It’s the Passover season, so there are hundreds of thousands of people who had traveled for miles to celebrate their story of deliverance from Egyptian slavery and to offer sacrifices to God so that their sins would be forgiven, God’s judgment would pass over them, and their relationship with God would be restored for the coming year.
And it’s just chaotic . . . all of these people jam packed into those narrow little streets of Jerusalem. Shoulder to shoulder. Arm to arm. Body to body. You couldn’t walk.
This was a mad house. But even with all of the chaos . . . they are excited to be there because when they gather together for the Passover, it’s an opportunity to re-tell their story.
They remember together how it all started. “There we were, long ago, filthy, exhausted, aching, hungry slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but one night, God came, and delivered us! Next thing you know we were crossing the Red Sea into freedom! God saved us from Pharaoh!”
They could not tell that story often enough . . . because “Memory is hope,” . . . It gets you worked-up just thinking about it.
But God didn’t just save his people once . . . because of their rebellion he had to do it again! God’s people were conquered and captured by the Babylonians too. And for seventy years they were away from their land while their temple lay in ruins.
But God saved them from the Babylonians! And they returned, and they rebuilt.
But the people of God continued to rebel and once again they were conquered and captured . . . this time by the Greeks and once again God had to save them. And when they defeated the Greeks, the leader of their revolt, Simon the Maccabee, came riding into Jerusalem triumphantly on a war horse as people waved palm branches in celebration . . . seems kind of weird but this is what you do when conquering kings triumphantly enter into the city.
So now, here they all are, for another Passover celebration. And everybody is thinking the same thing: “God could do it again. If he wanted to, God could do to the Romans what he did to the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Greeks. God could save us from the Romans!”
The Romans are no fools. They know what Passover celebrates. They know what Liberation memories do inside the heads of conquered people. They know crowds, and they know about crowd-control.
So each year at Passover, Pilate leaves his sea-side palace and comes to Jerusalem. He does not travel alone and he doesn’t travel lightly. He comes with Chariots and Legionaries on horses, Roman flags flying, the clank of armor and beating of drums. This procession is designed to be a display of Roman imperial power. Their message . . . Resistance is futile.
So from the West we have the imperial army marching in . . . the people scattering in fear and from the East we have completely different kind of processional.
Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem, his final destination; he’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising people from the dead . . . and so he has thousands of people following him wherever he goes.
This has all the makings of a triumphal entry . . . but his entrance is almost comic.
There he is, riding a donkey, not a big war horse like Pilate’s. In fact this young donkey has never been ridden; and so it’s most likely not happy to have its first rider. And I’m sure it doesn’t cooperate easily.
It’s really an awkward scene, but as the people see it unfold they start getting ideas; they begin to remember the words of the prophets and they begin to wonder could this be the king that the prophet Zechariah spoke of? “Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” - (Zech 9:9)
Could this be that guy? The King?
And so, as Jesus enters into the city on the back of a colt, the crowd forms and some begin to spread out their cloaks on the road and others laid down freshly cut palm branches . . . and this was significant because the laying down of cloaks is an act of submission. It’s a symbolic way of saying I believe that you are the one to bring deliverance and restoration and so I lay my life before you.
And then they began shouting; maybe just a few voices at first, almost as if it were a question, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord? But it quickly becomes a crowd of people shouting in unison, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna”
The word Hosanna means . . . “Save us” and you can’t talk about salvation without talking about worship because worship is at the very core of salvation. We worship what we believe brings us hope, security, and identity . . . That’s what we’re seeing here.
People worshipping Jesus as he enters into the city shouting out . . . “Hosanna . . . Save us”
But what the crowd meant by save and what Jesus meant by save are two completely different things.
The crowd says, “Save us from Rome”. They’re tired of being over worked, over taxed and being pushed around . . . So they cry out, “Save us . . . Give us a physical kingdom, right here right now.”
But what Jesus says is, “Yeah, I’ll save you . . . but not from Rome. My salvation is far greater than your problems with Roman rule. My salvation extends to your soul.”
So, Jesus has this big crowd and all this momentum and he could have said, “You know, I have thousands of people. Everyone wants me to be their leader. I could give the people exactly what they want . . . I could lead a revolt and overthrow the Roman government and re-establish a Jewish nation. This could truly be my triumphal entry.”
But there were no high fives, no chanting “We’re number one,” no victory speeches because triumph for Jesus is not about winners and losers but about the fullness of life.
The crowd was chanting at the top of their lungs, “Hosanna . . . Save us.” They wanted to be saved but they have a very specific plan as to how that was to be done
But when Jesus didn’t do what he was “supposed to do”slowly, and gradually, the Hosannas became quieter and quieter and quieter. Then nothing.
By afternoon, another chant had begun, almost in a whisper, “crucify him,” softly, softly, louder, louder and finally bursting with power, “Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify that man. He’s an imposter; a fake. He’s no king, that’s for sure.”
And that’s Jesus’ triumphal entry . . . it doesn’t seem very triumphal does it?
But if we think the triumphal entry is simply Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem we will miss the good news of this day. The triumphal entry is so much bigger than that. It is happening in every place and moment of our lives.
And it began Mary said “Let it be.”
With those words God’s enters human life and history in a physical, tangible, and very personal way.
God’s entry into human life and history is the triumphal entry. Jesus’ life itself is the triumphal entry.
Every point where Jesus’ life and ministry intersects with the reality of our lives becomes a point of triumphal entry.
The triumphal entry is Jesus bringing good news to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, giving sight to the blind, release to the captive, letting the oppressed go free.
The triumphal entry is Jesus including the outcast, setting a place at the banquet for the unacceptable, forgiving sinners, loving the enemy, giving life to the dead.
More often than not, like the people on that day, we want the triumphant Jesus to save us out of the difficult and painful circumstances of our lives and we have a very specific plan as to how he is to do it, but that is not what he does.
Instead he offers himself; all that he is and all that he has. He holds nothing back. Jesus redefines triumph through the life he lived and the death he offered.
- Where triumph for us might look like escaping vulnerability, risk, and suffering,
- Triumph for Jesus means entering into and embracing vulnerability, risk, and suffering.
He enters the very places we would avoid and reveals God’s transformative presence, healing, life, and love. And he offers restoration.
And every time we cloak, or cover up or hide our vulnerabilities . . . the tender, broken, or painful places of our lives . . . we deny the triumphal entry.
We have all cloaked our lives in something – fear, anger, guilt, regret, control and power, sorrow, perfectionism, prejudice, pride, the need for approval.
Each one of us could probably add to that list a cloak we wear. Most of us probably wear more than one cloak. Every cloak we wear separates us from God, each other, and ourselves.
I cannot help but wonder if the palms we carry this day somehow become just another cloak.
Maybe we should be more concerned about the cloaks we wear than the palms we carry.
The triumph of Palm Sunday is not about waving our palms for Jesus. It is not Jesus riding into Jerusalem. The real triumph of Palm Sunday is when we thrown down our cloaks before Jesus.
Those cloaks are the path of Jesus’ triumphal entry into our lives; the deepest, darkest, scariest, ugliest parts of our lives and allow him to become king.
The triumph of Palm Sunday is when we stand vulnerable and exposed to the triumphal entry of God’s life and love and salvation and restoration.
I know that I have brought my cloaks with me this morning . . . they tend to go with me wherever I go.
I guess I’m wondering what brought you here this morning . . . and what cloaks came with you. And do you have a cloak that you’re willing to throw down and leave here at the feet of Christ.
I hope so because there’s plenty of room. So which will it be, waving palms or throwing down cloaks?