet the day-to-day decisions he made affected thousands of employees. When he sold stock options, hundreds of persons either made or lost money. As the chief executive officer of his company, he was an internationally-known figure, far more than I had ever imagined.
Simply to give the facts about Jesus is not all one must say about the One who comes on Palm Sunday.
Who Is This Who Comes?
The theoretical, philosophical, and theological answer is that this is the Christ, the son of God. When we give such an answer, it is appropriate to kneel, to adore, to spread the garments before Him. It is necessary to shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
However correct this theoretical answer may be, like the factual answer, it is not all that can be said. To offer this exalted view of Jesus gives us such an awesome understanding of Him that we have difficulty seeing any connection that He could have with you and me.
When I was a boy growing up in a Methodist parsonage, Bishops were powerful, influential ministers who appeared to be different from the rest of us. We all stood in awe of them. Bevel Jones, who is now a Bishop, once told a story about that lad in the parochial school being prompted on how to address the Archbishop who was to visit. Over and over again, he was told to bow slightly and respond to all questions with a “yes” or a “no,” and then to add, “Your Highness, my Lord.”
The day of the visit arrived. The lad was on pins and needles. The Archbishop marched into the class, strolled directly to this one lad, and asked, “How old are you, son?” The adult voice, the beautiful regalia, had stunned the boy. He muttered, “My God, I’m ten.”
When I was a boy, we were just as impressed by Methodist Bishops. One summer my parents announced that our Bishop was coming to the summer retreat and lake to fish and to have dinner with us. I knew my day would be ruined. I just couldn’t imagine a Bishop actually eating and drinking like we did, much less holding a fishing pole in his mighty hands. But when that day had ended, I discovered that Bishops really do not walk on water. They laugh and smile and tell stories, and breathe just as the rest of us do.
Who is this who comes? It is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Certainly, that is a true answer. But that is not all we can say about Him who comes. He is even more than that.
Who Is This Who Comes?
The final answer is a personal one. There is an imaginative sense in which the one who comes is you and I.
Our Master walked down the road from Bethany and Bethphage to Jerusalem amidst the shouts and the exuberant joy of the crowds. He walked toward the fulfillment of His destined goal. He did walk it all alone. And He walked it as the unique and only Son of God.
But Jesus also walked that road as the firstborn of many children, the children of God. He walked that road as the leader of that great parade in which you and I also participate. We follow in His train.
That traditional spiritual captures the meaning of this great personal truth:
Jesus walked this lonesome valley,
He had to walk it by himself,
O, nobody else could walk it for him,
He had to walk it by himself.
We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves,
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.
If we are to be the bearers of Christ’s spirit in the world, you and I must also walk that road through the crowds who shout and claim our attention. You and I must pass through the temptations to power, and prestige, and honor. We must continue to walk on toward the fulfillment of the purposes of God. We must walk toward our very own times and places of total commitment, taking up our own crosses of self-giving.
Who is this who comes? In a special manner, it is you and I. Who is this who comes? It is all of us, walking together toward our future with God and for God.
A couple returned to their missionary assignment in India. They left their twelve-year-old son under the care of the grandmother in the United States so that the boy could continue his education. They expected to return shortly. They were no more settled in at their mission station that fall of 1941 than the war began raging, and the parents were separated from their son for eight long years.
The parents finally arrived on the West Coast, and telegraphed their twenty-year-old son, now a student in college. They told him of their pending arrival and asked him to meet them at the train station.
It was almost dark when the train finally pulled into the station. The missionary couple were the only ones to leave the train at that station. The son could hardly see them in the evening haze, and it was dusky enough that the parents could not see their son well either. They embraced in the semi-darkness.
Joining hands, the three walked toward the station where there was more light. With tears streaming down her face, the mother looked and looked into the face of her son. Then she exclaimed, “Arnie, our boy’s gone and looked like you. He looks just like you.”1
Palm Sunday challenges all of us to the fulfillment of the purposes of God. Palm Sunday calls us to a life with Christ. Palm Sunday challenges us to complete that journey with our Lord which leads us to full commitment and discipleship in His ways.
What a glory awaits us! What a future is before us when we move from the side of the road, from being spectators, to following after Him! Perhaps the most stunning shout to us from those who remain at the side of the road will be, “Why, those people have gone and looked like Jesus! Those people look just like Jesus!”
Who Is This Who Comes?
It is Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet from Galilee.
It is Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Could it not also be, must it not also be, you and I? Must it not also be each of us on the way to a life that makes us like Him?
1. From a sermon by Donald Shelby, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica, California, published privately.

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