Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

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How Jesus Comes to Us  041711

Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday

Palms   Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Matthew 21:1-11


Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 31:9-16

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 27:11-54

Scripture Texts follow the Sermon.

Today is Palm Sunday in the church calendar, and it is also Passion Sunday. Palm Sunday is when Jesus the Messiah comes into Jerusalem for Passover, riding a donkey.

Passion Sunday is the beginning of the week called the Passion of the Christ, and the beginning of this next week—Holy Week.

Because we all here are beginning Christians, in one way or another, it’s good to review the history and the traditions associated with the coming week. There are several themes in the story of the Palms, and with the Passion and we’ll briefly explore several of them this morning., and next week will be reserved for a celebration of communion, and in detail, I’ll try to teach and learn more about Easter—because Easter is the really big holiday of the Christian faith.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and tread on a path covered with Palm fronds contains several traditional symbols. The donkey, in Eastern cultures is taken as a symbol of Peace, while a horse is taken to be a war horse. So, a king entering the city on a donkey was a sign of peace; while charging in on a horse was a military attack. A donkey is humble, closer to the ground, and more a common person’s animal rather than a king’s animal. So, the donkey emphasizes Jesus’ life as the Prince of Peace, and not a revolutionary messiah, who came to overthrow violently the oppressors of the Jewish people and homeland.

The Palm fronds were a Jewish symbol of triumph and victory. (Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). Spreading cloaks on the path ahead was a traditional symbol of honor, such as in 2 Kings 9:13 where Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat received this treatment.

Matthew 21:1-11 refers to a passage from Book of Zechariah (9:9) and states:[3]

“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”

There are also references to propehecy in Maccabees 13:51, a description of Jewish liberation: And entered into it

… with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs.

Jesus’ entry on a donkey has a parallel in Zechariah 9:9 which states that:

‘thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.’

Let’s see what this might have looked like to Jesus, his disciples and to the people of Jerusalem when Jesus entered.

The temple, the home of the God Jehovah had only recently undergone a renovation when Jesus was a child and visited the priests in the temple courtyard. The entire temple mount was 1600 feet by 900 feet. That’s about 20 football fields or about 30 acres. The temple court walls were 9 stories high. The walls were covered by white granite.

The temple itself was at one end of the temple court, and was even taller, and inlaid with gold trim and roof. Adjacent to all of this was the priest’s quarters, attached by means of a long walkway.

The temple dominated Jerusalem—everything was basically very humble and common and low. The temple was an attraction to tourists from all over the Mediterranean, and was seen as one of the great wonders of the world.

The renovation of the temple led to it being called Herod’s Temple. King Herod, the king who the Bible story says plotted to kill baby Jesus built the temple, and named it after himself. He was very concerned with his name in history, but eventually lost his mind and had all his children murdered to prevent them from killing him. Herod did his best to make Jerusalem a leading city of the Roman Empire, yet saw himself as a Jewish king, and called himself ‘The King of the Jews’. You can see why the Roman crucifiers put a sign above Jesus on the cross that said ‘King of the Jews’.

Jesus was entering Jerusalem on the Sunday, or the Monday at the beginning of Passover week. All respectful Jews were supposed to pilgrimage to Jerusalem during this week, so Jesus was probably one of thousands of Jewish worshippers who to Jerusalem in the same week to offer sacrifices and to pray. This came to be more difficult as the Jewish nation became more and more dispersed, but safer and easier because of Roman roads and guardhouses along the major highways, and Roman centurions ready to arrest and kill anyone violating the peace and order of the empire. Remember that Jesus was crucified alongside two thieves, and while stealing is serious, execution seems severe to us now, and someone would have to be desperate to risk death for stealing.

Jerusalem was a strange mixture of Romans and Jews, but also of tourists and people from all over the known world—it was a very cosmopolitan metropolis. Jesus was known as a messiah well before his entry into Jerusalem. What surprised and angered many Jews was that when Jesus came, it was not as a conquering revolutionary military general, but in the most humble and quiet manner possible! Recall that the temple was perhaps the largest and most magnificent building anywhere in the known world except for Rome itself, and Herod wanted Jerusalem to rival Rome.

The Jewish people had been taxed to death and hated both Herod and the Roman soldiers who lived in their midst. They were ready for revolt and minor revolts occurred almost every week. The country was also besieged with revolutionary bandits, like Robin Hood kind of characters, who lived by killing and stealing from the Romans and from the rich. There were also just plain revolutionaries who just believed in killing Romans, and weren’t also stealing. One such group were the Zealots, and some of jesus’ disciples were zealots, and wanted Jesus to be their violent messiah and leader.

But Jesus, like in so many other instances surprises us! What we expect of a God, and what we expect of a messiah and a leader is not what Jesus is—we might even find ourselves disappointed.

This is how the Jews felt then maybe. Jesus was humble, simple, maybe even quiet on occasion and refuse to start a violent revolution. Some people have told that this is why Judas betrayed Jesus—because Judas was a violent revolutionary and expected Jesus to be his leader, his prince or king.

How does this story relate to us now? It occurs to me that the manner in which Jesus entered Jerusalem is very much like how Jesus enters our lives. Quietly, humble, patiently Jesus rides in on a donkey, as an unassuming common humab being. His visits to our spiritual life are not announced by trumpets or by cymbals clashing, but quietly, in our quietest moments.

In fact, I might offer that our visits with Jesus occur most often when we are quiet and not really expecting the word of God to come to us. Jesus is not pushy or loud, and what he offers is so simple and easy—his teachings and burdens are light as Jesus says.

I know that Jesus helps me with ideas, with emotions, with the resolution of problems far more than I recognize—because Jesus’ entry into my spiritual life is quiet, as a quiet, humble common man, and not as a king or as a warrior.

In your prayer, do you sometimes recognize that your prayers have been answered. I would hold forth the idea that often we do not recognize an answer to our prayers, but if your watch your own spiritual life and your own spiritual mind—eventually you can recognize that sometimes things change, and you don’t even know when it happens.

We’re beginning Holy Week today. so let’s summarize what we can learn from today’s scriptures about our spiritual relationship with Jesus.

  1. God is quiet and often subtle. God’s work in our lives depends on our willingness, and God does not force us to love him.
  2. God does not bribe us to love him, by threatening hell, or promising eternal life. Instead, God is there for us, but we have to approach God of our free will and love.
  3. Jesus brings us peace, and brings peace to our world; Jesus comes to us quietly and humbly as he came into Jerusalem. Similarly, Mennonites believe that humility and simplicity are in the image of Christ. I realize that I fail this terribly, as do many Americans and I ask your forgiveness for my failings.
  4. God and Jesus never ignore our prayers. The answer however may be so quiet and unobtrusive that a gift from God may not even wake us from sleep or from a quiet moment. God is quiet, God is subtle.

As our own quiet observance (the quieter the better!) let’s commit, as individuals and as a community of disciples to renew first our quiet and humble prayer life with Jesus and with God. It’s easy, it’s free, and it makes you feel as though you are walking on air, about 6 inches above the ground. But what if being a disciple of Christ also led to suffering, pain, deprivation and despair. Would you still love Jesus, would you still love God?

Next week we’ll be talking about the ‘Cost of Discipleship’. This is also the title of a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned an executed as a Christian resister to the Nazis in pre-war Germany. He was hung on the same day as Hitler committing suicide—Hitler was determined Bonhoeffer would not outlive him.

But in preparation for that next week—and Easter—let’s renew our prayer life, in quiet, on our knees if possible, and remind ourselves with Jesus why we are Christians.



Psalm 118

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.

21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.

27The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.

29O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Matthew 21:1-11

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Psalm 31:9-16

9Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

10For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

11I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.

12I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.

13For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

14But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

15My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

16Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Philippians 2:5-11

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 27:11-54

11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o”clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved




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