In light of the fact that Palm Sunday and Easter are coming up, I have spent some time thinking about the triumphal entry and what that scene must have been like. Here’s how it reads in Luke 19:29-38:
As he (Jesus) came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”
And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.
As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.
“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
If we end the account there, it’s a pretty awesome scene. But the story doesn’t end there. In the very next verses Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem and driving the money-changers out of the temple. A few days later, the religious leaders put in play their plot to kill him.
Sometimes in an effort to make the stories of the Bible more palatable, we try to “soften” them a bit. Think of the story of Noah. This was not a darling zoo on wheels. Rather it was the condemnation and destruction of almost the entirety of mankind. Or how about the story of Jonah and the whale? Jonah was not sitting at the table with a lamp dangling from the ceiling of the whale’s insides (yikes). He was experiencing the judgement of God in a very creative way. Daniel in the lion’s den? I have seen pictures in children’s books where the lions, the king of the beasts if you will, are actually smiling lovingly at Daniel. I don’t think so.
In the same vein, on Palm Sunday we think of children waving palm branches and masses of people worshiping Jesus as their king. While those things are a part of the scene, they tell very little of what was really going on.
In his book Who is This Man?, John Ortberg talks about how the palm branch was actually a symbol of Jewish nationalism. Waving palm branches was much like waving a red flag in front of bull. It was an “in your face” gesture to Rome to say that a king was on the scene who would finally overthrow the Roman government–a far cry from innocent children giving allegiance to Jesus. Obviously, the crowds had no idea what Jesus had really come to do.
And it’s a good reminder that Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom in direct opposition to the kingdom of this world. He is a king – absolutely – in fact, He is THE King – unlike any king that has ever reigned on this earth. But to be in step with his kingdom is to be out of step with the world.
I love this time of year. I love the celebration of Easter, the miracle of the resurrection, and the hope we have because Jesus has conquered death. But it is also a good time to be reminded of who he is, what he’s done and what he’s asking of you and me. Do we, in fact, intend to call him “King”?
I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever.
I will praise you every day;
yes, I will praise you forever.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
No one can measure his greatness.
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.
Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;
I will proclaim your greatness.
Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;
they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
The Lord is good to everyone.
He showers compassion on all his creation.
All of your works will thank you, Lord,
and your faithful followers will praise you.
They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
they will give examples of your power.
They will tell about your mighty deeds
and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
You rule throughout all generations. [Psalm 145:1-13]