Topic: Palm Sunday
Text: Luke 19:35-42
The Easter season is a time calling for praise and rejoicing. All nature sings and shouts and waves its praise to the Creator in the boldest, brightest colors it can find. And we who are Christians have a special reason to rejoice at Easter. For while Christmas heralds the birth of the Messiah, our Savior, and fires the opening shot in the battle with evil, Easter is the victory celebration, and makes us ask why there is not more praise in our hearts and in our churches – praise for the victory passed on to us; a victory over sin, death and the devil.
When I look at the scripture before us, it makes me ask why there are not more amens and hallelujahs in the midst of our worship and in the midst of our daily life.
The Background of Their Praise
Consider the background. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. He pauses at Bethany, and through His symbolic actions, the crowd of disciples believe He is going to ride into Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah.
Here’s what He does: in fulfillment of prophecy He sends for a donkey, then rides it down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem while the disciples shout praises and lay their coats in the path. Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.” And so the excited followers shouted hosannas and cut down branches and flung them to make a royal path for the king. Now consider with me this outpouring of praise, then let us look at our own actions in the light of it.
Praise Outside the Church Walls
The first notable aspect is that, while praise was customary within the temple court, this concert of praise is raised outside the temple; outside the church, so to speak. They are coming down the side of the Mount of Olives, coming into town by one of the busiest roads. It is a secular setting. It is the kind of time and place where we don’t expect to hear praise of God; it is coloring outside the lines of praise. I realize my poverty of praise of the Lord when I go outside the boundaries of being a pastor, a minister – like when I go to the grocery store, or have the car repaired – and in conversation with someone they openly and joyfully praise God for what He has done for them. It is then that I realize that most of us, myself included, do not praise God as we should, either within or outside the walls of the church. And surely His blessings extend beyond the walls.
It Was Unanimous Praise
It was, in the second place, unanimous praise. Luke 19:37 says the “whole multitude” lifted their voices in praise. My dear folks, if you had the view I have from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, you would, I think, be amazed at the folks who never open their mouth in song; never lift a hymn book to sing praise to God! God doesn’t require us all to be beautiful singers, but He does expect us all to make a joyful noise in praise. Can there be much witness from a heart that feels no need to join with others in praise and song to God?
Now, note that this unanimous praise from the multitude of disciples is one thing that set them apart from the crowd. While this praise was unanimous among the disciples, that is, every disciple was shouting and praising God – it was selective praise in that only the followers of Jesus were flinging their coats and shouting praise. The pharisees among the crowd (Luke 19:39) and others, were not joining in. They were squint-eyed and sour-faced, trying to find something to criticize. God doesn’t expect the pharisees, the unbelievers, to break out with praise, but He does expect His children to do so.
It Was Joyful Praise
It was joyful praise! Luke 19:37 says they rejoiced and praised God, saying, “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” It was not sad music. As you know, we are working on a web page for Trinity, and it is coming along nicely at www.trinitybaptistchurch.org. A day or so ago we put some music as background. One fellow asked if I had heard it; I had not. He said to imagine a funeral home tape of Amazing Grace played at half speed! Well, sometimes the church folks seem to be in a funeral mood and sing in the same way! It was joyous praise. One of the key emotions in our biblical models of praise is joy.
Praise With a Basis
And so while some folks just fall into praise mode when they come in the church door, flinging Amens all over the place – often throwing them into the sermon at the wrong place! Someone will say, “I have nothing to be joyful about. ” And from a human standpoint, I know that there are those in our midst this morning whose hearts are like lead; who wonder if others have ever been through what they are facing. There are lives filled with tension, fear, anger, defeat but as Christians, when we gather with our church family. The basis for our praise is not grounded in the circumstances of the moment but in the saving grace we have experienced in Christ.
Let our praise, like that of the disciples, have a foundation deeper than the fortunes of the moment.
Let us say, “Though the foundations of my life be shaken, though ten thousand devils encircle me, though I come to the Lord’s house exhausted from plodding through the swamp of temptation and sin, my heart is still lifted up; and my voice should be lifted up, by the thought of God’s eternal love for us in Christ.”
And so we shall still be praising God, not for, but in the midst of, our troubles. After all, these people, if pulled away from the shouting multitude and questioned, would have surely said that on the surface of their life there was little reason to praise God and throw their only jacket on the ground for this donkey to walk on! There was still the Roman occupation, the poverty and taxes and pharisees and tragedies that fall upon us all. But they praised for what they had seen and heard.
The Necessity of Praise
Now see the necessity of praise. The pharisees, in Luke 19:35, urged Jesus to stop all this carrying-on. Let us put these pharisees in the best possible light, since they usually take such a beating. Perhaps these are folks in sympathy with Jesus, for a group of pharisees warned Him of Herod Antipas earlier. Now they are fearful that all this tumult will draw the attention of the Romans and the religious authorities. It is in reply to their admonition that He rebukes His disciples that Jesus makes an unusual statement: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out!”
This statement tells us several things. The first is that there is a closer connection between the natural world and redemption than we may think. Paul said the entire creation groans for redemption, and from the beginning we see how creation was twisted and thorns infested the ground because of sin. Matthew’s Gospel tells us how all creation reacted when Jesus walked among us; a wondrous star at His birth, the darkness at noon, the earthquake and the ground casting out the dead at His death and the earthquake at His resurrection.
Second, this phrase tells us that praise is not elective, not a choice; it is a necessity. I have no doubt those stones would have shouted if the people had held their tongues! And that leads to the question for us, made in the likeness of God: What should our response be to the mercy of God?
Those of us who have been rescued from the kingdom of night and set down in the kingdom of light ought heed Nehemiah as he commands, “Stand up and bless the Lard your God!” and the Psalmist as he calls us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” and “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits!” If God’s people will not praise Him, the stones will!
Praise in the Midst of His Sorrow
I close by pointing you to the fact that this praise of the multitude as Jesus entered Jerusalem was praise in the midst of his sorrow. In verse 41 we read that Jesus, when he saw the city, began to weep. Can we let Jesus be fully human here? I don’t just mean that he wept, although the world sees tears as weakness in a man. Laying that aside, this is no time to break down and cry!
The multitude has made Him, in their minds, a conquering hero; this one who works miracles and refused to let them crown Him as king a year ago now boldly rides into Jerusalem in the trappings of prophecy – obviously God is about to break in and destroy the Romans! This man will be king and Messiah and Saviour! So why is He crying? Jesus is probably the only person weeping in Jerusalem that day. Why does He weep to the confusion of the crowd that adores Him?
The sight of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives is a majestic sight even in its ruins today. But in its glory – the sun gleaming on the gold of the temple, all the aura of sacred story – Jesus weeps as He beholds the multitudes who are blind, spiritually blind to their visitation by God. Here is God in their midst, and they will reject Him and crucify Him and think they have done God a favor! And He weeps. He weeps over lost souls, defeated lives, people in the chains of sin with no hope.