We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, a great crowd had gathered in the city of Jerusalem. The size of the crowd can’t be overemphasized. Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Luke says the crowd was so great the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells us a great crowd had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You can’t question the size of the crowd. It was great.
They had all come to celebrate the Passover, a time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend, but no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover, and the name on the lips of everyone was “Jesus”. What was on the mind of everyone was revolution.
They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence, and Jesus seemed to be the best person to lead a revolution. He seemed to have it all. He had the power to heal the sick. He had the power to control nature. He had the charisma to win over any crowd. The crowd seems to be trying to draft Jesus for this military position. Don’t ignore the next line. The crowd did political things. Just like for their ancestors who experienced military victories, they spread cloaks and palm branches on the ground. Others waved palm branches and yelled, “Hosanna to the son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” They did all they could do to enlist Jesus, but there is something wrong with the picture. Two thousand years later, we see the imperfection clearly. Jesus wasn’t interested in the political scene of that generation. Jesus was only interested in eternity. That is why Jesus rode in on a humble animal and not a mighty steed. That generation was nearsighted and missed the reason why that day was so important.
I hope you don’t miss the significance of that day. Palm Sunday is not just the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week we remember what Jesus did each day. It is a spiritual pilgrimage. If you just show up next week and celebrate the resurrection, then you have cheated yourself of an opportunity to draw near to Jesus. For this reason, I want to challenge you to take time out of your busy schedule and remember what Jesus did during the Holy Week. So let me ask you this question: what do you remember?
Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday? According to the Bible, two significant things happened on that day. The first event of Holy Monday was the cleansing of the Temple. It had nothing to do with fundraising to help some good cause. It had everything to do with using the faith for personal gain. The Temple was a place of prayer, not profit. The church is a place of prayer, not profit. The second significant event of Holy Monday is the cursing of the fig tree. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Like the bald eagle symbolizes America, the fig tree symbolized Israel. The cursing of the fig tree was an act of judgement upon Israel. God was doing something new.
Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday? According to the Bible, Jesus went back to the Temple, where he was challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was also there he taught about the Kingdom of God. Two great stories came from that day. He taught about paying taxes to Caesar and he noticed a widow’s slim donation. He also told the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants and others. Then, he went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, where he was anointed. He was being prepared for death.
Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday? Some call it Spy Wednesday. It was on that day the plan to trap Jesus was conceived. One of his own, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Some say, he did it because he was greedy. Some say, he did it because he he had grown tired of being an outsider. He was the only non-Galilean of the twelve. Some say, he did it to force Jesus’s hand. He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t fight back. We don’t really know why he did it, but he did it. In the end, Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal and committed suicide. There is nothing else to say.
Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday? We call it Maundy Thursday. That was the day Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, showing true servant leadership. Then, they observed the Seder. It was a meal with a message. Everything they ate and everything they drank reminded them of their people’s past. After all, they were God’s Chosen. During the meal, Jesus changed the words and created a new memorial, Communion. The bread was his body and the wine was his blood. After the meal was completed, Jesus comforted the disciples and went to the garden to pray. It was in the garden Jesus was arrested.
Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday? We call it Good Friday. It was good for us, but bad for Jesus. He had two trials on that one day. The first trial was in front of his own people. It was a “kangaroo” court. Jesus never had a chance. He was found guilty. They wanted to execute Jesus, but they lacked the legal authority. For this reason, they sent him to the Roman Governor, Pilate. He knew Jesus was an innocent man, but he feared the mob. The order was given that Jesus must die. First came the whipping. Then came the crown of thorns. Finally came the cross, a Roman way to execute. Jesus was not tied to the cross; he was nailed to the cross. He hung between two common criminals. His death came quickly, and they put his body in a tomb. His family and friends cried, because he was dead, and their dreams were gone.
Do you remember what happened on Holy Saturday? Some call it Silent Saturday. Others call it Black Saturday or Easter Eve. There is nothing to remember about that day, because Jesus was dead. The people who loved Jesus, both family and friends, struggled with his death. Some of them were in shock. Some of them were in denial. Some of them cried. Their great dreams of a bright future were over. Jesus was dead! You know what happened on Sunday. It is the worst secret in the history of the world. It is also the very foundation of our faith.
One of the most beautiful places in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. Worshippers are welcomed by three magnificent doorways. Over the first one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All which pleases is just for a moment.” Over the second is a sculpted cross, and the words, “All that troubles is just for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” The message is clear. We should live for the permanent and the eternal. How much time do you spend worrying about the temporary? How much time do you spend worrying about the eternal? The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in 100 years. What matters in 100 years? The only thing that will matter in 100 years is Jesus. Do you remember the quote from Pope Benedict XVI? He once said, “But Palm Sunday tells us that… it is the cross that is the tree of life.”