Palm Sunday – March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday is almost here! Join the WTUC online community on March 24 at 10am Japan time as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Easter draws near. Rev. Tim Boyle will be preaching the message, “The Lord Has Need of You.”  (Manuscript is attached below.)

Our liturgist is Betsy; the organist is Kazuko; Ruth and her puppet friends will bring the children’s message.

Old Testament: Psalm 118:19-29 
New Testament: Luke 19:28-40

Hymns: “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” “Pass It On,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

We hope that many of you will be able to come and worship with us!


Text: Psalm 118:19-29; Luke 19:28-40

Our Scripture reading this morning tells of an important event in the life of Jesus, when he made his final entry into Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world, to take his uncompromising stand against the hypocrisy of his day.  All four gospels give details of this event, because it was seen as setting the stage for the most important event of all — the death and resurrection of our Lord.  We have come to know the Sunday on which this event is commemorated as “Palm Sunday” because of the palm branches people had taken to wave in the celebration and to throw down before Jesus along with the overcoats. 

The reason that Jesus was greeted in this way was that the people had seen and heard about Jesus’ great miracles, and they believed he must be the long-awaited Messiah who was to set them free from bondage.  Properly understood, of course, Jesus was just that, but he had not come as a military conqueror to lead a rebellion against Rome and call down the army of Heaven to drive out the oppressors.  His kingdom was not of this world, and so many of these same people turned against him only a few days later when it became clear that their expectations were not going to be met. 

But on this day, the crowds welcomed him with great fervor.  His reputation had spread like wildfire, and particularly his great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead only a few days before in the nearby town of Bethany had electrified the city.  John 12:9 tells of the reaction of the common people when they learned that Jesus was again in Bethany with Lazarus.  “A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.  So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus.”  

Lazarus must have had a powerful testimony indeed, for the power structure decided that he must be on their”hit list” as well as Jesus, if they were to weather this storm.  From their perspective, they thought that if they didn’t take such action, not only would they lose their power base, but they also feared that the Romans would come in with great force to suppress the inevitable uprising.  Nowhere does it say that Lazarus was killed too, but it is likely that he was.  In any event, he was someone who experienced physical death twice.

Now, let’s turn to that triumphal entry itself that all of this was leading up to.  There are, of course, many angles from which we could look at this story.  Jesus knew before he entered Jerusalem what the outcome would be.  He had, in fact, told this disciples that he would be captured by the corrupt Jewish leaders and that he would be executed after a mock trial, but also that he would rise again on the third day.  Jesus knew that the crowds were longing for the Messiah to come and free them from Roman oppression.  And thus, he knew that they would turn against him when they realized that he didn’t fit those expectations.  This is why he wept over the city as he rode down from the Mt. of Olives on that donkey.  The fickleness of the crowds — on Sunday they took palm branches to wave and cried out “Hosanna to the King” as they welcomed Jesus into the city, but then on the following Friday morning, some of these same people were crying out “Crucify him!” because he wouldn’t call fire down from heaven to destroy the Romans.  Thus, Jesus must certainly have had mixed emotions as he was welcomed by the crowds.

We could further consider the implications of this and other points as well, but this morning, I want us to take an entirely different approach, and think about that little donkey that Jesus chose to carry him into Jerusalem.  Isn’t it strange that Jesus chose this untried, young colt for this great honor.  Why on earth would he do that?  So, let’s think about this seemingly strange choice and what it teaches us.  Let’s look at this event from the standpoint of that young donkey that carries Jesus through the crowds.

First, let’s think about what it means that this colt was not yet broken in.  In v. 30, it tells us that Jesus told his disciples to bring him the colt, which he described as not having ever been sat on before.  I spent my childhood and youth in a rodeo culture in Arizona and had many opportunities to ride horses. I wasn’t involved in breaking in horses, mules, or donkeys to be ridden on, but from what I know about the subject, it is not something that comes naturally to the animal.  They resist it at first and are very skittish and jumpy.  They have to gradually get used to the feeling of having someone on their back.  Ordinarily, if you hopped right on to the back of a colt that had never been ridden before, it would go wild and try to buck you off.  And yet Jesus chose such an animal on purpose.  I wonder why.

The mystery of this deepens even further when we think of what Jesus asked this colt to do.  It would have been one thing if Jesus had wanted to ride the colt out in an open field alone or something, but no, he directed the colt right into the crowds of people lining the road leading into Jerusalem.  Imagine what you would have felt like if you were that colt.  Let’s look at it from the colt’s point of view.  First of all, if I were that colt, when I saw all of those people waving palm branches and yelling at the top of their lungs, my first inclination would be to turn right around and run the opposite direction as fast as I could.  So, if I kind of “humanize” this young donkey and imagine what would be going through a donkey’s mind, it would be something like the following: “Wow, what an experience!  Here I’ve been used to walking ‘barehoofed’ on dirty and dusty paths with sharp rocks and sticks, and now all these people are throwing their clothes on the ground in front of little old me to walk on!  Gee, I hope I don’t mess them up too bad.  Even the weight of someone riding on my back for the first time feels light when I’m walking on soft cloth to cushion my feet.  Somehow the presence of the master calms by fears as I allow him to direct me forward.  I don’t know what’s going on here or where I’m being led to, but I only know that I can trust the master on my back.  Boy, I’ll certainly never forget this experience!”

We can be sure that that colt was never the same again.  No doubt, its owners were tremendously proud of its accomplishments.  It had really proved itself, and it is certain that it would not need to be broken in any further.

Now, there are several lessons we can learn from this little colt and the story it played such an important role in.  First, there is its choosing by Jesus.  Jesus told 2 of his disciples to “Go into the village there ahead of you: as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.  If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master needs it.”

As I mentioned before, to anyone who knew anything about colts — and certainly most everybody did in those days, this must have seemed like a crazy thing to do.  But his disciples had seen Jesus do lots of other seemingly impossible and crazy things before, and he always pulled them off.  So, they willingly obeyed —though, no doubt, they were constantly puzzled by one thing after another, including this.  After all, you’d think he would want the most seasoned veteran he could find to carry him through the crowds.  But no, he chose the very opposite.  In fact, in Matthew and John, reference is made to a strange prophecy that was written hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Zechariah, which we read earlier, where he says, “Tell the city of Zion: Now your king is coming to you.  He is gentle and rides on a donkey: He rides on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  The disciples, of course, didn’t realize the significance of this event—and all the other events that happened in such rapid succession—until later as they looked back over everything that had happened and saw how it all fit into the pattern and fulfilled numerous previously obscure prophecies.

It is very interesting to note that approximately 1000 years earlier, during the time of King David, a tradition developed where the king rode into Jerusalem on the back of a young colt to the crowds waving palm branches.  This festival is referred to in Psalm 118 which we read earlier. Reading again from verse 25, it says, “Lord, save us! (And the Hebrew word translated “save us” is one you are quite familiar with — “hosanna”) Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. … With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.  You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  

So, it appears that King David and his successors actually rode on a donkey into Jerusalem and up to the altar of the temple while the people greeted him with palm branches crying out to the Lord, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This annual event, however, had not happened since at least the fall of Jerusalem some 600 plus years prior to Jesus, but here the people were seeing it happen again before their very eyes.  As all the Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Kingdom of David, we can be sure that they saw the connection.  Not even Jesus’ disciples, however, understood the true meaning of what was happening.  In fact, it wasn’t until they had time to reflect on all these events in the light of the Old Testament and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that they understood its true significance.

Returning to the story of the colt, there is the part about its owners letting Jesus’ disciples take it away.  We have no information given us that would indicate that Jesus had made previous arrangements to borrow the colt — though that would certainly have been possible — or why the colt would have had more than one owner, as the word is in the plural.  All we know is that the disciples simply saying “The Lord has need of it” was sufficient to convince the owners to let them take it.  Presumably they recognized the two men untying it to be Jesus’ disciples, and they were honored that he would want to use their colt.  We can be sure, however, that they were puzzled by it all and no doubt followed along in the crowd in utter amazement to see their colt doing such a great job.

But the most important part of this story that applies directly to each one of us is the phrase, “The Lord has need of it.”   Jesus needed that colt to fulfil that particular mission. In a similar manner, the Lord has need of each one of us as well.  There are countless missions to be fulfilled before he returns again, and the Lord must depend upon us human beings to be his agents in accomplishing them.  That is just the way God works.  He doesn’t force himself on anyone, but with the gentle nudges of his Spirit and the workings of his human agents, he accomplishes his missions of making himself known to each person and remaking that person into the kind of person he desires—a person of purpose with a joy not dependent on circumstances.  It is also through his human agents that he relieves the sufferings of people who are poor and oppressed.  That is why this phrase, “The Lord has need of you” is so relevant to us.

The story of this colt also shows us that we don’t have to be experienced in order to be used greatly by God.  Jesus chose a young, totally inexperienced colt for at least 2 reasons.  One is that it is through the weakness of his agents that God’s strength shows through even more.  God is greatly displeased by glory seeking and false pride on the part of us humans when it is he that is due all the glory.  That is why it says in the I Corinthians, “God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to put wise men to shame, and what the world considers weak in order to put powerful men to shame.  He chose what the world looks down on, despises, and thinks is nothing in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.  This means that not a single person can boast in God’s presence.”  Jesus’ choosing of this young colt, then, is symbolic of that.

He still does the same today.  He won’t use a proud, self-sufficient person who isn’t really depending on him.  You’ll notice that when he chose his disciples, they were, for the most part, uneducated and simple people.  It seems that God just gets a big kick out of doing it that way.  And isn’t that wonderful?  Why, that means that you don’t have to put up any false fronts of bravery and self-confidence in God’s presence.  Of course, you couldn’t get away with it even if you tried, since he can see right through you to your very core.  Instead, you can go right to him as you are, and he will then reward you greatly.

This leads us, then, into a second reason Jesus chose the young colt.  The young, totally inexperienced colt had nothing to depend upon except the Master.  It had to place its total trust and faith in the one leading it.  And this is symbolic of what God would have us to be like as well.  That colt could have been stubborn like donkeys usually are.  In fact, donkeys are fundamentally different in nature from horses.  Not only are they not as big and strong as a horse on average, but they instinctively run from danger and cannot be trained to run into battle like a horse would.  That’s why there is no such thing as a “donkey cavalry!”  But a horse will fearlessly carry its master into battle with no thought of its own safety. Granted, cheering people waving palm branches is far different from jeering soldiers waving swords and spears, but even so, a donkey would not normally even think of approaching such a situation. Thus, that colt had what would seem to be an iron-clad excuse for not obeying.  It just wasn’t supposed to be able to do that sort of thing.  But the colt yielded itself totally to the Master and found extraordinary strength.

From what I’ve said up to now, you might conclude that experience is bad or something.  And of course, I don’t mean that.  All things else being equal, God can better use an experienced person than an inexperienced person.  But the problem is that experience often leads to self-sufficiency and lack of dependence on God, and that he cannot accept.  Thus, it is good to get experienced and to learn as much as you can, but only if you don’t let it go to your head and only if you maintain a proper relationship to God, trusting totally in him.

On that first Palm Sunday almost 2000 years ago, a young donkey was just standing around munching on some grass, when two men came up to him and led him off to Jesus.  Jesus asked the young colt to do what seemed impossible to him.  Why he had not yet had anyone ride on him berfore, much less through a frenzied crowd waving palm branches in his face.  So how could he?  But somehow, the colt knew that this man could be totally trusted, and in giving himself to that man, he found extraordinary strength to do and to accomplish well the task set before him.

Jesus is calling each of us as well — sometimes even to do what may seem beyond what we think is sensible and possible.  You may feel like that young, inexperienced colt did that fateful day almost 2000 years ago.  But, to quote an old song’s lyrics, even if “the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be,” God still has plans for each of us and calls each of us to be God’s hands and feet for service to others.  All you have to do is to yield to him and to follow his leading.  Just as the disciples said to that young colt, “The Lord has need of you,” so he is saying to each one of us, “I need you too.  Won’t you follow me?”

Let us pray:

Our Father in Heaven, today we have thought about the meaning of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The events of that day were in preparation for the events that shortly followed and were the climax of all that Jesus had come to do — namely, his crucifixion and resurrection.  O Lord, as we prepare to celebrate Easter next week, help us to focus on these greatest events of all human history.  And as we do that, we pray that your Holy Spirit may work in our hearts to cause that resurrection power and the fountain of life it brings well up within our souls.  We pray that our parched hearts may be filled with your life-giving water.  Jesus said that he has need of us.  Use us, O Lord, and as you did with that young donkey 2000 years ago, take away our fears and help us to trust in you completely.  For it’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. 

I’ve chosen for our closing hymn a rather recent song entitled, “Pass it on.”  We experience God’s love in our lives, and then we “pass it on” to others.  

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