Have you ever been to a Christmas parade? I remember going when my sister and I were little kids. We would get there early to get a spot where we could sit on the curb with mom and dad in lawn chairs behind us. We would take snacks and sometimes toys for the long wait, but time seemed to slow down as the hour for the parade got closer. We asked, “How much longer” over and over until my dad got tire of looking at his watch and told us, “It’ll get here when it gets here.”
Then, as time for the start of the parade finally arrived, I remember wondering how long it would take for it to get to where WE were sitting. I can still feel my eyes straining to see as far back up the street as I could, standing on tip-toe as I looked for the flashing red police car lights that were always at the head of the parade.
At the first sight of those flashing lights, the crowd lining the street would press a little closer and move around to get the best view of what was about to begin. Then, before you’d know it, that police car would be creeping by and the parade would have started! There were bands and floats and Shriners in little cars and clowns and horses and local celebrities in convertibles throwing candy to the crowd. It was great – especially when the bands would play a song instead of just marching along keeping the beat with their percussion.
As good as the whole Christmas parade was, it was all just a prelude for the Guest of Honor. I don’t mean the Grand Marshal, usually a local TV news anchor or some actor who’d moved out to California and gotten a few bit parts in movies or on television. Although one time I remember the Grand Marshall was one of the kids on “The Waltons” TV show; not John Boy, though, but rather one of the lesser Waltons. I don’t even remember if it was a boy or a girl.
But even John Boy wouldn’t have been bigger than the Man at the end of the parade – the one that everything had been building up for.
As the last of the floats crawled by and the final pooper scoopers cleaned up after the horses, you’d see that big ol’ sleigh heading toward you. And there he was, bundled in his bright red suit and waving a white-gloved hand, soaking up the adulation of the kids in the crowd – and even the adults.
And along with every one of those kids I’d be imagining what Santa was going to bring me that year. What was he going to leave under my Christmas tree? Maybe a bike, or an electric football game, or something I hadn’t even imagined yet. And I’d make a mental note to try to be good extra good that year, and I sure hoped Santa would look down from that sleigh and see I was certainly a Good Boy, worthy of anything his elves could whip up . . .
And that’s what it must have been like for a lot of the crowd that turned out for the parade in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.
They’d heard this rabbi from Nazareth did amazing things. What could he do for them? Could he heal them or their family members, feed them if they were hungry, make them rich?
Word had surely reached Jerusalem from Bethany, less than two miles away, that Jesus had brought a man back to life. That man had been in the tomb for four days – don’t you think that detail about how the corpse stunk had been part of the story that had been shared – and Jesus had called him out of that tomb and he had been alive!
It was Passover in Jerusalem. Jewish pilgrims had gathered for the festival from all over the Roman Empire and the city was bursting at the seams with people and excitement. What would Jesus do now? Certainly many who lined the streets waiting for the Jesus parade must have wondered what the next big show would be.
Some were hoping to see Jesus free the Jews from their Roman occupiers. After all, wasn’t much of what Jesus did and said in outright defiance of Rome – and if he could perform spectacular miracles, surely he could kick out the Romans.
Others were there because they had heard about those miracles – Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, walking on water, and casting demons out of people. And don’t you think word had spread ahead of the procession that Jesus had just, on the way into town, healed two blind men who could now SEE!
Did you see the movie, “Now You See Me” that came out last year? It was about four magicians – called “The Four Horsemen,” who did amazing magic. They had a big show in Las Vegas, and then one in New Orleans, and they announced a final show was going to happen on a rooftop in New York City. The people of New York had heard about their awesome magic, so thousands of people crowded around the building, abuzz with excitement about what The Four Horsemen might do next. They were hoping to be amazed.
Many in the crowd in Jerusalem that day were hoping to be amazed.
Those crowds waited for the Jesus parade in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, standing on tip-toes and straining their eyes up the road toward the city gate to catch their first glimpse of Jesus and his followers on the way.
When Jesus finally arrived, they shouted “Hosanna” – which you heard in Children’s Time means “Save Us!” “Save us from sickness” or “Save us from money problems.” “Save us from Rome!” “Save us from boredom by showing us something amazing.”
“Just give us what we want. Just change our situation. Just show us a miracle. And then we’ll believe.”
It is easy to judge the crowds on that first Palm Sunday. But are they really so much different than you and me?
When we’re honest, we all want something from Jesus. Healing for us or a family member or a friend. Solutions to our financial issues. Restoration of our relationships. A bigger TV (okay, maybe not that one). Power, success, and so on.
And we may disagree about what’s wrong with our society and our government, but we all have ideas about how Jesus should fix it.
And we certainly would love to see a miracle – wouldn’t that be cool?
Now, don’t get me wrong – praying for healing, praying for a miracle, praying for societal change – there is nothing wrong with any of that. It’s what we’re supposed to do, really.
And sometimes we do get what we ask for. People get healed that doctors say shouldn’t have gotten well, or money miraculously shows up when we need it, or relationships get mended that seemed to have been over.
But miracles – at least the kind that fix our earthly problems – are the exception. That’s why they’re called miracles.
If you’re looking for me to explain this morning why miracles happen sometimes and they don’t other times, I can’t. I have no idea why one person is healed and another dies. I have no idea why one person’s job is saved and why another person loses their job and their home.
I don’t know why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but there were still thousands of others who died in Israel during his earthly ministry. I don’t know why he healed those two blind men on the way to Jerusalem while so many others were left not seeing.
What I do know is that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem that day to be Santa Claus – to give everyone what they wanted or even what they thought they needed. He didn’t march into Jerusalem to kick out the Romans and he didn’t show up simply to amaze everyone.
He came to Jerusalem for one thing . . . to die.
Actually, Jesus gave the people in Jerusalem that day exactly what they asked for. They shouted, “Hosanna” – “Save us!” And that is just what he did.
He saved them, and he saved us. He saved the world the only way he could. By dying.
So really, those who wanted something for themselves got it. They got forgiveness, and new life, and salvation.
Those who wanted a new kingdom got that, too. By dying, Jesus established a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom based on love rather than hate, on inclusion rather than boundaries, on giving rather than taking.
And those who wanted to be amazed – those who were looking for a miracle. They certainly got that!
If a miracle is a demonstration of great power, if it is something totally unexpected, if it is something that awes and amazes, what else can you call . . . Good Friday. (You thought I was going to say Easter, didn’t you . . . but that’s next week. As a professor of mine at seminary used to say, “Let’s not Easter over Good Friday. Let’s not lose what is remarkable and life-changing and world-altering about the crucifixion by rushing ahead to Easter.)
Sure, Jesus could have come into Jerusalem granted everyone’s wishes, or he could have an army of angels obliterate the Romans. He could have put on a really big show.
But none of that would not have been nearly as surprising – nor would it have had nearly as much impact – as his death of the cross.
The crucifixion was no temporary fix, it was no fleeting show. No matter how big the magic trick, no matter how big the miracle, eventually the crowds – and we are going to ask, “Okay, what’s next.”
On the Cross, Jesus said, “It is FINISHED.” Death, sin and satan were defeated once and for all. God was revealed more clearly on earth than God ever had been . . . or ever would be . . . revealed. On the Cross Jesus provided the ultimate picture of God’s self-sacrificing love for us, a love that even entered death.
So maybe lots of folks in Jerusalem turned out for the Jesus Parade for what we would say would be the wrong reasons. So maybe WE go to Jesus with selfish and self-centered requests.
But Jesus didn’t die for perfect people. Jesus died for those people shouting “Hosanna,” whatever their motivation.
Jesus died for us, not just in spite of but because of our flaws and our failures.
The crucifixion is God’s answer to our cries of “Hosanna!” “Save us!”
On the cross, Jesus did.