**The following post is the written text from a Palm Sunday sermon by Rick Sessoms given to a group of church and ministry leaders this past week. These men and women serve Jesus in the hard places of this world.
Day of Expectation
On a day filled with expectation, Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. His followers believed the Kingdom was about to be reborn. Those marching with Jesus had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead a few days before. You can understand their excitement. Along the parade’s path, crowds were shouting praises and dancing and singing, escorting Jesus on His “triumphal entry.”
“Hosanna!” they sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Spreading their palm branches along the processional. We celebrate this on Palm Sunday. As parades go, it wasn’t very impressive. But for those who marched into the city with Jesus that day, it held all the promise of a new beginning.
Why was the crowd so joyous? What was it that created the excitement in these people, that caused them to sing, “Blessed is the King. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”? What was it that inspired them?
In a word, it was “hope.” The people saw in Jesus the fulfillment of their dream. In Him they saw a Liberator who would lead them to freedom from the enemy Romans who occupied their land. They envisioned a Messiah who would lead them to take back what was rightfully theirs. They saw a warrior king who would rally them against their oppressors. One who would spill the blood of the Romans in the name of God.
And they had good reason to think that Jesus was the One they awaited. Jesus did fulfill the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah who spoke of Israel’s promised king coming to His people riding on a donkey’s colt.
When the people saw Jesus fulfilling the ancient prediction,, they couldn’t contain themselves. They were convinced He was the Promised One who would topple the old order and initiate the new. “Messiah has come! Deliverance is in sight.” A return to Israel’s glory days when we were respected and powerful. Back before the centuries of shame. This new day was long overdue.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds saw in the the Kingdom afresh. And they were beside themselves. Their hope was that God would rule again.
A False Hope
But it was a false hope. For soon their cheers choked in their throats. It took only days for this joyous crowd to swell into an angry mob. The people’s song of expectation turned into a horrible chant: “Crucify Him. We have no king but Caesar.” I imagine it was with a laugh a few days later when Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews? You, dusty little man, with no weapon, no army, King of the Jews?”
And so the scene is repeated, played over in each generation, year after year. The celebration of Palm Sunday. But celebration is quickly replaced by lamentation. And the hopes of many died that week..
Like the crowd on Palm Sunday, many Christian leaders begin with high hopes and strong resolve. They are eager to shout, “Hosanna!” Their excitement is contagious. But then comes a day when they understand that they haven’t quite counted the cost. Now, it seems, the enemy has the upper hand. And they think, “Maybe it’s time to take up another vision? To put aside naivete for a more ‘practical’ approach? The powers-that-be have made clear who is in charge. What we thought was triumph was only false hope.”
But before we draw the final conclusion, let’s look once more. In one sense, Palm Sunday is a story of false hope. But at second glance, Palm Sunday is also a foretaste of things to come.
This day reminds us, in the words of William Imhoff,
that we cannot move from Palm Sunday to Easter without passing over Golgotha and through the tomb.”
And Imhoff also says,
“Only when we have (personally) mastered that lesson are we free to live abundantly.”
When I was a church pastor, my assistant was a man named Jonathan. Jonathan and his wife Mary prepared to be missionaries to Africa. Not long after marriage, they had a baby girl. Soon after that God gave them a beautiful little boy. Several months after Nathan was born, they discovered that one of the walls in his heart was undeveloped. They were told, “We need to do open-heart surgery.” They were told, “This will take care of Nathan’s problem.” Then they could be on their way to Nigeria as scheduled.”
The church prayed that Nathan would be healed and the operation would be unnecessary, but God saw fit to allow the surgery to be performed. The surgery went well. Nathan recovered more quickly than expected. After the surgery, we praised the Lord together as a church. “Thank you, Lord, that’s behind us. Now we’ll see Nathan blossom into a healthy child, and Jonathan and Mary can be on their way to Nigeria.”
But it was a false hope. Nathan continued to have fevers. He had a hard time with infections. Jonathan and Mary took him to a doctor. They were told that it will probably take several years for Nathan to get well, so their plans for going to Africa would have to be put on hold.
That was 27 years ago. Jonathan and Mary are still waiting.
To First Pass the Cross and the Tomb
For others here who are enduring a difficult circumstance in your life today, don’t despair. Because today, Palm Sunday is a symbol of things to come, of things as they can be someday, perhaps not yet, but someday. For on Palm Sunday, Jesus did not just ride into a “Holy City;” He rode to a destiny to assure that the Kingdom will come to those with faith.
Even as the cross throws a long shadow over the Palm Sunday parade, and our celebration today will be interrupted this week by the tears of Good Friday, nevertheless, let this day encourage you to walk in faith toward the hill of suffering, .
And perhaps Jesus is saying to you on this Palm Sunday, “Someday. Not yet. Wait a little longer. You must first pass the cross and the tomb.” But wait a little longer, because Easter is coming.