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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    March 28, 2021 | Palm Sunday

    Again and Again, We Draw On Courage
    John 12:1–19

     T HE CROWDS once again misinterpret Jesus’ kingship and his kingdom. It all started by the side of the lake when 5,000 people were fed with five barley loaves and two fish. The crowd began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

    Those people, with filled bellies, decide to coronate him on the spot. Take him by force, if necessary, to make him king.

    “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:14–15)

    Jesus wanted no part of this kingship or their idea of kingdom.

    † † †

    TODAY, in our reading, a massive crowd is in Jerusalem to purify themselves for the Passover festival. Some of them have the same idea of crowning Jesus as king. Perhaps in the crowd are some of the same people who were fed on the lakeshore.

    Almost certainly there are people who witnessed the Lazarus miracle. Crowds who believe with Jesus as king there will be free food and medical care.

    By now, Jesus is a wanted man. The chief priests and Pharisees (we can never forget it is the religious establishment that wants Jesus dead) have put out an APB for Jesus:

    “[A]nyone who [knows] where Jesus [is] should let them know, so that they might arrest him.” (11:55–57)

    † † †

    JESUS DRAWS huge crowds. And this crowd is excited about the possibility of Jesus riding into Jerusalem with a kingly proclamation.

    His welcoming message, his broad appeal, his unknown plans bring fear to the religious leaders. For self-protection, these religious leaders decide to kill Jesus. They came to this decision after the raising of Lazarus from death.

    In their scheming and plotting, these good religious folks decide to also kill Lazarus. They need to eliminate the evidence of Jesus’ supernatural act. Their world is upside down. They are afraid that increased crowds will bring Roman intervention.

    Unable to control their own people, the religious leaders will lose their titles, their wealth, maybe even their lives.

    For Jesus to actually march into town would be a direct, in-your-face challenge to their authority. And the buzz on the street is that Jesus is coming.

    † † †

    SO, A CROWD — probably composed of poor and sick outcasts, rebels, and faithful followers — arms themselves with palm branches and goes out to meet Jesus.

    They come out to make Jesus their kind of king — their national, political messiah. They sing his praises, adapting Psalm 118:

    “Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.”

    They come out to welcome their political savior.

    † † †

    BUT BEFORE we move on to what Jesus does, we do well to pause and reflect on how we seek to make Jesus our kind of king. We want Jesus to fit our agenda.

    Franklin Graham got into hot water this week. The son of Billy Graham. A religious leader. He got into trouble this week. He made the statement that if Jesus were alive today, he would advocate for the coronavirus vaccine.

    Tens of thousands of his followers raged against that statement. Imagining Jesus as the king they want, they proclaimed that Jesus would never encourage people to take a manmade vaccine.

    One of my favorites: “You will have to answer to God for telling people to not let their immune system keep them healthy the way God made us … . you disgust me.”

    I would suspect that at some time that person has taken an aspirin or other medication to aid in health.

    But, because they are against the coronavirus vaccine, they could never imagine Jesus being for it.

    † † †

    THIS CROWD is not the only one to lay their expectations on Jesus. We are happy to wave palms and sing his praises as long as Jesus is our kind of king.

    So, what expectations do we lay on Jesus? Perhaps that he will — or won’t — be political.

    No one waving branches in the crowd wanted or expected Jesus to go willingly to the cross. If they had come up from the lake or over from Bethany, they were looking for a miracle worker. If they were waiting for Jesus’ showdown with the authorities, they wanted and expected a revolutionary to overthrow the status quo.

    What are your expectations of Jesus? We need to be clear on that as we join the crowd in celebrating our expectations.

    As earlier, Jesus wants no part of it. Jesus is not interested in meeting their expectations or ours. Jesus has no interest in being our kind of king. Jesus is committed to being God’s kind of king. And that’s the good news. Jesus is committed to being God’s kind of king.

    † † †

    AS RUMORED, Jesus enters the city. But with a twist. Jesus enters the city seated on a young donkey. Jesus corrects the crowd’s expectations — and ours — using a prophecy from Zechariah:

    “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

    Jesus comes seated on a donkey, not riding a white horse or mounted on a war chariot. Jesus comes humbly, not dolling out miracles.

    His gesture makes clear that Jesus is a king, but not the king we expect. And the disciples only understand this after Jesus is glorified on the cross. Understanding Jesus is a lifetime’s work.

    † † †

    IMAGINE. Everyone is worked up. Jesus might be coming. Jesus is coming. The time has come. The folks strip the trees of their fronds and head out to welcome their king. But then, what they see is Jesus on a donkey. No swords. No army. No might. No signs of power. No display of rebellion.

    I wonder. As Jesus passed by, seated on a donkey, not at all what the people wanted, did they stop waving the palms? Disappointed. Hopes dashed. Confused. Did the crowd go silent? A wave of silence as Jesus and his ragtag followers marched by.

    Or, maybe, did the crowd wave even more furiously and cheer even louder to convince (force?) Jesus to be their kind of king?

    † † †

    WHEN JESUS fails to meet our expectations of a savior, of a deliverer, of a king, how do we respond? Try to force him into our ideas of kingship and kingdom? Drop our palms and go home?

    Or do we wrestle with who he is and spend our lives understanding who he really is? I submit it is only then that we are free to enter with joy upon those mighty acts by which God has given us abundant, eternal life.

    Perhaps the best thing we can give up for Holy Week is our expectations.

    — Keith Cardwell   

    «What are your expectations of Jesus? We need to be clear on that as we join the crowd in celebrating our expectations.»


    ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

    John 12:1–19
    Holy Bible, New International Version

    Jesus anointed at Bethany
    12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

    4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

    7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”

    9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

    Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king
    12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]

    “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

    14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

    15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
        see, your king is coming,
        seated on a donkey’s colt.”

    16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

    17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

    — This is the Word of the Lord.
    — Thanks be to God.



    a.  John 12:3  Or about 0.5 liter
    b.  John 12:5  Greek three hundred denarii
    c.  John 12:8  See Deuteronomy 15:11.
    d.  John 12:13  A Hebrew expression meaning “Save!” that became an exclamation of prais
    e.  John 12:13  Psalm 118:25,26
    f.  John 12:15  Zechariah 9:9

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