April 8, 2020
This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day that launches Holy Week in the church calendar. It is kind of an interesting and often misunderstood event. The gospels recorded it as the day that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem setting off a series of events that would end with his crucifixion. He approached Jerusalem from the east, having just raised Lazarus from the dead. News of the event had spread, and the excited masses came out to walk with him to the capital. As Jesus approached the city, riding on the back of a baby donkey, crowds came out from the city and celebrated his arrival. This is what we commemorate on Palm Sunday. However, there’s a lot more to the story than meets the eye. The Jewish crowds would have recognized that Jesus was reenacting the coronation of King Solomon to a degree. Solomon’s reign marked the high point in Israel’s power in the world. Solomon rode on a mule through the same route to his coronation. The crowds called out words that echoed the arrival of a new king. The other thing that they would definitely have seen happening was the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy about God’s chosen one arriving at the temple from the east, through the east gate of the city. Over and over the prophet described this event in his writings. Still today the Jewish people wait for the chosen one to come from the east and enter the city through the east gate. At the time, the crowds saw the arrival of Jesus as a sign that God would deliver them from the oppression they were suffering under Roman rule. They thought a new king was coming to crush the bad guys and save them. In reality, Christ arrived to take punishment for the sins of his people on the cross and rise again on the third day. God’s forgiveness for eternity, and the promise of life after death, is a far greater gift than temporary political victory. But the people in the crowds couldn’t see that possibility because they were so ready to win in this life against the folks they hated. The gospels even record that Jesus stopped and wept over the city’s misunderstanding of what was about to happen. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback toward the situation. Honestly, if I had been in the crowds that day, I would certainly have wanted God to deliver us from the iron fist of Roman rule. I would’ve wanted my nation to take its place on the world stage. However, God is far more interested in our hearts than in our comfort. It’s easy to make the same mistake today. It’s easy to look at difficult circumstances we find ourselves in and wonder why doesn’t God do what we want, when the whole time he is working to purify our hearts and prepare us for eternity. We can look at Jesus and believe that we have to earn his favor or be more good than bad, and he’ll let us into heaven. In reality, Palm Sunday was the celebration that God’s champion over sin and death had arrived. The king that was to be inaugurated rules over a kingdom that is not of this world and not focused on worldly power and influence. It is all about raising the spiritually dead, cleansing us from our sins, and giving free grace to all those who follow him. The celebration on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter are for our adoption into God’s family and our hope that God has and will forgive us without us having to earn it. It is an eternal victory.