Palm Sunday 2015-sermon text version

Palm Sunday Message, Acts 7:37-53

Palm SundayI’m always kind of conflicted about Palm Sunday.  I know it’s a critical event on the church calendar, but for the Sunday to Sunday crowd who attends church in America, Palm Sunday is an instance of party-hopping.  We go from the party on Palm Sunday with branches waving and shouting “Hosanna” to the party on Easter with trumpets trumpeting as we shout “He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”  Party hopping, not with a Messiah like Him, but especially on Palm Sunday…with a messiah like us.  One who looks—not like God—but looks remarkably like you and me.  He looks like just a regular Joe or Jesus.

This same concern is the one Stephen—the first martyr of the Church—will address in today’s preaching passage from Acts that is eerily parallel to our Scripture reading this morning about the Triumphal Entry.  These events beginning with the mountaintop of Palm Sunday’s party will descend into the valley of death that stands in the gap between Sunday party and Sunday party.  It’s in the valley, it’s in the death that the real work of God got done.  There would be no party on Easter if it weren’t for the persecution, the valley of death, the hill called Golgotha, the place of the Skull, the Cross, and the cold of a tomb.

Stephen even says as much.  Let me read the entire preaching passage in bulk and then we’ll explore the similarities between Palm Sunday and the text that crowns Stephen’s artful defense before the Sanhedrin.  Remember, they’ve accused Stephen of blaspheming against this holy place (the temple) and against the customs of Moses (the Law).  He’s been recounting the great stuff Moses did and how the Israelites really didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Acts 7:37 “This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. 39 “But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt– we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 43 You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon. 44 “Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, 46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built the house for him. 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Essentially, Stephen is saying to the Sanhedrin who care so much about the temple and the Law, “You religious narrow-minded Torah thumpers, you rejected all the prophets who predicted a Messiah of God’s sending.  Those prophets never predicted a manmade messiah like the one you wanted.  One who looks like you and me.  You care about Moses?  You rejected Moses yourselves!  The golden calf, the wilderness wandering…all that was because you didn’t wait for God and you decided to worship gods that were made with human hands.  Look! You’ve made gods now out of the temple and the customs of Moses.  You rejected Jesus, the Messiah of God’s sending, in favor of a messiah who looks a lot like you and me.  A manmade messiah!  You killed Jesus because you liked your gods better.”

On Palm Sunday, Jesus was hailed in His Triumphal Entry as the King of Israel and was expected to be a political warrior king who would restore Israel by conquering their enemies.  Instead, He rode in as the peacemaker riding on a gentle donkey—a picture of Solomon riding in to Jerusalem.  Jesus was hailed as Messiah in the line of David, the King of Israel.  Jesus became a messiah, they thought, of their own making, they were crowning Him king—not realizing that He was the “Sent One.”  Jesus was already Messiah, already God, long before He was ever sent.  They’d be disappointed.  The Messiah of God’s plan, the One sent from God was for the purpose of salvation not war.

But in fine tradition of Jewish leaders, “Acts 7:52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.”  The Righteous One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ came and was persecuted and killed.  The religious leaders would kill the real Messiah and yet, God’s work would be done in the valley of death, in the shadow of the Cross, and in the cold of the tomb which stood dark between the Sunday parties.

Why did they reject Jesus?  Jesus rides in as a hero, but then didn’t act like a messiah-of-their-making.   He didn’t bow to them, their knowledge, or their gods of temple and teachings.

Jesus was a remarkably unpopular guy even before mankind’s hangover immediately following the Palm Sunday party.  And not just unpopular with the religious leaders.  He was offering strange teachings about self-denial and cross-picking-upping.  He clears the temple because “Matthew 21:13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”  That den of robbers is the temple that Stephen’s accusers, the Sanhedrin, still cared so much about only a short while after Jesus’ death!  Jesus is healing people in the temple area, something the Pharisees couldn’t do and therefore disapproved of.  He withers a fig tree as a symbolic rejection of hypocrisy of the religious leaders.  He displays authority they don’t have.  He hints that He knows they’re planning on killing Him out of envy.  He tells them that they don’t believe in God.  He tells them that they’re outside the Kingdom and won’t be at the banquet and has stated that they are not Abraham’s descendants!  They are sons of the devil.  In response to their intellectual trap, He tells them Matthew 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  To those learned religious types, being told they don’t know the Scriptures was profoundly insulting and Jesus exposes them like the emperor with no clothes.  He tells them that they haven’t got the slightest clue how to love God or love mankind.  He proves His superior understanding and His flawless teaching and then proceeds to pronounce 7 woes upon these religious leaders.  Four woes about hypocrisy in their teachings, but then goes on to say these:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! 33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Palm Sunday’s version of “Blessed is He” was already sung at His Triumphal Entry. Jesus is talking about the “Blessed is He” to be sung on the Last Day.  On Judgment Day when all these hypocrites–with their manmade temple and their manmade customs and their manmade gods—will bow down and acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah.  false messiahs croppedThe One they’re about to kill during what we call Holy Week (on account of Jesus’ teachings and those 7 woes) is in fact, the Messiah of God’s plan and far more powerful than any manmade messiahs…which are a dime a dozen.

Only Jesus is God and He will be exalted as our story unfolds after the parties on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.  He is exalted at His Ascension which was before Stephen’s speech.  Only Jesus is the Messiah and able to save.  Only Jesus will be there when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!

Think of all the messiahs we create for ourselves—gods of money, family, friends, traditions, political leaders, musicians, actors, sports figures who can dance with the stars. 

None of these can save us.

Jesus isn’t that kind of Messiah. 


Seven woes come “Boom!” from nice guy Jesus.  But Jesus was better than nice.  He was honest.  He gave them the brutal truth of what was to come.  That’s what formed the basis for the accusations against Jesus that we also see against Stephen.

  • Jesus said about the temple:  Matthew 24:2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
  • And so they accused:  Mark 14:58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'”
  • Jesus said John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
  • They wanted a man-made messiah and a man-made temple.  John 2:20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.

And that’s because He came from God.  He was God’s kind of Messiah, not a manmade one.

jesus cross black and whiteSo as Jesus works His way from Sunday to Sunday, it’s no party.

  • In a mere 5 days, He will go from being revered as the King of Israel to being rejected as a blasphemer and crucified as a criminal.
  • He will go from being Rabbi, Lord, and Teacher to being abandoned by His disciples.
  • He will go from being everyone’s curiosity and a celebrity to being scorned by everyone.  People will turn their faces from Him, scoff at Him, beat Him, and give Him anything but the red carpet celebrity treatment.  Nailed to a cross.  That’s what they’ll do to Him.
  • He will go from riding in, peace-loving riding on a donkey, to being killed, nailed to a Cross in a jealous act of hate.
  • Jesus Christ, God with us—Emmanuel—would be rejected in a mere 5 days…as not God at all.

Sunday to Sunday, Jesus would be the last prophet, God’s Son, the Messiah, the Savior.  A Messiah who looks just like God.  He would establish that God’s temple is in the hearts of men who believe that Jesus was the Sent One.  He would achieve that destruction and rebuilding process in the valley by His Crucifixion, burial and yes, by His Resurrection.  The manmade temple of 46 year building project would be empty.  Lights on.  Nobody home.  Empty.  And to prove it in 70 AD (within the lifetime of some of these Pharisees) that manmade temple will be a pile of rubble, just as Jesus said.  Jesus had already transferred the temple to the hearts of those who believe.

But for the religious leaders, those who were motivated by manmade temples and a manmade Moses, Sunday to Sunday would be described as Stephen did:  Acts 7:52 “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Just like Jesus would be crucified for asserting the truth about a Messiah like Him versus a manmade messiah like me or you, Stephen would be stoned for saying that very thing.  Telling the truth.  But Stephen with his angel face and flawless argument will have driven the truth home: The Righteous One is a Messiah like Jesus and we needed His death in order to experience His Resurrection and Holy Spirit power.

What I’d like to see you that take home from all of this is to enjoy the Palm Sunday party.  And enjoy the Easter party. 

But more than that, to remember also that the real work of this season wasn’t done on Sundays.  The real work was done in the valley of death, on the Cross, at the place of the Skull, Golgotha and the cold of a tomb.  Christianity would be nothing without Good Friday.  There would be no Easter Sunday after-party if Friday hadn’t happened.

Death was overcome not party-hopping on Sundays, but rather on a Friday that was Good indeed.  A Friday that was Good for Stephen and Good for all those who are at the present being persecuted, beheaded, burned alive, enslaved and impaled for their faith…and a Friday that is Good for you and me today.  Because Death was overcome not by party-hopping on Sundays, but rather on a dark Friday of the Cross that was very Good indeed.



Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on March 31, 2015

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