Sermon: The Real Triumphal Entry
The Real Triumphal Entry
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 4-9-2017)
When Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem, there were all kinds of expectations living in that crowd. You are about to listen to an imaginary letter written by a member of a Jewish religious party, the Zealots, who were active in the time of Jesus. The Zealots believed in the power of violence. Some Zealots were no doubt in that Palm Sunday crowd, trusting that Jesus, the Promised Messiah of God, would lead the occupied Jews in a mighty overthrow of Rome. Listen now to this letter to Jacob.
No life is lived without regrets. As I prepare for evening prayers, I regret you were not with me this morning in Jerusalem. Nothing I say can capture the frenzy of being here for the high holy days. As you know, you do not stroll through this city during the holidays, you squeeze between vendors and tourists, while Romans make an embarrassing show of their power and strange looking Jews from lands I have never heard of pour into the Temple.
Jacob, as you know, I am not one easily stirred to change my ways or to think differently than I have always thought. I take comfort in tradition and am usually uncomfortable with any who challenge it. I mean no offense by what I am about to say, but I am here less because of your urgings over the years to “go to Jerusalem,” and more because I could not stay away this year.
As a boy, I spent hours fighting the imaginary Philistines and their loud-mouthed, taunting toad, Goliath. I was young David slinging my two smooth stones against the enemy, watching the giant bleed to death, while I shouted a victory cry to God.
Like you, Jacob, I have lived all my life with Goliath spewing his putrid breath all over our land, restricting the movement of our people, taunting us for sport, keeping watch over whatever we do, humiliating us by profaning the Temple, crucifying anyone who gets in the way, and doing things to our women that I cannot bear to imagine.
Like you, Jacob, I have lived for the day when someone would sling two smooth stones at that Goliath called Caesar, for the day when the Promised Messiah of Israel would rise up against Rome, call together a mighty legion, and deliver a decisive blow against our enemies. I have longed for the time when we could join the chorus of angels responding to the Psalmist’s question, “Who is the King of Glory?” with the glad shout, “The LORD, strong and mighty.”
That is why my heart aches tonight with a strange mixture of regret and exhilaration. Had you been here this morning, you and I would have danced like two proud Jews at a wedding feast when the glass is smashed. Forgive me though, I am getting ahead of myself; I am talking about everything except what did happen this morning.
I know that your health is not what it once was, certainly not good enough to make this difficult journey. So, as you have often done for me over the years, let me be your eyes for this day of days. Before I do, though, you know me well enough to know that I am not easily impressed by the presence or prowess of another man. Few men alive could do battle with me and live to battle me again. The LORD God, Master of the Universe, blessings be unto him, gave me great strength of body and agility of mind. Not only am I not easily wrestled to the ground, I am not easily fooled by the words of those who purport themselves wise, but are really fools.
I am not one prone to follow, but to be followed by those seeking my counsel or fearing my reprisal. The thought that I would leave behind even an afternoon nap to follow a carpenter from Nazareth is almost laughable. I was born into a prominent family in an influential town; Jesus is from Nazareth that backwater town about which the ancient prophet rightfully asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Jacob, I know that this Jesus has captured your imagination as well. You were the one who invited me to listen to this wanderer, to watch his enthralling way with people and how crowds came to him like thirsty ones to a pool of water. I do not put much credence in fish tales of miraculous doings, but I do remember how the ancient prophet spoke that when the Promised One of God came that the blind would see, the deaf would hear, and the binding of captivity would burst.
I have followed this Jesus for some time now, even though I am no follower of any man. I have watched him do battle with the best of our debaters and bring healing in ways that I cannot begin to explain. I have prayed, asking, “LORD God, is he the Promised One whom you have sent to redeem our people? Is he our long awaited Messiah who will crush Rome like a wedding glass and restore to us our land and our dignity?”
Finally, God answered my prayer this morning, Jacob. Before today, I did not know how shrewd a military leader this Jesus is. You remember the prophet Zechariah’s ludicrous saying, “Lo, your king comes to you; . . . humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9)? Zechariah was trying to pacify the powers that be then, for you and I know that no king arrives anywhere on a beast of burden. Rome knows that as well.
So, what happened this morning? How did King Jesus make his grand entrance into Jerusalem? Not just on one beast of burden but two, looking like the ringmaster in a circus. I nearly fell over laughing at the sheer brilliance of his military strategy.
No occupier likes to see a crowd gathering, particularly around anyone but their king. The crowds around Jesus have nearly tripled in size since you last heard him, Jacob. That fact alone made me reluctant to come to Jerusalem. I steer clear of Romans in a bad mood and big crowds of celebratory Jews, even though they are my own people, always make me nervous.
The Romans on watch must have looked at this crowded, comical procession, and sighed in relief. When we tossed our cloaks and laid our branches and shouted our “hosannas,” our “God save us,” it must have given them a great laugh, and if God is good, their last laugh. They must have laughed themselves silly over this “triumphal” entry into holy Zion. Their sides must have hurt from chortling at this surreal scene of Jesus “the King” sitting astride two burdened beasts with mostly, country peasants tossing branches on the ground as if Jesus were about to mount his throne.
While the Romans laughed in derision at this patchwork parade, I laughed in delight that Jesus was finally ready to rule with the full force of God. Finally, Jesus will turn this crowd of pitied followers into an unstoppable force of God’s soldiers to join with legions of angels to restore us to our home, our land and like the Egyptians crossing the Red Sea, the Roman hyenas will soon choke in pools of their own filthy blood.
As for our brown-nosing brothers, the Sadducees, they will soon find themselves lamenting that they were sleeping with the enemy. And, the pious Pharisees will soon find that they have underestimated this Jesus, losing sleep when he overturns their tedious teachings and stagnant traditions.
What a brilliant decision that Jesus made to enter Jerusalem like a clown. At least his entrance looked that way to Rome. This morning, though, to those of us zealous for God, we know, at last, we know that Jesus is now poised to do what God has sent him to do – what the wisest prophets have promised from of old. The Romans do not fear this clown, nor do our brothers the Sadducees. The Pharisees do not respect him and his disciples do not understand him. They all will soon learn. Jacob, this is why I wish you were here now, not just to have witnessed the great scene this morning, but to see the devastation that the LORD God is about to unleash on Rome.
I fear the most for those closest to Jesus, what he calls his “disciples,” those who have followed him month after month. They have heard him talking about the impotence of hatred, the futility of fighting, not lifting sword against sword, the senselessness of one nation imposing its will on another nation. Little do they understand that Jesus has just been pacifying Rome, reeling them in with his verbal nonsense. Little do they see that when all the Jews have arrived for Passover that Jesus will send Pilate into the streets crying for mercy and the Roman guards will wish they had somewhere to run.
Jacob, for those of us who are zealous for the LORD, this is the time for which we have prayed. This is the time when God will turn our plowshares into swords and our new David will lead us. He will not only liberate our people but will liberate the Roman people as well.
On this blessed night, I will lift up my voice to the heavens in thanks for Jesus – the one man I will follow, follow with sword in hand until the Sadducees suffer, the Pharisees cower, the disciples know and the Romans taste the same justice that we have known these many years. Jacob, surely today as Jesus entered Zion, we have come to the brink of the reign of God for which you and I have prayed. Surely, today begins the first true holy week.
O brother Jacob, how I wish you were here.
That is one way to see Jesus, as One who will embrace violence for a holy cause. The Gospel writers invite us to see a different Jesus, a Jesus who will enter Holy Week and weep with Martha and Mary at the sight of death, a Jesus who will tell Peter to put away his sword, a Jesus who will pray for his executioners even as nails are being driven through his hands, a Jesus who though wrongfully executed at Golgotha will insist that we reject violence and trust in his suffering love.
Follow this Jesus, and his entry into Jerusalem and into our lives will truly be triumphant.