"The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone."
- Edward Shillito
Let’s look back.
A week ago, the Jewish people were streaming into Jerusalem, pouring in for Passover on a day we call Palm Sunday. Ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, records that as many as three million people would cram into a single square mile to celebrate this holiest of holidays and select their lambs to sacrifice to God in celebration of salvation out of Egypt.
Jesus comes too. He rides a donkey. It was said that donkeys were beasts of burden that kings would choose to symbolize victory. The prophet Zechariah, too, wrote that the king would come, triumphant, riding on a donkey. Interesting choice.
The Jews see him approaching. And the cheering starts. They’ve heard of this man Jesus, heard the rumors about him, that maybe he’s the king.
The people start waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!”
Palm branches were nationally charged, political symbols of revolt and victory that hearkened back to the Maccabees who, 200 years before, had defeated some Greeks who were desecrating their temple and oppressing their people. The palm branch was a symbol, their symbol of Jewish victory over foreign oppression.
And the Jews were no strangers to foreign oppression. Remember their land was desirable; everyone wanted a piece of it. So, the Jews had been been pulled apart, oppressed, and conquered by nation after nation and they were tired of it. But here is this Jesus, doing the exact thing the prophets said the One would do, entering the city, triumphantly on a donkey. These Jewish crowds wanted to be recognized as a major political power, to take back control over their own land. Could it be that the moment had arrived when their king would be crowned and the promised land would be theirs?
It was, after all, their Promised Land. The one with flowing milk and honey. The one they’d been given by God as a gift of grace through no merit of their own.
Funny how quick we can be to grasp at free gifts and label them, Mine.
Hosanna was also highly political, a revolutionary cry. It meant Save us! Save us from our enemies. In Jesus’ day, the enemies were no longer the Greeks but the Romans. And so when Jesus came in riding on a donkey, they were thinking, “This is the one. He'll start our violent revolution. He'll defeat our pagan enemies once and for all at last.”
At the beginning of the week, they did not want Jesus to die. They wanted to make him king. They called him Son of David - the anointed One, Messiah - because they believed this man, this Jesus, who could heal the sick and bring the dead back to life, would finally be seated on the throne and exalted, would restore them to the greatness they deserved.
Hosannah. Rescue us. Save us. Destroy our enemies.
They wanted the Lamb to become a lion. They didn’t seem to understand that God's Kingdom had to come another way, and that Jesus hadn’t come to Jerusalem to steal a throne but to surrender one. To die.
Jesus is in the custody of the Roman soldiers who set up a mock coronation for this "king" who had come to Jerusalem. Why not have a little fun, show him what Romans think of little kings?
In that time, a man’s body was a place to display honor or shame. A naked man in public was the physical embodiment of shame, and to remove a man’s clothes forcefully was about the most degrading thing you could do. To hit a man or touch him, especially on his head or face, was considered to be massively insulting, debasing, degrading, downright humiliating.
And so, they place on his head a crown of thorns to dishonor him. They spit on his face to shame him, over and over again. They strip him of his clothes and wrap him in a scarlet cloak to mock him.
Jesus, King of the Jews.
Where’s your power now?
It must have been hard to recognize him as the same King who wears a crown of glory, who wraps himself in unapproachable light, who heals the sick by the hem of his garment. But still, I'd have to imagine that even Solomon in all his splendor was never clothed as beautifully as this.
In Jesus' day, royal officials would pin keys to the palace on the shoulders of their uniforms.
They wore their power on their sleeves - literally - to demonstrate that they’d been trusted uniquely by a king, that they could go in and out of the kingdom as they pleased.
Jesus wore power on his shoulders too, but it looked more like a cross.
It might have been a mock coronation but for the Gospel writers, it was the picture of paradox. This journey to the cross was no tragic accident, cutting a promising kingly career at the nub. This was the climax of the story, the key to the kingdom, the revolution no one had imagined. Not a kingly anointing but an early embalming. Not a sword but a cross. Not a glittering golden crown but one studded with thorns. Not a violent overthrow, but surrender and suffering. Not a seize of control, but of self-giving sacrifice.
It was rebellious, in a way, to choose what he did. He could have cashed in the cross for a crown, I suppose, and saved himself a big old mess. But instead, he looked at us and saw what we'd made of the world and chose to save the Mess instead.
He may not have been the kind of King they thought they wanted, but freedom can only come when Jesus reigns in his own way.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
What are you hoping Jesus will save you from? What do you hope he will save you for? What do you think Jesus is interested in saving you from? (Try to be more specific than just saying Sunday School answer like “sins”.)
In “higher” church traditions there is a moment in the worship service called the “Sanctus”, which is typically sung or chanted. Let this be your prayer today:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of your glory; Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, Blessed is He, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!
Today wear purple, the color of royalty and the color of Lent. It reminds us of what true kingly lordship looks like and the loving kindness and mercy our King lavishes on us, his people.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Zech 9:9.
- Neyrey, Jerome H. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew.
- Hebs. 2:9.
- 1 Tim. 6:15-16.
- Mal. 4:2; Mt. 14:36.
- Is. 6:1.