Palm Sunday always greets us with a sense of excitement. There is a breath of anticipation that comes in reading the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the reciting of “hosanna.”
When we hear the story and study it, we can’t help but picture the grand processional that takes place. As Luke describes it, Jesus arrives into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey surrounded by his followers who shout “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” It’s an exciting day, filled with anticipation, and the hope of the fulfillment of a promise. Will this be the time that Jesus will claim his messianic throne?
The story surrounding Palm Sunday is one that seems like a grand royal procession. We can easily draw to mind a picture of royal acts of celebration. There is music being sung by the disciples in praise of Jesus. There is a mode of transportation. A group of people surround the king. At the center, is a king preparing to enter his royal city, Jerusalem. It’s a magnificent scene filled with power, joy, and celebration.
We look forward to the pomp and circumstances of Palm Sunday. It’s the day we celebrate with palm branches, special music, and anticipatory words that remind us of this day of Jesus’ entry into a week of painful rejection, deep sacrifice, and the greatest love we have ever experienced.
The narrative Luke tells of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem seems nothing like some of our modern displays on Palm Sunday. Luke describes a scene that is quite simple. There are no trumpets. There are no royal pronouncements. There are no palm branches. There are no large crowds. There is just Jesus and his followers entering the city with the shouts of praise in response to all that Jesus had done. Luke, a gospel particularly focused on how Jesus interacts with the poor and the forgotten, takes great care in making Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a simple yet powerful celebration between himself and those who followed him.
I’m grateful for Luke’s telling of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover. The simplicity of Luke’s narrative allows us to experience what occurs as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. What we see is that Jesus rides into town to claim what is rightfully his, which is his kingship as the divine Son of God. Jesus enters Jerusalem to fulfill the messianic mission. In doing so, Jesus allows us to see what it means for him to be our Lord.
We see this in the symbols and words Luke uses. Luke is very careful in describing what takes place. Luke is the only gospel writer to describe Jesus as king as he enters Jerusalem. Jesus’ entrance gives us a glimpse of the kind of king Jesus is, has been, and will always be.
The entrance into Jerusalem shows us that Jesus is the king of peace. It is an unique statement for Jesus to make and an interesting time to do it. The Messianic promise came with expectations of a military revolutionary who would destroy the Roman Empire and return the Davidic king to his throne. The offer of a king of peace also was counter to the Roman idea of peace, which was central to their civilization. The Roman peace was formed around the premise that maintaining the status quo meant serving Rome’s interests. Both ideas were founded on militaristic goals.
However, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem to be a revolutionary. The charges leveled against him on Thursday evening and Friday morning cannot stick. Jesus does not desire to be a military combatant. He comes as the offerer and maker of peace. Jesus is peace, because he is the one who offers the way to reconciliation to the Father. The procession of Palm Sunday leads us to the darkness of Good Friday. It is on that day Jesus took on our sin and died the death we deserved. It was an act of love that renewed our relationship with God through faith in Christ. This is peace that brings about a sense of calm, hope, and love to our lives.
Jesus brought his peace into the world. He rode into Jerusalem on the back of an animal that is the image of peace and humility. There are no military promises to end the Roman empire. What Jesus offers is the promise of reconciliation and peace where there was once distance between us and God. Only Jesus can offer us this peace.
The entrance into Jerusalem also highlights Jesus’ servant heart. Leaders are not always seen as servants. Sometimes that we are seen as people who were to be served. We can see this in the displays of the Roman government, especially of Herod Antipas. As the tetrarch, or ruler, of Judea, Antipas would enter Jerusalem at the start of the Passover. He did so with a big display to exhibit his authority and the power of the Roman government. He would ride in on a big war horse to showcase his power. Antipas never saw himself as the people’s servant nor was he interested in a mission other than his own.
Jesus is a contrast to this display of power. He came not to be served, but to be a servant. The servant nature of his kingship and lordship was on full display when Jesus entered Jerusalem. His entire journey to Jerusalem was about his servant nature. Jesus came to do the Father’s will and to care for the least of these. It was to express the Father’s love for his people and creation and desire for all to be in relationship with him. That was Jesus’ mission. He came not to fulfill his desires, but those of the One who sent him.
Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing what was in front of him. He knew the mission would be fulfilled far removed from the pomp and circumstances of his entrance into Jerusalem. For his mission to be completed, Jesus had to experience an unthinkable death so that the entire world could experience grace, hope, and love in a new way. Jesus came as a servant because the mission wasn’t about him. It was about the Father and all of us.
For that reason, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king who would suffer for his people. Think about how strange that sounds. A king willing to give his life for his people? That is unthinkable. When we think of kings and leaders, the idea of someone taking on the cause of suffering does come to mind. Instead, we think of kings and leaders as sending others out to suffer for a given cause. A king or leader who suffers for their people is uncommon.
Jesus is the type of uncommon king that is willing to suffer for his people. The entrance into Jerusalem was another recognition of the suffering nature of his calling. No one expected a Messiah who would die for his people. No one expected a Lord who would lay down his life so others could experience everlasting joy in the Father’s care. Jesus knew it was the only way for the mission to be fulfilled. He came to Jerusalem to die on the cross and to suffer for our acts of disappointing God. Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer for us.
As the coats and palm branches laid on the ground, Jesus eyes were focussed on the cross. The journey during this Passover led Jesus to the most torturous form of capital punishment. It was there that Jesus would show the peace of God, the Lord’s servant call, and the suffering nature of the Messiah’s love for all. Jesus came to fulfill all the promises of the Messiah and to establish a new relationship between God and the Lord’s people. Jesus came to show what it meant that he was the king and Lord of all.
Christ’s followers knew Jesus came to exhibit his kingship. It is why they properly praised him as the “king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They may not have known the lengths Jesus was willing to go to show what this meant, but they knew Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’ followers gathered to praise him for his mighty name and the work he came to do.
Some who gathered along the streets of Jerusalem that day wanted the disciples to stop praising Jesus as king. For unknown reasons, some Pharisees wanted the disciples to stop praising Jesus as king. They were fearful that the message of Jesus as king would upset the Roman authorities. To be honest, though, Jesus’ reign as king challenged the religious leaders, because it called attention to how they had fallen short of God’s desires. Jesus wasn’t the king they wanted. They wanted one who suited their own interests and not those of the Father.
Jesus is clear. He says nothing can prevent the message of his kingdom from being shared. He makes an interesting analogy. He says even if his followers were quiet then the stones would shout in praise. What Jesus says is that all of creation was yearning for this moment. Noting can keep this message, and mission, from being fulfilled.
While nothing can keep the message of Jesus as king from being shared, it is a message that demands a response from us. How will we respond to Jesus’ kingly rule? Jesus’ kingship and Lordship challenges us to see how we have accepted who Christ is and made the Lord’s truth central to our lives.
This has been the challenge of Christ’s kingship throughout time. On the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, all of his followers and, perhaps, even some in the crowd, shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” By Friday morning, the shouts of praise had turned to cries of distance with the gut-wrenching words of “crucify him.” Both responses make a declaration of how we view Christ as king. One seeks to praise the Lord for all that he has done, while the other seeks to have no part in God’s kingdom and Jesus’ king of kingship.
As we embark on this Holy Week, the challenge of Christ’s kingdom is as real as it ever has been. A king who has come in peace, as a servant, and offering himself in humble sacrifice for all people may not always be what the world wants, but it is what was needed to bring us back to a relationship with God.
Is Jesus the kind of king that we want? Do we desire Christ to come and be our king and our Lord? These are questions worthy of reflections as we embrace the celebrations ahead.
Jesus has come into Jerusalem, this day, to fulfill his mission. He came to claim his kingship through measures of peace, sacrifice, and suffering. He came to redeem the people through a love that is beyond all measures. That is my kind of king. Is it yours?