Palm Sunday is a day when Christians traditionally celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Across the years, I have preached many a Palm Sunday sermon. There are many messages in this event that need to be talked about. This is an event that found its way into all four gospels. It is in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It must be important.
Luke 19:37-40 “Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, 38 saying:
“ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”
40 But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
That day Jesus is declared to be King by his disciples and those who loved him and saw his miracles. He is declared to be One who comes in the Name of the Lord and the whole multitude is praising Him. They may not have fully recognized Him as the Messiah, but they certainly recognized Him as the miracle worker. The religious crowd didn’t like them praising Jesus like that. Jesus was told by the Pharisees to rebuke his disciples. Jesus responded that if they don’t praise me, the rocks and the stones will cry out! I don’t want any rock to take my place. I have also seen the miracles he has done, lives that have been changed, marriages that have been saved and the victories that have been won.
As a worshipper, I have really enjoyed that praise aspect of this event, but I have realized that this was not only a Triumphant day for Jesus, but also that the entire event was a training ground for his disciples. W are also going to take a look at some of the lessons that the disciples learned on that day in this Palm Sunday sermon.
I want to talk on the subject: “Choose a Donkey Over a Horse.” I have always wondered why Jesus chose a donkey. As a former missionary to Cartagena, Colombia, I think of the hundreds, possibly thousands of donkeys that I saw, hauling things and working hard in Cartagena, Colombia when I was a missionary. Let’s put it like this: I do not believe in reincarnation, but if I did, the last I would want to become is a donkey. A donkey is not elegant or beautiful, but is definitely a beast of burden. Yet Jesus chose a donkey. Why? For his disciples sake. What is interesting is that Jesus got his disciples involved in this whole process.
Matthew 21:1-3 “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
I want to give you some lessons that the disciples learned. Now these lessons are not just for Peter and James and John. They were meant for you and me.
In this Palm Sunday Sermon we learn that…
- We Must Serve With Humility.
Sometimes I think it must have been hard to have been a disciple of Jesus. It was glorious, but it was hard. Jesus no doubt demanded things of his disciples. These twelve had an inside relationship with Jesus. That means that he was their mentor, their spiritual advisor, their boss, their king and their Lord. He was their Rabbi. What he told them what to do, and they did what he said. They would not have questioned Jesus very much.
Some of the moments were glorious and we could even say, prestigious. The Gospels say he even gave them the power to preach and heal the sick in his name. Matthew 10:1 “And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” We know that these disciples were sent out with the 70. They were a part of that group, and so all of these guys knew what it was like to cast out a demon. They had healed the sick, cleansed lepers, and preached the gospel of the kingdom.
I am sure people would have even recognized them as Jesus’ disciples. Even Peter couldn’t hide in the crowd, right? Remember the night after Jesus was betrayed, Peter was following Jesus from far off. It was on the night Jesus was arrested. People kept saying, He is one of his followers. Why? They were known by the crowd. It must have been kind of prestigious to be the chosen 12 of this man who had become very famous.
It’s hard to go from a main actor on stage to a stagehand behind the curtain. It must have been confused to them when Jesus said, “Go ahead of me, there you’ll find a donkey tied, bring it back to me.” That seemed like an unimportant job. Humility is demanding. Instead of working miracles and healing the sick, we find these two disciples on “donkey duty.” Heal the sick, of course! Work miracles, absolutely! But “donkey detail” was a tough pill to swallow.
How would you take it if your pastor asked you to serve on “donkey duty”? Who would volunteer for that? You can sense it in the Gospel; the disciples seem confused about how to retrieve a donkey. Jesus has to tell them how, “Go, find it. Bring it back to me.” It was probably a bit embarrassing to walk through the street leading a donkey.
I probably have a bit of a different sense of this than you, because of my experience in Latin America. In our neighborhood where we lived in Crespo there was not a single soul who led around a donkey. They wouldn’t have been caught dead doing that. They drove cars. The people who had donkeys were poor people. They people who had donkeys were largely uneducated people. I am not talking bad about them. I can tell you stories of their industriousness that would blow your mind. These are great people but just hadn’t had the same opportunities as others.
I am just making a distinction here. It took humility to go fetch a donkey. By the way, most donkeys were led around at least in Cartagena by kids not adults. This was humbling. Lessons in humility are tough. Jesus makes sure our souls are not always center stage. He knows it’s not good for the soul to continually be popular. Believe me, I have had plenty of donkey duty in my life. God isn’t looking for celebrities, he is looking for servants.
Jesus would not have asked them to do anything that he would not have done himself. In fact, later that week he would show them that he also was willing to take on the role of a servant. John 13:3-5 “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
Jesus did something even more humbling than “donkey duty”. He did “stinky feet that stepped in donkey doo duty”. That was the lowest job of any servant. To wash someone’s feet in that day you had to be the lowest ranked servant in the house.
Notice Jesus lesson: John 13:13-15 “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” The Kingdom is different from the world. The world measures success from one’s station in life. If you have an important job or a lot of money, you must be important. But in the Kingdom of God, you are seen and recognized by how you serve. The question for you in this Palm Sunday sermon is not how loud you shout at the presence of Jesus. The question is a disciple of Jesus, Do you serve well? Because if you serve well ultimately you will be given recognition. I hope you look forward to Jesus saying, “Well done and good and faithful servant.”
In fact, did you know that the one who has served the most has been given the highest name in the Universe? I am talking about Jesus today. Jesus is the greatest servant of all humanity. He served us when He went to the cross. Philippians 2:6-11 “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you want to be great in the kingdom, you must become a servant. Everyone needs donkey duty on occasion. The second lesson we learn is…
- Your Internal Identity Is More Important Than Image
Greatness does not come from the image you present to the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to know that. Greatness comes from who you are, not what you have. Greatness comes from the way you have ordered your inner man, not by how you clothe the outer man. You don’t need the worlds trappings to be great in God’s eyes. You don’t need the worlds money to be great.
Jesus gave his disciples the greatest lesson of all. It was an illustrated sermon they would never forget. I have tried to picture what it must have looked like for Jesus to ride on a donkey. It even says a donkey’s colt. It would kind of be like me being 6 feet 3 inches, trying to ride a minibike. I would look way too big for the bike. A ten year old would fit a minibike, but not me, with my 240 pound frame and stomach. A Honda 90 isn’t going to do it for me. I need a Triumph 2500 cc Rocket III. Yeah, I like motorcycles.
Just picture 33 year old man on a donkey colt. His feet are almost touching the ground. He is too tall. It is not elegant. It must have stirred quite a picture. But it didn’t seem to bother the people that he was on a donkey. The people were shouting. The people were praising. They were taking off their outer garments and laying them in the road. They were shouting: “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the king.” The people didn’t care if he looked crazy on a donkey. They knew who Jesus was on the inside. They had experienced His love, mercy, and great compassion. They had seen his miracles. Outward trappings didn’t matter.
Matthew 21:10 “And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” People wanted to know who is this man. Who even on a donkey’s colt gets such a reception! Is this the one who is going to deliver us from the Romans? Is this another prophet or Holy man? Is this the Messiah? Who is this? Now, we know who He was! He was and is the King! In fact, He is the King of Kings! The prophet Zachariah foresaw this decades before.
Zachariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The King is coming on a donkey’s colt? You have to be kidding me!
- What kind of a king does that?
- Where are his armies?
- Where are his weaponries?
- Where are the flags and the standards and the symbols of power?
Jesus needed none of those trappings to show who he was. He knew who he was. The common man who laid their cloaks in the street knew who He was! Jesus knew that He had 12 legions of angels at his disposal. He had even declared who He was over and over. This was the Son of the Living God!
- Before Abraham was, I was.
- I and my Father are one.
- Glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
When the came to arrest him later in that week, they said, Are you Jesus? He said, I am. Those words echoed God’s self-revelation of “I am that I am”. And the crew in front of him that came to arrest him fell over backwards. He told Pilate, you have no authority except what has been given you. I freely lay my life down. Jesus knew who he was…he didn’t need any other symbol or status to proclaim it.
In the 1stcentury, the Jews expected a King. They were looking for a deliverer. A man who would liberate the Holy Land from Roman control. They hoped it would be Jesus. But Jesus chose a donkey.
On the opposite side of the city, from the west, they say that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem. He was at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire of that day.
Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of Roman Imperial power—imagine:
- cavalry on horses
- foot soldiers
- leather armor
- helmets, weapons
- golden eagles mounted on poles
- sun glinting on metal and gold
- the sounds were the marching of feet
- the creaking of leather
- the clinking of bridles
- the beating of drums
- the swirl of dust
There were the eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Most infuriating of all to the Jewish mind was and Roman Imperial Theology of that day. They called Caesar (in this case Tiberius) the “son of God,” “lord,” and “savior.” That was who Pilate represented. A Roman Caesar who called himself God. Inscriptions refer to him as … one who had brought “peace on earth.”
Though unfamiliar to most people today, the imperial procession was well known in the Jewish homeland in the first century, for it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the major Jewish festivals. They did so not out of empathetic reverence for the religious devotion of their Jewish subjects, but to be in the city in case there was trouble. Pilate no doubt rode in on a horse, the symbol of conquerors in that day. Was it jet black or pure white? I don’t know. But he had all the trappings of power and prestige with him.
For the disciples of Jesus, these two processions were an illustrated sermon. How would they live their lives? Not only that, but how will we choose to live ours?
Pilate chose a horse, Jesus chose a donkey. Jesus wasn’t in ornate chariots pulled by well-bred horses. There was no sword at his side nor armor on his chest. He did not enter the city gates as a show of force. He entered as a servant on a beast of burden. It was an enacted metaphor of who Jesus was and what he expected of his disciples. Yet this is the one who brings peace. Zachariah not only said he would ride on a donkeys colt, but also in Zachariah 8:10 “…He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,” He refused power, and he didn’t accept an earthly throne. He knew he was there to suffer for the sake of others. Yet Jesus laid his power down to pick up his cross.
What did the disciples learn on Palm Sunday? It was who they are on the inside that mattered, not how they imaged themselves. Let me ask you something. Do you know who you are? Jesus did. Do you need the trappings of the world to feel good? I hope not. Because if you are a child of God, and a servant of the Kingdom then when you walk into that board room, you are salt and light. When you walk on the job, you have been praying, you carry with you the anointing of the Spirit of God. When you are at the family reunion, you are not just Uncle Joe’s nephew. You are an ambassador for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
You may say, I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t drive the greatest car. That is okay. The mission of heaven is driving you. Do we know who we are? If we lost our job, lost our home, and our car, we would still be children of the kingdom of God, ready to serve!
There was a third lesson that was learned that week.
- Our Obedience Is Not Connected To Popularity
Then they learned that a servant lives and dies for others. Jesus didn’t need to be popular or well liked or even loved by the crowd. The only thing that Jesus wanted to do was the Fathers will. The only one he wanted to please was the Father. John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus the Son simply wanted to please the Father and do His will.
In the garden of Gethsemane, just a couple of days after Jesus rode in to Jerusalem to the triumphant shouts of children and adults, Jesus would be in deep prayer. There was a part of him that didn’t want to go to the cross. But he knew that was God’s purpose. He was there to die. It wasn’t about popularity. It wasn’t about fame. It was about obedience to God. Matthew 20:28 “ just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” He came a servant to give his life as a ransom to many. And so finally he said, Father, not my will, but your will be done.
It is incredible to me, how quick the popularity of Jesus faded. Where was the crowd that cheered him? Because now the crowd was chanting, “Crucify him! We have no king but Cesar!” When Jesus chose a donkey he was at the height of his popularity but less than a week later, no one stood up for him.
Jesus was arrested, they placed a crown of thorns on his head. When he appeared before Pilate he was already in a state of being partially beaten up. Standing there as a prisoner, under arrest, the crowd became disheartened. They were disappointed. They wanted a king to fight Rome. They wanted their miracle worker to save them. He no longer appeared as the one who would save them from the Romans. He appeared to be just a man.
But Jesus was not just a man. I remember that as he hung on that cross they cried, “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross.” And they taunted him and said, “He saved others, but himself he could not save.” It was not that he could not have saved himself. It was that he would not save himself. The disciples all saw Jesus on that cross. They knew his suffering. His popularity was gone, but his purpose remained.
How interesting that the lesson must have sunk into all of those disciples. Because each one determined they would serve Jesus. Popularity or no popularity. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and three thousand were saved. But the day came when popularity faded, and they hung Peter to a cross. It didn’t matter, he served for purpose not popularity. Here are the essential questions in this Palm Sunday sermon:
Are we willing to do donkey duty?
Do we serve to get the trappings of a successful life? Or do we serve because we know who we are?
Are we going to be affected by if our message is popular or not? Or are we simply going to live out God’s purpose for our life?