This Sunday, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday. Many people celebrate this day as the beginning of Holy Week, the observance of Christ’s passion. It got its name from the gospels which record Christ entering Jerusalem on a young donkey colt. There were crowds placing palm branches on the ground as a sort of carpet upon which the colt walked. And the people were shouting words from Psalm 118 in acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus.
“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38, ESV)
It seems a stark contrast between the glory of Palm Sunday and the crucifixion which would occur in a few days. I want to suggest that the divergence is not as great as most of us generally think. For years attending church, and for years as a preacher, I have never really preached beyond the short story of Palm Sunday as presented in Matthew through John. However, I have come to believe that I stopped reading too soon.
It is appropriate to worship Christ as King and the words of Psalm 118 do speak of the Messiah. I am not sure what the people were expecting from the Messiah, but Luke gives us a clue when he writes, “for all the mighty works that they had seen…” If I were present on that day, I probably would have expected the Messiah to deliver us from all other nations who had oppressed us, especially the Romans.
But what happens next changes that for me.
“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”” (Luke 19:41–44, ESV)
Jesus was not cheering. Jesus was weeping because he knew that the Hebrew nation was in for a shocking reality. Jesus did not come to deliver the people in the way they thought, or in the way they wanted. Jesus did not come as a politician or a warrior. He had repeatedly told his disciples that he came to be a servant. Take a moment to reflect on what service Jesus provided:
Payment for sin and reconciliation to God.
Cleansing from unrighteousness and granting justification.
Bringing peace and love back into a broken world.
Yes, Jesus did come to be the Messianic King to sit on the throne of David forever. However, the throne was not going to come easy. He was worthy because he was sinless. But as a lamb without spot or blemish, he was not fully effective until he died as the one great sacrifice offered to God.
The word passion makes us think of emotion. On this one day, we see Jesus in melancholy riding a donkey, weeping over the people God had loved but who had not loved him back, turning over tables cleaning the abusers from the temple, the house of prayer.
Palm Sunday is a day to rejoice the Jesus is the Christ. It is also a day to weep for all in humanity that refuses to acknowledge his as such. The deeper joy will come in a week. But for now, our hearts ache for the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of all those who do not know him or love him.
My next entry in this blog will reflect on the amazing world-wide shift that would occur from the death of the King to the death of a covenant.