Psalm Sunday

As Jesus enters the great city of Jerusalem some begin asking, “Who is this?”

It is a question that comes up a lot in the Gospels. Jesus calms the storm, “Who is this?” (Matt 8). Jesus declares a man’s sins forgiven and then heals him and the religious leaders ask, “who is this?” (Luke 7). Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” … and then “who do you say that I am?”

When people answer this question in the Bible they often get it wrong, or only partly right. Some of the religious leaders thought Jesus’ power came from demons and so he was some kind of dark magician. … Some called him a prophet, which is getting closer. At least he’s playing for the right team. Peter declared that Jesus is, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat 16:16). But, Peter still didn’t quite understand. Right after he declared this about Jesus he pulled him aside and began to scold him for saying that he was going to be killed by the authorities.

“Who is this?” This is the question all the Gospels are answering. They want us to know who Jesus is.

When he entered Jerusalem, Jesus received the welcome of a king. I don’t know if you have ever seen royalty welcomed. Maybe you have seen the queen visit Canada. You see people lined up all along the streets. They are waving flags. Some bring flowers to give. There are barricades to keep the crowds back.

They welcome Jesus in as royalty. But this is even bigger. To understand the excitement of the crowd we have to understand a little bit of what was happening at the time. The Roman Empire was occupying their land. Their influence seemed to poison everything. The king was a kind of puppet king put in power by Rome. There was a broad feeling that the temple leadership had become corrupt as well.

They are welcoming Jesus as the messiah. In the minds of most people the messiah would be a king like King David who would remove the corrupt leadership, unify the country, and free them from Roman oppression. To welcome him they laid their cloaks on the ground (2 Kings 9:13), which is a sign of loyalty and dedication. They wave tree branches in celebration and lay them on the ground making a kind of red-carpet welcome (1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 10:7). They shout “Hosanna” which means “save us” (Ps 118:25). It had become a kind of shout of joy and adoration.

So, they welcome him as a king, and he comes on a donkey. We might expect a war horse. … Jesus is very purposely fulfilling a prophesy about the messiah (Zech 9:9). Through this action Jesus is declaring that he is the Messiah. … The Messiah is called the Son of David, and another son of David, Solomon, came to the city on a donkey when he was anointed king to succeed his father (1 Kings 1:32-40).

There is a dramatic shift today. It is not only Palm Sunday, but it is also Passion Sunday. We can get spiritual whiplash today. The crowds shift from shouting “hosanna” to “crucify”. Jesus is betrayed by one of his own disciples. Peter denies knowing Jesus, and most of the others scatter. The justice system is manipulated to create an unjust conviction to convict him.

How could such a dramatic shift happen in such a short time? Jesus was not the messiah they were expecting. … Jesus was the messiah God wanted. But they wanted a nationalist hero who would wave their country’s flag. They wanted someone to kick out the Romans and be their King.

The messiah God wanted was going to battle with Sin and death, not the Romans. This messiah was for all of humanity, not just Israel. He wasn’t set on raising an army of soldiers, but on an army of saints. He was to fulfill the original blessing of Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the families of the world (Gen 12:3).

I wonder how often we do this? We try to make Jesus into who we want him to be. We want a Jesus to forgive my sin. I want a Jesus to secure an afterlife for me when I die.

But there are things about Jesus that make me uncomfortable. He tells me to love my enemies. He tells me to turn the other cheek when I’m struck. He tells me that if I don’t deal with my anger I might as well be a murderer. If I don’t deal with my lust I might as well be an adulterer. He tells me to pick up my cross and follow him. …

Maybe I want the Jesus that just makes me feel warm and fuzzy and not the Jesus who challenges me to be transformed. … Are there times when Jesus isn’t the Messiah I expect him to be?

We might turn to God because we want Him to deal with our loneliness, or sadness, or cowardice, or bad temper, or addiction. … He will help us, but he won’t stop there. He will start poking around and start fixing other bits, even if you don’t think it’s broken and don’t really want it fixed. You can resist him, of course, but if you don’t he is going to complete the job he started. He wants to make you into something new. …

The Messiah is coming to fix the world, but he will fix you along with it. He’s not just going to fix your neighbour with the noisy dog. He’s not just going to fix the people you disagree with. He aims to fix you too, … and me. And there are parts of us he wants to fix that we might be offended to know he wants to fix. … Jesus presents himself to us. He may not be exactly what we expect … or want, … but Jesus gives us what we actually need.

Our Messiah is humble enough to allow us to accept him or deny him. He won’t force himself on us. He will present himself to us, and we are free to accept him or deny him. We can welcome him as king, or crucify him as a fraud. God was willing to gently ask for our acceptance, not command it. He was so gentle that he even allowed us to reject him, and crucify him. And even after all that, he wouldn’t let it stop him. He will not give up on us. He used even our rejection of him, his own crucifixion, to show the unbelievable depth of his love for us.


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