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A Parade Of Cheers And Tears

Luke 19:29-44

Everybody loves a parade!

George M. Cohan set that truth to verse when he wrote:

“You won’t do any business if you haven’t got a band,
The folks expect a street parade and uniforms so grand.”

And just about everybody does love a parade. There is even a parade in the New Testament. It is called “the Palm Sunday Parade.”

Let’s set the scene…

The holiday crowds were gathering in Jerusalem from all over that part of the world. It was Passover time—a time of feasting and celebration. Ships were booked from all the Mediterranean ports. Foot travelers converged in caravans. Pilgrims were flocking to Jerusalem to celebrate the highest of the holy days. The whole city had taken on a festive air. Hawkers loudly announced their wares in the crowded bazaars along the narrow streets of the old city. Friends bumped into each other and traded the gossip of their respective villages. Hotels and boarding establishments were jammed to the rafters. The city was heavy with expectancy. In fact it was as if the city was waiting for the coming of a king.

Of course, that was the reason for the excitement and the expectancy. The people were indeed waiting and hoping for a king, for God’s deliverer, for the promised Messiah. The prophets had been studied and re-studied for hints as to when God would lower His boom on the hated Romans and restore the people of Israel to a place of ascendency in the world. The prophets had promised that God would send a King, a Messiah, a Deliverer. And so the people waited.

Well, the Gospel of Luke states that a King was indeed on His way to Jerusalem. In fact, that’s what the Palm Sunday Parade was all about. The paraders were a motley crew—a rag-tag collection of simple Galilean peasants. The parade’s sponsors were some fishermen and village-folk from the hill country. The parade itself was ill-planned, poorly-organized, hastily-conceived. Some of the paraders had no idea what it was all about. The sponsors themselves had no clear purpose in mind. And yet somehow it seemed to be a glad and triumphant procession, all bright and colorful, with cheers and shouts echoing on every hand.

Could this be the parade to signal the coming of the promised King? If so, Jerusalem was certainly the natural setting for His coronation. More steeped in the ways of God than Athens in her heathen philosophy or Rome in her pagan power, Jerusalem was the appropriate place for God to offer His leadership of love. After all, these were people whose ancestors had been blessed by their dealings with God. The lifting lyrics of Isaiah were sung throughout their history. The stern warnings of Jeremiah echoed out of their bold heritage. The bold condemnations of Amos flared in their national memory. To whom would God come as king save to those who knew and loved Him best of all? And who other than these people would be so anxious to surrender their lives, their hopes, their fortunes, and their future to the tender dominion of God’s sovereign rule? Yes, it was natural for God to come to His own. Their eager response would be assured.

Or would it? No, their eager response was not assured. In fact, Luke tells us that when Jesus saw the city, He wept. Think about that. Here in the middle of the parade, Jesus broke down crying. How strange to see tears in the midst of a parade of cheers! What happened? Why did he weep?

He wept over a city He loved and a people He loved even more. He wept over the city’s arrogance. He wept for her blindness—for her religious people who called God’s name but whose loyalties were far from Him; for her political leaders who were blind to the people’s best interest; for her establishment figures who were committed to a dead past and oblivious to a living future. He wept for those people who were religionists without being religious, performers but not participants. He wept for those who cheered “Hosanna” but who failed to recognize the King at His coming. He wept for the carefree and the careworn, the uncaring and the careless. He wept because He knew the parade would end at the cross. So here in the midst of shouts and cheers of joy and acclamation, Jesus the King wept.

That’s what happened on that first Palm Sunday. They had a parade—it was a parade of cheers and tears.

Now having set the scene, let’s master the message…

The message of Palm Sunday is a message of missed opportunities. Jesus wept because as He said, the people did not know the time of their visitation. And Jesus still weeps over those who do not know or who will not see their day of opportunity. He weeps for us.

So often we are blind to our spiritual opportunities. So often we do not hear when God comes visiting to show us the way. How many times I have seen the tears of mothers and fathers over their children who were on the wrong path and would not know or see it. How many times I have seen the tears of brokenhearted wives and husbands whose marriages had taken a wrong turn and who turned a deaf ear to any appeal to turn back. How many times I have seen the tears of one for whom the death of a loved one has closed forever the door of opportunity, and how many times have I heard such a person say: “If only…if only…” How many times have I looked back into my own life to some place of guilt or shame or regret or missed opportunity and said: “Why didn’t I have the eyes to see?”

One of the greatest hitters, and certainly one of the most popular baseball players to play the game was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. One day he was called out on strikes. His bat was on his shoulder when the ball hit the mitt and he heard the umpire say: “You’re out!” Gehrig threw down his bat and muttered in disgust to the umpire as he walked away. That was totally out of character for Lou Gehrig. After the game, a reporter asked Gehrig what he was complaining about to the umpire. Gehrig replied: “I wasn’t complaining to the umpire. I simply said to him that I’d give a thousand dollars for a chance at that last ball again.” Wouldn’t we all?

My friends, the most important time in our lives is today. Yesterday is history—we can learn from it but that is all. Tomorrow is uncertain—we can speculate about it but that is all. Today is the moment of opportunity. Thomas Carlyle put it so well: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” Today—right now—is the most important time in your life and mine. Use it well, my beloved, use it well. If we don’t, if we miss the opportunity to make the most of this day for God, then Jesus Christ will weep for us, just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.

And the message of Palm Sunday is also a message of misunderstood objectives. Jesus wept, because as He said, the people did not understand the things that make for peace of mind and peace among people and peace with God. And Jesus still weeps over those who do not understand the secret to truly significant living. He weeps for us.

On that first Palm Sunday, the people called Jesus “Lord.” They were right. He is Lord. He would demonstrate it in His resurrection. It would become the watchword of the early Church. Someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord. But something happened between the confession of Palm Sunday and the events of Good Friday. Their faith wavered. Their doubts began to creep in. Jesus had certainly demonstrated some of the characteristics they expected, but he also had characteristics they didn’t expect. He was a man just as they were. He lived among the poor. He only owned one robe. He made no claim to might or power, to throne or territory. They didn’t understand Him, so they wavered in their faith and ultimately turned their backs on Him. You and I were not in that Palm Sunday crowd, but we waver. We question. We doubt. We wonder if He is really the Lord of the universe and of our lives. We don’t understand why He doesn’t demonstrate His power openly, wiping out in one fell swoop all that is wrong with our world. We look for a King riding in triumph through life—He comes as a child in the straw. We expect Him to lead an outer rebellion—He speaks of an inner redemption. We look for freedom through force and power—He gives liberty through crucifixion and forgiveness. We cry “Hosanna!” which literally means “save us, we pray!”—but He says: “Come and follow me!” Oh, He does come to save us, but not so much to save us from something as to save us for something—not to save us from the perils of this mortal life, but to save us for significant living in the midst of this life and in the life that is to come.

In The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, a slave, Demetrius, is in the crowd on that first Palm Sunday. He pushes his way through the multitude to see who is the center of attention. He gets close enough to look squarely into the face of Jesus. Later, another slave asks him: “Did you see Him up close?” Demetrius nods. The other slave asks: “Is He crazy?” Demetrius shakes his head emphatically. “Then is He a king?” And Demetrius whispers: “No, not a king.” “What is He then?” demands the other slave. Demetrius replies: “He is something more than a king.”

And that’s true. He is not just a king—He is the King of all kings. He is something more than a king because He operates in ways we do not fully understand. He does not compel us by force, but draws us through love. He does not command subjects, but he calls followers. He does not put us down under His authority, but rather lifts us up to His level by His love. He does not say, “Give me what you have”—He says “Let me give you what I have.” And when He takes hold of our lives, we cannot think the same about ourselves, or the way we live, or the way things are in this world of ours.

George Matheson was the great blind preacher of Scotland in an earlier time. The story is told of a servant woman who lived in a dark, dank cellar in the slums of Edinburgh, but who each Sunday would make her way out of the slums to hear George Matheson preach. One Saturday morning, her neighbors in that poor place saw her handful of belongings on the street. “Where are you going?” asked one neighbor. “I am moving” was her quiet reply. In a chorus all the neighbors asked “Why?” Her reply is worth remembering. She said: “One cannot hear George Matheson preach Jesus Christ and live in a cellar!”

My friends, while I shall never be worthy of such an accolade, it has been the dream of my life to be that kind of preacher—the kind of preacher who preaches Jesus Christ in such a way that people are moved to rise up from the darkness of their lives and find the light of a new day, a new hope, and a whole new way of living. For you see, if we don’t understand that that is why Jesus came into this world, then Jesus Christ will weep for us just as He wept for the people of Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.

So…

It’s Palm Sunday, the day of the parade. The crowd is in cheers, but Jesus is in tears. However, we must not leave Him there. For the last sound is not the sound of a sob. Suddenly the bowed head is raised, the sorrowing eyes blink back the tears, the shoulders are straightened, and Jesus is on His way again—seeking and searching for His own, touching the lives of men and women, asking them to walk with Him, telling them that it is not too late to put aside shame and guilt and find the new style of life that comes from following Him, hoping that His people will cry out in faith: “Lead on, O King eternal, we follow not with fears…”

It just may be that He will come to you today and touch your life and say: “Follow me.” How will you reply? Yes, how will you reply?

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