What Kind of Messiah Are You Looking For? (A Reflection on Palm Sunday)

John and his friend George went golfing together one Saturday morning as they had for 24 years. They were fanatics about their golf game. Later that day, John returned home completely exhausted and plopped down in his easy chair. His wife was quite concerned since he was more exhausted than usual after his Saturday golf game.

She asked him if something went wrong with the game. He replied, “No, hon, I had the best game in years!

As a matter of fact, I started out the first three holes at 4 under par, including a hole-in-two on the 3rd.” “So why are you so worn out?” she asked. “Well, George had a heart attack and died on the 4th hole.”

“What!? Are you so exhausted from trying to save him?” He said, “No, honey, it was quick and there was nothing anyone could’ve done. BUT AFTER THAT, IT WAS JUST HIT THE BALL, DRAG GEORGE, HIT THE BALL, DRAG GEORGE…”

The GOOD NEWS: John had a great game of golf!

The BAD NEWS: George died and got dragged all over the golf course!

Kind of feels like life right now, doesn’t it? We were all coasting along, minding our own business, making our plans, and WHAM!!! Corona virus broadsides us and train-wrecks every good thing we had going.

Life is full of triumphs and tragedies.

One moment we’re having our best life now. The next moment, life is dragging us all over the course! You’re on top of the world and then suddenly, the world is on top of you! We’re cruising along and WHAM!!!

That’s basically the story of Palm Sunday.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him. Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

(John 12:12-19, NLT)

This entry into Jerusalem is called “The Triumphal Entry.” It is Jesus at the peak of his popularity. Jesus had just done his biggest miracle yet – raising Lazarus from the dead. If anyone doubted his “messiah-ship,” they were skeptics no more. “Look, the whole world has gone after him!” the Pharisees exclaimed as people lined the streets with palm branches (an emblem of victory) shouting, “Hosanna!” (Save now!).

The problem is he wasn’t the kind of messiah they were looking for. They were looking for a political messiah – someone who would lead Israel in a war against their Roman oppressors and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place as the domain of God’s throne.

When he rode into Jerusalem, people saw him as the rightful king coming to take his throne. After all, it was customary for a king to ride into town to claim his throne after a great victory. But there are some key differences here.

Key differences

  1. The celebration. Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign soil, he was given a “Roman triumph” when he returned to the city. It was the Roman equivalent of the American “ticker-tape parade,” only with much more splendor. The victor would be permitted to display the trophies he had won and the enemy leaders he had captured. The parade ended at the arena where some of the captives entertained the people by fighting wild beasts. Compared to a “Roman triumph,” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was nothing.
  2. The transportation. Kings rode horses decorated for battle in times of war. Jesus rode a donkey which was not just a display of humility, but of peace. Why would the Messiah come in peace if he’s going to wage war?
  3. The timing. This sort of triumphal entry typically occurred after a king had won a great battle. Jesus’ entry occurs before his greatest victory.          
  4. The purpose. (See Luke 19:41-44) Jesus IS claiming his throne – not just Jerusalem, but the whole universe – not by taking life, but by giving it.

What kind of Messiah are you looking for?

The people were looking for a messiah who would deliver them from oppression. Jesus came to deliver them from the root of oppression: sin. When he didn’t whip out a sword and start taking out Romans, they picked up their palm branches and went home.  

In the section immediately following the “triumphal entry” in John, Jesus predicts his death.  “The crowd responded, ‘We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?’” (12:34).

They can’t understand. What are you talking about, Jesus? Didn’t you see all those people lining the streets? Aren’t you the Messiah we’ve all been waiting for? Die? No way! This is your moment to shine!

Five days later he was hanging on a tree.

One moment Jesus seems poised to conquer the world. The next moment it seems the world has conquered him.

One moment: triumph.

The next: tragedy.

The way Jesus went from “King of the World” to another “failed-messiah-wannabe” in a matter of days was completely incomprehensible for his followers. It was mind-blowing! Earth-shattering! How could this be? He was going to be our hero.

What kind of messiah are you looking for?

One that will make you rich? Give you success in your chosen career? Deliver you from all your trials and hardships? A life of comfort and ease?

It’s so easy for us to get got up in our own agenda and problems that God becomes just another thing we use to get us what we want. And Jesus is weeping over us like he wept over Jerusalem, sobbing, “They just don’t get it. I have so much more to offer them if they would only ask what I want.”

You see, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, all those people thought, “This is it. Jesus is ready to take his throne. Let’s rally around our king and go to war.”

But Jesus didn’t come to wage a political battle. He came to fight a spiritual battle. His war was not to be fought on the streets of Jerusalem but on a hill outside the city walls – on the cross. This day was not exactly a “triumphal entry” as much as it was an entry to the triumph that would be won on the cross.

Jesus isn’t just your “Fix-my-car/marriage/job/health-card.”

He is your “Turn-your-life-upside-down-inside-out -was-blind-but-now-I-see-was-lost-but-now-I’m-found-captive-but-now-I’m-free-dead-but-now-I’m-alive-card-that-trumps-everything.”

Even in the tragedy, there is triumph. Because. Jesus.

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