Palm Sunday – March 20, 2016
“Let The Stones Cry Out”
“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ 40 He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” -Luke 19:37-4
With those words Luke described Jesus’ Palm Sunday approach to the holy city Jerusalem. That scene was the beginning of the most important series of events in all human history. In the next five days Jesus would be arrested, falsely accused, renounced and betrayed by his own disciples, and crucified on a cross outside the city walls. Few if any realized the full importance of what was unfolding before their eyes. Entering Jerusalem for the last time was Jesus of Nazareth. But it was much more than that. Entering Jerusalem was the very Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh. It was Passover time- the greatest festival of the Jewish religion- and hundreds of thousands of Jews were gathering in Jerusalem for the festival. But Jesus did not arrive in Jerusalem just to celebrate the Passover. He entered Jerusalem to BE the Passover….. the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
So Luke says that “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God.” Did they rejoice and praise God with full understanding of what was happening? No. In Matthew’s record of the Triumphal entry, we read “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ 11 And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.'” (Matt. 21:10,11.) The arrival of a prophet is a momentous occasion all in itself, but here was the arrival of one who was much more than a prophet. Entering the city was the promised Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Not even Jesus’ closest friends and coworkers, the twelve Apostles, clearly understood. Had they understood all that was about to happen, culminating in the glorious Resurrection on the coming Sunday, they would not have betrayed Jesus. Even after the Resurrection the Apostles showed that they did not yet fully understand. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.)
The crowd of disciples celebrated because they hoped that Jesus would finally emerge as the kind of Messiah they had always hoped for. They hoped that finally Jesus would fully employ all his mighty powers to throw the hated Romans out and restore the power, prestige, wealth, and grandeur of Israel. They did not expect Jesus to be arrested, rather they expected Jesus to arrest his enemies. They did not expect to see Jesus on trial. They expected to see Jesus sitting in judgment over the Romans and over the hypocritical religious leaders of Israel. They expected to see plenty of blood and violence… not Jesus’ blood, but the blood of Israel’s enemies spilled in a mighty righteous uprising.
Indeed Jesus’ disciples should have celebrated. Not only the disciples, but all the residents of Jerusalem, and all the visitors arriving for Passover, and, yes, the Pharisees and leaders of the people. But the leadership were not in a celebratory mood. They were irritated and envious of all the attention given Jesus. They demanded that Jesus command his followers to stop singing hymns and praises to him. How ironic! The Pharisees, who were the expert theologians of Judaism, should have led the people in praising and welcoming Jesus! Among all the Israelites the Pharisees should have been the ones who recognized Jesus, who recognized that he was the fulfillment of all the prophets of old, and who understood all that he was about to accomplish. They had the training in the Scriptures to lead the way in recognizing Jesus. But blinded by sin and unbelief they not only didn’t recognize their Savior, they opposed him and orchestrated his arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus said, “if these (disciples) were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” All of nature praises God for His awesome works and wonders. At Christmas time we sing “Joy to the world!… and heaven and nature sing! And heaven and nature Sing!” We do not hear the sound of that praise, but heaven does.
When Jesus first arrived on the public scene, he came to be baptized by John in the wilderness. Among the throngs gathering for baptism, John spotted the Pharisees who had come not to be baptized but to spy on the overnight celebrity of the Baptist. John admonished them saying, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Matt. 3:8-10.)
God has done just that. We are those stones that God has raised up. We were dead in trespasses and sin, our hearts were stone hard and ice cold toward God through sin. But God the Holy Spirit called us through the Gospel, created faith in our hearts, and through that faith made us children of God’s kingdom. We were lost, alienated from God, and destined for destruction because of sin, but through Baptism God cleansed us, forgave us, and created new hearts in us. And now we, the children of God, are the stones that cry out. On Palm Sunday and throughout the year we who were once dead, but who are now alive in Christ, worship, and sing, and thank, and praise God for our great salvation. By God’s power working in us our lives are hymns of praise to Him… witnesses to his works and wonders.
In our Epistle lesson St, Paul wrote, “Therefore God has highly exalted (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11.) At Jesus’ glorious return, even the unbelieving masses will join the universal praise of the Savior, bowing before him and acknowledging His glory. Alas, for lack of faith while in earthly life, it will be too late for them. But this is still the time of God’s grace. Through the Gospel He is still giving stone cold dead hearts the flame of faith and the balm of salvation. Through our sharing of the Gospel those who are dead in unbelief can be brought to new life in Christ. Let the stones cry out now. Let us invite them through the Gospel to join the eternal chorus of those who were dead in sin, but who are now alive in Christ Jesus. Let the stones cry out! Amen.