Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Message of Palm Sunday



The story of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week leads to a couple of penetrating questions:  Is Jesus really enough for me, just the way he is?  Or, do I think he ought to be different than he is?

The majority of the people who gathered to give Jesus praise at the beginning of the week, shouted to the Roman authorities to have him crucified at the end of the week.  Why the big turn around?  The change in attitude came because Jesus did not fit the crowd’s expectations of what the Messiah should be and do.  They did not accept him for who he was.  We need to be aware of our own expectations for God, and for what we believe Jesus ought to be and to do.

Missed expectations create either hurt, anger, or both.  How we view Jesus determines how we will view the Christian life and the Christian Church.  If we see Jesus as being like an earthly politician and emphasize his war chest while downplaying his meekness, we will then have a triumphalist view of Christianity and be disappointed when there is no practical victory taking place.  The crowd wanted assurances that in Jesus’ first 40 days in office that he would put the big hurt on the Roman authorities.  They had expectations of strong leadership, making things happen, and accomplishing big hairy audacious goals. 

On the other extreme, if we view Jesus as only a Suffering Servant and pay little attention to his lordship over everything, then we will remain in spiritual contemplation without effectively engaging the world with the victory of the cross and resurrection.  But if we view Jesus as the Gentle King, the Humble Sovereign; if we see him as lowly royalty, giving due emphasis to both his divinity and his humanity, his authority and his humility; then, we will begin to worship Jesus as he truly is and not as we want him to be. 

            Most of the crowd checking out Jesus already had their minds made up about who they thought he should be.  They had no room for a suffering servant and a humble savior because they could only see the sins of others, and not their own sins.  They believed Jesus was the King of Israel, and, for them, that meant a political liberator from the Gentile Romans.  They were aware of the royal psalms that spoke of divine rule over the nations.  The crowd was understandably weary of being dominated by non-Jews, and wanted some serious payback and a new establishment with the Messiah in charge.

            To put this ancient scene in perspective, it would be like in our day getting completely jazzed-up about a particular presidential candidate who did some incredible things on the campaign trail and is now entering Washington D.C. to a ticker-tape parade and lots of flag-waving.  Palm branches were the national symbol for Israel, like our flag displays.  There was no question about what the crowd of people wanted:  a strong leader-king who was going to change the establishment and inaugurate a new administration of peace and prosperity that put the Romans in their place and give prominence to the Jews, like King David of old.

            But Jesus deliberately chose a donkey to ride on in Jerusalem (John 12:12-16).  He was serving notice to all the people that he was not going to capitulate to the crowd’s agenda for him.  He was not going to become the political savior they were looking for.  He was not coming to overturn the establishment.  He was not there to make everyone feel good about being a good patriotic Jew. 

Here is the point that this story emphasizes, and it is a timeless, necessary conclusion:  We are to adjust to Jesus, and not the other way around.  Jesus did not fit into the triumphalist and nationalist scene of the Jews because he is the not just the King of the Jews, but the King of All Nations.  He did take on the establishment – just not the Roman one.  Jesus came to overturn the ruling establishment of Satan and his wicked spirits; he came to upend the principalities and powers of this dark world.  Jesus came to take back the people of this earth for God, and he would not do it through a political revolution, but by a spiritual one.  Jesus would seize power by sacrificing himself for the sins of everyone, and making it possible for people to live a new life without the world, the flesh, and the devil dogging them at every turn.


The church has a wonderful message of deliverance to communicate.  Let us remember the basis for it in this Holy Week.

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