Here Comes the Rock Star

Heritage Presbyterian Church

Palm Sunday
April 10, 2022

Scriptures – Zechariah 9: 9-13 and Luke 19: 28-48

 Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, I am very familiar with numerous rock stars.  These are people who have produced a large body of work, have adoring fans who follow their every move and breath, and generally travel in circles that you and I can only dream of.  

However, a bit of caution: 

  • You can’t be a rock star with only one or two hits;
  • You can’t be a rock star if you can’t consistently fill concert venues in any location; 
  • You can’t be a rock star unless folks who don’t even know your work know about you;
  • And you can’t be a rock star if you aren’t consistently good over time.

In my own experience, I name Elvis, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and an English guy named Sting to my own personal list.  You might have more…

But any rock star could influence large groups of people, negatively or positively, at just about any moment.  That’s why my personal favorite rock stars are those folks who pay very careful attention to what they do and say outside of their usual work.  How do they live when the cameras and the crowds aren’t paying attention?

Got enough information use “rock star” properly?  Then, let’s proceed with the message for today, Palm Sunday, the day the biggest rock star in history came to Jerusalem.

Knowing already that Jesus of Nazareth was THE rock star of his day and location, the various factions in the crowd had different expectations and were saying different things as he entered.

For his part, the four Gospel texts are remarkably silent on the reactions of Jesus to the whole thing.  We get nothing about Jesus waving to the crowd that he expected would be there.  We read nothing about his facial expressions – no smile, no frown, no twinkling eyes, nothing like that; we only get two hints: earlier in the Luke chapter 9, we read, “He set his face toward Jerusalem,” meaning nothing would turn him aside from going there; so perhaps determination might describe his expression.  Second, as Jesus got very near to Jerusalem, he wept over it because the people of that city would not know peace…they were missing the chance to embrace it.  So perhaps Jesus was also sad but may have tried to hide it until he couldn’t do it.

And the only actions Jesus took that day were to tell two of his Apostles to borrow a donkey they would find on the way, and then to ride that donkey into town.

All these statements describe an unusual reaction by a rock star encountering an excited, loving crowd of followers.

But what about the various factions that saw Jesus coming to town?  What was going on with them?

First, what did the crowd do? 

The crowd that day in Jerusalem was filled with people who had one big hope going: the new King of Israel was in town – a new King David! – and the Romans were going to be thrown out by the power of God!  After all, God was on the side of King David, and God is on the side of Jesus too!  The crowd had heard all about Jesus; they knew he had… POWER!  He had proven it by healing the blind and the lame, by casting out demons, by curing the sick, even by raising the dead!  This was their guy!  This was their day!  Their long-awaited rock star was finally here and it was time to celebrate and shout, “SAVE US!”…which is what “hosannah” meant.

That crowd also did two more things that set the tone for their own reactions:

  • First, they put their own coats and cloaks on the road to symbolize their respect, admiration, and most importantly their acceptance of their new king.  They broke off palm branches and spread them on the road, maybe when they ran out of coats and cloaks.  The road was thus turned into a path of triumph by the people.
  • Second, they shouted and became so excited that they could not be silenced.  No one could make them stop: not the nervous Roman guards, not the palace guards of Herod (and you just KNOW they were in the crowd), not the Temple guards who had to be freaking out because they appreciated control just like their bosses, and certainly not by the bosses themselves.  An out-of-control crowd can be a scary thing…especially when you don’t like the reasons they are whooping it up in the first place.

Next, what did the Pharisees do?

This group of self-appointed saviors of the people were definitely NOT the rock stars of their day.  They may have controlled the Temple taxes, they may have worked closely with Herod and the Romans to keep the peace, they may have studied the Law and practiced it to the nth degree, but their hearts were all about their own power and prestige.  If you can’t make the people love you, you can at least make the people respect and (most importantly) obey you.  

And this crowd of rock-star worshippers were making them very, very nervous.  Look at what the Pharisees had to say:

  • “Hey Jesus…make your people SHUT UP!  Do you know what they’re SAYING about you?”
  • Or “Hey Jesus…rebuke your disciples!” Obviously they were WAY out of line…
  • Or how about what they were saying to one another after they knew nothing would work: “You see?  Nothing can be done!  The whole world has gone after him!”

This is a desperate bunch of people.  They were losing control, and they knew it!  They must have been imagining what would happen if this whole thing didn’t stop.

Think of the 1950’s when Elvis appeared in small towns in their movie theaters and nightclubs, and things got…out of hand, overwhelming, and the local sheriffs had to worry about loss of control.

Think of the 1960’s when Martin Luther King came to some of those Southern towns to “stir things up and cause trouble” and local law enforcement had to prepare and respond somehow.

Think of when the Beatles first came to America and appeared on television…now imagine being in charge of security on those television shows…picture that job for a minute…you want to figure out how to control that screaming, shrieking, emotional crowd?  It makes the Jerusalem crowd shouting “Hosannah” sound pretty tame in comparison.

Think of any big city mayor back then or today that knows a joyful celebration is coming to their town – and those celebrating are just not the “right kind of people”…you know what I mean. 

Finally, what did the Apostles do?

They borrowed the colt and got Jesus on it.  But what was next?  We have no words in the four Gospels that describe their actions.  But it doesn’t take much to imagine it…those 12 Apostles who had been following Jesus for three years were for the very first time encountering the love from a crowd, as well as their triumphant expectations of Jesus.  It’s easy to imagine that the Apostles ran alongside the donkey and shouted “HOSANNAH!” with the shouts of the crowd.  Their faces were probably excited, happy, and flushed with emotion.  Their energy was probably flowing – and I don’t mean with the Holy Spirit…at least, not just yet.  Their arms were waving with the crowd, and perhaps…just perhaps… they imagined a righteous place for themselves with their own personal rock star in the coming joyful events!  Jesus was being hailed as the successor to King David!  Jesus was hearing this in Jerusalem!  Not some far-flung tiny village or on a hillside in the countryside, but the city of JERUSALEM!  This was important!  This was life-changing!  The Messiah was in town, and the Romans and anyone else who wanted trouble was going to get it!  

In short, the Apostles were celebrating – and forgetting all the times Jesus had explained plainly, bluntly, and painfully what was going to happen: he was going to die in Jerusalem.

With all the shouting and triumphant actions of the crowd, that idea was easily dismissed and ignored by those Apostles.

But seriously…who could blame them?  Do any of us really want to experience the events of Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday…or would we all rather focus on Palm Sunday and skip right to Easter morning?  

Wouldn’t we rather consider ourselves part of the joyful crowd shouting “Hosannah” instead of the jeering crowd shouting “Crucify him!” and “give us Barabbas!”

Wouldn’t we rather just celebrate the ultimate rock star instead of imagining all that he had to endure, suffer, and overcome – and all for us?

Don’t get lost in the moment this week, Christians. 

Jesus of Nazareth, our own rock star, is coming.

And he has music to sing for us…music that is still relevant today.

Hosannah!  Amen!