Everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms. Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule. Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing. Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king. Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem–to die. –Bill Hybels
Today is Palm Sunday, which is a special day in the life of the Church. (Actually, by the time this appears on the blog it will no longer be Palm Sunday because it will be well into the morning of the day after, but that is beside the point.)
A few weeks back I wrote a piece extolling the virtues of Lent and why we need it as a time of preparation leading up to Easter. With the arrival and passage of Palm Sunday, we are now into the final week of Lent. This week is traditionally known as Holy Week.
Palm Sunday is special because it marks Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem prior to his death. This event was considered by the Gospel writers to be of such great significance that all four of them chose to include it in their accounts: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19.
Many of you know this story: Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and the crowds lay palm branches in the street before him and yelled out such things as “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Now the word “Hosanna” is a Hebrew expression which translates literally as “Save”. And we can be sure that the people who yelled out “Hosanna” that day were not thinking “Save us from our sins”. They were thinking “Save us from Rome!”
Fast forward to present-day America, and we will see that not much has changed. Many evangelicals look to Jesus as a political Messiah who will stand behind them and guarantee the rightness of their convictions on abortion, gay marriage, etc. and deliver them from those godless liberals who want to abolish every last shred of decency in our culture. I have ranted rather extensively about this in previous posts.
Many evangelicals believe that Jesus is the guarantor of their material happiness, health, and wealth. The word-faith movement has existed for several decades as a fringe movement, but thanks to Joel Osteen, word-faith ideas are now gaining widespread acceptance in mainstream evangelicalism. I have also written extensively about my issues with Joel Osteen in previous posts and will not rehash them here.
But I cannot absolve myself when it comes to having agendas of my own that I want Jesus to get behind. For starters, I want a wife. I have written about my frustrations in this regard in previous posts as well.
I also want him to provide direction for my life. I have expected him to give me some sort of clear indication as to what direction he wishes me to go, and it is with chagrin that I have found myself trying to figure things out on my own.
But in the days following Palm Sunday, it quickly became clear that Jesus had his own agenda. It was different from the agendas of the people who lined the streets and waved palms for him that day, different from the agendas that we have in the present moment. It was: to die.
In John’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he notes that some Greeks were looking for Jesus. They found Philip, Philip tracked down Andrew, and they both went to see Jesus with this news. Now this would have been a perfect opportunity for Jesus to evangelize–say, to bust out the Four Spiritual Laws or the Roman Road or the Bridge or what have you. Notice how Jesus responds instead:
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:23-26)
The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth were to predict his death. Jesus knew what those Greeks who were looking for him really needed; just as he knew what all the people of Jerusalem who were waving palms for him really needed, and just as he knows what all of us really need.
We don’t need Jesus to evangelize anyone. We don’t need Jesus to take leadership of the political system or to guarantee the rightness of our political convictions. We don’t need Jesus to be our guarantor of physical happiness, health, and wealth.
What we really need is for him to die. And that is exactly what he came to Jerusalem to do this week.