Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"An Act of Resistance:

Luke 19:29-40

Philippians 2:5-11

      The ancient hymn text from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, which, read for us a few minutes ago, describes a time when “every knee” will “bend,” and “every tongue confess” or bear witness that Jesus is Lord.  It reflects the unshakeable faith of a people who believe in the saving power and promise of God in Christ.  It was this Savior, this peasant carpenter from Galilee, whom the people called “Rabbi”, who came riding into Jerusalem on a lowly beast of burden.  The people turned out en masse to catch even a glimpse of this man, and greeted Him as the long-awaited Liberator.  (Read Luke 19:29-40)

     Let us make no mistake about it.  This greeting, the people’s “Hosanna’s, “Save now!” was  less a theological statement, and more a political statement; and this people’s march into the city a political rally with Jesus as the leading candidate; one who would assume the leadership and power of a new king.  And I have to wonder how Jesus might have perceived all this.  Did Jesus’ realize that this was – politically-speaking – a dangerous game being played out just before the beginning of the Jewish Passover?  Was His participation in this all part of His plan to bring about the fulfillment of God’s destiny for Him?  Did Jesus allow Himself to be used as a pawn by religious and political forces in order that God’s plan for Him be precisely fulfilled?  The Festival of the Passover, which Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem to observe, took on new and powerful meaning during the days of Jewish captivity to Rome.  There was remembrance of the first Passover; of unblemished lambs slain, and their blood brushed on the door posts of the ancient Jews, so God’s avenging angel would pass over their households.  Passover was a time to remember freedom and liberation.  The masses were cheering Jesus’ entry into the holy city because He represented the hope of liberation from the forces of subjugation and occupation.  Even the palm branches they waved were symbols of freedom. After all, the last time the Jewish people had been free from foreign occupation was over a century before.  The time was ripe for a new Moses who would come before the Roman Emperor, much as the first Moses stood before the Egyptian Pharaoh, and demand, “Let my people go!”

      On the road to Jerusalem, the people were making a loud and clear political statement about their desire for the overthrow of King Herod and the hated occupation of their country by Rome. It might be akin to Palestinian youth today waving Palestinian flags in anticipation of freedom, and overthrow of the forces of occupation that have dominated their lives for so long.  The first Palm Sunday, as much as we tend to romanticize it, was an act of political resistance; an in-your-face display of civil disobedience [at least in the eyes of the religious leadership].  We might even call it a passive coup.  John Dominic Crossan in his book Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography suggests that: “What Jesus was doing is located exactly on the borderline between the covert and the overt act of resistance.”

      Yet this pressure by the jubilant crowds to coronate Jesus king was short-lived.  The authorities,, both political and religious, wanted to nip any potential coup, passive or otherwise, in the bud.  According to first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, only thirty-five years earlier, there had been a bloody revolt on the temple mount during Passover, just yards away from the very road upon which Jesus entered.  There would not be a repeat performance.  So the religious leaders met Jesus at the city gates, and demanded that He tell the people to be quiet and go home.  Jesus responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”   Jesus’ ministry of peace with justice, and hope for all people could not, and will not be silenced, even and especially in this age when the Middle East has become the very epicenter of political turmoil,  and in this age when the United States has been drawn into the vortex of this turmoil on the other side of the world.  Jesus was and is forming a new community; a vitally alive people of God who hope to live as no other people have lived, because we know we have been redeemed and liberated.  That was the very hope of the masses on that first Palm Sunday.  It remains our very real hope on this Palm Sunday.

     We must remember, however, that Jesus’ expression of victory and power, his means of redemption and liberation, are radically different and totally at odds with the conventional way of doing things.  Jesus effectively rejected the people’s efforts to elevate Him to a worldly throne. He thwarted any potential coup.  This helps explain the sudden and dramatic turn of events. from Palm Sunday to Good Friday; how Jesus’ popularity rating could plummet so fast.  Even as He rode upon the back of that beast of burden, looking out over the adoring multitudes, imagine His pain and misery in knowing that even after three years of teaching, preaching and healing, few had any understanding of who He was, or why He had come.  Even His disciples who were with him day and night did not really at this juncture understand who He was, or why He had come.  Whereas they had all turned to the image of David, a warrior king, to understand the role of Messiah, Jesus came as the truth embodied in the suffering servant image from the, prophet Isaiah.  Here is that image of the true Messiah as the prophet articulates it:  “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…… he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

      The Messiah, this One, Jesus of Nazareth, came and comes not to conquer with the conventional weaponry of war, but rather to redeem through a gospel of love; came and comes not to destroy and overthrow, but to bind up and heal.  His strength does not lie in legions commanded or armaments displayed on parade, but lies rather in forbearance and forgiveness. His strength rises out of weakness, and His healing power grows out of woundedness.  How difficult it was then, and is now, to wrap our minds around such a message; particularly in the milieu of strife and anguish over the loss of life, and the hatred of one people toward another. Imagine, even today, Jesus’ misery as He gazes down upon the multitudes, knowing that few really understand who He is, or why He has come.  The image of a suffering servant still offends us as we struggle to embrace this One who came and comes in the name of the Lord.

      The bottom line is that Jesus, the Son of God -- God’s very self in human vesture – was willing to risk it all for truth, as He rode into that dangerous game being played out in Jerusalem some 1985 years ago.  He did it for the sake of others.  He did it for your sake and mine.  This truth could not, and cannot be silenced.  The very stones will shout about that which is good, just, and right, and a new people will be formed whose knees will bow down in adoration, and whose tongues will confess and voice praise to the One who comes to proclaim liberation through His own suffering and self-sacrifice.  Let’s leave this place on this Palm Sunday, and this start of the week we call “holy,” remembering His sacrifice, celebrating His triumph, being formed into the people of whom the Apostle Paul writes:  “…..that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Amen.

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102