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The Misunderstood Messiah

If you come from a more traditional Christian background, you’ll likely know that next Sunday is Palm Sunday. That’s the Sunday that begins “Passion Week” or “Holy Week” as it is sometimes called – which of course is the week that leads up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. So traditionally, we would celebrate Palm Sunday next week and then Easter the week after that. However, I’m going to bump things up one week and talk about Palm Sunday today, leaving next Sunday to talk through the Last Supper – and then of course, we’ll go through the Easter story on Easter Sunday as usual. 

So hopefully, that doesn’t mess up your traditional expectations too much – but there is just so much going on in that final week of the life of Christ, that I thought it might be best to spread it out a little bit.

Now as we’ve been following the life of Christ, it’s been interesting to see how all the four different Gospels vary in what parts of Christ’s life they include. In fact, there are actually very few events in the life and ministry of Jesus that are recorded in all four Gospels – but Palm Sunday (or the Triumphant Entry – as it may be labeled in your Bibles) is one of the them.

And although this event is recorded in all four Gospels – there is still quite a variety in the details that are included in each Gospel.  And so today, instead of sticking with any one particular Gospel, I’m going to try to pull the details from each of them so that we can get a more complete picture of what’s going on here.

Now if you were with us last week, you’ll remember how Jesus had just raised Lazarus back to life after Lazarus had died from a severe sickness. Because of this amazing miracle, many people believed in Jesus! And I want to begin today by reading the very next verses that follow that story – because they really set things up for what is about to happen next. We actually ended with verse 45 last week in John chapter 11 – and so let’s begin with that same verse today.

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 

46 But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”

John 11:45-48

Now this is pretty significant. In these few verses, we begin to see just how concerned the leading priest and Pharisees had become about about Jesus. Their fear was that if all the people believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that would naturally lead to a revolt against Rome. You see, in their minds (and really, in the minds of all the Jews at that time) the Messiah was going to be a political and military leader much like King David or perhaps like some of the Judges of old – and he would free them from the oppression of the Romans – who had conquered them some time earlier! That was the image of the Messiah that they had formed in their minds from all the different Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah.

However, if Jesus were not the true Messiah (and the Pharisees were certain that He was not), then, when He would undoubtedly attempt to lead a revolt against Romans – it was sure to end in disaster! The Romans had no mercy on rebels – and the religious leaders feared that the Romans would make Jerusalem pay dearly for this Jesus-led insurrection that was sure to come – destroying both the temple and their nation!

So there is a great tension building here! The general population were increasingly convinced that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah – the one who would finally free them from the oppression of the Romans… But the Pharisees and leading priest were increasingly convinced that Jesus was NOT the Messiah – and that if He was allowed to continue misleading the people, disaster would fall upon them all!

So what could they do? Well, verse 49 continues:

49 Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

51 He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. 52 And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.

53 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.

John 11:49-53

Now this is really interesting. Following Caiaphas’ suggestion, the Jewish leaders determined that in order to save their nation from certain destruction, Jesus would have to die. Ironically, they were absolutely right – but just not in the way they were thinking.

Jesus did have to die to save both the Israelites, and everyone else on planet earth who would ever one day believe in Him. But He didn’t die to save us from the Romans – he died to save us from sin!

And this is exactly the dichotomy that we’re going to see our story today. Everyone thinks that Jesus is doing one thing – when he’s really doing something entirely different – Something much greater! He is the Messiah, yes – but not the kind of Messiah they think he is. Rescuing Israel from the Romans was the least of Jesus’ concerns – he had come to rescue the entire world from the devastating consequences of sin. He came to rescue us from death itself! Their understanding of who Jesus really was and what He came to accomplish was terribly mis-informed! They had a terribly small view of what Jesus came to do!

And I think that’s probably the case for a lot of people today. Their understanding of who Jesus really is and what He wants accomplish in their lives is terribly mis-informed! They have a terribly small view of what Jesus came to do. 

Jesus isn’t satisfied just to give you health or comfort or pleasure or wealth for these few years you spend on planet earth. He didn’t come to give you such trivial things as that. I mean, He may or may not give you those small blessings, but he came to give you much more than that!

He came to give you eternal life – an eternity of joy and peace and goodness forever! 

And he would rather allow you to suffer or be poor or to go through some really difficult things in this short life if it means sparing you from the eternal consequences of sin!

We need to understand what Jesus really wants to accomplish in our lives! Or else we’ll end up treating Jesus like the Jewish leaders did – rejecting him as the Saviour that He came to be.

But of course, I’m getting ahead of our story! I haven’t even finished the introduction and here I am giving your the conclusion! So let’s get back to our story.

John 12 tells us:

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead.

Then jump down to verse 9…

9 When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

John 12:1, 9-11

So now the plot thickens. Not only are the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus, they’ve decided to kill Lazarus too – because Lazarus was quite literally “living proof” that Jesus was indeed the Messiah! 

And if you think about it, wouldn’t Lazarus be the ideal person to convince the Israelites to follow Jesus into revolution and war against the Romans? I mean, if Jesus can raise people from the dead – what an invincible army! Nothing could stop them! And so it totally makes sense that the religious leaders would want to eliminate Lazarus as the poster child for the power of Jesus!

Mind you, since Jesus can raise the dead, I’m not sure what good killing Lazarus would do! Jesus could just raise him to life again if he wanted! But perhaps the Jewish leaders didn’t fully think that one through.

Anyways, let’s continue reading – but from Matthew now. Matthew 21:1 says…

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:1-5

So let’s take a minute to talk through these verses. As we read back in John, it was just a few days before the passover – one of the annual national festivals that were held in Jerusalem each year. And so, along with the thousands of other Israelites, Jesus decided to make his way to Jerusalem, but in a rather unexpected way.

For most of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus has avoided public recognition. Many times after healing someone, he would give them instructions not to tell anyone. Or after some of his great public miracles, like the feeding of the 5000, when the crowds were determined to make him king because of that, he slipped away quietly. Jesus has always avoided the public limelight.

But now, Jesus is deliberately putting himself right there in public view. It was finally time for Him to make clear his claim to be the long-awaited Messiah! As we read this in this passage, Jesus is about to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt as King – fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which reads:

Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.

Zechariah 9:9

And there are two significant elements to the fact that Jesus was about to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.

First of all, riding into the city on donkey like this carried the image of the coronation of a King. For example, when David made the proclamation that his son Solomon was to be king after him, he send Solomon to his coronation day riding on David’s donkey. Of course, not everyone who rode into town on a donkey was claiming to be king, but as we’re about to see, this was not just another ordinary journey into town. But we’ll get into that in a minute.

The second little thing to note is that Jesus is riding a donkey – rather than a horse. In the ancient middle east, when a king had conquered a city, he would often enter the city riding on his noble steed! A horse carried an image of power and might – it was an animal of war! But a donkey didn’t carry that image at all. A donkey was a peace-time animal. Even just to look at a donkey… They just look gentle and humble compared to a horse.

So even though Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem as a king – he wasn’t entering as one preparing for battle with the Romans, but rather, he was coming in peace – humble and gentle! But of course, the crowds had something else in mind! Take a look at Mark 11 – verses 7 & 8.

7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

8 Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.

Mark 11:1-8

If we were to put this in a modern-day context, we might say they they rolled out the red carpet for Jesus! Of course, they didn’t have rolls of red carpet back then, so they used the next best thing – their own garments! And this too, was another way of honouring a king.

Back in 2 Kings 9, when Jehu was proclaimed King, we see his men spreading their cloaks out before him. And keep in mind, that clothing back then was much more expensive! This wouldn’t be like a $10 t-shirt, this would be more the equivalent of a several hundred dollar suit jacket that they’re laying on the ground for Jesus and his donkey to walk upon!

So you can see that the crowds are really honouring Jesus by doing this! They truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been waiting for literally hundreds of years. And of course, He was! But their expectations for him as the Messiah were all wrong.

And actually, we can see some of their expectations in the fact that it says in verse 8 that they cut leafy branches from the field and laid them before Jesus along with their garments. John actually specifies that they were palm branches… We read in John 12:12…

A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Hail to the King of Israel!”

John 12:12b-13

So clearly, the crowds are ready to proclaim Jesus as King – but what’s so significant about palm branches? Well, about 150 years before this, there was a Syrian ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes who had won control over Jerusalem and had brutally oppressed the Jewish people. He had attempted to eliminate all Jewish religious practices – include worship at the temple. He had even desecrated the altar at the temple by sacrificing a pig on it – which of course, for the Jews, was about the most offensive, violating thing you could do!

Well, when that happened, a Jewish priest named Judas Maccabeus, lead a violent revolt against King Anitochus and liberated Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and won a great victory! The successful revolt made Judas Maccabeus a national hero and they celebrated his victory by waving palm branches as he entered into Jerusalem. This was actually the beginning of the Jewish festival of Hanukah – which you’ve probably heard of – the Jews celebrate that even today!

But this event is undoubtedly what the crowds had in mind as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. They were sure, that like Judas Maccabeus, Jesus would liberate them from the rule of the Romans – kicking the Roman legions out of their city and out of their temple!

And so, with palm branches in hand, they welcomed Jesus into the city, shouting… “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”

Now of course, when the Jewish leader heard this, already concerned about how the Romans might respond to any hint of an insurrection, they demanded that Jesus do something to stop the crowds. The last thing they wanted was the Roman legions to hear crowds shouting praises to any “King of Israel” that wasn’t Caesar! We read in Luke 19:39…

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Luke 19:39-40

And this is kind of interesting. Jesus knows that the crowds have a completely incorrect idea about what kind of Messiah he was, but he acknowledged that still, their praises were fitting! Because the fact was, Jesus was the King of Israel. He was, and continues to be, the king of all! He absolutely deserves all the praise and all the glory that we can possibly give him – and more!

And in fact, if we didn’t praise him, the rest of Creation would! It’s kinda a funny image to consider the stones along the road bursting into cheers for Jesus. But we get that kind of imagery in other parts of the Bible too. Isaiah tells us that, that at the word of the Lord…

The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!

Isaiah 55:12b

In Psalm 19, we read how

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4 NIV

Creation is made to praise and glorify God. And that includes you and I. That’s actually a central part of our very existence. We are created to praise and glorify our God!

And if we won’t do that, the rest of Creation will!

Well, the ending of our passage today depends on which Gospel you’re reading – the different writers include different details. John basically ends the story here and goes on into a different topic. The other three Gospel all include Jesus clearing out the temple from the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifices – much like he did near the beginning of his ministry. Matthew and Mark also talk about Jesus cursing a fig tree when he saw that it had no fruit.

But Luke includes one last detail that the other Gospel’s do not – and that’s what I want to end with today. It says in Luke 19:41…

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Luke 19:41-44

And it’s that last phrase that really stuck out to me. “Because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” What a tragic statement!

While the crowds were enthralled with the idea of their Messiah finally rescuing them from the Romans and the Pharisee were distraught with the idea of a false Messiah destroying their nation – no one fully recognized who Jesus really was.

They simply did not recognize that God Himself had visited them! In fact, in just a few short days, the crowds would be chanting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” when they realized that Jesus had not come to lead a revolt against the Romans. And Pharisees would sentence to death the very one who had created them – the author of Life!

And for us, we wonder how they could have missed it! How could they have been so wrong about who Jesus was and what He had come to accomplish? How did they not recognize it when God Himself visited them!?

But then again – how often do we do the exact same thing? How often are we totally oblivious to who Jesus really is and what He really trying to accomplish in our life? How often do we read into our situation whatever it is that we THINK Jesus is doing – or should be doing?

No wonder we get frustrated or discouraged when Jesus goes and does something totally different!

Like I said near the beginning of the message, sometimes our view of who Jesus is and what He’s doing in our life is terribly mis-informed. Sometimes we have a terribly small view of what Jesus came to do. 

We get so wrapped up in our present situation that we miss the fact that God has visited us! He’s right there in our situation – doing something amazing – but because we’re expecting him to do something else, we miss it entirely!

That was certainly the case for the crowds – that was certainly the cast for the Pharisees – and that will continue to be the case for the next couple weeks as we follow Jesus through his betrayal, his trial, his death, and his resurrection.

It seems everyone missed who Jesus really was and what He was really doing! And my prayer for us today, is that we don’t make the same mistake! 

I pray that God would open our eyes so that we can see who He really is, to see his presence in our different situations, and to see the amazing things that he is doing in our lives – even when we might expect him to do something very different!

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