Sunday, March 29, 2015

PALM SUNDAY LETTER TO BENJAMIN NETANYAHU


This coming Sunday, Christians all over the world celebrate Palm Sunday. It is the time that we recognize the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem mounted on the back of a colt of a donkey. We believe that this was done to fulfill the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which proclaims: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, gentle and mounted on a donkey, even a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”


The meaning of the prophecy, of course, was to demonstrate the manner in which Jesus, as the Messiah, was proclaiming himself as King. In that past era of the conquering of nations and kingdoms, a victorious king would not ride into a defeated city on a lowly donkey, but on a mighty war steed or in a war chariot. But this was not how Jesus proclaimed himself on that day.

There will come a day, incidentally, when Jesus will be seen riding a mighty steed in order to take back his kingdom. We read of this in the book of Revelation. But that is a subject for another time.

But it is Jesus the riding of the colt on that occasion some 2000 years ago that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. As he did so, the crowd that had been accompanying him from the town of Bethany were joined by more people from Jerusalem. They laid not only palm fronds down on the road before Jesus, but also their own cloaks. Since there was a multitude of people present, and we are told that most of the people removed their cloaks to lay them down before Jesus, the road was transformed into a carpeted path to give him honored entrance into the city.

As the people were doing this, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

This word “Hosanna,” is one that we use even today. Perhaps we do not use it in our everyday speech, but many Christian songs are even based upon the theme of Hosanna. I believe I even remember some entire song books with that title.

But what does the word mean? Why were the people shouting “Hosanna” on that day?

As I am sure that you know, the word is actually a combination of two Hebrew words that when placed together in this way mean “Save us, we implore you!” or "Save now!"

The people on that original day of palms where looking to Jesus to save them. However, the salvation that they were looking for is not in the same regard as we usually think about it in our churches in these days. The salvation that the people of Jerusalem were looking for on that day was not from their sinful ways, but from the Roman occupation and oppression.

That is why they were calling Jesus, “the son of David.” The Historical King David was regarded in those days as the greatest of all Israel’s kings, even as I believe he is still regarded today in Israel. As the people were shouting and referring to Jesus as the son of David, they saw in him one who had done so many miraculous works – healing many people and even, as they had been so recently reminded, raising a man from the dead! Certainly, they thought, this Jesus from Nazareth had the power to overthrow the Romans.

The crowd was so caught up in the excitement of the moment, that the lesson of Jesus entering the city while riding on a colt of a donkey completely escaped them. Jesus was here to save them, yes, but not in the manner in which they were looking. He was not coming as a warrior who would lead a revolution against the Romans.


In the midst of all of the events of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, he had two reactions that I find interesting.

The first is what he said to some Pharisees who were in the crowd who told Jesus to rebuke the people for their actions and what they were saying about him. He told them this: “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:41).

We are not told what the reaction of the Pharisees was to these words. Perhaps they were simply dumbfounded, but given their subsequent actions in the days to follow, I think that it is more likely that they were angered at Jesus’ words. They understood something about Jesus that most in the multitude did not.

The multitude was looking on Jesus at that time as a political hero, a military hero, but the Pharisees understood that Jesus was claiming that he was God, and the Messiah spoken of by the prophets. They could have accepted someone who would lead a simply political movement, but they could not abide by someone who was there to upset their religious system, and this is what Jesus was doing.

In fact, Jesus was soon to demonstrate this literally. On the day following, Jesus entered the temple and began to do some upsetting. The temple area had turned into little more than a market place where animals were sold for sacrificial purposes and where the money changers had set up their tables. Jesus entered into this area, looked around for a moment, then began overturning these tables and driving the merchants out.

After he had restored order, Jesus then began to teach the people. “Is it not written,” he asked them, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer or all the nations?’ But you have made it into a robbers den!” (Mark 11:17)

Then the blind and the lame came to Jesus to be healed. Jesus did heal them. When the chief priests and the scribes saw what had happened and also remembering the crowd when they were shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they began to become indignant.

The priests said to him, “Do you hear what these people are saying?”

Jesus responded to the religious leaders in this way: “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself?” (Matthew 21:16). 

Stones that Cry and Infants who Praise

The stones praising Jesus? Infants and nursing babes? What did Jesus mean by this?

Well, the scripture that tells of the infants and nursing babes praising him, which Jesus was quoting, was taken from Psalm 8. The Psalm begins: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is our name in all the earth, who has displayed your splendor above the heavens! (Psalm 8:1)

There is also this Psalm that clarifies what Jesus was saying: “The heavens are telling of the Glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the works of his hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals his knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2 NAS).

Jesus is the creator of the universe, and by whatever means, the universe and all that is in it will praise him. To us, as men and women, God has given something that he apparently has not given any other of his creation: a will that is free. We have the ability to make our own choices. That means, by our own disobedience, we have the ability to refuse this recognition of his Sovereign Lordship. However, when Jesus spoke of infants and nursing babes, and even rocks declaring God’s greatness, he was saying that even though that through there will be the disobedience of a few ungrateful ones, this will not prevent God from being praised! He is Lord! 

Weeping over the City

That is the first thing about the response of Jesus to the events of the day that I find interesting. The second thing is found in Luke 19:41. When Jesus was approaching, he looked up and seeing the city, he wept over it.



Jesus Weeping over Jerusalem

St. Vincent de Paul Chapel, St. Louis, MO
To those who were close enough at the moment to actually see Jesus weeping, I am sure that they were a bit taken aback by this reaction. Why should Jesus be weeping now? This should have been one of his greatest moments. He was being adored and praised by a great multitude and hailed as a victor. The religious leaders of the day, who had long been opposed to Jesus, were also opposed to the adoration of Jesus by the crowd, but they could do nothing about it. They were powerless in the face of such a multitude.

But Jesus wept, and then said these words: “If you had known in this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now, they have been hidden from your eyes.”

The people thought that the path to peace lied in expelling the Romans from their land. In their view, this was their land given to them by God. The fact that the Romans were occupying their land and ruling over them was an abomination to them. But expelling the Romans, as the Jews wanted to do, was not the path to peace.

Jesus wept for two reasons. The first was that he foresaw all of the horrendous events that would eventually happen in the city. “For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you. And they will not leave in you one stone upon another” (Luke 19:43-44a NAS).

The most immediate fulfillment of this prophecy would take place in Jerusalem about seventy years after Jesus spoke these words. In AD 70, The Roman general Titus marched into the city and fulfilled the words of Jesus exactly.

But that was not all that Jesus said as he was weeping over Jerusalem. I stopped the quote above in mid-sentence. Jesus also gave the reason that the city would suffer such a fate. His closing remark was, “Because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” 

As a Hen Would Gather her Brood

The Savior had come, the Messiah had lived among the people. He had performed many miracles not so that he could demonstrate his power and gain a large following, but he did it simply because of the fact that he loved his people and wanted to care for their needs as a shepherd cares of the needs of his sheep.

He did it also to fulfill prophecies that had spoken of the Messiah. Prophecies such as are found in Isaiah 35: 3-6: 

Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.

Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your ‘god will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but he will save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. 


This promised One, of whom Isaiah wrote, visited the people. The people should have recognized who he was. He came for a time to live with them, walk among them and teach them, and heal their sicknesses and infirmities. Most often in the gospels, when Jesus did some miraculous work, it was not called a miracle, but a sign. The miracles that Jesus did were meant not only to heal, but to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

Jesus said, “If I do [the works of my Father (vs 37)], though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38).

But they did not recognize him. Because of this, Jesus wept.

This was not the last time that Jesus would lament for the city. In Matthew 23:37-39 Jesus again grieved for the city when he said,  

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling! Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (NAS) 

On Palm Sunday, the people recognized Jesus as the “Son of David,” but it seems that they did not pay full attention to the quote from the Psalms, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm118:23). They would not have peace until they recognize that Jesus had also come “In the name of the Lord.”

Today, the Jews that live in that same land of Israel still are looking for peace. Just the same as 2000 years ago, they believe the path to peace must lie in some sort freedom and security.

There might be something to be said for a short-term peace that this could bring, but it will never be a true peace or a lasting peace until they come to terms with the truth that they had been visited by the Messiah who came in the name of the Lord. They did not recognize this visitation at the time that Jesus came, but he remains the only hope for peace.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

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