MATTHEW 21:1-11

MARCH 29, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard C. Meyer


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            Who doesn't love a parade?  The Rose Parade.  Macys Thanksgiving Parade.  Ralstons Fourth of July Parade.  New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade.  The St Patricks Day Parade.  Who doesnt love a parade?

            How many of you have ever been to a parade?  How many of you have ever been in a parade?  I was while in college.  I guess if you are going to be in just one parade in your life, it may as well be the Rose Parade.  I wish I would have thought it through a little more, however, before I volunteered to be in the parade.  My step-mother came home one day from work and told us that her place of employment, Mutual Savings and Loan was sponsoring a band and they needed a couple of people to carry the bands banner.  She said, Whoever volunteers to carry the banner gets two tickets to the Rose Bowl that afternoon. 

            I jumped at the chance.  After all, I love football, and a football game doesnt get much better than the annual Rose Bowl game.  I got the gig, and this is where things began to unravel.  I had to be in Pasadena at five in the morning not prime time for a college student.  Then I had to get dressed, in my outfit that matched the band which was a top hat and tails.  The band was called The Topper Band.  All the band members wore the same thing.  Then we had to march 5.2 miles in the parade.  5.2 miles.  And during those 5.2 miles I got to hear the band play their two songs.  Two songs.  Over and over again.  5.2 miles. 

            By the time we got to the end of the parade, which was around 10 AM California time, I shook the hand of the Grand Marshall, Senator Everett Dirksen, and was so tired, I gave away my two tickets to the Rose Bowl game and went home to take a nap. 

            Today we come to the most famous parade in church history.  Lets read Matthews version of it.  Chapter 21.  Verse 1.     


            When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, Go into the village ahead 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, just say this, The Lord needs them.  And he will send them immediately  This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a cold, the foal of a donkey.

            The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

            When they entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, Who is this? The crowds were saying, This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.


            Palm Sunday is one of the few events in the New Testament that is recorded in all four gospels. Details vary slightly, as they always do when relying upon different eye-witness accounts, but the major details remain the same. As we visualize this great event I want to focus on four things.

            First note how carefully scripted this parade happened to be. While the hosannas and hoopla that accompanied Jesus as he made his way into Jerusalem on a donkey may have seemed spontaneous, Matthew makes it clear that it was anything but spontaneous.  Matthew underscores the fact that both Jesus and the crowd knew exactly what they were doing, and knew exactly what was expected of them.

            Jesus set the stage by calling for the scripturally prescribed animal.

            The crowd, seeing Jesus approach, already accompanied by his own disciples and by those he had previously healed and taught, knew what they were seeing. This was the moment predicted by the prophet Zechariah. 

            Observant Jews, pious travelers on their way into Jerusalem for Passover, had also heard stories of this man Jesus. Now, as he appeared mounted on the donkey, their long-established traditions, their long-held hopes, came to life. They joyfully joined in the moment, celebrating the arrival of a messianic figure.

            Later this week our minds will become encumbered by many somber and disturbing events, but here, for a few moments, we can bask in this time of glorious expectation that is Palm Sunday.

            Second, notice how Jesus came into town. Passover was one of the three feasts that Jews were supposed to attend in Jerusalem. So as a good Jew, Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his disciples.

            In preparation Jesus did something quite unusual. He instructed his disciples to borrow a young donkey upon which no one had ever ridden. Its interesting. Jesus and his followers had probably come by foot all the way from Galilee, some ninety miles, but now in accordance with scripture, Jesus decides to ride a donkey for the last two miles. This was to fulfill the prophecy found in Zachariah 9:9 which reads, Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

            This mode of transportation was significant not only scripturally, but also symbolically. Jesus didnt ride in an ornate chariot or on a large and imposing horse. He rode a young donkey, a small donkey, an insignificant animal generally thought of as a beast of burden. This was a metaphor, a message of what was to come, that in five days he would take on an even greater burden: the sins of the entire world. 

            On the other side of town, Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem about the same time on a horse, the symbol of war and power. Jesus rode a young donkey, a symbol of peace and humility. In Luke 14, Jesus, those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. That has come to pass.  History has humbled Pontius Pilate and history has exalted Jesus Christ.

            Third, notice the reaction of the crowd. Matthew tells us that as Jesus entered the Holy City, many people spread their cloaks on the road while others spread branches they had cut in the fields  By the way, John is the only Gospel writer that describes the type of branch as being palm. 

            Victorious kings were honored in this fashion in biblical times. Many in the crowd were welcoming a king. They anticipated that he would lead an insurrection against the established order. They did not realize his kingdom was not of this world.

            Of course, some persons were there merely out of curiosity.  They were just following the crowd.  They saw the excitement and wondered what was going on and just started shouting like the others.  Writer Eric Hoffer once commented wryly, When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

            That being said, this was a day a person would not want to miss. I think of the time-honored story about a little boy who was sick. It was Palm Sunday and the children waved palm branches to open the service. But this young man stayed home from church with his mother.

            His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, Why do we wave palm branches on Palm Sunday, Dad, and why do we call it Palm Sunday?

            His father explained, When Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor him, so we got palm branches for the worship service today.

            The little boy replied, Aw, Shucks! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up.

            Despite how fickle the crowd turned out to be, it would have been great to see Jesus that day.

            Then, fourthly and finally, lets not forget what Palm Sunday means for us.                Author and pastor Leonard Sweet put it well when he asked the question, how can we become true participants in the longest running parade in history the Jesus parade?

            Leonard Sweet tells of a time he checked in at the Fairfield Inn at Fossil Creek, in Arizona.  As he did the staff required him to sign an agreement. It was unlike any agreement he had ever before been asked to sign. The agreement was a promise that he wouldn't party while a guest of the hotel.

            Thats right. Marriotts Fairfield Inn at Fossil Creek requires guests at certain times of the year to sign No Party Agreements. The actual document reads as follows:


            We understand that hotels are the ideal place to celebrate new adventures; however, problems occur when the celebration becomes a disturbance to our guests.

In order to help prevent any problems, we have a few simple requests. Parties will not be tolerated (or disturbances to our other guests). You should consider this your first notice and if we are required to contact you regarding a disturbance, you may be asked to leave.

            Thank you for staying with us, and enjoy your stay.


The Fairfield Inn Fossil Creek Staff


            There's one requirement for those who would join the Jesus parade: Do we promise to party and celebrate the God who became one of us in good times and bad, for better and for worse? Every church should require all its potential members to sign a party agreement form: you get kicked out if you cant or you won't party.

            Will we keep the party going and the parade moving in good times and bad?        Who doesnt love a parade?  Especially the Jesus parade.  Amen.

[1] Sermon idea from The Longest Running Parade in History by Leonard Sweet.