Jesus, The Man of Turmoil – A Sermon on Matthew 21:1-11, Palm Sunday

The collect and readings for today, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, may be found here. Today’s liturgy brings together the palms and the passion with two readings from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The following sermon is based on the Palm Sunday gospel, Matthew 21:1-11.

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”

Today Jesus is entering the most troubled place in the world. It is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. It has a history of killing the prophets, fighting wars, and living in violence. It is a place in turmoil. The most troubled place in the world is not, however, a geographic location. The human heart is the most troubled place in our world. It was then and it is now.

Look at the history of the world. Look at present day Jerusalem, the wars, fighting, and protests throughout the Middle East, the American political and economic systems and you will see the symptoms of the turmoil that fills the heart of humanity. We see it in world events and we experience it in our own lives. It’s in the fear and uncertainty of our future, the loss of financial security, a broken marriage, estrangement between parent and child, the disease that interrupts life’s plans. Each of us could name and describe our personal turmoil.

Think about a time of turmoil in your life and you will likely recall how the foundations of your world were shaken. Turmoil challenges our beliefs and faith, confronts the way we have always done things, makes us question where we are going. In the midst of turmoil life, people, and maybe even God do not line up with our expectations and what we have come to believe. When that happens we mostly want things, people, God back in alignment. We don’t often think about realigning ourselves but that is the opportunity turmoil gives. Instead we want life to go back to the way it was before. Some will pray God to fix the problem and end the turmoil. Others will comes to church seeking answers to or an escape from the turmoil of our lives and world. But on this day there is no escape. There is no easy answer.

Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the heart of a people, the identity of a nation, the foundation of a religion. We are that city and we are shaken, agitated, and confronted every time Jesus comes to us and if we are not maybe we should be. He turns our world upside down. That’s what Jesus does. That may not be who we want but that is who he is.

If given a choice I suspect most prefer a domesticated Jesus; one who brings peace and security, one who makes life easy and happy. That is not what Jesus is about. Jesus is the savior not a superhero. He has been bringing turmoil from the day he was born.

  • When King Herod heard that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem King of the Jews Herod and all Jerusalem with him were troubled, shaken, in turmoil (Mt. 2:1-3).
  • Jesus called James and John to leave their nets, boat and father (Mt. 4:18-22), the very foundation on which their life and identity had been built.
  • He ate with the wrong kind of people, tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10-12).
  • He sent out the twelve apostles telling them, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Mt. 10:34-36). Jesus separates us from the things and people we most often think hold our life together.
  • He broke rules and violated expectations by healing a man’s hand on a day the authorities thought it should remain withered (Mt. 12:9-13).
  • Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).

His life, his teaching, his behavior all caused turmoil. Palm Sunday is no exception. Today the whole city is in turmoil. Waving our palms and shouting “Hosanna” will neither hide nor relieve the turmoil. Instead, they become the symbols that shake and agitate Jerusalem disclosing its turmoil.

That turmoil is revelatory. It suggests that something about our life, our faith, our way of being is not in alignment with God’s life and way of being. So much so that immediately after Jesus enters Jerusalem he goes to the temple bringing more turmoil. He drives out those who were buying and selling the way to God. He overturns the tables and chairs of those who acted as gatekeepers to God.

The turmoil of Palm Sunday points to the deeper mystery of Jesus’ identity and leaves us asking, “Who is this?”

He is not sweet baby Jesus of Christmas card fame. He is not our buddy and our pal. He is not our copilot. He is the man of turmoil. His turmoil is life-giving and God-revealing. The turmoil he brings calls our life into alignment with God’s life. His entry into Jerusalem inaugurates a Holy Week of turmoil; realigning our relationships and teaching us the intimacy of washing feet, calling us to die before death comes, and breaking open our lives in ways we never expected or thought possible. The turmoil Jesus brings is the chaos out of which new life will be born on Easter Sunday.


  1. I was reading a book this morning called Running on Empty about a man that runs across the US in 52 days. He quoted someone on the subject of adversity (turmoil). It was: Adversity does not build character, it reveals it. Christ revelation in my life has come to me as myself.


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