This is a sermon preview for Sunday March, 26, 2023. It is the 6th week of the Lent sermon series "Songs in the Desert."
"This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
'Say to Daughter Zion,
"See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
- Matthew 21:4-5
I don't know where the idea came from, but somewhere along the way I got the idea that if magical genies in a bottle existed, they would always try to mess up my wish.
"I wish my dog could talk!"
Congratulations, man's best friend now speaks Ancient Ugaritic, an utterly dead language, fluently.
"I wish I were a millionaire!"
You want to be a millionaire, now you are: in Korean won — which means you're not even a "thousand-aire" in United States dollars.
Sometimes I worry that people have that impression when I say God always surprises us. Sometimes I wonder if when I say, "God doesn't give us what we expect," that is the vision they have. It's bad enough we treat God like a "genie in a bottle," some of us might wonder if we should consult a lawyer before asking him anything. Thankfully, that's not the case.
Palm Sunday shows us not only that God surprises us, but that Jesus himself brings blessings beyond which the crowd was imagining when they shouted "Hosanna!" ("Save!")
"Palm Sunday isn’t just about humility; it also about the expansive kingdom of the Son." - Esau McCaulley
What New Testament scholar Esau McCaulley points out is that the very donkey Jesus rides on indeed shows us Christ's humility but it also shows us something more: God's great blessing of his expansive Kingdom. It is also a reference to Zechariah 9:9. And that is
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. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9:9–10, my emphasis)
Jesus comes not as a military savior to vanquish Israel's enemies. He comes as the one who fulfills the promise once made to Abraham and his descendants:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. ...and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3b
The crowd says "Save!" and he does. But Jesus does not save in the way the crowd expects. In fact, by the end of the week there is another crowd. This crowd greets Jesus not with Palms in the air and cloaks on the ground but with jeers of "Crucify Him!"
The blessing of God may sometimes look like anything but – but it's not a trick.
When we cry out to God, when we sing Hosanna, we may not know what the answer to that prayer looks like. But we do not have to be fearful that unless we word our prayers exactly right, unless we examine or thought and our words for lawyer-like precision in language, that God will find some loophole in our prayers.
Instead, we are surprised by God's self-giving love because he gives us more of himself, more of the blessing than we might imagine.
As Augustine said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”
C.S. Lewis described human desire as being too small, when God wants to give us, his children, greater gifts. Yet we are too often like a child who wants to keep playing in the mud because they can't imagine what a vacation by the sea would be like.
The crowd with the Palms, and too often I, have a mind too small for the blessing it means that Christ came not to conquer sinners and those who stand against God (which too often includes me!), but to die for them.
This Palm Sunday, we'll sing Hosanna (Save!) and be surprised again and again, because the way God answers that prayer will be even better than we could have imagined.