Sermon – April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday

Printable PDF:  4-5-2020 Palm Sunday Sermon

David R. Clark  ~  Matthew 21:1-9  ~  April 5, 2020  ~  Palm Sunday

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5“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.’ ” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


Dear friends in Christ,

          Have you ever been out and recognized someone only to find out it wasn’t that person at all? Have you ever met someone famous and didn’t recognize them? Athletes look different when they don’t have their names on their backs. People may not be as tall or as thin or as extroverted as they seem on TV.

          One Sunday before Passover, a man wearing ordinary clothes rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed baby donkey. Seems a little unusual, but the fickle people of Jerusalem treated him like someone extraordinary. I call them fickle because a few days later they treated him like an enemy of society. Who are these people? Who is this man riding into Jerusalem? With these reactions, is this A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY?

  1. Who are these people?

          So look a little closer at the crowd and their reaction. Some of it could be explained by circumstances. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, only two miles away. Mourners who had been there had to have reported this back in Jerusalem.

You know how some people are also humming Christmas songs right before the holiday? As pilgrims came to Jerusalem for Passover, they would “go up” because of the altitude of the city. They would often sing psalms on such trips just the way you and I might hum our favorite Christmas hymn. The Bible calls such psalms “songs of ascent.” Couple that with what the mourners from Bethany had said, and we are not surprised that people used Psalm 118 to describe him: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

          That same crowd must have also been familiar with the Old Testament King, Jehu of Judah (2 Kings 9). When Jehu was anointed, the people spread their cloaks on the ground in front of him. So the crowd had specific ideas about Jesus on what we know as Palm Sunday.

          So, were they followers of Jesus? Where were they five days later when Jesus was arrested? There were crowds, but the cheers had turned to jeers. Hosanna (he saves) had turned to “crucify him.” Even though they had seen miracles and knew the Scriptures, were they followers of Jesus or is this just a case of mistaken identity?

          You are followers of Jesus. You know about Jesus’ entrance and the palm branches and coats on Palm Sunday. Today is a big deal for us. It’s a day of rejoicing and all of those things are a part of our identity. But don’t take that for granted!

What we are going through is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Cheers may have turned to jeers for those people. For us maybe the temptation is becoming a “COVID-19 Christian.” That’s the one who is fine when things are going well, but things aren’t going well right now. It’s difficult when you don’t know what you can touch and what you can’t, or who you can be near and who you can’t, where you can go and where you can’t! Arizonans are not used to being cooped up! And we are not used to being cut off from people. It would be pretty easy to forget who is really in control of everything and start becoming one of those fault-finding, uncertain, panic-stricken, fearful, self-centered people by whom we are surrounded. Those are not Christ-like traits. So, are you a follower of Jesus or is this a case of mistaken identity?

  1. Who is this King?

If this is a case of mistaken identity, about what are you mistaken? Perhaps it is about the same thing that confused these Palm Sunday people. Perhaps instead of asking who they were or who we are, we need to ask who Jesus is.

It is clear there was a confusing, perhaps even a mixed, message in Jesus’ appearance. What king looks like that? What king doesn’t own his own transportation or have transportation that is so unimpressive? It’s like having the President of the United States riding down Central Avenue wearing cargo shorts and a State 48 t-shirt on a little girl’s bicycle with a pinwheel and tassels. It certainly doesn’t look impressive, nor does he!

Yet, the Scriptures make it crystal clear who Jesus is: Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

What kind of a king is Jesus? It’s a question Herod, Herod’s father, and Pontius Pilate all wanted answered. Now we ask it, too. The only difference between their question and ours is that we don’t ask it with a sneer in our voice!

No king appears this way, but our king did! He was prophesied about in a unique way, a way that sets him apart, so that the world would recognize him and see him as unlike any king that ever was or ever will be. This King is the Savior of the world, our Savior. He is a Prince who came as a pauper to take away our spiritual poverty and replace it with the riches of his blood and righteousness.

          And that is what you and I cling to today. I can’t remember a time in my life when I have been more uncertain about more things. But there is one thing upon which I can focus, that can bring me through my uncertainty, and that is knowing who Jesus is. And that faith wipes away fear, overcomes panic, and gives me a focus that no one can have without him.

          You and I may not always clearly show who we are. Under stressful situations we have been known to do that. Thanks be to God then that in this stressful time, we turn our focus off of ourselves and put our firm confidence in Jesus our King. There’s no mistaking that. Amen.