Easter is upon us and we are moving through Holy Week 2016 already; I can never seem to keep in touch with time before it is already moving past me. I feel like a kid trying to hold water in their hands only to see it all slip through. This week I am going to try and post a daily reflection to take us through the timeline of Jesus’ final week of his earthly ministry before his death, burial, and resurrection. I hope that this is beneficial for you and your family as you reflect over this week and remember the great sacrifice our God has provided to restore a right relationship with him again.
Readings for Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1, Mark 11:1, Luke 19:29, and John 12:12
I’ve been through this section of the Gospels numerous times; yet every time I seem to catch a different angle or perspective of the situation. This year I was intrigued by the crowds that were part of the scene. On Palm Sunday, during the Triumphal Entry, it seems as though Jesus was the biggest celebrity in the area. Similar to a red carpet lineup to some big awards show, all of the other famous people (i.e. – the Pharisees and Sadducees) were overshadowed by the entrance of Jesus and his entourage (the Disciples). If this were a red carpet runway walk all of the cameras were now focused on Jesus and the crowd was cheering for him as he entered.
This, however, was not just a celebrity event; instead, it was (to those of Jesus’ day) a political event as well. These crowds in Jerusalem saw Jesus not just as a famous prophet and teacher but as a conquering king. Reminiscent of King Solomon riding a donkey during his crowning procession, Jesus rides in like a monarch about to be crowned by his people during a massive celebration. In the ancient Middle Eastern culture, when a king went out to war he rode a horse; but when we came into his kingdom bringing peace he rode on a donkey (see Judges 5, 10, 12, and 2 Samuel 16 for more examples of this in Scripture).
This is of vital importance to understanding the events of Palm Sunday. The people saw Jesus as their Messiah (or ‘anointed one’) sent by God himself to lead Israel out of the domination of Roman Empire and back to their former glory and splendor. They envisaged Jesus conquering the enemies of Israel as the king of old once did. This was not just a poor teacher coming into Jerusalem; to them, it was their new king coming to take his rightful place as the ruler of the people. They welcomed him so openly that they would not even allow his donkey to walk on the bare streets; instead, they cut down palm branches to lay on the road or even surrendered their own coats to have their new king’s donkey to walk upon.
Yet, this ecstatic celebration would be quickly transformed into a rioting mob not even one week later. In just a few short days, these same people who cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” would be crying out “Crucify him!” and “We have no king but Caesar!” The same mob who rallied behind Jesus as he came into Jerusalem would follow him to Golgotha to see him be put to death by the Romans. Their cries of support would soon become shouts of insult and mockery.
What would make such a group of people change so much so fast? The answer is surprisingly simple: Jesus was not the person they wanted him to be. They wanted a conquering king and not a humble servant. They wanted a mighty warrior and not a meek teacher. They wanted someone who would restore the Kingdom of Israel, not someone seeking to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth. In short, they wanted a king who would satisfy their temporary desires instead of one who was focused on eternity.
Throughout the Gospels we see this same motif occur again and again; the people misunderstand the plans of Jesus and expect him to do things he never intended to do. They were more concerned about being fed fish and break miraculously by Jesus rather than receive him as the Bread of Life. They wanted him to heal their diseases for this life rather than worry about him forgiving their sins in light of eternity. They wanted to see him fight the rule of the Romans rather than tell them to serve humbly and pray for their enemies. Jesus was not the king they wanted, even though he was exactly the king they needed (yes, I do realize that sounds eerily similar to the line in the recent Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight’).
The crowds were willing to change so quickly and go from celebrating Jesus’ entry to cheering on his death because they felt as though Jesus was a fake and not who they thought he was. Sadly, I see this very same thing happen all the time with American Christians. We have the bad habit (that is spurred on by our selfish, consumerist society) of wanting have things our way and get them when we want them. God does not function that way. He is who he is (he told Moses he was the ‘I AM that I AM’) and he does not change (see Hebrews 13:8) no matter what we want him to do.
This can be a struggle because God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55) and his ways of thinking are focused differently than ours are. We get so focused on the here and now rather than being focused on eternity and we expect God to conform to our ways of doing things. This causes us to doubt God and believe that he is not who we thought he was. Like the crowds on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago, we are trying to fit God into our box like a genie who exists to do what we want. That’s simply not who he is.
As you go through today I encourage you to begin to change how you look at your life and God. Instead of asking God to do things for you try to focus more on what you can do to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Rather than expecting God to give you earthly treasures try to focus more on your heavenly ones. Don’t be swayed easily like the crowds but stand firm on the knowledge that God’s plans are always going to work out better than our own. Don’t let culture or your circumstances dictate your view of God but rather look to the cross and see God’s love for what it really is.