Palm Sunday 2023

Hesham Shehab: Palm Sunday… Behold the Servant – King

Sermon text preached by Rev. Hesham Shehab
Sunday, April 2, 2023
St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Whiting, IN
Text: John 12: 20- 43

Behold the Servant – King

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In real estate, they say that there are three important words: Location, location, location. Also in studying the Bible, there are three important words: Context, context, context. In first century Holy Land, even though Jewish religious leaders despised the Romans who ruled over them, the Romans allowed them a degree of control over the nation’s spiritual matters.

So long as those religious leaders kept the population under control, there would be no harsh clampdown by the power of imperial Rome. Business as usual could continue. Worship could go on in the temple and the synagogues. Sacrifices of the approved animals, conveniently purchased right on the temple grounds would go on. The Passover and other festivals would be celebrated, bringing thousands of Jews to Jerusalem and pumping up the local economy more than a Super Bowl does.

The treasury of the temple, supporting the lavish lifestyle of those leaders, would swell along with the numbers of people who came to worship. That’s certainly ample motivation to keep everyone calm and happy.

But now this Jesus of Nazareth was threatening to upset the delicate balance that had been achieved between the Synagogue and the Roman State.

All this clamor about Jesus and His teachings and His miracles had to stop. Not only were the Pharisees gaining nothing, but they could lose everything. How would Herod and the Romans react to news that some rabbi from the countryside in Galilee was being proclaimed a king by a large number of people, many of them coming from outside Jerusalem?

Jesus’ identity started to come out in the open just before Palm Sunday. For example, in the Gospel of Mark a blind man calls upon Jesus: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”… And Jesus stopped and said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

The blind man called Jesus by His royal Davidic title, “Son of David,” and Jesus responded. His claims to be the awaited Messiah- King started to come out in public.

Jesus certainly didn’t seem dangerous in the military sense. A military general do not ride a donkey but a horse. By riding a donkey He was sending a message that He was the Servant King. He wasn’t advocating rebellion. But the radical nature of His ideas, the power of His presence, and news of His miracles were already spreading like wildfire throughout Jerusalem. If they reached the wrong ears, there could be hell to pay, and the Pharisees knew all too well that the Romans would come after them. So, the Pharisees had to go after Jesus, and with a vengeance. They had been contemplating Jesus’ destruction, and now it was time to take action.

Meanwhile, the world still went after Him, but in a different way. John writes: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”

Now, if these Greeks had come to worship at the feast, they were at least tacit accepters of the Jewish religion. They may have been prevented from entering the part of the temple grounds where Jesus was teaching because they were only proselytes, not yet fully committed to living the life of the Jewish faith. They came to the big festival of the Passover because they were a lot like those who will show up in church next Sunday for Easter, but don’t come around much otherwise. They will come for the power and the glory of the resurrection, but they would avoid the shame of the cross and denial and the life of Christian discipleship that entails service and self-sacrifice.

Nevertheless, those Greeks approached Philip, and they wanted to see Jesus. Note the verb they use. They want “to see Jesus.” It doesn’t say they want to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, or confess Him to be the Christ. It doesn’t say they want to worship Jesus as the Son of God, or follow Him as subjects of the King or disciples of the Master. They want to see Him—to observe, to evaluate, to judge Him for themselves.

So, the question must be asked: Which Jesus do they want to see? For that matter, which Jesus do you want to see? There are a lot of them out there, you know—Jesuses that the world goes after, whether in attraction or repulsion. Some chase a partly-true but insufficient Jesus they’ve cobbled together from selective Bible verses that don’t offend their sensibilities. Some go after Him with swords and bombs and AK-47s, because they can’t accept a Jesus that was the one, true Son of God, the final Word, the Redeemer for their sins. This happens in different parts of the world, almost every day. It takes place in the Middle East, Egypt, Saharan Africa, China, and North Korea.

Others go after Jesus with pen and ink, or with words typed on a screen, condescendingly rejecting the Gospel as preposterous.

Perhaps our constructs of Jesus are not so crass, our rejections of who He is and what He has done not quite so blatant. Yet every day, in each and every sin—known and unknown—we deny Him. We want the Lazarus-raising, miracle-working, triumphant King, but we often reject the One who gave His back to those who strike, and turned His cheeks to those who pulled out His beard. We sometimes want to see and grasp the Jesus of power and glory in order to look down on non-Christians.

If we want to truly see Jesus, to see who He is and what He means, we must see Him as He wishes to be seen—raised up on the cross.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” Jesus said in answer to those who want to see Him. If they want truly to see Him.

Jesus, fallen dead into the ground like a grain of wheat so that He might be fruitful. Hating the life in this world yet giving up His life for the life of the world. Serving and following His Father, honoring His Father in His humble obedience.

See Jesus. See Him pursue not His own glory, but rather to have His Father’s name glorified. The Son of Man is to be lifted up, and all people will be drawn to Him—some in ridicule, some in shame, some in fear—but as many as He chooses, in faith.

As we read John 12, John goes on to quote twice from the prophet Isaiah, pointing toward a salvation that comes not merely from what is seen by the eyes or understood by the mind, but from what is revealed through the word of God.

Isaiah saw God’s glory even in the suffering of God’s people, as they were surrounded by enemies and seemingly defeated and destroyed by the Babylonians, 750 years B.C. Yet God remained faithful to His promises to send a Savior. Just as He has remained faithful to His Church through the centuries.

So, too, He remains faithful to you, and faithful to all those who confess His Son today. God’s true glory is always revealed in suffering, in sacrifice, in the faithful confessing unto death of Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The disciples of Jesus preached the Gospel despite the risks of being put out of the synagogue, and out of the family and friends, even to be tortured and killed. Today Jesus calls us to remain faithful and wants us to see Him in the scandalous and painful cross.

For our glorification in heaven, Jesus was humbled on earth. For our adoption into the comforts of the household of God, Jesus became a suffering servant. For our disobedience, He was obedient unto death, even death on the cross.

Jesus has gone after the whole world and conquered death and sin for us. And because of him, we are the ultimate winners.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Hesham Shehab

Read more from Hesham Shehab……

Hesham Shehab
Hesham Shehab
Educator, Journalist, Columnist, Islamic Expert, Muslim Expert, Human Rights Activist, Pastor at Salam Christian Fellowship | Website

Adjunct Faculty at College of DuPage, Formerly Adjunct Faculty at American University of Beirut and Pastor at Peace Lutheran Church Lombard, IL Name pronounciation: HI-shahm SHI-hab  Hebrews 12: 4 & Philippians 1: 29

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