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“The Last Ride” was supposed to be a high-octane movie, but it ran out of gas at the box office when it was released in 2004. “The Last Ride” is a website where cowboys who are heading for that great ranch in the sky can pre-select their unique type of casket/coffin. “The Last Ride” is also a unique funeral service for bikers complete with a cycle-drawn hearse. “The Last Ride” was also a deal that Apple Computers made with Lance Armstrong during his final Tour de France ride. I recall taking my last ride on the Newfie Bullet; for you younger ones that was the old trans-Newfoundland express train operated by Canadian National Railways or Terra Transport.
The last ride I want to talk about today is that of a king. If the life of Jesus were set to a great dramatic presentation the triumphal entry into Jerusalem would set the scene for the last act. The Passover season was a time for Jews to gather in Jerusalem. Every Jewish male within 20 miles of the Holy City was expected to be there. For every ten people that came one lamb had to be sacrificed. A census done just after the time of Christ estimated that close to 250,000 lambs were killed during the festival. That would have meant as many as 2.5 million people thronged Jerusalem and its suburbs during this time.
Passover was a time to mark the victorious march of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. It called to mind the grim day when the will of Pharaoh was broken by the arm of the Lord whose death angel killed every first-born of Egypt. * From the cradle to the manger there was death, but in the land of Goshen the blood upon the doorposts and the lintels of Israelite homes had signaled to the death angel that here was a home which had heard the word of the Lord.
Matthew 21:1-11 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.1I 4 This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: 5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. '" 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee." (NIV)
The Passover is what was in the memory of every Jew as they flocked to Jerusalem from all parts of the Roman Empire to celebrate their D-Day - "deliverance day." As many of you know there are huge commemorations today at Vimy Ridge where so many Canadians lost their lives in World War II. Canada accomplished what other Allied armies failed to do! Jesus had also made preparations for this great moment. Three years of ministry had brought him from the heights of popularity to being a hated man. The Jewish elders had conspired against him. They had secured the help of the Sadducees and the Herodians in their plot to kill him. It would have been discreet of Jesus to slip quietly into Jerusalem, perform his act of worship and leave just as quietly. But folks this Passover would be his last. Jesus Christ had a divine agenda and he was nearing the most critical issue on that agenda. This Passover would result in the actual sacrifice of “the Lamb of God!” This would be the culmination of all that God desired to bring his wayward people back to him. The slaves had been in bondage long enough. The taskmasters of sin had dished out enough punishment upon God's people. It was time for redemption and the sacrifice was ready to be offered.
On the Sunday before Passover Jesus sent two of his disciples into Bethphage on a strange mission. They were to find a donkey and her foal, a colt, tied together. They were to take the animals and bring them to Jesus. If any person was to question their act they were to give him a password. Their response was to be, "The master needs them." There are people who attach some kind of mystic formula here as if the owner was struck by some kind of special revelation. Rather, I think Jesus knew that this event would come in his life. He planned for it. He had special friends in Bethany and that region. Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived nearby and he stayed at their home. This man kept this animal for the day when Jesus would send for it. Jesus knew this and that is why he assured his disciples, "He will send them right away,"
There is a special significance in this choice of animal. Both Mark’s and Luke’s gospel record that no one had ever ridden this colt. For the colt this was a new experience and for the world this was the dawn of a new day. God has seasoned some of his most noteworthy acts or solemnized events with something new. The idea is there in 1 Samuel 6:7, "Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up." The cart to transport the Ark of the Covenant had to be new and the cows had to be calved, but never yoked to be suitable to pull their burden. Sacred duty always calls for newness. We need a newness of life before we can presume to do a work for the Lord. For Jesus to accomplish his work through us today, he first has to renew us. If Israel had received him they would have become a new nation. Instead they prepared their plots to kill the Prince of Peace and brought desolation down upon their own heads and their nation. God wants to put new wine in new bottles.
Jesus' was not interested in making a show before throngs of people at Passover time. His actions were calculated and deliberate. For Jesus of Nazareth to ride into Jerusalem was a powerful scriptural and historical lesson to the people of his day. Jerusalem translated is the "city of peace." Kings generally rode horses as a symbol of their military might. Jesus had not come to bring a military coup over the Romans. Rather, his gesture is only understood against the backdrop of Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, 0 Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." That is the prophetic dimension of Jesus' action. He made the claim to the entire nation that he was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, the one Isaiah called "Prince of Peace."
Riding the donkey Jesus announced he had not come to lead a revolution by force, but he had come to initiate a kingdom of peace. Jesus' last ride into the city was to awaken people to their need to allow him to bring them the peace they desired. Even today, Jesus comes to our lives to give us the peace that we need. How many people today live in fear of something? How many today live in bondage to some sin or some confining habit? How many see no hope for tomorrow? How many live without the assurance that God is in control? Some people want Jesus to ride a white stallion through their hearts and establish a military reign. That's not the way he works. He rides upon humility, but in accepting the King of Peace we have the only liberty we can possibly find. He rides into our lives to cleanse us so that our worship is not defiled. He comes to cleanse us, our temples, to make us a habitation of the Holy Spirit which Paul says we are to become.
Palm Sunday is filled with promise, but it contains a notable last act. This was the day Jesus announced the character of his kingdom. He tried to prepare them for a different Passover as God’s Lamb was offered for sins. He is the means of peace with God. He is the only means of being made holy. That's why Palm Sunday is so important. It celebrates the beginning of the Easter story. It initiates the countdown to the triumph of the cross, the glory of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
There would have been great anticipation for Jesus during this feast. Jesus had met openly with the hostile teachers of the Law and had put aside their religious arguments. He had chastised them for their pious self-righteousness. He punctuated his sermons with miracles of healing and parables that cut them to the heart. He cleansed the temple! His ride into the city was courageous. The throng that came out to meet him showed his powerful appeal, but it also convinced the authorities that they had to end his life.
The word and the actions of the multitude have become so famous: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" But this is not the first time these actions took place or the words were spoken. The words that were spoken come from Psalm 118:25-26, "O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you." The word we remember best is "Hosanna." Those two words come from Psalm 118:25 and they mean "save us now." They are not to be translated as "Hail" for they are far more than just a word to greet Jesus. They represent the cry of an oppressed people for deliverance. "Hosanna in the highest" is translated to mean, "Let even the angels in the highest heights of heaven cry unto God, save now!"
It had only been days before when Jesus was nearing Jericho that a blind beggar found out that Jesus was passing by. He cried out from the top of his lungs and would not be quiet: "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." His was a solitary cry of "Hosanna! Lord save me?" Now it was being shouted by a cheering multitude. It is a witness of recognition. The blind man knew there was a Savior for him and he was not about to miss his opportunity. The multitude had caught sight of the true king while the reminders of Rome's dominance were all about them. Rome would have laughed to see a humble Galilean ride a donkey while a multitude threw down their clothes and branches of trees. It might have made for a joke to the centurions and the soldiers on guard duty at the gates that day. It would have been religious silliness that could be overlooked.
My father worked the night shift moving around railcars to make up a train in the now forgotten railway freight yards. One night after shunting a few cars around to make up a freight train, he thought he heard a cry for help. It came from the small cove where a few fishermen tied up their boats. He heard it again and ran to investigate. There in the water was a man who would almost certainly have drowned. He had been drinking and lost his balance and fallen into the water. He couldn't swim and the icy salt water would quickly have sapped his strength. His cry was "Save me! Somebody save me!" There was panic in his voice, fear in his heart. My father got aboard a small boat there and reached the man before he slipped under the surface. He tried to give my father $20 for saving his life, but he refused.
This morning I realize the man was crying "Hosanna!" He needed a savior. His life was in danger and he could not help himself. I am amazed with the strength of Jesus’ love. He saw his own nation floundering like a drowning man without a hope. He willingly gave himself to rescue us. He rode through Jerusalem to announce deliverance and a few people saw the sunlight of hope break the darkness of the day they lived in.
But only days later another mob had taken up the cry of "Crucify him! Crucify him!" And so they did. He became the final Passover lamb - the offering that God himself gave and accepted as the only remedy for our sins. It appears to me today that we are faced with a similar decision today as these pilgrims were with Jesus. We can see him as our King, the one who brings peace, or we can see him as a mere obstacle that we have to remove from our lives. I pray our response will be "Hosanna!" - Lord save now! Jesus’ last ride was the beginning of His journey to secure our only hope!