Summary: On Palm Sunday Jesus entered as the King, but the crowd was expecting a political revolutionary
Choosing our King...a Palm Sunday message
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
What kind of deliverer did the people of Jerusalem want?
On Palm Sunday the crowds were ecstatic with joy at the coming of the Messiah, but why did they so soon afterwards call for His execution? Their dramatic, fickle shift seems strange. The reason is simple—Jesus wasn’t the Savior they were expecting. Palm Sunday was our Lord’s most misunderstood moment. The crowd wanted someone to lead a revolt against the tyranny of the Roman occupation army, to reestablish Jewish rule and autonomy. In short, they wanted a political revolutionary, not a spiritual leader, and especially not one who would die for their sins. They would have welcomed Jesus if He’d been like Ghandi—a religious leader who helped drive out the British from India. Instead of conducting a war room strategy session, Jesus leads His followers to a garden for a prayer meeting. Like Judas, the people became disenchanted; they realized that He had no plans to lead the Zealots in a revolt; even Rome saw that Jesus posed little threat to their power (though they’d have thought differently if they could have seen what happened to Rome). Seeing that Jesus was not going to follow up His entry into Jerusalem with an attempted overthrow of Rome (in the style of the hero Judas Maccabee), they gave up on Jesus and turned against Him.
What kind of Jesus do we want?
Today many people prefer a God who is distant—far enough away to leave us alone; One who lets us live as we please, free to do our own thing. Yet this is hardly the kind of God we need when life gets tough. And we can’t have it both ways—we need God near, even though we may think He’s in the way. We want Him close by when we’re in distress, but not when we’re engaging in sin.
Today, just as in Jesus’ day many of us want a God who meets our conditions. We think we have some kind of bargain with God—we’ll follow and honor Him, maybe even go to church—if our lives are comfortable, and free of tragedy. Yet often life hurts, and God’s not obligated to give us a trouble-free life. He does promise to strengthen us during these times, but not to remove them. He promises only to comfort, guide and empower us during the storms of life, and to bring us to our heavenly destination.
That sounds all too spiritual, too religious for many. Today we want a Jesus who just gives us what we want, when we want it, and then leaves us to our own devices, a Jesus who makes few demands on our lives, who won’t interfere with our plans or get in our way. And so Jesus gets a low priority; He’s thought of so little, and prayer becomes an afterthought when we’re making plans.
Today some people prefer to see Jesus as a man, maybe even a prophet. It’s OK, it’s safe to reject him if he’s just a man. If He is God (as He claimed to be), then it’s not so safe to disregard Him.
Today people—even some theologians—see Jesus as a martyr for his beliefs, but not a substitutionary sacrifice. That’s all too unpleasant, dwelling on His blood as payment for sin. Unpleasant, but necessary.
What kind of king entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Not the kind that was expected. The people were unable to see what Jesus was really offering them. He came to conquer hearts, not topple governments.
The city wanted Jesus to call for revolution; instead He called for repentance. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we turn from ourselves to Him; we come under His Lordship. This means we undergo a radical change of thinking, a change in priorities, a change of direction, resulting in a change of behavior. Repentance—coming under the Lordship of Christ—is required/necessary for receiving eternal life. Repentance is faith’s companion. Repentance is not working for salvation, however. It is the result of genuine, authentic faith in Christ.
While at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for a conference last month I heard an interesting observation: The liberals and the legalists are both trying to get to heaven the same way! The liberals reject the death of Christ as payment for our sins and regard Jesus as a moral teacher—they’re left with salvation by doing good deeds, trying to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus (which of course no one can do adequately). The legalists have their lists of bad things Christians shouldn’t do, and their path to heaven is seen by their abstinence. Both systems are bankrupt. Jesus saves us unconditionally, just as we are, and gives us the motivation and desire to live for Him. Faith and repentance are gifts from the Holy Spirit.