The following manuscript was written for Kerr Presbyterian Church on April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday. It is not verbatim from the audio file but its author and intent are the same.
Our Lord Jesus Christ replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out! If these were silent, the stones would shout out!”
What a miraculous day! Can you imagine being there? Remember, Jesus and the disciples are coming in for the Passover feast. It was an annual celebration where Jews from all over the region would gather together to remember how God had freed them from bondage. They would make a year pilgrimage walking into the city together.
Perhaps some of you have been there. This part of Near East is a lot like Pittsburgh, only hotter and drier. It has these beautiful rolling hills, where you can stand at the top of one hill and look down into a valley or across to the top of the next hill.
Jesus stands in the place called the Mount of Olives, on top of a hill covered in olive trees. I’ve been there. The olive trees are still there. Not the exact trees that Jesus saw. But very old trees. Some have been dated back 900 years. It’s a beautiful place. And as you stand there in the shade of these trees, you can look down into the valley below and then up into the city of Jerusalem.
Can you imagine being there 2000 years ago? Watching the pilgrims go in. A parade of people, gathering to worship God.
As they walk they recite the Psalms aloud. The Psalms of ascent start at Psalm 121 and go to 134. They are all short psalms, ones great for memorizing. They are Psalms of praise and rejoicing. They begin: “I lift my eyes up to the hills—from where does my help come from?”
In Jesus’s day, they would have been able to see the city wall, the strong tower which was built to protect the people from all harm. The wall was thick and had space within it between the inner and outer sections of the wall and the judges would sit there in that opening, hearing the cases of the people, bringing justice.
The pilgrimages would walk, singing their song, reciting the Psalms, looking up to the hill from which God’s good justice and mercy reigned. Where they could find support.
But in Jesus’ day, though the symbol still stood, though the Temple within was still believed to hold the very presence of God, justice did not reign. The city was occupied by the Roman Empire. The people were taxed without mercy. They had no right to vote or to ask for fair wages. They had no power.
And even the Temple itself, one of the few places where people should have been free to be themselves, free to worship their God. Even the Temple had become corrupt. Jesus will soon go in and turn over the tables, calling out that that the Temple, that His House—the House of God– “Shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Still, this is a day of hope. A day where the pilgrimages return once again. Where the people descend the steep slope into the valley below the city of Jerusalem and then sing their Psalms as they slowly ascend. Climbing the hill, one foot in front of the other. Singing together the words of the Psalms: “I lift my eyes up to the hills, from whence where my help come from?”
And then another, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
This particular year was different, though. There was a man from Galilee. A person of whom it was said could work miraculous. He could open the eyes of the blind. He could make the lame walk. He had even raised someone from the dead.
And as they slowly walked, climbing the hill along the dusty road, and singing praises to God, they remembered the words of Scripture. The ones we heard this morning from the book of Zechariah (READ 9:9).
Could this be the moment? Could this be the time when God would come again to set the people free? Would God restore justice? Would God show power? Would God conquer? Could the Messiah—the Savior—be entering Jerusalem.
Jesus’ disciples certainly thought so.
READ Luke 19:30-33.
They knew the prophesy, too.
Despite the fact that others had been asking for a sign. Despite the fact that all the miracles Jesus had done had never satisfied them, the disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah. He was the one they had been waiting for.
And Jesus had never denied this. He had spoken boldly to them. Declaring himself to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. He had forgiven sins. He had shown he had the power of life and death by killing a fig tree and bringing Lazarus back to life.
And now today, he would show the world.
READ Luke 19:30-33.
He gets the young colt, just like in the prophesy. And he ascends with the others. They sing their song, but something changes. People take off their coats to make the road smooth for Jesus. They lay down palm branches. Their songs of praise turn from being directed to God in the Temple to God on the donkey. The humble king who enters Jerusalem.
The Pharisees see what is happening. They turn to Jesus: “Teacher, order your disciples to stop!”
What are you doing, Jesus? Accepting their praise? You aren’t God? What are you doing?
But Jesus is God. Fully human. Fully God. Worthy of all our praise.
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Nothing can stop the glory of this moment. The earth has recognized the one true king. The praises cannot be contained.
This is the beginning of Holy Week and we know that we are about to go on a journey. Over the next week we will gather here over and over again. On Thursday we will eat together and be reminded of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. The meal where he gave us the beautiful gift of communion.
And Friday we will gather to sing the songs of the cross. To be reminded that while Jesus is the One True King, his salvation comes in a way that no one ever expected, through the cross.
And On Easter, we will join in songs of celebration for not even death thwart God’s purposes.
Today begins the journey to Jerusalem. Our yearly pilgrimage to the cross. Our yearly walk with Jesus through his death and resurrection. Can you feel the excitement beginning?
It’s the time of year when even stones cry out.
We see it all around us. Places that have been barren all winter long are now coming alive.
Every spring we see it; this song of Isaiah which says:
“You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.” (Isa 55:12)
This idea of stones crying out or mountains bursting into song, of all of creation the sun and moon and stars praising God is found throughout the Scriptures. Everything that has breath and even the non-organic materials know how to praise God.
So how about us?
Will we join in the chorus?
Will we lay down our cloaks before Jesus, giving praise to the One True King?
In just a minute, I am going to invite three people to come to the front and boldly profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been coming early every week for the last month or so to read the Scriptures together, to pray together, to consider faith together.
And today they want to take a stand. To proclaim before God and everyone that their desire is to walk with the Lord Jesus. To follow him every day of their lives. To do so in partnership with all of us here at Kerr.
None of us are perfect. In fact, as we walk together through this next week, we will be reminded that the followers of Jesus mess everything up. One betrays Jesus. One denies him. All the rest abandon him when they need him most.
We, too, will make mistakes. We will hurt each other. We will step on one another’s toes. We will forget the real reason we are here. We will only understand part of the plan of God and completely get the rest wrong.
The disciples sinned and so will we.
But today we have a chance to say with the pilgrims of old: I will choose this day to praise God. I will choose to worship the Lord. Yes, I know that the cross lies ahead. I will choose to love even when it is hard. I will choose to sing praises even in times of hardship.
Why? Because God is great. Because the humble king has come. And he has changed everything.