Zechariah 9:9-10 Rejoice greatly, O 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. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
This is the day the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps 118:24, EHV)
Next Sunday is the first of April – April Fool’s Day – 24-hour period that has no great significance other than the playing of practical jokes. Over the years there have been some wonderful April Fool’s Day jokes played on people.
I remember reading the April 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated. The sports magazine revealed that the New York Mets had recruited a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a baseball at 168 mph — 65 mph faster than the previous record. Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never played baseball before, but he had mastered the "art of the pitch" in a Tibetan monastery. Mets fans couldn't believe their good luck and, accepting at face value the peculiarities of Sidd Finch's past, flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. But in reality, this amazing player only existed in the imagination of author George Plimpton, who had left a clue in the sub-heading of the article: “He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each of those words, taken together, spelled “H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y — A-h F-i-b”.
April Fool’s Day is about presenting information that is just on the edge of believability; something outlandish; a supposed fact that seems out of this world. Then, when the person accepts it as truth, believes it hook, line and sinker, you call them a fool. It’s all been a prank. A made-up story. It’s all a big practical joke.
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, which this year happens to fall on April 1st. Holy Week is a week filled with information that appears over the edge of believability. Truths that cannot possibly be true – a King riding on a donkey. The Shepherd lays His life down for His sheep. God dead on a cross. Shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” followed by demands of “Crucify Him!” Though these things seem beyond believability and part of one big joke, we see from Christ’s Passion that it is a Holy Week Reality.
The point of April Fool’s is to give you something other than what you expected. What Jesus does and accomplishes for humanity during Holy Week is beyond any expectation or comprehension.
Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week are filled with contrasts. Palm Sunday begins in triumph along a parade route, but the week ends on Friday afternoon with a burial in a tomb. It all began outside the city gates of Jerusalem as pilgrims for the Passover walked along the parade route on one end of the city shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna in the highest!” It ends on the other side of the city as the pilgrims walked into the city on Friday morning to see three crosses outside the city gates, and then joining with the crowds in shouting, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself and us!” On Sunday, the children had cheered so loudly in the temple area that the chief priests complained to Jesus, but as Jesus carried His cross through Jerusalem’s streets on Friday morning (Luke 21:15), He told the Jewish women, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28).
In the beginning of the week, Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O 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.” At the end of the week, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). What a week! Everything that Jesus is for us and everything that Jesus does for humanity is all packed into this one week and is summarized in this one verse from Philippians: “He humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross” (2:8)!
The people were cheering for Jesus for what they imagined Him to be – a miracle worker who could heal their afflictions; a Bread King who could feed them unlimited bread and fish; an authoritative teacher who could give them more than the Pharisees; a king who was entering Jerusalem to overthrow the hated Roman rule. They were imagining what Jesus could do for them. It was beyond their comprehension what Jesus would do for them.
He is the King who fights on behalf of His ungrateful subjects. The Savior who rescues us from death by dying. The Creator who allows His fallen creation to kill Him. The Redeemer who buys humanity back with His own precious blood. The High Priest who makes atonement for the sins of the world by also becoming the sacrificial Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the Lawgiver who came to live under the Law of God. The Judge who came under His own sentence. The Good Shepherd who lays down His life for wandering lambs and straying sheep. The Host to His Holy Supper, but also the Meal at the same Supper. That’s what Holy Week is about! Contrasts. God in the flesh. The immortal dead. The Almighty abandoned. If it was about anything else it would all sound like a joke. But this Holy Week is a reality!
In our midweek Lenten services, we heard the Passion History according Mark. Passion means a very strong desire, an intense zeal, a deep love. The Passion of our Lord is His Passion to save you. It began with an anointing. A woman pours costly perfume on Jesus’ head. The Magi had once presented the toddler Jesus with myrrh, an expensive perfume. Now the Christ, which means “Anointed One,” is anointed with expensive perfume to prepare Him for His burial where He would once again have myrrh poured on His corpse by Nicodemus.
On Thursday evening, Jesus gathers His disciples (not His family as was the custom) to celebrate the Passover. But He again does something unexpected, out of the ordinary. In place of the Old Testament Passover, He institutes His New Covenant. Instead of lamb meat, unleavened bread and grape wine to eat and to drink, Jesus gives His disciples His own body to eat and His own blood to drink, for He is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb.
Jesus then goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Humanity fell to a serpent in a garden. But now humanity’s new head, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, returns to a garden to pray for the strength to crush the Ancient Serpent’s head.
Events move quickly now. Judas comes to the garden to betray Jesus with a kiss. He is the ever-rejected King. “He came to his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). The Prince of Peace is arrested as though He were a political terrorist and led away in chains. He appears weak and helpless, yet He has the power to knock down the entire mob with a single word. The Sanhedrin then put the Wisdom Incarnate on trial for blasphemy.
Jesus is clothed in a purple robe, crowned with thorns and hit with a reed meant to be a scepter. He is mocked as a king, though in reality He is the King of kings. Pilate washes His hands of Jesus’ blood. But the people cry out, “Let his blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). They speak in derision, but they speak the truth. If His blood is not on us, we are not cleansed.
The middle cross was probably meant for Barabbas, a murderer and political terrorist. But the murderer goes free and the Prince of Peace they slay. Crucified between two thieves, perhaps cohorts of Barabbas, the Innocent One among the guilty. The people passing by mock Him even as they unwittingly proclaim the truth about Him. In the darkness that covered the land that Good Friday, they tried to extinguish the Light of the world, but He is the Light no darkness can overcome. Jesus refuses to be drugged by drinking the cup of myrrh, but instead he drank deeply from the cup of God’s wrath. God the Father had declared at Jesus’ Transfiguration, “This is my Son.” But the next time we hear Him declared to be so is upon His death by a Roman centurion, “Surely this man was the Son of God (Mark 15:39)! Jesus then spends His Sabbath rest in the tomb.
Is it all a joke? No! This is reality!
And thanks be to God that it is! For everything that Jesus did, endured and accomplished that Holy Week was for us. Unbelievably! Remarkably! Astonishingly! Jesus does the unexpected! He suffers and dies for sinners like us. It is our shame at standing out as a Christian in an unchristian world that slapped Jesus in the face. It is our anger at our spouse, children or boss that balled up our fists to punch Jesus. It is our deliberate sins that spat on Jesus’ face. It is our inborn sin that nailed Him to the cross. It is our accidental sins that pierced His side. It is our double-minded nature that praises Jesus with Hosannas one moment and mocks Him and His teachings the next.
It is our hell we deserved that He endured. God’s wrath that was ours that caused Jesus to be abandoned. Our hypocrisy that gives Jesus the kiss of death. Our denials that would not allow anyone to speak up in His defense. Our flesh that is so weak that it causes Him to pray so hard that blood vessels burst in His forehead.
In Barabbas, in the thieves, in the Jewish crowds, in the Roman soldiers, in Judas, Peter and Pilate we see ourselves. And more importantly, these people cause us to see Jesus. Unbelievably, Jesus takes our place. The Guiltless One takes our guilt. The Sinless One becomes sin for us. The Messiah dies for the masses. He humbles Himself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Our WLS Middle School staff enjoy playing practical jokes on each other for their birthdays. Last year, Mr. Marowsky’s 8th grade classroom was decorated with over 8,000 sticky notes. Mr. Selle, the 7th grade teacher, enjoys his coffee. This year, each of his 7th graders gave him the ugliest coffee mug they could find at a thrift store. Ms. Rahn, our 6th grade teacher, is 5”2” and enjoys Peppermint Patties. For her birthday last year, Peppermint Patties were hanging from the ceiling … just out of her reach. For Mr. Patterson’s birthday and Mr. Zuberbier’s half-birthday, their offices were switched around.
There are a lot of great practical jokes in our world. But the greatest practical joke of all time, played on all of humanity, would have been Jesus entering Jerusalem as a king, dying on Friday and staying dead on Sunday. However, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, Jesus played the greatest April Fool’s joke on the devil and all his cronies. It took Him a week to accomplish all of it. He rode into Jerusalem as a King seated humbly on a donkey, gave us Himself in His Holy Supper on Maundy Thursday, died for the sins and salvation for all humanity on Good Friday, lay dead in the grave on Saturday and then rose victoriously from that grave on Easter Sunday! It’s not a joke. What happened during Holy Week is reality! Because it is a reality: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!” “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Amen.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.