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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice: April 2009)
Mar 11:1 And when they came nigh to
, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
Mar 11:2 And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
Mar 11:3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
Mar 11:4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
Mar 11:5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
Mar 11:6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
Mar 11:7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.
Mar 11:8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
Mar 11:9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
Mar 11:10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
Mar 11:11 And Jesus entered into
, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto
with the twelve.
If Easter Sunday speaks of victory, Good Friday of sorrow, then Palm Sunday is all about celebration. In John, the Lord says to Pilate, 'My Kingdom is not of this world,' (or 'not of this world order') and he qualified that by saying 'if it were ... then would my servants fight' and 'my kingdom is 'not from hence' - or 'not from this place'.
Some would try to say this verse discourages any attempt to build the
on earth, or they would even deny that Christ demands righteous government, but the text doesn't quite do all they want. The Lord is simply saying His Kingdom has the authority of heaven, not that of Caesar. He does not say His kingdom is not over the earth, simply that it is not of the earth.
Looking back to the Lord's triumphal entry into
, he does everything possible to say that His Kingdom was or would be a temporal reality. He rode on a donkey, closely fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Zechariah:
Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of
; shout, O daughter of
: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Luke records some of the sympathetic Pharisees urging the Lord to tone the event down by silencing His disciples, but he flatly refuses: 'If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out,' he says (Luke 19:40).
They are clearly worried about the reaction of the authorities, and trying to preserve Him and His ministry, but why are they so concerned? At the time, the Lord had not picked a fight with the Jewish leaders. Mark's account ends with an anti-climax; The Lord Jesus goes to the temple, looks around and then leaves for
and the comforts of the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He would not cleanse the temple until the next day. So what is their problem?
In their book 'The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (2006) argue there were two triumphal processions into
that day. One we know all about. The other, they say, was the entry of Pilate.
Pilate lived in Caesaria Phillipi, not in
. Every Jewish high day and holiday the Roman Governor would decamp into the
in order to be on call if there were any disturbance. He would do so with a massive demonstration of force. With him came chariots, soldiers, weapons, the beating of drums, the blowing of horns, everything, in fact, to intimidate the Jews and make clear who was in charge.
And then, say Borg and Crossan, from the other side of the city, came Jesus, with his procession sending up that of the Romans. There were no drums, no weapons, no threats of force, just a man on a donkey, but a man for all that declaring that he was the rightful King of Jerusalem. So that was what troubled the Pharisaic supporters of Jesus. They thought
would seize Him for sedition.
For all that, He does not seize power, although, in John, we see that is what first worries Pilate, as it worried Herod thirty or so years before, causing him to massacre the innocents. So Pilate's first question to Jesus is: 'Art thou the King of the Jews?' (John 18:33 and Mark 15:2) The question makes sense if Pilate was not already aware of Jesus's triumphal procession. Nevertheless, it is clear from John 18:34-39 that Pilate, having received his reassurance, saw no threat in Jesus, and wanted to release Him. It was only when the Jewish priests switched tack, dumped their blasphemy line of John 19:7 and talked up His claim to be King of the Jews, (John 19:12,15) that they got their way.
And yet, despite the fact that Jesus does not seize power or drive out the Romans, that he is not about party politics, nevertheless, He does bring a political message. His triumphal entry shouts out that God has created government for His purpose, for the establishment of justice and peace. All the events of the Lord's life say that I am my brother's keeper, I dare not wash my hands of injustice or pass by on the other side.
Nor dare I stay in the safe hills of
. Jesus urges us to be dangerous, to take a risk, to challenge the ruling clique. He invites us to join Him as He establishes His kingdom, to play the man and stand up for Him. Many of His followers paid the ultimate price for following Him.
Ahead of Jesus lies the Cross, with its agony and shame, on which He would lay down His life that we might live, and the other side of that is the triumph of His glorious Resurrection.
But Palm Sunday is an integral part of our call to action. May we crucify the old self and rise to a new, self-giving way of challenge to the ways of injustice and wickedness this Easter.