Palm Sunday 2019 – Our King’s Journey
Distance. Do you ever think about it much? Probably when you’re on a long road trip distance means a lot to you. I can still recall the family vacations we took to Florida when I was kid and it was like a 17 hour drive. My dad claims that my sister asked if we were there yet even before we left the town we lived in. We’d been in the car 10 minutes and had 17 hours to go! But think about the longest road trip you’ve ever taken. Where did you go? How long did it take? When Monica and I were first married living in TX where I went to seminary, we took a road trip from Dallas to LA-which was about 22 hours-but during part of the journey on the way back I was amazed that it took us 12 hours to drive from El Paso to Dallas-and that was within 1 state-TX! Sometimes I wish we could just squish America together and make everything a bit closer. I looked up the longest road in the US and it’s Highway 20 stretching from Boston all the way to the Oregon coast-it’s 3,300 miles and along the way you can see the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Yellowstone National Park out West. The longest uninterrupted roadway in the world is Highway 1 which circles the continent of Australia and is just over 9,000 miles long. Now if all that time in on the road makes you feel car sick, the world’s longest flight is actually fairly close. It’s Singapore Airlines which flies out of Newark and takes you nonstop to Singapore at a mere 19 hours. Anybody booking that flight?
But then it becomes nearly mind-boggling to ponder the distances when you leave good old planet earth. It would take the Space Shuttle seven months to reach the sun and two years to reach Jupiter and 165,000 years to reach Alpha Centarri-the nearest star. Obviously nobody can actually travel that far-you’ll be dead just as the journey’s starting. And of course, the universe goes on and on and is absolutely gigantic-traveling at the speed of light which is impossible-but even at light speed it would take 46 billion years to travel to the edge of the observable universe (and there could be more!) That’s a long distance! Makes the drive to Florida seem rather short.
But even considering the vast size and distances within the universe, nothing compares to the distance that one person did travel. A journey of infinite distance was made by someone nearly 2000 years ago-and that’s Jesus. Take a look at a passage that describes the essence of His journey-Phil 2:6-7 NIV. We’ll finish this passage later in the message but right now consider that distance-consider the journey from the heights of heaven to the valley of earth. And we’re not just talking spacial geography. Did you catch those descriptions of Jesus-the very nature of God; equality with God. That’s clearly telling us that Jesus is God, the eternal second Person of the Trinity who dwells in heaven but was made in human likeness. He took on frail human flesh like we have. The immortal one made Himself mortal. Jesus laid aside the infinities and immensities of His being and came to this earth on a rescue mission at great cost to Himself. What does the verse say-He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant-and so this morning-as we celebrate our King on Palm Sunday, I want us to see afresh that great distance He traveled.
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Luke 19. This is the passage that describes Palm Sunday. Jesus begins by telling two of the disciples to go into the village and obtain a colt. Look at how this is described-v. 30-38. This event is described in all four of the Gospels and it’s the triumphal entry, the royal procession. With the arrival of a King, people would place their garments-their cloaks or robes on the ground as a makeshift carpet. They would line the streets-wave palm branches like we have, throw flowers, make music and sing. Look how this is described in John 12:13. Of course, the person of royalty would often be on a horse or carriage. A royal procession was an event of great pomp and festivity-like a magnificent parade.
One time Monica and I were picking up some friends at O’Hare airport in Chicago and we had to stop, the road was blocked off because President Obama had arrived and his motorcade was coming by. There were some police cars-but then a bunch of black cars and black SUVs. We lost count of how many as they drove past-but they say it’s somewhere between 40-50 vehicles. Here’s a picture of the motorcade for President Trump-pic. Look at the size and scope. Here’s Jesus-not even with an army of 40-50 horses but sitting on a colt. What a contrast! The great Messiah, the eagerly awaited King is coming into His city, the capitol city-Jerusalem. But there’s no elaborate fanfare or soldiers or heads of state present. Most kings would have made a huge show of it-all their armies and chariots-to celebrate and praise the king. This is so simple, it’s amazing. Jesus on a colt with His followers singing praise. And of course this is very intentional. Zech 9:9. Jesus is identifying Himself as the King by entering Jerusalem on a colt-yet as the text says it’s done in this humble way. Here’s the King of Kings-the greatest being to ever set foot on our planet-riding on a donkey. And it doesn’t go unnoticed by the religious leaders who are trying to quiet down the praise-v. 39. They’re saying-we don’t want to create a stir here! He’s not our king-it’s a guy on a horse-a revolutionary. Because they had rejected Jesus as their King. But I love Jesus’ response-v. 40. Jesus is saying-These people know who I am-and so do the rocks-but you don’t! Jesus is strongly rebuking the Pharisees, saying that creation is more knowledgeable of His identity than they are. In a poetic way, Jesus is saying the Pharisees are as dumb as rocks!
Jesus is saying it like it is-in fact, Jesus display of humility here is truly a picture of strength. Who of us in the weakness of our flesh wouldn’t want to be treated as royalty? Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes-upon hearing the Pharisees complaint, wouldn’t you say-Enough is enough. It’s time to set the record straight. I’m not just someone who thinks He’s a King-but the King of Kings-and then wave your finger and call down a great multitude of angels to attest to that fact. You and I would want to feed our egos, our need for praise and adoration. But Jesus doesn’t do that-even though He has every right to. Look at how Jesus’ grandeur is revealed in the last book of the Bible-talk about a royal procession-Rev 19:11-14,16. That is one sweet tattoo! But this description is the description of Jesus’ reality. He’s on a great white horse with a sparkling crown, He’s dressed as a heroic warrior-ready to clean house-armies are following Him. This is the King of Kings-no one stands a chance. Strength and power and majesty to the nth degree. That’s how Jesus could have and should have entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday-but all that strength is bound together and hidden right now because of His humility. Jesus is greater than anyone else, therefore not revealing that and continuing on in simplicity and meekness is the greatest display of humility the world will ever see. And Jesus does it because He is on a mission. He’s traveled an infinite distance-from heaven to earth-to reach a very specific destination. And now we come to it.
Turn to Luke 23. As you know, Jesus goes to the palace-but it isn’t to take the throne-it’s because He was arrested-Luke 23:1-2. This is no king-the people are shouting. We don’t want a king of humility and gentleness. Because Jesus was different from what they expected-23:13-14. Pilate is saying He’s innocent but the crowds don’t care-23:18-19. This is unbelievable! The crowds are saying-We want the guilty guy! We’ll take the murderer-not the humble, compassionate guy-23:20-23. What a statement!-v.32-33. That’s the destination-the place of the skull, Golgotha as it’s known in Aramaic. What a distance! The eternal Son of God who enjoyed unbroken relationship and joy with God the Father left heaven’s throne and descended down into the valley, the very pit of the earth when He was placed upon the Cross. So Pt1:Our King deserving the throne, took the Cross. Is there any more powerful contrast than that? Jesus should have marched into Jerusalem and taken the throne that was rightly His, but instead He who was totally innocent was charged as guilty. He who should be given a crown of gold was handed a crown of thorns. He who should have had people kneel before Him in worship was mocked and spit upon. He who should have been lavishly treated as royalty was violently crucified as a criminal. But that is your King. Palm Sunday is when this King willingly enters Jerusalem-the very place where He will not be worshipped but rather killed. It’s Jesus going to face His death.
And when I consider His resolve; His courage and strength and faith to do that, I’m amazed. If I was Jesus I would have pulled a Jonah! Remember him? God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach to them-and what did Jonah do? He bought a ticket for a boat going in the opposite direction. Here’s a picture from our Jonah series last summer-pic. It came out of the Jesus Storybook Bible and it had Jonah saying-one ticket to not Nineveh please! And so he gets on a boat and sails to Tarshish, trying to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. So if I’m Jesus on Palm Sunday that’s what I’m doing-trying to get as far away from Jerusalem as possible. I’d get on that little donkey and ride it as fast as I could in the opposite direction. All Jonah had to do was preach in Nineveh. Jesus is called to face the cross. If anyone could have or should have pulled a Jonah it was Jesus. But He didn’t-not at all. Back to Pt1. And here’s what we have to remember-Jesus knew this was coming. The cross didn’t catch Him off guard or unaware. It was some disastrous consequence that happened as the week spiraled out of control. He knew the cross was coming the whole time. Look at what Jesus said to the disciples way back in Luke 9:21-22. He’s spelling it out in great detail. Flip back to Luke 18-just a chapter before Palm Sunday. Look at what Jesus says there about what lies ahead for Him in Jerusalem-Luke 18:31-34. They didn’t get it or understand what Jesus was talking about. But He certainly knew. He understood the gravity of what awaited Him and the depth of pain He would endure-He spells it out in vivid detail. We’re going up to the Jerusalem so they can do this and this and this! And instead of turning around we’re still going. So Pt2:Our King knowing the suffering, didn’t run away. Jesus was perfectly and completely obedient to the Father’s plan. With the greatest and most grim suffering in front of Him, Jesus goes to meet it head on. For me this is what Palm Sunday is all about. Jesus our King willingly entering the city of His suffering and death. Again-what would you do if you knew this is what awaited you? I know what I would do-lace up my sneakers and run my fastest 5K ever in the opposite direction. But Pt2.
And the reason is not because Jesus liked suffering or embraced it-far from it. Jesus fully and completely relied upon His Father’s will and purpose. Look at Isa 53:6-7, 10a. This was the Father’s plan. And it was the only way we could be saved. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him-to crush Jesus His Son-because it was the will of the Lord to save and forgive us. We needed a sinless Savior to bear our sin and pay our punishment-because someone needed to pay. God wouldn’t be holy or just if He brushed our sin under the rug. Either we could spend in eternity to trying to pay for sins, or Jesus could do it on the cross. In commenting on this passage Gospel, 54. Every last one of your sins is paid for and covered by Jesus-there’s nothing left you need to pay. He pays it all, He swallows the cup of God’s wrath and drains it empty.
Maybe you can think about a time when you were so thirsty and downed a bottle of cold water and it was so refreshing. Or maybe you were working out and really tired and guzzled a bottle of Gatorade until there was nothing left. I still never forget when I completed a marathon and they gave us chicken broth to drink. At first, I didn’t want to drink chicken broth-what’s that-did they mess up the food order? Where’s the Gatorade! But as soon as I started drinking it I gulped it down and wanted more-it was so satisfying. My cup was quickly empty. But here’s Jesus really to gulp down and swallow the cup-and it isn’t a cup that’s satisfying-it’s a cup of pain and suffering. It’s the cup of God’s righteous and holy wrath for our sins. Nothing tastes worse or is harder to bear. And yet drinking this cup is what awaits Jesus. This is what our King has come to do in Jerusalem. What did Jesus near the end of the week, Thursday night in the garden-Luke 22:42, 44. Jesus doesn’t want to drink this cup. He’s praying like He never has before to avoid it. Father, if you can come up with any other option, tell me, show me, now’s the time! I do not want to drink this cup. This is where Jesus’ humanity shines through and reminds us that although He’s the Son of God, He’s also someone like us, fully human. And here’s what’s so powerful about these verses-as we said a moment ago in Pt2-Jesus knew the suffering, He told His disciples what would happen. We can look back at the text-Luke 18:32-33a. Jesus knows it’s coming, yet He’s honestly and earnestly praying that it might not, that God might spare Him. And this brings us to Pt3:Our King knowing the ending, still found it hard in the moment. Entering Jerusalem to face the cross and drink the cup of God’s wrath was not easy for Him. Not at all! It’s an agony He doesn’t want to endure.
And yet what’s the ending that Jesus knew? Back to Luke 18:33b. Three little words describing something absolutely amazing and mind-boggling-He will rise. Meaning I will rise. What better hope could there be? Jesus knows the resurrection is coming. He knows what the ending is-and it’s a glorious ending. The best ending you could ever imagine. Three days later He will rise from the dead bringing salvation and eternal life for all who believe in Him. The cross isn’t the ending, death doesn’t get the last word, Jesus will experience the most remarkable event humankind has ever known-one that will affect humankind in a profound way-and that’s being resurrected into a glorified body. And even back in chapter 9 when Jesus first told the disciples about His death He said that on the third day He would be raised. Jesus has known this ending. Just as the cross was no surprise to Him, so the resurrection was no surprise to Him. Not at all. He knew it was coming; that the pain and suffering of His death was only temporary-and yet in the moment He still found it hard. Even with full knowledge and full confidence of the resurrection, Jesus earnestly prayed with sweating drops of blood-Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. He cried out to God in agony, even though He knew with all assurance that God’s plan, the final outcome was amazing! And it’s no different for you and me.
Pt4:Our King who secured our eternal future, understands our struggles in the present. And that’s because He’s been there. He’s stood where you’ve stood, He’s faced what you’ve faced. As you’re going through the pain and difficulty of life; as you’re earnestly crying out to God for relief, saying-Lord, if you are willing remove this cup from me. He understands-because He’s said those very same things. Jesus knows the balance of resting securely in the Father’s promise of a glorious future, while facing the suffering of life in the moment. He knows what it feels like to say-Okay God, you’ve got this. I am safely in your hands, nothing can separate me from you, you’re always with me and watching over me, but right now this is really hard and I’m struggling. Right now this is agony and I really want it to end. Maybe there’s some relationships in your life that are falling apart and you don’t know how to fix them; maybe your marriage is struggling and you don’t have any idea how to reverse it. Or your kids are going down a bad road and you don’t know how to stop it. Maybe you’re facing some insurmountable financial challenges or health concerns where you don’t see a solution. Maybe work is dragging you down and there isn’t an end in sight and you wonder why God’s brought you to this spot. Call out to Him, earnestly pray and ask Him to change and reverse the situation. Get on your knees and pour out your heart to Him. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He knew what the ending was, He didn’t doubt it one bit, and yet in the moment He said to the Father-this is really hard.
And I believe that’s what gave Jesus the strength to continue on and not run away or collapse in fear. Confidence in the Father who holds the future gave Him courage for the stuff of the present. As believers we have hope for the future; we rest in the promises of eternity. Next week we’ll look more closely at Jesus’ resurrection and realize how much it impacts us. That when He says He will rise, we will too when we’re trusting in Him. You can look at those 3 words in Luke 18 and realize they apply to you. As a follower of Christ your future is bound up in His. Just as He will rise, so will you. So confidence in the Father who holds the future gives us courage for the stuff of the present. Look at 2 Cor 4:16-18. That’s exactly what Jesus did. If He would have only kept His eyes fixed on the the things seen-the pain and agony before Him-He might very well have ridden that donkey right out of Jerusalem. But He didn’t. In His great prayer in the garden Jesus said-Father if you are willing remove this cup from Me. Yet-not my will but yours be done. And the Father’s will was that unseen, but eternal reality that gave Him the courage and confidence to carry on. And it’s no different for you and me. Trusting in the Father’s unseen, but perfect will is exactly what we’re called to do. Yes-the stuff of life is hard. Slight and momentary afflictions seem like anything but slight and momentary when we’re going through them. But God knows what He’s doing. He knows where He’s taking us. And my favorite part of that verse is the word preparing. Nothing gives us greater confidence than that-because preparing means purpose, it means an intentional plan by God. The slight momentary afflictions aren’t just randomly happening or pointlessly occurring, they are preparing us for a glorious future beyond all comparison. They’re a part of our journey. I like what CS Lewis says in his book, The Problem of Pain-Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. There may be some great spots along the way-but never get too comfortable here. Slight and momentary afflictions will always surround us in this life.
Palm Sunday says the journey isn’t over yet. Palm Sunday says we haven’t arrived at our glorious ending yet. Palm Sunday says there’s struggles still to come, sufferings to experience, even our own crosses we’re called to bear. But Palm Sunday says we have a King who goes before us. Palm Sunday says we have a King who’s willing to face that suffering and death head on, a King who’s willing to do whatever it takes to save us-including a cross. As we talked about kings earlier, we mentioned how they arrive in a glorious procession filled with all sorts of pomp and fanfare and attending armies. A king comes to rule, a king comes to dominate and defeat. I like what Tim Chester says, Glory of the Cross, 19. That’s what our King has come to do. That’s the infinite distance He’s traveled. I said we’d finish Phil 2:8-11 NIV. That is our King who is worthy of all praise and worship from every single tongue and every pair of knees. This is really defining the purpose of tongues and knees and why they exist-to praise our glorious King Jesus who went from the heights of heaven to the depth of the cross back to the heights of heaven where we will one day join Him there to worship Him forever!