Great Expectations: Becoming a Palm Sunday People

Great Expectations: Becoming a Palm Sunday People

A Summary of Palm Sunday Message

That Palm Sunday crowd: who do they represent for us today? What do we learn from them about our response to the person and work of Christ as we encounter his moving into our lives?

It’s all very intriguing. We are given at least two very clear hints re how to interpret this. We should notice: (1) THAT the people were waving and WHAT the people were waving as Jesus approached and also (2) the animal that Jesus chose to ride in on. It’s as we look again at what they symbolize that we arrive at least two lessons for how best to engage Christ’s work in our lives today.

Firstly hint: THAT they were waving, and WHAT they were waving.

Traditionally we go with John’s Gospel that they were waving palm branches, though Matthew or Mark don’t specifically say that, and Luke doesn’t mention anything. However, in passages from 1 and 2 Maccabees in the OT Apocrypha we read that after the beating of a powerful enemy The people carried palm branches and praised God with all kinds of songs and musical instruments. God had completely crushed their powerful enemy’.

Most scholars believe that because the use of palm branches in Maccabees was related to a great military victory, that was probably what the people were expecting from Jesus as well! If that was the case, well, that would explain their later bitter disappointment and their decision to change their shouting from ‘HOSANNA’ to ‘CRUCIFY!’

Second hint: the animal that Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem?

We tend to think about how Jesus was wanting to present himself with humility and THAT’S why he chose this most humble of animals as opposed to coming in on some magnificent prancing stallion. But that’s probably just us over-romanticizing things! Again, most people understand this as a pretty radical politically act! This appears to be Jesus choosing quite intentionally to identify himself with that Zechariah 9:9 prophecy made all those 100s of years earlier – our call to worship today – where the prophet specifically said: Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus, choosing deliberately to align himself with the fulfilment of their Messiah-expectations! But unlike any Messiah they could possibly have guessed! They were excitedly expecting Jesus to be the one who would come into their lives with the ability and purpose of just crushing all their enemies – certainly their Roman oppressors anyway! But that never is / was / or will ever be Jesus’ way! Some believe it was frustration at just that which led Judas Iscariot later to betray Jesus, as a zealous Jew he was wanting to force Jesus to act.

And so here we are on this Palm Sunday, with that crowd representing each one of us – so quick to shout HOSANNA and wave our palm branches while we think Jesus and our agendas are aligned, but also just as quick to shout CRUCIFY when Jesus doesn’t appear to be doing what we decide is best! They got it wrong, and so do we, when we allow our expectation of Jesus to be limited – reduced just to whatever we decide Jesus is or should be… Jesus Christ, and the profoundly transformational work that God does in Christ and in us through Christ is about so much more, so much better, so much deeper… that’s our first lesson.

But perhaps there is something worse than having dumbed-down expectations of Christ, and that is to have no expectations at all! Our second lesson.

 It’s for lack of vision, we’re told in Proverbs, that people perish! The same could and should be said with regard to expectations! We perish for lack of ‘expectations’ ‘Hope!’ ‘Faith!’ We are meant to be a people who are NEVER prepared just to settle for ‘what appears to be IT’. There is always MORE!

That’s exactly what the Psalmist writes of in Psalm 14, beautifully caught in the Message paraphrase we heard today… and THAT is what those Palm Sunday people got right! They were an expectant PEOPLE! We are to be an expectant people, and as we are in Christ, so we are to bring that sense of hopeful expectancy to EVERYTHING we do!

Three Questions for us to think about as we go into Holy week:

  1. How God-expectant are you – actually – on this Palm Sunday?
  2. How ready are you for God to show up in your life?
  3. How hope-filled open are you to Christ’s own resurrection new life – whatever that may bring?

(John 12:12-16)

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