Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-2      Philippians 2:5-11     Matthew 21:1-11

Holy Week 2017.... So it begins, Jesus rides into town on a donkey. To the casual observer, it looks like a guy on a donkey. There is, however, greater depth of meaning than the eye can see. Matthew uses Ancient Biblical texts to illuminate the event.

The first, Matthew 21:5, is actually two texts woven together, which unlock the secret of Jesus.
Matthew begins with a snippet from Isaiah 62:11 "Say to daughter Zion, but let us read the rest of the verse; "see your salvation (yasha=salvation) comes! See, His (i.e. God) reward is with Him, but His work lies ahead of Him.'' To Jewish ears this says "your yasha/Jesus comes" because Jesus' name is salvation.  "See your God comes"--Matthew is subtly correlating God and Jesus. Jesus is the God of Israel bringing salvation, Jesus whose work lies ahead of Him on Calvary!

Zechariah 9:9 "[Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion]...See, your king comes to you. [He is triumphant and victorious], humbly riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Matthew omits the reference to victory and triumph, to reinforce what Jesus said of Himself (Mt 11:29) "I am meek and humble of heart."

The large crowd of rural pilgrims in town for Passover were very different from the city dwellers. City folk barely tolerated the arrival of the underclass masses. The powerful viewed the Jesus people with wary eyes. As they see them wildly waving branches and screaming "Hosanah;" they heard yasha=Save and nah=please, pray, now. They would have been deeply worried at the words, "Save us, we implore, Son of David!" Jesus (yasha in Hebrew) was unknown to them. How could such a man be king? What will Rome think of this? 

The crowd continues: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" which is Psalm 118:26. Turning there we find several verses which further unveil Jesus. For example, Psalm 118:22 ("The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone") was used by Jesus to explain the rejection of His ministry, the culmination of this rejection is a few days away. Hidden from us in English, verse 25 says yasha anna - hosanna, again - (Save us we beseech you Lord, Lord we beseech you give us success--a cry to God). I think verse 27 is the most intriguing of all ('The Lord has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar'). The Hebrew word chag probably means chords, but in the ancient Greek (Septuagint) translation, which apparently Matthew used, it was rendered "branches." So in the Septuagint Bible which Matthew read, this psalm speaks of bringing the sacrificial victim to the altar with branches of palm. Think about it, isn't that the event unfolding before us. As they cry "King Jesus Save us!" the Lamb of God, surrounded by palm branches, humbly rides to his sacrificial death--just like the psalm. 

This revelation--apocalypse--unveils the meaning of the event. The city is shaken, Matthew uses the Greek word "earth quake" here,  when Jesus dies and when He rises again. Earth quakes are a sign of the end times and Matthew is intentionally telling us, that Jesus has ushered in the end of the age. God has come with salvation/Jesus.

Today, as we look at the humble king, we too must decide. Will we entrust ourselves to Him and cry out, "Save us, Lord"? Will we leave our insulated lives of privilege, renounce our power, and intermingle with the crude, underclass which clings to Jesus? Will we renounce the power of the world and choose Jesus? Most of us will continue with business as usual this week. We are after all Americans, busy with many things. But we can choose to follow the victim with palm branches to His altar--an altar shaped like a dinner table on Thursday night, an altar of a wooden cross on Friday. More importantly, we can make our own gift of self, taking up our own cross to follow humble King Jesus, the Suffering Messiah. In Jesus, God has made His choice. We can choose to trust Jesus. We can choose to love Jesus. We can choose.

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