Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
April 2, 2023
Before the Passage. Holy Week begins today, Palm Sunday.
Our trip to the Holy Land last summer began where Palm Sunday began, on top of the Mount of OIives. The Mount of Olives is 2,652 ft high. It overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount was a small hill in the middle of Jerusalem where the first and second temples stood. Now it’s the place of The Dome of the Rock, 2nd holiest place in Islam.
We walked down the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem, perhaps travelling on the same route Jesus used on Palm Sunday. At the bottom of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went following the Last Supper. It’s where he was arrested. It’s about a mile from the top of Mount of Olives to the city gates of Jerusalem – down the hill, across a small valley – Kidron Valley, into Jerusalem, and then into the Temple Courts
Let’s take a look: Matthew 21:1-17
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying 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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“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.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The 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!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you are making it a den of robbers.”
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did and heard the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Let me make a couple of quick points about Palm Sunday.
- Jesus carefully planned Palm Sunday ahead of time.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. “Go into the next village. Look for a donkey. “Lord needs it.” He also planned it for a time when Jerusalem would be packed with visitors. Passover was approaching. All Jews living within 20 miles were required to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. In addition, Jews from all over that part of the world travelled –
- Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was quite significant.
It fulfilled the prophecy that Deb mentioned during the call to worship, that one day the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior, would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Riding a donkey was also a sign that he came in peace and humility.
I read this week that in the Middle East they don’t look down at donkeys the way we do. They view it as a noble beast.
Illustration. We took a horseback ride out West down into Bryce Canyon, and I was riding a mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse. – looked like a donkey on steroids. There are huge drop-offs along the narrow path, and I remember thinking, “My life is in the hands of a donkey!”
However, in the First Century it wasn’t an unusual thing or an embarrassing thing for Jesus to be riding a donkey. Kings rode donkeys when they came in peace. Certainly, Jesus came in peace, Heaven’s Peace.
- The crowd shouting “Hosanna” was also significant.
It literally means, “Save us now!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven” means, “May our prayers be heard by God and all the angels of heaven – Save us now!”
That’s what a Savior does. The Savior saves.
This Lent we’re looking at some of the most important titles for Jesus. One of those important titles is Savior. If you ask Christians who is Jesus to you, many if not most would come to the word “Savior” pretty quickly. Christ is my Savior. We ask Confirmands when they join the church – “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Palm Sunday’s a good day to reflect on Jesus as Savior, for two reasons –
One, the people shouted, “Save us now.” They saw him as the Savior and asked to be saved, to be rescued. And secondly, when we think of Jesus as Savior we often go quickly in our minds to the Cross – the Savior died for our sins in order to save us and reconcile us to God. Palm Sunday started the chain of events that led to the Cross. The earliest Christians looked at Good Friday as a sacrificial, saving event, mainly because they lived in a theological system where offerings were made for the sins of the people. (that can be a bit foreign to us)
The Passover feast celebrated the night during the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt where a perfect lamb was sacrificed and the blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses so that the Angel of Death passed over their houses. The blood of the lamb saved them. You can see how they’d naturally call Jesus the Lamb of God whose shed blood saves us. In addition, the Jews back then, like today, celebrated the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, where a perfect lamb was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. The sacrifice brought forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Since its beginning and throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have viewed the Cross as the saving event that reconciled us to God.
I Peter 3:18 says: For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
The sacrificial love of Jesus, shown by the Cross, brings us to God. Love bridges the divide. Salvation, wholeness, being made right with God is ours.
What I’d like to add to that today is the fact that Jesus saves in many, many ways – not just through the Cross.
Let me give you some biblical examples.
Luke 19 tells the story of Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was a despised tax collector and he was short. He climbed a tree to get a good look at Jesus. Jesus sees him and says, “Come on down, Zacchaeus, I’d like to come to your house today.” During the meal, Zacchaeus is so touched by Jesus’ kindness that he says he repay anyone he’s ever defrauded. And Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus was a lost and lonely soul, and Jesus saved him by offering him kindness and acceptance. Salvation came to Zacchaeus, and the Cross hadn’t even happened yet. The word salvation, salvus in Greek, means wholeness – it’s being safe, whole, & well. Zacchaeus was made well. He was saved by Jesus.
All the people Jesus healed received salvation, salvus – wholeness. That’s why he said things like, “Arise, your faith has made you well.” Other times Jesus said, “Arise, your sins are forgiven.” I assume some were living with extreme guilt and shame, and Jesus made them whole with his forgiveness & love.
How about the woman caught in the act a adultery. (John 8)
Jesus said to her, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Didn’t that make her whole again? It certainly set her on the path to wholeness.
Or the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4.
She was amazed that Jesus was even talking to her (a woman, a Samaritan) in public, and then she was further amazed when he knew everything about her, including the most painful things in her life. Afterword, she couldn’t stop telling everyone about the amazing person she had met. Jesus had affirmed her worth and made her whole.
Do you see my point?
All sorts of folks received salvation from Jesus and the Cross hadn’t even happened yet.
NT scholar Marcus Borg writes: “For some (of the people Jesus saved) the need was liberation; for others, the need was homecoming” – to be found and valued – “and still for others, the need was acceptance.”
No matter what our deepest needs, hurts, and fears are, Jesus the Savior wants to offer us salvation – healing and wholeness. “Hosanna in the highest!”
Illustration. Bill M. I may have told you about a friend of mine who I’ll call Bill. He’s one of the wisest, most grounded, humble yet confident person I’ve ever known. When we lived closer, Bill was a trusted confidant and mentor. Early in his ministry, Bill wrestled with deep insecurity. He feared failure and felt that he never measured up and never would. Searching for answers he signed up for a charismatic Catholic, retreat, led by two nuns – even though Bill was and is a UCC minister. During the retreat Bill had a private, personal talk with one of the nuns and explained his deep inner struggles. She looked at him quite confidently and said, “Jesus can help you with that.” And during the course of that retreat and in the weeks that followed Jesus did just that. Salvation came – wholeness and wellness – because that’s what the Savior brings.
Maybe you need some salvation today.
It might be insecurity or the need to know you’re valued, you matter, you count.
It might be a need to feel accepted for who you truly are.
Maybe you have trouble believing you’re a beloved Child of God?
Maybe you have trouble believing that you’re forgiven, that God’s grace is big enough to cover your mistakes and failures?
Maybe it’s a hurt, a wound that you feel will never heal?
Maybe you feel far from God and can’t imagine having a relationship with God.
Whatever it is, can you believe these words?
“Jesus can help you with that.”
Think about it.
Then pray about it.