Were You There When He Rode Into Town?
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Jerusalem: the crown jewel of first century Judea. It was a beautiful city, thanks in great part to Herod who, after being installed as king of Judea by the Romans, had embarked on one of the most ambitious public building projects in antiquity, even renovating the temple. A thriving metropolis, sort of like modern day Chicago, the city was both a through point and a destination for travelers, merchants, and people of faith. It’s impossible to know the exact population: some estimates say between eighty and a hundred thousand. But three times a year, all male Jews were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the major festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks, or Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles, or Booths). At those times the city’s population ballooned to more than three million.
On any average Sunday, Jerusalem would have been bustling. But this was no average Sunday. In six days Passover would begin, introducing a week of activities commemorating the Exodus, God’s liberation through Moses of the Israelites from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. The streets were already crowded with people who had arrived early for the holidays (holy days). Perhaps the mood was tense, given the oversight of the Pharisees and the presence of the Roman centurions. Passover was a time of remembrance but also a time of expectancy and hope, especially this year. Surely some people from the outlying areas who had heard Jesus preach or teach or seen him heal (maybe had even been healed themselves) or perform other miracles were among the throng of strangers that jostled one another. Surely some who had come to believe in him as the Messiah were waiting, anticipating that he, like Moses, would deliver them from their oppressors.
Who was the first to spot him? Somebody must have shouted, “Look, it’s Jesus!” Heads turned, necks craned to get a glimpse of the man sitting on a donkey’s colt, its mother following closely behind. Did anyone recall the prophet Zechariah’s words: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”? Their king, descending from the Mount of Olives and entering Jerusalem. The King of heaven, descending from his throne on high and entering the presence of sinful humanity. Those in the crowd who recognized Jesus laid their cloaks or cut and spread branches on the road, and some went ahead of him and some followed behind, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Those who hadn’t witnessed his miracles or heard his teaching asked, “Who is this?” And those in the know answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Hosanna! Save us!
Jesus would save them, but not in the way they expected. Even today, some people ask, “If the Messiah has already come, why is the world still such a mess?” Like the people in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, they misunderstand God’s mission for his son. While we might see poverty, violence, government overreach, and conflict as our oppressors, just as they did back then, those are merely symptoms of a much more serious disease: the sinfulness that characterizes every human heart. Jesus came not to treat the symptoms but to eradicate the disease itself. Only through a sacrifice can this be accomplished, and Jesus came to offer himself as that sacrifice for the remission of our sins. Remission: a temporary or permanent decrease or subsidence of manifestations of a disease (www.dictionary.com). Hosanna in the highest heaven! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available). We will have a few additional worship opportunities this week including Good Friday service at 6:30 p.m. on April 19, a Sunrise service at 7:30 a.m. April 21, and a Easter Breakfast from 8:00–9:10 a.m. on April 21. You are invited to join us for all these services.