If These People Were Silent
“If These People Were Silent…”
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Certain stories from God’s Word speak for themselves… no extra embellishments are needed… no added thoughts or expository expressions could hope to add anything meaningful. And in my humble opinion, our lessons for today are great examples. But, then, maybe... the “foolishness of preaching” will help us focus our attention as we begin this holiest of weeks.
All the gospel accounts of Jesus’ entering Jerusalem are similar, yet unique. Almost every word of Mark’s account can be found in the other Gospels. The idea of a large crowd gathering is mainly from John & Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew includes the phrase we most often associate with Palm Sunday: “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna: means “Save us” - deliver us, help us… in other words. Without a doubt, it’s a phrase we use quite often in our world, even today. I mean, how often do you and I cry out “Lord, save us, deliver us, help us?” We’re basically saying “Hosanna.”
Of course, we’ve come to call the day Jesus entered Jerusalem “Palm Sunday” but Luke’s Gospel never mentions palm branches, instead Luke tells those who gathered covered the street with their cloaks…
But despite their differences: every Gospel is offering us the same story from different perspectives. Every detail taking place at the same time…
And while I love the worshipful appeal of Matthew’s version of “Palm Sunday” - I’m drawn to Luke’s account - particularly the conversation that took place between Jesus and the Pharisees at the end of today’s reading.
As Jesus made his way into the City, he knew he was making his way to the cross. Of course, the people didn’t know that, and at this point, the crowds were excited to see Jesus. Their joyful shouts of praise would become the jarring chants of “crucify him,” but not yet. Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem became an impromptu parade. Some placed their cloaks along the street for him to ride over, others lined the street with palm branches… all were treating Jesus like a king, as they lifted their voices in praise to God.
Luke tells us they sang, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” The first part of their song offered words from the Psalms (118) meant for a festival. The crowds we festive... greeting Jesus like royalty, like a warrior returning from battle! Only Jesus arrived humbly, on a donkey, a beast of burden, a symbol of peace, not power.
The second part of their song echoed the words from Luke’s gospel that the angels sang when Jesus was born: “Peace… and glory in the highest!” Luke is gently reminding us that Jesus is no earthly king. He wasn’t born in a palace surrounded by luxury. His authority, his reign, is from heaven itself.
The Pharisees, as usual, were upset by the whole display! They said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” We don’t know exactly why they wanted Jesus to silence the crowds. Maybe they were jealous, envious of the following Jesus had amassed… or maybe they felt threatened by Jesus’ authority (at this point in Jesus’ ministry his reputation preceded him)… or could it be, they were afraid? Fear is certainly a motivator for us! Maybe they were afraid of “upsetting the balance of power” or afraid that Jesus would expose their lack of wisdom and leadership.
Regardless… Jesus was drawing attention… and such attention could possibly draw even greater attention… maybe from the Jewish King Herod, who was nothing more than a puppet of Rome, or even from the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Of course, Jerusalem was occupied by the Romans, and any event that drew too much attention could be dangerous. No one wanted the Romans to get more involved in the lives of the Jewish people than they already were. The fact is, regardless the reason, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to silence his supporters.
To which Jesus replied: “I tell you, if these people were silent, the stones would shout out!”
Such words would have resonated with the Pharisees: because they’re words of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk prophesied during a time “war and rumor of war”. The Assyrians were on a war path… destroying city after city… and Israel was in their cross hairs… the People of God were living in fear. Causing Habakkuk to cry out to God, “How long? How long will we cry for help, God, and you won’t listen?”
But God was listening… and He made it clear that every offence the people had suffered at the hands of their enemies - God had seen, God had witnessed. And the Lord promised that deliverance was coming. They would have to wait, but deliverance was coming. It was God who said to Habakkuk, “The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” God says that even inanimate objects will cry out at the pain and oppression of God’s people. God hears… He responds… God promises deliverance.
So, when Jesus used these words from Habakkuk, he was telling the Pharisees that in the face of oppression, like the Jews of Jesus’ day were experiencing from the Roman Empire, nothing… absolutely nothing could stop the people from crying out “Hosanna: Save us, deliver us, help us.” And if the people’s voices were somehow, someway, stopped, then even the rocks would take up the cry!
And when the people of God cry out for deliverance, or when the rocks cry out in our stead… when the prayer of “Hosanna!” goes up… whether it’s with palm branches or with cloaks laid on the ground… or God’s People faithfully gathered in His House on Palm Sunday morning… God listens… God hears… God responds… and He promises deliverance will come.
Could it be, that when you and I cry out, “How long, O Lord?” – Jesus is reminding us that God always hears. God always listens. Nothing will ever stop God’s work of deliverance, of redemption, of peace from unfolding. Nothing can ever stop our cries from reaching God’s ears. Even if our flesh grows weary, and our voices become faint, the stones will cry out. That’s hope. That’s assurance.
This week we’re reminded once again of Jesus’ arrest, and trial, and crucifixion. And for a moment, it may seem like death has won. It may feel like good loses. Like Jesus has been silenced. But it only seems that way. For a moment we wait... but deliverance is coming.
Let’s never be silent - let’s never give the rocks a chance to do our job: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Glory in the highest!” Amen.