Palm Sunday Reflection in Light of the Tennessee Shooting on March 27

This was a portion of the Sunday morning sermon preached on April 2, 2023.

‌Matthew 21:1–11
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front 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, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

There is quite a contrast between the way in which Jesus entered into the city and what many expected of the Messiah.

Rather than on a horse, Jesus came riding in on a donkey. This, the prophet Zechariah points out, demonstrated that He came as One who was “humble.”

This is astonishing given, not only Who He was, but the fact that the crowds that surrounded him were shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna,” being a Hebrew word that might be a call for one to save or rescue, or it might be, as Christians utilize it, as a declaration of praise for the One Who has proven to be the Savior and Rescuer.

But Jesus seems unmoved by the crowds’ adoration. Likely, because He knows it will only be a short time before the crowds’ shouts of “Hosanna” will be replaced with shouts to Pilate to crucify him.

And Jesus knew that was what they would do, and He knew what Pilate’s response would be. He knew that the cross lay ahead.

In Isaiah 50:4-11, we have the words of Christ in prophetic form. Here the LORD’s servant- Christ Himself- speaks of His walking directly into this danger.

Isaiah 50:4–11
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

Notice that Jesus says He knows what He is riding in to and He goes anyways. He rides into Jerusalem in accordance with the Father’s will and (vs. 5), “I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”

To the world, riding in on a donkey, being stricken, having one’s beard plucked, being spat upon, all of this is disgraceful. But none of it is of any concern to the Savior who does not care about what the world does to Him nor thinks of Him. (Vs. 7) He will not be put to shame for He has One Who vindicates Him who is near- none other than His heavenly Father, the LORD God. And if (vs. 9) God is for Him, who will declare Him guilty? The crowds? Who are they to judge? Why would He care what they have to say since they and their opinions with them are as temporary as the clothes on your back. “They will wear out like a garment,” He says, “the moth will eat them up.”

This being the time of year when the church prepares to commemorate this very journey of the Suffering Servant into the hands of His adversaries unto death, perhaps, should have prepared us, even if only a bit, for the news of the shooting that took place at the Christian school in Tennessee this past week. There are other tragedies in which the details are not quite so clear, but in this case, this was clearly an act of hatred aimed at Christians because they choose to follow Christ and to hold to God’s Word rather than affirm and celebrate the world’s twisted and sinful corruption of God’s design for men and women.

The news jolted all of us, but perhaps none more so than those of you who have children the age of those who lost their lives. So, what do we do in times such as these?

In Isaiah 50:10-11, Jesus says that those who walk in darkness and have no light ought to trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. If they will not, but would rather kindle their own light and equip themselves with torches of their own making, they will not get very far. Human wisdom does not cast a very broad light and the darkness easily overcomes it. They who try to cope on their own, will eventually be lost and lie down in torment.

But as for God’s people, we turn from the feeble light of our own understanding and turn our eyes and ears to the light of the world for He (vs. 4) knows how to sustain with a word him who is weary. And how does He sustain us in a time like this? He tells us:

John 15:18–21
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me."

We are reminded here that, by faith, we are united to Christ our Savior. And because we are united to a Savior who was rejected and who suffered, we can expect the same.

The good news is that, as Paul puts it in Romans 6 “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Bearing that in mind, consider the similarities between

Isaiah 50 and a passage we often turn to for comfort: Romans 8.

In Isaiah 50:8-9 Jesus asks…”He who vindicates me is near, who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who will declare me guilty?”

In Romans 8:31-33 Paul asks: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?”

Jesus says in Isaiah 50:6 that He would be stricken, His beard plucked, His face spat upon- and yet He will not be shamed. He will be vindicated.

In Romans 8 Paul says, that the world will bring tribulation, distress, persecution. They will take away our food, our clothing, they will threaten us with harm, bringing against us a sword.....or aiming a gun…but, in spite of all of that, we are “more than conquerors.”

Jesus says in Isaiah 50:7 “The LORD God helps me therefore I have not been disgraced.”

Paul says in Romans 8:38-39 “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In other words: everything that enabled Jesus to set His face like a flint and not turn His back upon the suffering…and walk straight to the cross….is ours through our union with Him.

And so, we go to Him and ask, “Sustain me with a word…for I am weary.” And what does He say: “Trust in the name of the LORD…rely upon your God.”

What does He ask us? Why do you care about what the world says? Have you considered their end? They will be shamed…worse than that…they will one day stand before the God whom they mocked having harmed His children Whom He loves dearly…and, as we read in Revelation 6, they will call on the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb.

Why do we care what they do? In 2 Cor. 4:17, after saying that we are constantly given over to death for Jesus’ sake, Paul says,

“this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things are not seen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

When the disciples were following Jesus into Jerusalem, they heard the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” They saw the waving of the Palm leaves, but they didn’t see the cross that stood up ahead. And, so, when the soldiers came to take Jesus, the disciples fled. Jesus on the other hand, saw it. But when He looked upon that instrument of death, He looked just beyond it, to the joy set before Him…the Father’s praise and His reward. And so Jesus continued on like a flint directly towards it.

We are united to Him and we don’t have the excuse of the disciples who were taken quite by surprise. We know. So, let’s too consider the joy set before us and be ready to endure whatever may come. Not stoically mind you. We know suffering is real and sorrow and grieving is absolutely appropriate in times of loss as we acknowledge things are not yet what they should and will one day be. But our sorrow should not be as those who have no hope. When our tears fall from our faces let them land upon the solid rock upon which we stand…the knowledge that these news headlines are not the final word. Christ and His people will be vindicated.

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