"Lent 06: The Triumphal Entry (Palm Sunday)"
by Tim Suttle
2017.04.09 – Lent 06
Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-11
Contest: see if you can guess how much the Marvel films have grossed. As a group: The Avengers, Iron Man, Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor …
- How much money do you think these films have made?
- I’ll set the over / under at 5 billion… how many over? Under?
- 11 billion dollars… that’s how much they’ve made… so much $$!
And these films are good. I mean compared to these guys, the superheroes of my youth look so lame. This is what I grew up with:
- Lone Ranger & Tonto… I watched this… anyone else?
- Superman was a big one when I was a kid, w/George Reeves.
I loved superman because he was all strong & I was so scrawny as a kid.
- Plus superman has that brooding wisdom thing going, y’know?
- In ALL his iterations he’s sort of all knowing & wise.
- Superman never needed therapy… even though he wore
Blue tights & a Red cape under his regular clothes
- I was such a wimpy kid; I wanted that brawny superman chest.
- So broad it had this great big red “S” on it. (for suttle)
- Cuz I never had a chest big enough for a giant “S”
- Maybe like a lower case “i” or an “l” – never an “S”
It’s interesting, if you know anything about the story behind the story.
- Superman was invented by a man named Jerry Siegel; in 1930s
- He was a wimpy kid, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania
- His father was shot one night in a robbery & it crushed him.
- So, after his father died little Jerry Siegel invented a bulletproof Superman who protected the innocent from injustice.
I think this is so fascinating that the world got Superman not from Norse legends or mythic heroes…
- But because a junior high kid lost his father in a botched robbery.
- Superman came not from a place of strength, but from a place of vulnerability & injustice.
Nearly every culture thru time has had their heroes:
- The Greeks had: Zeus and Apollo
- The Romans had: Caesar
- The English talk this way about King Arthur & Lancelot.
- This is nearly universal …
Because, when humans encounter some sort of injustice…
- …the violation of basic human fairness.
- Something that is inhuman, inhumane, dehumanizing.
- We look for a hero to save the day.
- Stanley Hauerwas says one way to describe injustice is to call it:
a wrong so wrong it can never be made right.
- That’s injustice.
PT: And universally across time & across cultures, when people face a wrong so wrong it can never be made right, they look for a hero to save them.
Even today, whole genres of film can be seen as a direct response to some injustice in the real world… so:
The two most powerful events of the past 20 years have been the mass murder that was 9/11 & the 2008 financial collapse.
- 9/11 … that’s a wrong so wrong it can never be made right.
- ‘08 financial collapse = Wall Street got a bailout, & nobody else did!
- That feels like an injustice, and we’re powerless to correct.
- Those things happened in 2001 & 2008.
- You know when the 1st Marvel superhero movie came out … 2008.
- These are creative responses to real-life injustices that seem bigger than we can handle…
- So, we tell stories about Tony Stark… the billionaire who leveraged his whole empire to fight for the little guy …
- It’s a classic superhero response something like the recession & 9/11.
Zombie films & the Walking Dead.
- Zombies are a metaphor for mindless consumerism…
- The heroes of zombie films haven’t succumbed to the disease!
- We feel like consumeristic Zombies so we tell stories of resistance.
Dystopian films: political changes, climate change, & decline of institutions spawn these dystopian stories (Hunger Games, Divergent, Mad Max.).
- They’re about oppressive gov’ts & environmental calamity, and a great individual who will rise above the rest & overthrow injustice.
- It’s Katnis Everdeen… the dystopian Hero.
- Pre 2001, 92 dystopian films in history of cinema. 104 after 9/11.
PT: When humans are faced with injustice—with a wrong so wrong it can never be made right—or some sort of inhuman, inhumane, or dehumanizing event that makes us feel powerless, it’s only natural to look for some kind of help from outside the system—a hero who can put things to rights.
In Jesus’ day, Israel was waiting for a superhero of their own, and their name for him was Messiah.
- The Jewish people at the time of Christ were living in oppression.
- I mean, their lives were one injustice after another.
You’re walking to work one day & Roman soldier passes going the other way.
- He says, “Hey you dog. Pick up this pack & carry it for me.”
- There’s nothing you can do… have to carry his 80 lb pack a mile back the way you came, and then a mile back to where you started.
- It’s a humiliation… that was a regular occurrence.
You’re farming the land your father’s father’s father passed onto you.
- Every year Herod raises your taxes until your margins are razor thin.
- There’s a drought, you can’t pay, & you lose your family farm.
- He sets some steward over you … who treats you like garbage.
- You have to work everyday (w/your own kids, on your own land), in humiliation, living off scraps from Herod’s table.
So, you & some friends go to Jerusalem to protest … and to make a point, the Romans arrest a few of your group & crucify them for insurrection.
- This is the life of the 1st Century Jew.
- Living under Roman occupation.
- Taxed into oblivion … Very few rights.
- No military, no money, and no power.
- Whether it was: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome… it seemed like somebody was always in power over them.
And in their time… there were really 4 main responses to this injustice.
SADDUCEES: They were the elites, a small group who held a lot of power.
- They had the high priests; they controlled the temple & the ruling council called the Sanhedrin.
- They’re conservatives, who rejected anything new (why hated Phar)
- They thought the kingdom would come through the shrewd use of political & economic power.
- But, in the meantime, they got rich off the alliance they built w/Rome.
PHARISEES: They were mostly laymen & didn’t have much power …
- They put all of this emphasis on keeping the law.
- Sabbath customs, purity rituals, tithing, & food restrictions...
- They thought if every Jewish person would follow the law, then the Messiah would come & they would be vindicated.
- In the meantime, their holiness veered off into legalism / hypocricy.
ZEALOTS: Were the violent revolutionaries – popular in Galilee = JS grew up.
- They knew they were outmatched by Rome.
- The Zealots wanted to raise an army of assassins & guerilla warriors.
- When God saw their Zeal, he would send the Messiah to save them.
- In the meantime they came off like terrorists.
ESSENES: They were like a monastic sect.
- They rejected the temple, it’s rulers, even the Pharisees.
- They thought everything had become so corrupted, that the only thing they could do was separate out & live on their own.
- So they moved out into the desert & waited for the Messiah to come.
- In the meantime, they came off like some wacky religious cult.
Those were the 4 groups vying for the heart of Israel during time of Christ:
- All of them promising that if people would follow their way, then the Messiah, Israel’s superhero would come to save the day…
- Messiah in Hebrew means “anointed one” … and:
- In the Old Testament, it was mostly the kings who were anointed
- Sadducees wanted a shrewd king like Solomon.
- Pharisees wanted a priestly king … like Moses.
- Zealots wanted a warrior king like David.
- The Essenes wanted a Philosopher king.
PT: Jesus, he didn’t seem to tick any of those boxes. He was not really the superhero profile that anyone had in mind.
We’re coming to the end of the season of Lent, but the whole season of Lent begins with the baptism of Jesus.
- Which is a kind of anointing story.
- If you remember he is anointed by the spirit, descends like dove
- You remember how John describes Jesus to his followers? “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29
- Many had longed for the title “Messiah” in Jesus’s time.
- Nobody was vying for the title “Lamb of God.”
- What happens to the Lamb of God?
- To understand that, you’ve got to tell the story of the Passover.
The Passover came from story of Moses & Pharaoh. God sent the Angel of death to kill the 1st born of every household (as the last of 10 plagues).
- Only the houses with Lamb’s blood over the door-post of the house, would be passed over by the angel of death.
- The Passover lamb literally keeps death out.
- It was their way of saying:
“God doesn’t want men & women living in slavery.. That’s not peace. That’s not shalom. So God moves against Pharaoh & sets his people free.”
- Jesus had celebrated Passover with his family every year.
- In fact we have a story about him going when he was 12 yrs old.
- And his understanding of the Messiah was not WARRIOR KING
- It was of the LAMB OF GOD who takes away sins of the world
PT: And the Israelites just couldn’t seem to get their arms around the idea of Messiah as LAMB OF GOD because they wanted a superhero.
There actually was a kind of superhero in the city at the time of the Passover. His name was Pontius Pilate.
- He was Caesar’s Man in Palestine.
- He was the superhero archetype of his day.
- Pilate lived in a town called Caesarea by the Sea.
- Beautiful Climate, on the Mediterranean Sea – it was oppulent.
- Pools, temples, gymnasiums, theaters, Roman baths,
- Ships in port bringing exotic goods from around the world.
- Pilate was Roman Prefect – he was rich & powerful & had everything he could ever want
- He ruled the region of Judea from Caesarea … not from Jerusalem
- Jerusalem was a mostly Jewish City.
But, the Jewish people had those pesky festivals every year.
- The biggest was the PASSOVER – and it was HUGE
- Somewhere between 500k & a million Jews would crowd the region.
- Fueled by this religious zeal
- Remembering how God delivered them from an oppressive ruler.
- So, these people who were owned by Caesar… taxed by Herod.
- And crushed by Pilate if they stepped out of line.
- And bilked by their own Jewish leaders.
PT: They gathered at PASSOVER (100s of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem) and the whole reason they were gathering was to celebrate this time in their history when God saved them from an oppressive regime…
So, the spirit of rebellion & religious fervor was in the air & it was Pilate’s job to keep it from starting a revolution. [Start the clip of Ben Hur]
So what Pilate would do is leave his palace at Caesarea by the sea.
- He would take his whole army and march them to Jerusalem
- In a massive show of force which was meant to deter the Jews from any thoughts of rebellion.
- The whole procession was designed to intimidate.
- The War Eagle on the standard marching in front.
- Then standard bearers w/flags of all of the Caesars w/ the divine titles – all the battles they’d won
- Soldiers born & bred for warfare…
- Marching w/metal shields and spears, & rhythmic clanking & chanting.
- Some on horses some on chariots.
- And at some point Pontius Pilate himself, in his military regalia w/adoring crowds yelling “hail to Pilate, hail to Caesar”
- For the Romans, this is what true power looks like.
- Nobody would dare start an insurrection faced with this war machine.
- For the Jews, it was the face of injustice, the army of their oppressor.
Jesus’s consistent claim, and the claim of the apostles & his followers, the writers of the new Testament including Paul, Peter, James, they all say the same thing: Jesus was claiming power greater than this army of Caesar!
- JS believed his power eclipsed the powers of the Chief Priests & elders, Herod, Pilate, and even Caesar.
- But – and this is key – his power was completely different.
- It had a different nature, or essence than Roman Power.
So Pilate’s procession would come into the city.
PT: All of it meant to say: you mess w/Rome, this is what you get. So all of you simple minded Jews, w/ your wine, doing your dances, singing your songs, & telling your stories about Pharaoh: Don’t get too cute. Don’t get any crazy ideas about freedom or a revolution. I will crush you.
SO THAT’S THE SCENE: As Pilate entered Jerusalem from one side of the city, Jesus was on the other side… Let’s read: Matthew 21:1-11
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
You should’ve received a palm branch when you came in, if you’d pick it up:
- When Jesus rode into town on a donkey
- The people waved branches kind of like what you hold here.
- There’s a story behind this symbol … a story of Jewish Revolution.
Ever since the time of the EXILE, the Jewish people had always suffered under some sort of foreign power.
- Alexander the Great / The Selucid Empire
- The Greeks / the Romans
- Somebody was always over them
In all that time, there had only been one successful revolution; it was led by a man named Judas the Maccabeean. He led a rebellion that actually won Israel a little bit of autonomy.
- Guess what the symbol of his movement was?
- Palm Branch – much like what you are holding in your hand.
PT: This was a symbol of Jewish Rebellion – it was meant to anticipate the coming of the Messiah who would finally bring peace to the people of God.
So in Matthew 21, you have these religious pilgrims descending upon Jerusalem, and they were sick of being Roman Subjects…
- But, Israel had no army – no real power.
- And if they tried to fight Rome – they had no chance… they knew it!
- But this Jesus … he’d been teaching about the Kingdom of God.
- He was healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind.
- He’d even raised people from the dead.
- Then the crowds of people thinking about Moses, Pharaoh & Plagues
- They knew they normally didn’t have a chance.
- Maybe if JS led a revolution = defeat Rome; maybe he’s=superhero.
So, Jesus rides into town on a donkey, & the crowds shout “Hosanna.”
- Which does not mean “hooray” … it wasn’t a religious word at all.
- Hosanna was a political word, made up of 2 Hebrew words
- Hosha: which means “help us, save us, deliver us.”
- Nah: which means “please” or “now, please” – gave it urgency
- Ho – sha – nah! … save us now.
- They would chant this: Ho-sha-nah! … “save us now, save us now.”
Think about this scene: throngs of people, shouting this highly political slogal, waving symbols of the only successful rebellion.
- Throwing their cloaks on the ground in front of him like he’s a king.
- PT: This is a messianic demonstration – they’re thinking: Superhero!
one more detail…
The first day of the festival was called Lamb Selection Day, it was actually carried out just as it was prescribed in the Law of Moses.
This is Exodus 12:3-6 “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of the first month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor… The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.”
Now, Jewish historians tell us that the lambs for the Passover were brought up from Bethlehem to the south, up to Jerusalem and through the EASTERN gate of the city – which was called the “Sheep Gate” for that very reason.
- Remember the birth story from Luke 2, the shepherds?
- That’s Bethlehem … it literally means sheep-town.
- Guess who owned the sheep?
- Chief priests & the elders – It was a monopoly.
- Only their sheep were allowed to be sacrificed on Passover
- You couldn’t get your sins atoned for unless you bought a lamb from these guys…
- This is deeply corrupt… horribly corrupt… & they got rich off it..
- This is the view Jesus would’ve been met with as he came over hill.
- Only it wouldn’t have looked like this, it would’ve looked like this.
JER 1: JER’s built on the side of a hill, Temple, Kidron Valley / Valley of Hinnom, Old City of David, Pool of Siloam…
- 90% of Jews on the earth were poor – subsistence farmers.
- They live here in lower city… narrow streets, small houses, on top of
- But here in the upper city lived the Jewish elite, lived in style…
- Also known as the chief priests & the elders.
- There were colluding w/Herod (often called Herodians)
- Right there on Mount Zion</