So here we are once again at the beginning of another remembrance of Holy week; the time in our year where we get to the heart of what our Christian faith is all about. This time of the year where Jesus Christ and that journey that he made some two thousand years ago to his death on that cross, is the focus of our thoughts and attention.
This week begins today known as Palm Sunday with a Gospel reading from Luke chapter 19: A reading that is full of irony.
In this Gospel we hear about how Jesus sent some of his disciple’s head of him, with specific instructions to find an unridden donkey. As he then comes into Jerusalem, for what we know is his last time, they put Jesus on it. And as he is riding, a large number of his followers were there waving palm branches, throwing their clothes on the ground in front him. They were joyfully praising “… God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’(v38). They cried out to him as he went by.
When the people of Israel in the Old Testament times welcomed home their kings from victory, they did so by waving around palm branches, they also threw their cloaks on the ground for the king to walk over. The fact that these people were doing this was making it clear that Jesus to them was a king. They were jubilant and you get a sense of them knowing that something great was about to happen. The true king of David was finally coming home. His followers and disciples were there and they were bearing witness to him praising God for all the miracles they had seen. They were looking back at the deeds of their king, and rejoicing at what he had done. At the same time they were looking ahead. Looking forward with great expectation to what their king was about to do. They were on the eve of a great victory where their king would rule again.
These people were proclaiming Jesus as a king and the truth is that his is, but the irony here is that this true king of David was not a king they knew or one they wanted.
They wanted a king who was going to claim victory over the Roman Empire. The Romans had ruled Jerusalem for many years and the Jews were being oppressed. They were longing to be free, they were expecting the Romans to be ousted and Israel brought back to its glory days of King David, and Jesus was there man to do it.
The crowd expected their king to come and to clean up the religious hierarchy. The religious leaders of that time, while outwardly devout, we very corrupt and also added to oppression of the people.
This king was going to come and reign with truth and justice and God himself was going to bless his people Israel once again. And now was the time for this to happen.
But it did not happen as they expected. This king did not play his part. And for this he paid a high price, in fact it cost him his very life.
This king, Jesus Christ, was fighting a different battle. He was walking a different journey. As he rode to Jerusalem he was being assaulted by the sins of the people. The sin of jealousy which, eventually drove them to want Jesus out of the way. He was riding towards the sin of fear because if Jesus was becoming too popular then people would lose their power and control; Jesus was riding towards the sin of greed, as many loved money over God’s mercy which they showed when Jesus challenged their money-making schemes in the temple. Jesus our king was riding his way to battle and to victory over the real enemy, your and my sin. And even greater than that Jesus our king was riding towards the battle and victory over death.
What those who were waving about palm branches and sing shouts of praise did not get was that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem as a king and he was coming to save his people from the enemy, but the enemy was not some Roman soldiers or religious leaders. Jesus was riding to face against the very enemies that haunt you and me. He was going to battle against the dark places in our hearts and minds. He was taking on our worst enemies: sin, that infests and overruns this world we live in, and even Satan himself. But his biggest enemy that Jesus was riding towards was ultimately our greatest enemy—death and the grave. This is the journey that our Lord Jesus was heading for and which you and I know he won.
We live in a world today, that still cannot see this. Many people want a king-Jesus who is how they want him to be. They want to King who will make everything easy for them in life. They want a King who will not interfere with their happiness; They want a King who will not challenge them, but give them what they want. They don’t want a king who walks in humility; they don’t want a King who walks with people in their suffering and pain; they don’t want a King who challenges them; they don’t want a King who deals once and for all with their sin. Now it would be easy for us to sit back and judge the Jews and Romans for what they did in crucifying our Lord Jesus during this Holy Week, but the reality is the sin that drove them to do this is also our sin. The Jesus who is and the Jesus we want, often don’t match.
The Jesus who told some of his disciples to go and find a colt to ride into Jerusalem on, knew what he was riding into. He knew what he was facing. These events did not take him by surprise. He knew he was walking with his Heavenly Father; he knew what he was taking on. He knew the opposition that he was going to face; he knew that crowds’ praises of him would prove shallow, when their expectations of him weren’t met; he knew that some of the same people shouting praises on this day, would in a few days abandon him; he knew he would face tremendous suffering and pain and even death.
But Jesus as our true King kept his eyes on the ultimate prize: the defeat death once and for all. It is because Jesus was faithful to His father’s will that we can see now, along with the disciples that Jesus’ victory was more than dealing with a Roman soldiers and religions leaders. His victory is over everything that sin and death could do to you and me.
He was willing to pay the ultimate price for the victory over our enemies. He did this for you and me so that we may stand with him in his victory. This is the great irony: in dying his death on that cross for you and me, something which to this day is seen as offensive to many, he acted as our true King and saved us from our enemy.
Palm Sunday in our church year is about worshiping our Lord Jesus as the King that he is, not the king that we often want him to be, but the King that he is as he demonstrated his love of us by his actions.
My encouragement to you all this coming Easter weekend is to use this time to think about wherever you are in your life with Jesus. I encourage you to reflect upon this coming week just how determined Jesus was to face down sin and death for you. So that we can share in his victory.