Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 9th, 2017
The Lessons: Isaiah 50:4-9; Ps. 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:11-54
Text: Matthew 27:11-54
Topic: Take no part in mockery
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
In G.K. Chesterton’s poem “The Donkey,” these words are the donkey’s statement about his kind in the final stanza of the poem. These words allude to the Lord Jesus Christ’s riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, an event recorded in our Gospel Lesson for the Blessing of the Palms today. They are a vindication of the donkey’s value, since in the previous stanzas of the poem, he has described the donkey disparagingly as “the devil’s walking parody on all four-footed things” and “the tattered outlaw of the earth, of ancient crooked will.” If a donkey can have a place in redemptive history, how much more can we Christians have a place, for whom Christ entered into Jerusalem, and a few days after receiving the acclamation of his disciples and the crowds, suffered betrayal, an unjust trial, scourging and crucifixion!
The crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem were praising Him and rejoicing in Him. But the crowds at Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate shouted for his crucifixion. Because crowds and even small groups of people can easily be swayed and quickly persuaded by unscrupulous instigators, the Bible often reminds man of his individual moral responsibility not to follow groups that are intent on doing the wrong things, as, for example, we find in the very first verse of the Book of Psalms, where this blessing is pronounced:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
There is blessing for whoever refuses to follow the counsel of the ungodly and whoever doesn’t follow or stay in the way of sinners, and whoever does not sit in the seat of the scornful. The blessing of that person is shown by the fact that he delights in the Lord and continually meditates on the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2).
As we come to the beginning of Holy Week and we ponder the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, which the Gospel Lesson lays before us, let us also reflect on all the opposition to Jesus, and how easily the religious leaders of the day charged Jesus with blasphemy and how easily they incited the crowds to call for his crucifixion. Psalm 1 blesses the person who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, but we find in our Gospel Lesson that the crowds were easily incited by the Jewish chief priests and elders to call for the release of Barabbas, a murderer, but for the execution of Jesus Christ. How hard it would have been for substantial numbers of the crowd to resist the efforts of their leaders. How easy it is to “walk in the counsel of the ungodly” when most of the people surrounding you are indifferent or ungodly, or simply wanting to go along with the general current of opinion. It reminds one of the commodore in the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera HMS Pinafore, who sings in one of his lines, “I always voted at the party’s call; I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”
THE MOCKERY OF JESUS
Now Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was apparently concerned that Jesus, a man innocent of capital crime, should be treated justly and released. But the prospect of an impending riot of the crowds if he refused to give into their demands, swayed his thinking, since for him, it was more expedient that an innocent man be crucified than that a riot should develop, which would tarnish his reputation as a governor and risk his dismissal.
The scourging of Jesus with whips having wood and iron pieces attached was a cruel, disfiguring process, a mockery of human dignity. After this, the Roman soldiers, who knew no supreme ruler on earth but their Caesar, mocked Jesus by stripping him of his clothes, clothing him with a scarlet robe, putting a crown of thorns on his head and smiting him with a reed, while jeering at him with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews!” To the Romans, the Jews were in any case a conquered people, and this mockery vented their contempt for all Jews. Then they led him away in his own clothes to crucify him. Psalm 1 proclaims a blessing on the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful, but those who mocked Jesus certainly sat in that seat.
All the while that Jesus hung on the cross, passersby, chief priests, scribes, elders, and even one of the two thieves crucified with him, mocked him, ridiculing his claim to be the Son of God. Even those who said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save him,” were sceptical of his claims. What does mockery do to a person? What did it do to Jesus? How did it affect him? Perhaps many do not wish to know. They are quite content to sit in the seat of the scornful, but not in the seat of the scorned. That is a very lonely place to be. After all that mockery and rejection, how lonely the Lord Jesus Christ must have felt, so that he cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These are the opening words of Psalm 22, and a fulfillment of them, but they also indicate something of the feelings of rejection, abandonment, intense pain, sorrow and despair, that Jesus must have felt before he died on the cross.
Those of us who are tempted to mock others, bully others, and make fun of them, do we know what our actions do to them? Do we care how our actions affect them, especially those who are weak and vulnerable, for whatever reason, or those who are members of our own family?
Whenever we feel like mocking and poking fun at others, especially those who are weaker than we are, let us remember the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and how he must have felt, rejected by the majority of mankind, and despised, a man of sorrows. Instead of rejecting people around us by what we say and how we behave, let us meditate on God’s word, and delight in Him, that we may conform our lives to Christ’s most holy life, and affirm the value of others in God’s creative purposes.