T HIS WEEK, HOLY WEEK, we’re asking four questions of Jesus. The first comes today as we once again wave palms and hear the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem surrounded by shouts of praise, joy, singing, anticipation.
It’s a question on the minds of the whole city on this dramatic day. Are you the Savior?
So, let’s look at the question from three views.
First, the people of Jerusalem. We read “the whole city is stirred and asks, ‘who is this?’” It seems the residents of Jerusalem have no previous experience of Jesus. They don’t know him. They are curious. Who is this man and why is he riding into town on a donkey?
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LIKE MATTHEW 2, where the whole city of Jerusalem is troubled with news of the birth of a rival king, so now, the whole city is shaken by what’s going on. Jerusalem sides with the establishment. The city is allied with the high priests and scribes. The status quo. Don’t rock the boat. Keep the peace. There are such people today. They do not know Jesus. They put their trust in other things and people. Perhaps there are people you know asking about Jesus, “Who is this?” How would you respond?
The crowd has marched with Jesus. They have heard him teach, have seen him and know him. From the excitement and the shouts you’d think they answer, “Yes, Jesus is the Savior!”
They re-enact previous generations of kings coming into the capital city. Waving tree branches, spreading coats on the ground replays the triumphs of military success. The royal procession of Solomon, son of David, in 1 Kings.
Jehu in 2 Kings: 13 They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Or more recently, about 200 years before Palm Sunday, when Simon Maccabeus was victorious and for a short time Israel gained independence. “The Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” (1 Macabees) So, the excitement of the crowd is more enthusiasm for a military victor than for a religious savior.
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THE PEOPLE SHOUT “HOSANNA!” Originally that was a prayer, “Save, we beg you,” but by the time of Jesus, it’s little more than a festive shout, a religious hurrah. The shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is more of political chant than divine. The crowd says all the right words but those words are not backed up by their lives as we see later in the week. They use the right words, but they still miss the point.
Jesus doesn’t say much of his being king or Son of God or Messiah or Savior. He “speaks” through his actions. When specifically asked by the high priest, “tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus responds that yes, he is the Messiah, the anointed one from God. But mostly, he says look at his life, his actions.
Jesus carefully choreographs the entry into Jerusalem. Influenced by Zechariah’s prophecy of a meek king who rides not on a war horse but on a donkey, Jesus redefines the nature of kingship. Jesus is the savior who redefines the nature of salvation.
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JESUS IS REVERSAL. Not triumphant and victorious but humble and gentle. Not a savior to free from political adversity but a savior to free from sin and ourselves. Jesus is the meek king who conquers by suffering. He is mocked, not praised. Ridiculed, not revered.
Jesus is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The crowds are right in their shouts and praise. He is the answer to John the Baptist’s question, “Are you the one to come or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3–4) “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
His whole life and death is evidence of being the Savior. His genealogy. His birth and place of birth. His teachings. His love. His forgiving. His healing. His suffering. His death. In word and deed, Jesus proves he is the One sent by God to bring fulfillment to God’s plan for humanity. He is God’s long-awaited promise. God’s saving grace for humanity.
His true identity is recognized by a Roman soldier who saw and heard all that was going on. As he watches Jesus die on the cross, he proclaims, “Surely he was the Son of God.”
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TODAY, ARE YOU LIKE the people of Jerusalem? Do you question who Jesus is? Maybe you see yourself in the crowd. You say the right things about Jesus and salvation but live differently. Today is the day to shout “Hosanna!” See, hear, believe the good news. Jesus Christ is sent from God. Jesus is the Savior of the world who gave his life for you and me. He loves you with never-ending love. He is the Son of God.