When is a wedding better than any other wedding even though it is the same as any previous one? When you have one on the day after Covid regulations east, people can enjoy the full day for the first time in nearly eighteen months. It was a fantastic day, with a wonderful outside service full of great singing to God, great food, and a fantastic party. Yet, compared to all the other weddings I had been to, it was not much different, yet, being there felt different. Everything was done throughout the day; you could sense the release of anticipation as we sang out loud (and with mouths revealed) songs of Praise to God, listened to the word preach, chatted around tables over good food, and then chatted danced the night away. It was the joy of a proper celebration after a difficult time everyone there loved it!
The great occasions of our lives are more than likely celebrations: weddings, promotions, new opportunities, graduations, and the like. We love to celebrate, and while there is nothing better than personal occasions, there is something significant about national moments of celebrations. I remember the great royal occasions in the years past, and perhaps now we find ourselves looking forward to the Queen’s platinum jubilee: if not even for the party for the fact that we get some extra bank holidays! Great state occasions have a way of bringing people together, helping us stop and remember that we are part of something beyond ourselves, shared histories and occasions.
The Passover celebrations around the time of Jesus were significant “state” events commanded by God that would have carried a double-edged response for the people of God. These were great occasions as people made their way to Jerusalem to join in the celebrations of the rescue of God. As they celebrated the Lord’s work to free them from slavery in Egypt by passing over them and then subsequent guiding them through the wilderness to freedom in the Promised Land, they would have been deeply thankful. Yet, their thankfulness would have been tinged with pain and sorrow; why? because as they remember the rescue and freedom of old, they were giving thanks for what they no longer enjoyed as once again the people of God were under oppression, this time from Rome.
There must have been irony around the Passover season as God’s people remembered him bringing Egypt to its knees, yet they as a people found themselves on their knees before Rome. Every Passover, they would find themselves wondering where God was and longing for salvation to be brought by the promised Messiah. The people who gave thanks for their liberty of old longed that God would act again so they could enjoy freedom once more. Not just freedom, they were a people who longed to be a great nation again; as they anticipated a messiah to come, they envisaged one with the military might of David and the Wisdom of Solomon who would establish the nation as one again to be feared.
It is easy to imagine then how sensitive Jerusalem would have been around the time of the Passover. As the people remembered their freedom and longed for it, their expectation of one appointed by God to come would have been heightened. They were looking for a hero, any hero at all, to put their hopes in! As they longed for it, they became anxious for action and for someone to do something. Things in Jerusalem would become so tense that Rome would move more legions of troops into the city in anticipation of trouble! The reading of scriptures would have been a big part of many celebrations, and as the people read the passages of the Exodus, they would have also been drawn to the prophecies concerning the Messiah to Come. In their longing for freedom, they would cling to the hope of those Messianic prophecies: passages that foretold of another rescue of God to come. Thus, the people would have been very responsive to any person or figure who fitted that profile and claimed any sort of messianic role. With this context and background, this simmering sense of expectation, we then understand the narratives of Psalm Sunday.
A Sensitive Time in Jersulam: Are you Listening?
Here was Jesus who (for a couple of years) had been teaching about the things of God in ways that had not been experienced or heard of in hundreds of years. He is fresh in comparison to the staleness of the religious establishment. Not only has he been teaching about the things of God, but he has also been radically proclaiming these things of God, using political language about Kingdom and demonstrating authority by miracles. Yet, this was not a Kingdom of this world; it was the Kingdom of Heaven that would inaugurate the coming rescue of God. Additionally, as he taught about this new Kingdom, he clarified his identity – he was the Messiah, the one from whom God would bring salvation.
The message that the people had been longing to hear: God was enacting rescue and about to inaugurate a new Kingdom and rule. Yes, it was the message that the people longed to hear, but they never heard the message as it was proclaimed. They lost sight of the otherworldly nature of the coming Messiah, of the counter-cultural nature of this new Kingdom that would not be one of the sword but the Spirit. Additionally, they reduced this great rescue of God from eternal consequences for all people across time to one of the little consequences for them, as they waited for a throne and not across. They took the Messiah of God and his work and turned him into their Messiah and the rescue they wanted. They might have missed the point, but Jesus never did as he stayed the course to Jerusalem and specifically towards the Cross, where even though the world and moment would not see it, he would enact the rescue they had been waiting for and bring in the Kingdom that no worldly government could overthrow.
An Identity Confirmed (19:28-35)
The prophet Zechariah wrote about the Messiah who would come riding on a donkey/colt:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 (ESV))
The accounts of Psalm Sunday in both Matthew and Luke want us to be in no doubt about who Jesus is and that Jesus knows his own identity – He is the Messiah . This identity is even displayed in the simplicity of the moment as the disciples are sent to get the colt: The image of him sending the disciples to a place where he knows a colt will be and to bring it to him: shows his foreknowledge of God’s Redemptive Plan. Then his command to respond to any opposition by stating, “The Lord needs it”, shows his understanding of his own authority. Luke wants us to be clear of the symbolism of the moment: here is the longed-for Messiah, the one the scriptures foretold has come to the city of God to fulfil the salvation of God.
The people are right to be excited and rejoice at the movement of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem because this is a significant day. Yet, they saw Jesus and the statement he was making but also missed so much of what the colt communicated. The words “humble and lowly” from Zechariah communicate so much about the moment that the crowds missed. Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a horse because that was a simple of status, power and often war: he rode in on a colt because it was a common animal that identified him with the people and proclaimed a message of peace. He had not come to wage war with the powers of this world or to establish a new political order: now, he came to bring about a new Kingdom through a radically different way – The Cross.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem was a political statement; he had no doubt what effect it would have on those who saw it, yet, it was also an eternal statement as he communicated clearly that he was not the Messiah they wanted him to be, he was the Messiah they needed him to be. One who came to bring peace, one who would bring life for all through his death, would not sit on a throne of iron but would cling to a cross and wear not a crown of gold but of thorns. Yes, he was the Messiah but not as they saw him; the question is, how do we see him?
A Right Recognition: A Wrong Understanding (36-38)
The crowd recognise Jesus and the royal implications of his entry into Jerusalem as the multitudes’ rightly respond with Praise. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a claim to Kingship because he is the king of King and the Lord of Lords, and those who witness it rightly seem to recognise this claim. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, we learn they have the proper recognition and the wrong understanding. As they humble themselves by throwing their coats on the ground before King Jesus and begin to praise God for the great deeds of power that they have witnessed by singing from Psalm 118:26:
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’
They have rightly identified him as the Son of David, the promised Messiah and saviour of old. Yet, they have the right recognition with the wrong understanding. They longed for him to ride into Jerusalem and claim the throne of David; he was set to ride into Jerusalem and claim the death of the Cross. The people longed for the Glory of Solomons’s temple and were not ready for a Messiah who would bring salvation by the gory Cross. His Glory would be his crucifixion, and his victory would be his death and resurrection. They longed to crown him King, yet the irony was that there was no crowd thereupon the day he was crowned in Glory (Easter Sunday). He had come to die so that all might live. While the crowd praised God for his deeds of power and authority when it was easy, When his ultimate display of power and authority was displayed on the Cross, he was utterly alone, and it went unseen to the eyes of the world! With the benefit of hindsight, we have no wiggle room in terms of recognising and responding to Jesus; we must see him as he claimed to be.
We must either accept Him as he presented himself: A Messiah who looks nothing like the heroes of the world, who died so that all who respond to him might live. Who rules not by the sword but through Grace and where all enter not by merit but faith. A kingdom that confronts the world at every point the world confronts it, yet, if the world is willing to see, it will see it is a Kingdom and King that offers everything we are looking for. The Joy of Psalm Sunday is made real by the Cross of Good Friday and the Ressurection of Easter Sunday. The question is, how will you respond?
Conclusion: How Will You Respond? (39-40)
The Pharisees are incredulous by the worship offered towards Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. The world will always recoil at true worship of God; it will seek to dismiss it or diminish it because it does not know how to respond to the truth and beauty of something otherworldly. They commanded Jesus to silence the Praise of the disciples because acclamation makes the Pharisees very nervous. Worship of God confronts the world to respond to God because, as Jesus warns, if we will not recognise him and respond to his Glory and Grace, then all of creation will sing!
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’”
So what will you do? How will you respond? Will you see him as he presented himself to be, the saviour of the world who would bring victory through defeat, life through death, and inaugurate a Kingdom not via the sword but through Grace and Faith. Will you see him and worship him in a way that confronts the world to the folly of its choices and helps them see the peace, beauty and hope of life with Christ, or will you continue to risk it all by looking to something other than him? If we remained silent and chose to ignore him, the creation would declare him as Lord one day. This Psalm Sunday, let us recognise him and live for him.