Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon: Matthew 21: 1-17 Hosanna to the Son of David

Did you hear about the minister who stood up to begin a service? He noticed there was a problem with the equipment and so he said: ‘There’s something wrong with this microphone.’ ‘And also with you’ came the response.

We’re used to hearing responses all the time, and not just in church. Just think of the chorus of ‘Stand up for the Ulstermen’ sung at Ravenhill after Ulster score another try. Or (even though it pains me to say it) a chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ when Liverpool score.

This morning, we’re looking at the response of the crowd to the events of the first Palm Sunday. Most weeks, our response, the application, comes towards the end. You might even be able to tell when it’s coming, and you can tune out, so that you don’t have to think about doing anything in response to God’s word. This morning, though, we see the response first, if that’s not to put the cart before the horse.

The response comes like a chorus twice in the passage. Did you notice it earlier when the passage was read? Or can you see it now as you look at the passage? It’s in verse 9 and verse 15. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.‘ It’s a cry of praise and a cry for salvation all in one go. It’s almost if we were to cry out ‘I’m praising you because you’re saving me, Son of David.’ But that’s a bit of a mouthful, so Hosanna is much easier.

I wonder if that is your response to Jesus - I’m praising because you’re saving. As we come towards Good Friday and Easter, what is your response? Hosanna to the Son of David was the chorus echoing Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. Will it echo around Aghavea and Fermanagh today? What did the crowd see? What prompted them to cry out?

Recently we had called with our nieces, and they were playing a game of ‘snap.’ I’m sure you know how that works. When you see two things the same, you shout ‘snap’. They had animal pictures - elephants, giraffes, lions, penguins. When you saw two elephants in a row, you shouted snap!

If you look closely at the Bibles, you’ll notice that the passage is a mixture of block text and of inset text. Those inset bits are bits of the Old Testament. Matthew includes those quotations to help us play a game of snap. When you see something in the Old Testament, and something that Jesus is doing, then it’s a snap - Jesus is saving, so we’ll be praising.

If we were to do a Family Fortunes question: name something associated with Palm Sunday, I’m fairly sure the donkey would be the top answer. Matthew tells us the details of how the disciples got the donkeys (there were two of them). But look at what else he tells us just before the first bit of inset text: ‘This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying...’

The prophet (Zechariah) had spoken about the King of Zion coming, riding on a donkey. This wasn’t a regular occurrence. Kings rode on war horses, not on donkeys. But here, the prophet had spoken about a king coming on a donkey. And here, now it is happening. Snap!

As Jesus rides along the road on the donkey, the crowds lay down their cloaks and also branches. They recognise who is coming, so they begin to shout out. And what is it they shout out? The respond in praise, by shouting out scripture. Hosanna comes from Psalm 118, and the crowd go on to use another verse too: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ They are recognising that Jesus is the one coming in the name of the Lord, on the Lord’s business, as the king. The Old Testament promise of one who would come is being fulfilled. Snap! Hosanna to the Son of David. We’re praising because Jesus is saving.

But then Jesus makes it to the city. He enters the temple. But he isn’t there to pray. Instead, it’s quite surprising what he does. You see, we sometimes have in our minds a ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ type of Jesus, a stained glass Jesus. You can’t really see Jesus doing what he does next. Verse 12: he ‘drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves.’

Imagine for a moment the chaos of the scene - the thud of tables overturned. The rattle of coins being spilled. The shouting and confusion. The scramble. Now why does Jesus do this? He explains it in verse 13: ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.’

The space for prayer had been taken up by the selling of animals and the changing of money. People were profiting by cheating those who wanted to come and pray. You know the way if you were to head over to Cavan, you would need some Euro? Well, those who ran the temple insisted that you had to use temple money. You would have to exchange your pounds or euros into temple money, at unfair rates. The temple was open for business - but not the business of prayer. The Lord has come to his temple and thrown out those who were far from the Lord. As he does that, he makes space for the blind and lame to be cured. He is restoring and reforming, battling against corrupt religion.

The chief priests and scribes (that is, the people who run the temple), they don’t like it. They are angry - and even more angry when they hear the children’s chorus. The children have heard the adults praising, and they pick it up and sing it too. That’s why it’s great to have families in church - as the children see parents and adults praising, they too will pick it up.

In verse 15 the children are now crying out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.‘ They are responding with praise, but it’s bringing anger to the religious leaders. They confront Jesus asking: ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’

It turns out that this too is fulfilling scripture, a verse from Psalm 8 where ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself.’ Even the infants are praising, because Jesus is saving. But what about you? When we come together, are you singing out your praise? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t a note, you can still sing and make a joyful noise!

In this one short passage, Jesus fulfils four different Old Testament scriptures. Over the course of his life he matched over 300 different scriptures - snap, snap, snap. Jesus has come to save, but will we praise?

The crowds on that first Palm Sunday welcomed the King with shouts of praise. Yet all too quickly the cry was crucify. They turned against him - yet that was how he would fulfil all the scriptures; this was how he would save.

Will you praise him today? We can only praise him when we know that he has saved us. Jesus has done all that is needed. We just have to accept it. Will you praise him today? Let your Hosanna ring out - not just today in church, but every day, in the way you live your life, in the choices you make, in your words and ways. Hosanna - Jesus is saving, so I will praise him. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Palm Sunday 13th April 2014.

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