Zechariah 9:9-10Luke 19:28-42Philippians 2:5-11
Almost everyone loves a parade. The happy procession, the hoopla and the excited crowds all help create a party atmosphere. Maybe that’s what makes the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem so appealing to us.
When I think of the original Palm Sunday I imagine people dancing and singing as they run along-side of Jesus as He rides along on an ass. It is easy for me to visualize children waving palm branches as they prance about at the head of the glad party.
If I try real hard I can almost see Jesus with a broad smile on His face as He watches the jubilant crowd lay out their clothes and leafy branches in front of Him that He might travel over them. But our gospel text for this morning tends to spoil my pleasant picture of the original Palm Sunday by throwing in that unexpected observation that when Jesus saw Jerusalem He wept.
A weeping Jesus seems so out of place in the elated crowd. Especially when we realize that His weeping was not a discreet shedding of tears. Rather, the Greek word suggests that He sobbed in sorrow. To weep like that at such an apparently happy occasion seems almost in bad taste, like crying at a party. It is just downright inconsiderate of other people’s feelings, ruining the festive mood.
What would cause Jesus to do such a thing? Perhaps there is another question we need to ask first. Why was the clamoring crowd so joyous? What was it that created the excitement in the multitude that caused them to cry out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”? What was it that inspired their enthusiasm?
In one word, the answer is “hope.” The people saw in Jesus the fulfillment of their hope. In Him they saw a liberator whom they believed would lead them in a fight for freedom against the Romans who occupied their land and dominated the people of Israel. They expected a leader whom God would send them, a leader who would empower them against their Roman enemies so that they might drive the oppressors out of their land and Israel could again experience the glory that was their nation’s during the time of King David.
And they had good reason to believe that Jesus was the one they awaited. After all, Jesus did fulfill the words of the prophet Zechariah who spoke of Israel’s promised King coming to his people riding on an ass (Zechariah 9:9-10).
The people couldn’t contain themselves when they saw that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy. They were convinced that He was the Messiah who would topple the old order and initiate the new era. Thus they were delirious with joy and they didn’t hesitate proclaiming Jesus as the “King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The people were right …. and wrong. Jesus was indeed the King they had long awaited but He was not the sort of king they envisioned. If they would have reflected a little more deeply on the prophecy in Zechariah they would not have grown so disillusioned by the end of the week.
They wanted a warrior king who would lead them in clashing arms against arms with their enemies. They wanted a king who in the name of God and freedom would spill the blood of their oppressors, break the Roman yoke, and tear down the Roman standard that stood over their land. They wanted a king who would wrestle Israel out of the hands of Caesar and his forces so that their nation might once again determine its own destiny. Certainly these desires are understandable enough.
But Jesus had no intention of being a political rival of Casar, at least not in terms of what we normally think of as political. For Jesus did not endeavor to create for Himself an imperial power like that of Rome, nor would He offer His leadership or support to those who longed to confront their enemies on the battlefield in a contest of strength against strength. Yes, if the people would have paid closer attention to how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah they would not have been so disappointed with Jesus later.
For He did not enter Jerusalem on a prancing war-horse. Rather, He came clip-clopping along on a donkey, thus symbolizing His kingship as one of peace. It was not naked force, blood and steel that characterized this king but the willingness to serve those who were in need.
Those who believe that power politics are the only effective way of making an impact upon the world look upon the way of Jesus with scorn. I’m sure it was with a laugh that Pilate asked Jesus a few days later, “Are you the king of the Jews?” You, you ragged and dusty little man, you who have no weapons, you who have no army, are you the king of the Jews? What a joke!
The soldiers who tormented Jesus on the night after he was betrayed by Judas also viewed His kingship as something funny. And so with cruel humor they shoved a crown of thorns upon His head and in mockery bowed before Him. A clown king, this Jesus.
I’m sure Pilate and Caesar, along with most of the political leaders throughout the ages would agree with Bismarck, “Those with God on their side have the biggest battalions.” Jesus knew that those with God on their side have no use for battalions. But their conviction is laughable to those who do not see the world through the eyes of faith as Jesus did.
What Jesus did on that first Palm Sunday was to demonstrate that the quality of His rule stands in sharp contrast to that of Caesar. Jesus came as a king of peace. Of course, everyone wants peace as an end. But for Jesus it was not only an end but a means to the end. Peace was not just a goal to be attained somewhere down the road. It was the way He walked down the road of life.
The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was maintained by force of arms. It was a security built upon superior military might. But it was the sort of security and the sort of strength that Jesus rejected. Unfortunately, His followers didn’t.
On the very night on which He was betrayed, after Jesus had His last supper with them, the apostles began to argue with each other about which of them was to be considered the greatest. They still imagined that Jesus would be a power-wielding king and each of them wanted to be His right-hand man with all the authority and glory that would accompany the position.
Again Jesus had to straighten them out by telling them that His kind of rule is utterly unlike that of Caesar and other power brokers. He says, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them … but it shall not be so among you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26).
Jesus rejected the rule of power and chose instead to fight His battles through the strength of love and persuasion. He resisted the temptation to allow security to be a controlling factor in His life. He did not cling to the power that was at His fingertips.
Rather, as our epistle text proclaims, though Jesus “was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). It was in a state of apparent powerlessness that He lived and died. But even in what appeared to be His defeat, the victory of God was being accomplished. But His followers failed to see it.
So as the glad procession accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem, glorifying God on His behalf, Jesus wept. He wept because He knew that they praised God, not because of who Jesus was but because of who they wanted Him to be. He wept because He knew that even though they sang, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” they would never experience peace on earth.
“Would that you knew the things that make for peace,” Jesus cried, “but now they are hid from your eyes.” He knew that Jerusalem was destined to destruction because of the political maneuvers, power plays and intrigue in which the Jews were determined to involve themselves. Their destruction would come even as the church was breaking forth with new life. And even though the downfall of Jerusalem was a fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus wept over it.
His grief announced the end of an old age and the beginning of a new one. Though Jesus knew that God was in control, He wept over the coming fulfillment of prophecy for He recognized that the new does not come without anguish. Jesus stands in sharp contrast to our contemporary prophecy buffs who announce the end of the world in such a cavalier manner. Jesus wept because He saw that those who trusted in power and violence were bringing destruction upon themselves.
Today as we praise Jesus we need to ask ourselves if we, too, sing and rejoice before our Lord because of who He is or because of who we want Him to be. We also need to ask ourselves whether or not we are the sort of people He calls us to be, people who choose His way and not the way of Caesar and the power-brokers. For if we are not, even in the midst of our jubilation and songs of praise, Jesus may yet be weeping.