A MOST UNUSUAL DAY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
John Kindrick was an early explorer of the coasts of Oregon and Washington. He was probably the first white man to sail through what is known as The Strait of Juan de Fuca. The circumstances of his death were most unusual. While he was visiting the Hawaiian Islands a British ship honored him by firing a salute. It turned out to be more honor than he could take, and he did not survive the salute, for one of the shots hit him and killed him. History is filled with freak accidents, but certainly it is unusual that a man would be slain in a celebration in his honor.
Something of this nature is the very thing we see in the events of Palm Sunday. A series of events that led the King of Kings from the honor of the cheering crowd to the horror of the cruel cross. We call it the day of the triumphal entry, but paradoxically it was the day that sealed his fate and made the cross inevitable. There is no doubt that this day of great honor killed him, or rather, led directly to his death.
Jesus did so many unusual things on this day. They were things so different from his normal pattern of behavior. He had been dodging the traps of the Jewish authorities for months. He avoided conflict and even contact. He gave clever answers to their trick questions to avoid head on collision. Now on this day he suddenly casts all caution to the wind, and deliberately tramples on their feet, and defies their authority, and usurps their place of leadership, knowing it can lead only to his death.
He had always avoided popularity and publicity, but now with pre-meditation he organizes a mass demonstration that stirs up the entire city of Jerusalem. He had skillfully avoided attempts to be taken by force and made king, but now he deliberately fulfills messianic prophecy and declares himself to be the promised king. He even excites emotions among the children. There was no other day like this in the life of Jesus. It was too late now for mild methods to be of any value, and that is why Jesus pushed matters right to the crisis point. If the Jews will not accept their king, then the king has no alternative but to establish a new kingdom, and gather to himself a new people. To open up the door to the whole world, however, demanded that he atone for the sins of the whole world that all may be free to enter his kingdom. So Jesus played right into the hands of his rejected people that they might, by nailing him to the cross, open the door to a universal kingdom over which he would reign forever.
G. Campbell Morgan says of Palm Sunday, "It is the story of the rejection of the Hebrew nation by the King, not that of the rejection of the King by the nation." Jesus had wept over the city before he rode in that day knowing that they had already rejected him and would soon be destroyed by the wrath of God. Palm Sunday was the demonstration of his total and final break with the establishment of Israel. It is clear, however, that he intended no violence. His followers carried no weapons, but only palms, the symbols of peace. He rode on a donkey not a war horse, and the attitude of the crowd was one of festivity. There was no sign of revolution, and the Roman authorities considered it no more than a parade on one of the great national Jewish holidays.
Like many non-violent events this one too led to some moderate violence, for when Jesus saw the corruption in the temple his anger was kindled, and with indignation he turned the place into a shambles. He turned over the tables and drove out animals, and threw the place into general chaos. You have to agree that this is a most unusual picture of Jesus, and a most unusual display of his emotions. This is the Jesus who held children on his knee and spoke of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. This is the gentle and meek Messiah who rode into the city on a meek beast of burden. Now, however, he is an intolerant king wielding the whip of anger. Verbal attack was not sufficient at this point, and so Jesus gets physical.
Out of all the unusual things that happened on this most unusual day, this is probably the most unusual of all, and we want to focus our attention on it. Mark indicates this cleansing of the temple took place the next morning, but Matthew keeps it directly connected with the entry and demonstration of Christ's authority. Either way it was within a 24 hour period and part of the purpose behind the Palm Sunday demonstration. What does this picture of the angry Christ have to say to us? What lessons are here relevant to our contemporary world where there is much injustice to be indignant about?
The first lesson I see here is a theological one. This picture of an angry Christ teaches us something about God and his attitude toward justice. The Son of God came to reveal the Father and he brought a full revelation. We see all of God in Christ. We see not only the dominant attributes of love, mercy, and grace, but we see also the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God. Had Jesus never displayed anger at the injustice of man toward man, we might have concluded that God was not concerned about these matters. We might have concluded that he was an indulgent God who could love and forgive regardless of man's response. This false theology is shattered by the crash of the tables in the temple. Jesus whipped that portrait of God right out of the gallery of theological truth. The prophets had done so before, but once and for all Jesus made it clear that God is a God of judgment as well as a God of salvation. If his salvation is rejected, his judgment is inevitable.
There is a point in the battle against evil and injustice where force is justified. When the entrenched evil has been exposed to the light, and offered the pardon and forgiveness of the Gospel, but persists in its evil path, there is no alternative but judgment. There is always a better way than judgment, but when that better way is rejected, there is no way but that of wrath. That is why the picture of Christ coming in judgment is of Christ on a white war horse with sword in hand. It is the opposite of the Palm Sunday picture. If we do not receive Jesus as the prince of peace, we will face him as judge, and experience the wrath of the Lamb.
But why this anger in the temple? It will certainly do no lasting good. They will set up their tables again and go on robbing the poor and helpless masses. This protest will be of feeble consequences. Yes, but it was only a symbolic act of the judgment to come. This was the King's rejection of the established system. Soon all would be fulfilled necessary to establish a new system, and then, as Jesus said, the temple would be totally demolished with not one stone left upon another. This act of anger was necessary to reveal Christ's personal attitude toward social and economic injustice.
Gentle Jesus meek and mild,
Why have you suddenly gone so wild?
If its true your house of prayer,
Has been corrupted everywhere,
Why not use the regular channels,
Appoint a committee, discuss it on panels.
This anger will ruin your reputation,
and bring disgrace on all the nation.
Certainly the establishment is causing great woes,
but can't you oppose them without stepping on toes?
The answer of the angry Christ is no! God is a God of justice and he hates injustice. There is a point where there is no alternative but judgment. This theological truth leads to many practical lessons for life. We can sum them all up with the statement, "Get involved in the battle against injustice." Jesus expressed his indignation in action. He took the side of the oppressed against the powerful establishment knowing it would cost his life. Most reformers die young and by violence. This was what Jesus meant when he demanded of his disciples that they take up the cross and follow him. Get involved to the point where your life is at risk. No man can do this without a real dedication, and a real conviction concerning the resurrection.
Jesus hit this economic corruption hard, and made it clear that he could not and would not co-exist with injustice and oppression. Either he or the system had to go. He forced them to decide, and by there own choice get redemption or judgment. The Saducees were in control of the temple, and had an hereditary monopoly on the priesthood. They did not want to lose this advantage, so they got into the politics. They made a bargain with the Roman overlords. If the Romans would not interfere with their lucrative operation inside the temple, they would not meddle with Roman occupation policy outside the temple. This left them free to control the prices and rate of exchange, and they robbed the people. The people had no power to appeal to but God himself. This picture of the angry Christ is God's answer. Those who pretend that Jesus never got deeply involved in social and political issues have not given much thought to the New Testament record. He got involved to the point of dying rather than remaining silent.
One of the reasons the church does not play a prophetic role in society is because it has lost the Christlike capacity to become angry over injustice. All of us get mad easy enough, but our anger is usually a part of the world's problem rather than a means to a cure. We get angry over our own feelings being hurt, or our own rights being violated, but injustice that doesn't touch us is of little or no concern. Can you imagine Jesus tearing the temple to shreds because a money changer cheated him personally? This would be a shocking and embarrassing record indeed. But Jesus is angry, not for any self-centered reason, or petty personal problem, but over a system that robs the poor who have no power to fight the system.
The proverb goes, "You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad." Jesus was the victim of every imaginable injustice. Men criticized him, perverted his words, betrayed him, mocked him, unjustly tried and condemned him, and crucified him. Not once did he rise up in anger and lash out at his vicious enemies. But here we see the fire of indignation burning fiercely, not for self-injury, but for the injury of the innocent and underdog in society. We dare not profess to bearing the cross of Christ if we never take an open stand against the social and economic injustices of society. We live in a nation filled with prejudice, bigotry, and willful ignorance, and if we truly love Christ and our country we will fight these evils.
Palm Sunday has another unique characteristic not found in any other event in the life of Jesus. It is not only a day of great madness, but a day of great gladness. It was a day in which children were involved in the event, and they participated in the celebration and the praise. Christmas is a child oriented celebration, but the fact is, neither the shepherds nor the wise men brought their kids to the manger, or to the house of baby Jesus to sing the praise of the new born King. There is not one reference to a child in the Easter story. Only adults were there at the tomb, and only they were confronted by the risen Christ. There is not a child in sight at the cross. There is no hint of a child at Pentecost. There is just no other special day where the children are involved, but Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the Biblical children's day, for it is the only day where they are actively involved in the worship. They are not just incidental either, but central in the day.
In Matthew 21:15-16 we read, "But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful thing he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. Do you hear what these children are saying, they asked him? "Yes," replied Jesus, "Have you never read, from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise."
Hosanna, loud Hosanna,
The little children sang.
Through pillared court and temple,
The lovely welcome rang.
To Jesus, who have blessed them,
Close folded to his breast,
The children sang their praises
The simplest and the best.
These children singing made the leaders of Israel angry. Verse 15 says they were indignant. It was not because this children choir was of such poor quality. They were mad because their kids were proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of David, or the Messiah. It was not their tune, or their tone, but the content of their song. They were praising Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Children misunderstand a lot of things and get confused. A Sunday School teacher asked her class what two kinds of people are there in the world? She was expecting the answer to be Christians and non-Christians. But one little girl feeling proud of her Bible knowledge said with confidence, "Jews and Reptiles." A VBS teacher asked at cookie time, "Who will say grace today?" One little guy said, "I will." So they all bowed their heads and he simply said, "Grace."
There are many things where children are not authorities, but the one area where children shine and become examples to adults is in the area of praise. A child can praise Jesus as good, if not better, than any adult. On Palm Sunday the children proved it. Praise is kids stuff because kids are great at it. I love good music, but there is no one I love hear praise the Lord more than my grandchildren. Jesus loved the praise of the children, and he defended them by quoting the Old Testament to show that God has ordained that the lips of children would produce praise. There are a lot of things children are not able to do, but they can praise as well as anyone.
I don't know if you have heard any of the many children's top tapes of praise songs, but they are lively and enjoyable, and I do not doubt that they give the Lord more pleasure than masses of adult piety. Through most of the Bible God is not impressed with the worship of most adults, but he loves the voice of children raised in praise. We can learn a lot from the songs of children. Jesus said if you want to be great you must be childlike. Worship is an area of life where this applies. A great worshiper is a childlike worshiper. You will find many passages in the Bible where God is highly critical of adult worship. But you will look in vain to find God, or his Son the Lord Jesus, ever being critical of a child's worship.
Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship says that children have a sense of worship that makes them real worshipers. When adult gets to age 40 they have only 2% of the creativity that they had at age 5. The older we get the less wonder we have. He writes, "No wonder the children sang to Jesus in the temple while the theologically trained adults tried to silence them." There were miracles going on all about them says verse 14, but all these scholars could see was a bunch of kids disrupting things with their politically incorrect songs. The preachers and the theologians missed it completely, but the children's choir saw Palm Sunday as the day the King of King's rode into Jerusalem, and they lifted their voice in praise.
What a contrast between these critics and the children. The children were on fire with enthusiasm, and the religious leaders were trying to throw a wet blanket on the whole event. No wonder Jesus said that you have to believe as a little child to enter the kingdom of God. These guys were Bible scholars and they couldn't even see what little kids could see. Thomas Carlyle said, "Wonder is the basis of worship." That is why kids are so much better at it than adults. They know how to wonder and be in awe of God and his mysterious ways. As adults we know it all. We know how things should be, and how everybody should behave, and it is all cut and dried. And so, like the religious leaders in our text, we tend to scold and criticize when kids get out of line, and pretend they can see what we don't. We spend most of our time trying to get kids to conform to us rather than listen and learn from them.
The religious leaders of Israel could have followed these praising children right into the kingdom of light, but they said instead, shame on you foolish kids, and they slammed the door, and stayed in their kingdom of darkness. If we learn nothing else from Palm Sunday, let us learn to listen to children. Listen to their wonder and their praise that so pleases Christ. Let us welcome the wisdom of the child when it comes to worship.
Jesus refused to discipline the rowdy little rebels, for they are fulfilling the will of their heavenly Father. If anybody ought to put a sock in it and hold their tongue it is the child critics who cannot find a Messiah when he is stepping on their toes. The animals kingdom is cooperating on Palm Sunday, and Jesus rides a donkey for the only time on record. In spite of all the hoopla and throwing of palm branches, and shouting, the animal is calm and does its job. The children do their thing as well, and so the kids and animals give our Lord great pleasure on this special day. But the people who should be leading the way are dragging their feet and screaming. Let me conclude with this poem by Warren Wiersbe:
Make my heart like that of a child.
Give me again the excitement and joy of wonder.
How wonderful it is that I am even able to wonder!
Remove the scales from my eyes,
the callousness from my heart,
the stubbornness from my will,
and enable me to enjoy the wonder of it all.
Deliver me from routine worship,
from "business as usual,"
from form without force and liturgy without life.
May your Holy Spirit energize that "new creation"
that is now within me,
and may it be ever new, ever wonderful,
to the glory of Your Name.