In all four New Testament gospels, we are given an account of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. We commemorate this day by celebrating Palm Sunday. Many churches use palm branches in their worship services in the way the crowds came out in droves to lay their coats and palm branches in the road under the feet of their Messiah. While Jesus knew He was entering the city for the specific purpose of His death, the crowds surged with enthusiasm that their prophesied deliverer had finally arrived. Jesus’ ministry hit its fever pitch on the day of his arrival to Jerusalem.
Biblically, we aren’t specifically told that the same crowd that welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday was the same crowd that advocated for His crucifixion or that they were the crowd that jeered and spit at Him on the way to the cross, but we do know, at least, that the masses that welcomed Him were nowhere to be found as Jesus was led to His fate. Perhaps this was because they had been manipulated by the Pharisees, or they felt confused once this “savior” had been taken captive and beaten (what kind of Savior would allow that to happen,) or possibly it was because Jesus didn’t turn out to be the person they thought he would be when He rode triumphantly into town a week earlier.
The people of Israel were under the occupation of the Roman Empire. They had interpreted the Old Testament prophecies of a Savior to mean that someone was coming to free them from the government rule of foreign powers. When Jesus arrived on the scene they worshiped Him thinking he was there to kick the Roman’s out and become a king like David. Even Jesus’ closest followers who had been with Him for years figured this would be the time they would start building a physical castle with thrones. It’s why, even after His resurrection, they asked questions like:
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)
The problem with this thinking was that Jesus never intended to overthrow Caesar; it was never His plan to run Pilate or even Herod out of town. For better or worse the Roman occupation was to continue, Jesus hadn’t come to remove kings from their earthly thrones, it was the throne of their hearts that Jesus was seeking. Jesus didn’t want to build a castle in the “here and now,” instead when standing before Pilate on the day of His death, Jesus said:
“My Kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36a (ESV)
There is a lesson we must learn from the people in attendance at the first Palm Sunday. It’s easy to sing praises to God while we are experiencing prosperity, and it’s easy for us to tell others of His greatness when life is on course, but what do we do when Jesus doesn’t do what we want Him to do? Are we still on board with God’s ways when they aren’t our ways?
Recently I had to work on a Hot water heater at our house. After hours of wrestling with a heating element that had rusted into place, I pleaded with God for help. I made the customary promise that if God would help me get the part off of the tank that I would give Him the thanks that He was due. Before God had a chance to remind me who was in charge, I stopped, realizing just how circumstantial my relation with God can be at times. My prayer quickly changed from “If you help me get this problem fixed, I will give you thanks,” to “God I am thanking You now for how good you’ve been, and give me a heart that will still be singing to you when I lay down in bed tonight, regardless what happens between now and then.”
This was a turning point; my heart had turned from circumstantial worship, to simply wishing to honor God whatever would happen in the situation. This is the opposite of what happened during the week between Palm Sunday and Jesus execution, but I have no stones to throw at the crowd, but often my heart is no different from theirs. My prayer for myself and for you in this Easter season is that we won’t continue to fall victim to only worshiping and being thankful to God when life is going our way. Let it be our prayer that this evening will find us still singing God’s praise, no matter what happens during our day.
Grace and peace to you.