Palm Sunday was yesterday, marking the beginning of Holy Week. A week when Christians remember Jesus’s path toward crucifixion and His subsequent overcoming of death. While both Palm Sunday and Easter are filled with joy, the joy of Palm Sunday is striking in how the crowd was joyful – at least in part – for the wrong reasons.
When the people hailed Jesus as the coming King that day he entered into Jerusalem, they greeted Him rightly as a King, but they did not understand what kind of King they needed. They saw Him coming in and thought he would free them from the Roman Empire’s oppression and make their earthly lives better.
In short order, their loyalties switched, leading to the mob that could shout “Crucify Him” just days later. It would seem they felt the risk of Roman wrath became greater than their excitement over the Messiah when they saw that Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem was so he could turn the tables over in the temple, teach and heal, not start a worldly revolution.
Jesus was not the sort of revolutionary king they thought they were hailing, a point He made quite clear when appearing before Pilate a few days later:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.
All people – then and now — needed the kind of King Jesus really is: a king who would rescue them from sin and bring them into the presence of God restored. Restoration from a world broken and disfigured by our sinfulness. But, what they wanted was a bit more freedom and a bit more money.
Jesus’s kingdom was more revolutionary than they realized, but because they were focused on wanting a bandage to earthly political troubles, they did not see it.
Has anything really changed since then?
Today, there are more than 2 billion people around the world who claim the name of Jesus as their Savior. Ostensibly, we all claim Him as our Messiah – that is, God’s chosen King – and, in fact, God Himself. Yet, there are also approximately 2 billion of us in the world who regularly miss what Jesus is really about just as those Palm-Sunday-Celebrators-turned-Good-Friday-rejectors did a couple of millennia ago.
As I scroll through social media – something I am increasingly trying to do less of – I see friends and acquaintances on both sides of the political aisle clamoring for a bit more freedom (in regards to whichever causes they want the government to give them more “freedom” in) and a bit more money (be it lower taxes, cheaper gas or more affordable healthcare).
Somehow, a remarkable amount of the time, Jesus gets invoked in these demands. “Jesus would support this policy. Praise God for ‘our side’ and may He put the idiots on the ‘other side’ in their place.” If you are on social media, you know I am not using hyperbole here.
If our social media invokes Jesus, but primarily to promote our chosen political or societal causes, and not for the sake of turning to Him, repenting of our sins and resting in His love, we are joining in the palm wavers hailing the idea of some Messianic leader of our own imagining. In seeking what we think will revolutionize the world, we miss the real revolution.
Thinking back to just this millennia’s presidential administrations, we have been told – alternatingly, as parties switch – that the president at a given time is either all-but-the-Messiah, ushering a new era of compassion and prosperity, or that the president is almost a dead ringer for the Beast of Revelation. In both cases, we shrink down the scope of God’s plan.
Compassionate conservatism; hope and change; making America great again; restoring America’s soul. Politicos run with deeply religiously soaked rhetoric and appeal to the things we as humans clamor for just as the palm-branch-wavers did that day in Jerusalem.
We are taking matters of the salvation and restoration of the universe and treating them as if they were equal to the marginal tax rate or whether the government helps pay off student loans. Those issues are of consequence, just as Roman oppression was, but they will pass just as the Roman Empire did; Jesus’s kingdom will not.
Because we aren’t face-to-face with Jesus like the people of first century Judea were, the temptation to explicitly reject Jesus when He doesn’t devote Himself to our causes of the moment isn’t as strong as it was then. We can instead fool ourselves into thinking Jesus really is focused on ushering in a utopia of the type the political Right or Left would design.
But, just as Jesus rejected the delusions of political grandeur on that first Palm Sunday and the subsequent days, so too He rejects it now. Make no mistake: He does reign as King, but not by “Making America Great Again” or “Restoring the Soul of America.”
He does reign and will be revealed fully as the King, just not as a king of our designs. He wants all of who we are, not our political whims. He didn’t come to make our culture how we think it would be nice; He came to bring us back to Himself.
Our needs are not what we think they are. We don’t need our favorite country to be made great again; we need Him to restore us to His intent for our lives. We don’t need America’s soul to be restored; we desperately need our souls restored.
This Holy Week, let us seek for the Messiah to refashion us to be more like Him, not refashion Him to be more like us.