This Sunday marks Palm Sunday, the day when the church remembers Jesus' triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. At Riverview, we mark this Sunday by singing triumphant hymns, and watching as cute preschoolers march down the center aisle, waiving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!" Additionally, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week - the final week of Jesus' life - when we remember his crucifixion, death, and subsequent resurrection.
But the celebration of Palm Sunday has often confused me, and still does. Aside from the fact that Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem fulfilled scripture (Zechariah 9.9, Psalm 118.25-26), and the fact that Israel's rightful king was entering into her capital city, I don't see much to celebrate. If anything, the "celebration" that took place on the original Palm Sunday only served to show that Jesus is the kind of king the people don't really want.
There has been some scholarly debate recently over whether or not the crowd who cried "Hosanna!" on the day of Jesus' entry was the same crowd that cried "Crucify him!" just a week later. John Ensor says that the two crowds were distinct, and that those who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday were not the same as those who called for his execution later in the week, whereas Dave Miller thinks the two groups were one in the same.
My opinion? It doesn't really matter. Regardless of which crowd you find yourself in - either the "Hosanna!" crowd, or the "Crucify!" crowd - when it all boils down, Jesus isn't the kind of king you want.
Obviously those in the "Crucify!" crowd didn't want Jesus to be their king. If they did, they certainly wouldn't be calling for his execution. But I would also argue that those who declared "Blessed is he who comes in name of the Lord!" also didn't really want Jesus to be their king. The reason for this is that Jesus wasn't the kind of king they wanted.
The people wanted a national king - a king who would re-establish Israel as a world-power; a king who would release them from he tyrannical grip of Rome; a king who would bring them peace and prosperity; a king who would assert their dominance as an international force to be reckoned with, like in the days of king David; a king that would rule over the nations, with Israel as its head. Israel wanted a king that would align himself with a predetermined political agenda. That is who they thought he was, and that is what they thought he would do, and that is why they shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
Even Jesus' closest friends and followers - his disciples - were very confused on this issue. They thought that Jesus' kingdom would be an earthly one - one over which they would help him rule. This is why they asked to sit at his right and left hand when he came into his kingdom (Mark 10.37). Presumably, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples probably thought that all they had imagined about his (supposedly earthly) kingdom was about to come true. And even when Jesus was about to ascend into heaven after his resurrection, his disciples thought that he was still going to establish an earthly kingdom (Acts 1.6). Put simply, the crowds who shouted "Hosanna!" - and even the disciples - didn't know what kind of king Jesus was.
But they would learn, and quickly. Right after Jesus went into Jerusalem, he "cleansed" the temple by driving out all of the merchants and their wares, essentially condemning the corruption that had become a regular part of Jewish religious life. To drive the point home, he declared Jerusalem spiritually bankrupt and publicly condemned its religious leaders and teachers.
"Wait a minute," the people say, "maybe this guy isn't who we thought he was..."
Jesus didn't enter Jerusalem to establish a new or continuing earthly kingdom in Israel. He didn't come to defeat their enemies and set Israel up as a leader on the world stage. He wasn't the kind of king they wanted.
We want a king who will do what we tell him to do, not the other way around. Or, as my mentor Dave Wick used to say, "Most people want to serve God in an advisory capacity." That is, we're happy to shout "Hosanna!" as long as the king does what we want him to do. What we want is a king who thinks and does exactly like we do. We want to be our own king. I am the kind of king I want.
But this is not the kind of king Jesus is. Jesus will not be forced into a political agenda; Jesus will not be subservient to your desire to obtain a prosperous life. Instead, Jesus is the kind of king who is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1. 15-20).
Is that the kind of king you want? Because that's the kind of king Jesus is, and that is what he came to do.
If we will know Jesus for who he truly is, then we will not set him up on some man-made pedestal that he was never meant to be on (as many of even his own followers did in the first century), and then become angry when he doesn't live up to our selfish expectations of him. Jesus came to fulfill his purposes, not mine.
Palm Sunday is a time for us to know who Jesus is, in truth. It is a time for us to submit ourselves to Jesus' kingship, rule, and reign. It is a time to remember the kind of King he is, and to worship him in spirit and in truth. It is a time to remember that my own rulership of the world only leads to sin and sadness, and that his way leads to life. It is a time to submit my own will and desires to his sovereign rule. It is a time to repent of trying to force the will of God into my own agenda. It is a time to trust and rejoice in our good King.