The Hands of Praise

It was unusual—yet it wasn’t unusual. The city of Jerusalem was accustomed to parades and pompous processions in honor of visiting dignitaries. Every time some semi-important official arrived from Rome, the palace guard turned out in full battle dress to welcome the big shot. Shields, helmets, swords and belt buckles glistened in the sun, and the tramp of marching sandaled feet dully echoed the metallic martial beat of sword alternately clinking against belt buckle and shield.

But this parade was different. There were no flags flying, no martial cadence of well-trained feet, no soldiers in a display of military might at the head of the procession. No Roman official rode disdainfully in a chariot at the rear. The Jews didn’t ignore THIS procession. Indeed, it was all theirs. Here wasn’t a Roman soldier or citizen in the lot.

No flags and banners waving in the breeze—only hands of praise and the palm branches cut from trees along the roadway. There weren’t any soldiers or trumpeters announcing the presence of a VIP—only shouting, laughing children. No posh, well-appointed chariot or sedan chair carrying the saluted dignitary. On the contrary, a nursing donkey with her young colt alongside plodded slowly through the Jerusalem gate. An unassuming Man in the garb of a Galilean peasant perched upon a saddle made of men’s coats and cloaks.

The Whole City Was Stirred!

Had I been one of the visitors in Jerusalem for the Passover, surely my curiosity would have been aroused. I would have wondered about all the “hoop-la” for a peasant. Had I been a resident of the Temple city, my imagination would have been tickled. The Romans had ceremonious doings regularly, but we Jews—well, we didn’t have much worth celebrating of late.

The procession had begun in a village near Bethany. The town itself was still in an uproar. A few days ago, one of the prominent men in town, Lazarus, had been raised from the dead. The Prophet Jesus, now seated upon a donkey to ride into Jerusalem, had performed this incredible miracle, and all Bethany and the surrounding countryside still buzzed with excitement. As the procession began, residents of the area joined in—eager to pay homage to the Man who had restored their beloved Lazarus to the land of the living.

As the impromptu parade made its way toward Jerusalem, even the Passover pilgrims on the road got into the act. It was a contagious atmosphere—excitement, celebration, voices and hands of praise all mingled together with shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!1

Young boys scampered up nearby palms to cut leafy branches for the celebrants to wave overhead or cast in the roadway in front of the Man on the donkey. Some, swept up by the atmosphere, stripped their coats and cloaks and prayer shawls and spread them on the road as well. Others simply raised their voices and their hand of praise.

By the time the procession reached Jerusalem’s heavy city gates, the “Hosanna’s”  had crescendo-ed to an uproar. Indeed, Matthew’s gospel says, the whole city was stirred.1

He’s JUST a Prophet?

Just imagine—a certain “festive air prevails anyway. Many are in Jerusalem for the Passover. Some are in the Holy City for the first time in many years—or even the first time in their lives! The country folk are wandering around somewhat confused by it all. Shopkeepers are hawking their wares loudly in the market place, each vying for a piece of the tourist trade. The beggars are out in force looking for whatever they can get from the unwary pilgrims. Thieves and pick-pockets are on the scene, too. The streets are crowded with weary pilgrims who cannot find lodging anywhere and, in desperation, have resorted the sleeping in the streets.

Suddenly, over the noise and confusion of the teeming Jerusalem streets, a new sound is heard. A sing-song chant that rises and falls like the ocean tide. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David! Hosanna in the highest!2

Children, youth and young men scamper to higher vantage points to see what’s going on. Passover pilgrims and shopkeepers alike ask, “Who is this?” And time and again the answer comes back from one after another, “This is the Prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”1 No further explanation is given in any of the Gospels. No one seems to wonder about all the fuss accorded to a Man with carpenter’s calluses, dressed like a common peasant and riding on a donkey. Yet, I’m sure there were those who questioned all this excitement of a common Jew. Surely there were those who thought and said, “So why all this fuss over a prophet? What makes this Jesus so special anyway? Why the VIP welcome? What has He done?”

Who is He?

Can you imagine some of the answers you would have received if you had thrown out those questions that first Palm Sunday?

Who is this? This is the Prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.1

“Who’s THAT?” One after another, the answers come—thick and fast.

“Why, He raised Lazarus from Bethany after he’d been dead and buried four days!” “I was born blind, but Jesus touched my eyes and now I can see.” “He fed over 5,000 with a little boy’s lunch of fish and bread.” “He healed my withered arm,” “My Mother-in-law had a deadly fever. He made here well.” “I was a prostitute, but He forgave me.” “I spent years as a helpless cripple by the pools of Bethseda; Jesus spoke the word, and I was cured.” “My little girl died, but Jesus brought her back to life.” “Everyone said I was crazy, but the Prophet cast out a legion of demons. Now, I’m as sane as anyone else!”

No wonder the crowd was excited and shouted “Hosanna!” until they were hoarse! Some were simply caught up in the excitement of the moment. Some had merely heard Jesus’ teachings and marveled at His wisdom. But those who shouted the loudest were those whose loved one had been touched by the Prophet or who had, themselves, felt His healing power course through their bodies, minds and spirits.

The people in the first Palm Sunday crowd were just like us—excited, grateful, praising Jesus for all the good things He had done for them. They had heard His teachings and agreed with most of them, had thrilled to His miracles and were more than willing to raise their hands of praise to Him for healing their friend or loved one—for bringing their dead back to life.

Crucify Him!

If you or I, with our twenty-first century knowledge of what was to come, had told some in that crowd that they would be screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion in just five days, they would have thought us crazy! Crucify the One who had performed such mighty miracles? Kill the Prophet of God? Demand death for the One who comes in the name of the Lord? Ridiculous!

Yet, they did it. When the opposition became too great and it was no longer popular to be considered a follower of Jesus, when He started saying things they didn’t want to hear and demanding things they were not prepared to give, they changed from shouting “Hosanna!” to screaming “Crucify!”

They knew better, just like we know better. Hey knew it was Jesus who had healed them, taught them truth, changed their lives. But when He started talking about death, when He demanded TOTAL obedience, both dedicated disciples and fringe-of-the-crowd followers pulled back. The hands of praise that had waved palm branches suddenly became clenched fists of anger. Voices that had shouted glad hosannas split the air with angry cries of “Crucify!”

As long as the miracles flowed, as long as the people saw wonderful things happening, they were raising their hands of praise and were on Jesus’ side and wanted to make Him a king. But, when He talked of crosses and crucifixion and dying to self, the crowd no longer lined the parade route. He was alone.

Hallelujah, good or bad

Like the Palm Sunday processional, we should “Hosanna,” “Hallelujah,” and “Praise the Lord” when everything is going fine—when there are no problems or trials or heartaches or major disappointments. But when trouble come, our world tumbles in and when faith is a job rather than a joy—that’s when it is easier to just turn tail and run like the disciples and the Palm Sunday celebrants.

The Jews who shouted “Hosanna!” that first Palm Sunday did not have the historical perspective we have. We can see the miracles that Jesus has performed in our lives as well as in the history of Christianity. But , more importantly, we can see the end result of Calvary’s cross. We KNOW, from Scripture and from experience, that Jesus’ death on Calvary was for us, for our forgiveness. Without His crucifixion, we would be eternally condemned to suffer the guilt and punishment of our sins.

The Jews in that first century processional shouted “Hosanna!” because of the physical healings and miracles they had witnessed. We can (and should) shout “Hosanna,” “Praise the Lord,” “Thank You, Jesus.” Not just for the physical miracles that we’ve witnessed and experienced, but for the eternal miracle of God’s forgiveness as well. Let us join with our first century brothers and sisters and raise our hands of praise!

Scriptures Used in Today’s Message

  1. Matthew 21:1-11
  2. Mark 11:9-10

Maple UMC Calendar

March 2023

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