For nearly three years, Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter or laborer by trade, had walked the lands of Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and modern-day Lebanon.  Throughout those three years, Jesus met with and preached to thousands of people, fed thousands of people, healed hundreds if not thousands of people of blindness, deafness, paralysis, bleeding, demonic possession, and he even raised at least three people from the dead.  During those three years, Jesus spoke plainly and bluntly to his critics and spoke in parables to those who followed him about the kingdom of God.  Those who met Jesus agreed on one thing; no one had ever met anyone like Jesus before. Some of those who met Jesus, including his family, thought at times that Jesus was mentally ill.  His harshest critics thought Jesus was possessed by an evil spirit or was none other than Beelzebub, the master of demons.  Some who were fond of Jesus thought he was a miracle worker, a prophet of God, the new king of Israel or even the beloved John the Baptist brought back to life.  A few believed Jesus’ own words about himself that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God and that the Messiah was the Son of God himself.  All were left with the question, “Who is this Jesus?” With differing and competing views of Jesus, how could people come to know who Jesus was and what he wanted from them? I believe the last week of Jesus’ journey was dedicated to answering that question once and for all time.

          The task of telling the story of Jesus’ journey, including his last week, would eventually come to rest upon four men.  Each man wrote their own short book, called a gospel, meaning the good news, about Jesus’ journey.  They never assigned their names to their gospels.  The oldest of these books people would come to believe was written by a man named Mark, sometimes also called John Mark.  Mark was a protégé of Jesus’ close friend and apostle, Simon Peter, who gave Mark direction on what to write.  The second gospel was believed produced by a man named Matthew, who was previously known as Levi, a tax collector, a disciple of Jesus.  Matthew, wrote his gospel primarily for Jewish people hoping to help the Jewish people come to faith in Christ.  The third gospel was believed authored by Luke, a physician by trade.  Luke, as far as we know, never met Jesus.  How then did Luke write about Jesus?  Luke did so by collecting documents from others such as Mark and Matthew as well as collecting eyewitness testimony.  One of those people Luke met was a woman named Mary, Jesus’ mother. Finally, there was a man named John who historians say wrote the last gospel account of Jesus’ journey.  John, like Matthew, had been on the journey with Jesus. John’s gospel account was different from those of Mark, Matthew, and Luke in that John wrote extensively about the relationship of Jesus and God the Father.

          All tolled the gospel writers compiled about 180 pages of material on Jesus’ 3-year journey.  But of these 180 pages, about 64 pages were dedicated to just one week of time, the last week of Jesus’ journey.  Over 1/3 of everything written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John concerned itself with that final week, eight days to be precise, from what we call Palm Sunday to what we call Easter Sunday.  The events of Jesus’ final week were to become the center of the preaching of the early church as well (Acts 2:23-36; 3:13-26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7).  It follows then that we ought to spend some time exploring these eight days to understand what happened, how God was revealed, what was the “so what” of the events on those days, and then finally, now what are we going to do with our understanding of those eight days.  Therefore, I would like to take each day in turn over the next eight weeks beginning today with what we now call Palm Sunday.

          What exactly happened on the day we call Palm Sunday?  That day began with Jesus in residence in the town of Bethany, about 2 miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).  The house where Jesus stayed was that of his friend’s Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus.  The time of the Passover festival was just days away and the number of Jewish pilgrims flowing into Jerusalem from all parts of the known world was steadily increasing.  Some scholars believe as many as 200,000 or more people would flow into the city for Passover.

          Amid the movement of the people, there was also movement of stories of Jesus with one story getting much attention.  People were excitedly retelling the story of the death of Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus, who after four days in the tomb, was brought back to life at the command of Jesus. Four days Lazarus was dead.  This was a significant detail because many Jews would leave the tomb open for three days after the death in case the mourners were mistaken, and the person was not dead.  And many Jews believed the spirit of the deceased person remained near the body for three days before departing.  Jesus arrived on the fourth day.  Lazarus was dead, his spirit was gone, and the tomb sealed.  Jesus ordered the tomb unsealed but Martha, Lazarus’ sister, protested because she knew the stench of death from Lazarus’ decaying body would be overwhelming.  And despite the reality of Lazarus’ condition, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead with restored spirit and a restored body.  The gospel of John tells us, “17 Now the crowd that was with him [Jesus] when he [Jesus] called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him [Lazarus] from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he [Jesus] had performed this sign, went out to meet him [Jesus]. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him [Jesus]!’” (John 12:17-19).

          And so, this day began with growing excitement among the people at the restoration of life to Lazarus, the excitement of following Jesus, and the opportunity of sharing this news with the thousands of pilgrims flowing into the city of Jerusalem.  And for these very same reasons, there was a growing fear among the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, that Jesus was making them and their traditions irrelevant, unnecessary, even burdensome to the people.

          Out of fear, John said in his gospel, “47 The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  ‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’ (John 11:47-50)…“ 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his [Jesus’] life” (John 11:53)…“57 The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him” (John 11:57).  Finally, “10 The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him [Lazarus] many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him [Jesus]” (John 12:50-51).

          And so, this day began with two groups of passionate people.  There were those following Jesus who were excited at what Jesus had accomplished and the power Jesus displayed.  The people’s excitement spilled over with the prospect that Jesus, this week of Passover, this week of celebrating the liberation of the Jews from Pharoah of Egypt, would become their king and free the Jews from the Emperor of Rome.  The mood among many people was electric.

          Then there was the other passionate group of the Sanhedrin who were fearful that Jesus would make everything the people hoped occur.  The Sanhedrin, the best and the brightest of society, decided to resolve their concerns by become murderers.  They would murder Jesus to end the excitement.  They would murder Lazarus to end the story of Jesus’ marvelous works. They set their traps and watches to make sure that Jesus would be found and not enter the city unnoticed.

          Amid the excitement and fear, there was Jesus.  Jesus had a plan for this day.  Jesus’ plan was to live out the promises of God’s Word.  I like that expression.  Jesus’ plan was to live out the promises of God’s Word.  Can you imagine for a moment if someone came up to you and said, “How are you?  What have you been up to lately?”  To which you reply, “I am fine.  What have I been up to?  I have been living out the promises of God’s Word.”  Now, that is a conversation starting response or a conversation ending response.  Either way, we would be following Jesus, for on this day, Jesus would be living out the promises of God’s Word.

          How exactly did Jesus intend to live out God’s Word?  Jesus told his disciples that they were going into the city of Jerusalem.  Only this time, instead of walking quietly and unassumingly into the city as they had done whenever they traveled these past three years, today would be different.  Today, Jesus asked his disciples to make ready a donkey for Jesus to ride into the city.  Today, Jesus would make sure he was noticed coming into the city.

          Jesus mounted the donkey and began the ride into Jerusalem.  Jesus was living out the promise of the Old Testament, God’s Word, from the prophet Zechariah who wrote, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:5; cf. Zechariah 9:9).  Zechariah said the purpose of the king coming on the foal of donkey was to break the instruments of war, to proclaim peace, to establish a covenant in blood, to free people from hopelessness, to announce the restoration of the soul, and to save the people. (Zechariah 9:10-16).

          Luke said the people responded.  “The whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37b).  Mark said, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields” (Mark 11:8).  John said, the people began shouting “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13). The excitement of the people overflowed for they believed their king had arrived.

          The religious leaders hearing the commotion came swiftly to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39).  Fear caused the Pharisees to seek Jesus to silence the joyful voices.  The Pharisees were saying, “Please Jesus, make these people stop shouting.  Make them stop being excited about you.”  Fear chokes joy.

          Jesus’ response was simple and yet likely sent a shockwave of terror into the Pharisees.  “I tell you, he replied [Jesus said], “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).  There are two ways to see Jesus’ response.  First, a simple reading.  Jesus’ words sound like, “If you Pharisees fear the people’s joy over Lazarus’ return from the dead and my entry to Jerusalem, consider how they would react if I caused the rocks themselves to begin to sing!”  The second reading is a bit speculative, but the possibility is intriguing.  Luke said this scene played out very near Jerusalem down from the Mount of Olives. It is in this location there sits a very large ancient cemetery.  The Jews believed that it in this cemetery the Resurrection of the Dead would begin with the Messiah appearing on the Mount of Olives and head toward the Temple Mount. Perhaps Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, “If you are concerned with the songs of the people now, consider how you would feel about the dead raising from the stones of this cemetery and they started joining the song?”  Either way, the Pharisees said nothing further, and I suspect the Pharisees’ fear only grew because of Jesus’ reply.

          So, the followers of Jesus were excited and joyful singing as the group made their way to Jerusalem and the Pharisees shock in murderous fear and anger.  And then something genuinely unexpected happened.  A new emotion burst onto the scene.  It was the overwhelming emotion of grief.  Luke shared, “41 As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he [Jesus] wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).  Jesus wept.  Jesus grieved.  Why? Because Jesus knew the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants would be destroyed.  The cause of this destruction.  The failure to recognize God and worship God.  The city was destroyed in the year 70 AD.  The only part not dismantled was the western wall of the city, now called the Wailing Wall, so named because it is the place Jews have come to mourn the loss of the Temple.  Finally, “10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’” (Matthew 21:10). That is the central question.  Who is this?

          What do we make of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.  First, we can see that Jesus’ entry could not overlooked. The presence of Jesus was this point forward would make the name of Jesus know throughout the world and through the ages. The presence of Jesus today is unavoidable.  In this country, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone of mature age who has not at least heard the name Jesus.  And yet, the question as Jesus approach Jerusalem then remains with us today, “Who is this Jesus?”  To the religious leaders then, Jesus was a threat to their way of life, their Temple, and their sense of nationhood.  To the people, Jesus was a conquering hero, a king, who would give rise to a new champion of Israel.  To God, Jesus remained his Son coming to bring people into worship and to make know judgement comes to those who willing reject God.  The same is true today.  The heart of the faith journey when Jesus entered Jerusalem was bringing people into worship of God.  That is still who Jesus is today and what he is doing.  Jesus pronounced a coming judgement upon Jerusalem because they did not recognize and worship the presence of the one true God.  Judgement did not come because social justice initiatives were left undone, or parents were not honored, or the right things were not said.  Judgement came because the worship of God was absent.  This has been the case throughout the Bible.  We also know that when worship of God is vibrant and strong then social justice initiatives get completed, parents are honored, and the right things are said with meaning. 

Who is this Jesus? He is the one gently enters our life and calls us to worship God and be spared judgement.  And because Jesus leads us to worship God and be spared judgement, Jesus is rightly called Savior.  Is this your Jesus?  Is Jesus your Savior?  Let us pray.