Summary: The message of Palm Sunday is that Jesus presented and proclaimed Himself as King of Israel. He was hailed as King that day. What does it mean to be under a King? Do we live as His subjects?
The message of Palm Sunday is that Jesus presented and proclaimed Himself as King of Israel. On this day we remember His “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. He was hailed as King that day. He is the One who declared: “All authority, in Heaven and on Earth, has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18).
What does it mean to be under a King? Here in America with no monarchy, we can only imagine, from a distance. And in countries that have a king, times have changed. Most kings today rule over constitutional monarchies, which means they hold a ceremonial office with limited authority. They are sovereigns with little sovereignty. Here in America we pledge allegiance to our flag, and the principles it represents; but that’s not quite the same as being subject to a king. We are citizens, not subjects. Yet as Christians we have dual loyalties…we are citizens of our nation, and subjects of King Jesus.
But do we live like subjects to the King of kings? Or do we cherish our Constitutional freedom to live however we choose? Do we so celebrate liberty that we ignore God’s desires for us? Many people live like they’re above the Law of God. The “rugged individualism” of Americans has a dark side. As Peter Kreeft has stated, “The song ‘I did it my way’ is the song they sing in Hell.”
The Gospel message is the story of how Jesus, God-the-Son, is the anointed King. His coming is the climax of Israel’s story. When Jesus described His ministry, He did so in terms of Kingdom-work. He is the One the world was waiting for. He came, bringing hope and mercy to a needy world…and launching God’s renewed people.
We usually think of Palm Sunday with sadness, knowing how soon thereafter the mob turned on Jesus, stirred on by some of the religious leaders. It’s hard to fathom, yet these oppressed people cried for “No king but Caesar.” They should have proclaimed, “No king but God.” Although the Babylonian Exile was over, the Jews living in Israel were captives in their own land; they were an enemy-occupied nation. They should have welcomed King Jesus. To those who rejected Him, Jesus says in Luke 19:44, “You didn’t know the moment when God was visiting you.”
The coming of Jesus brought about the Kingdom of God, clashing with the kingdom of Caesar--a Kingdom far superior to the Roman Empire. Another king was a dangerous message to proclaim. Here we have two kingdoms and two “lords” claiming universal sovereignty. It is “the kingdoms of the world versus the Kingdom of the true God” (NT Wright). Yet it initially appears that Rome won; Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate” as the Apostles’ Creed states. Yet Pilate unwittingly was serving God’s purpose.
The Kingship of Jesus is seen in His enthronement on the cross--the fulfillment of the biblical story of redemption. The Kingdom is redefined by the cross. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the King, announced that God’s Kingdom was breaking into history, and it was implemented by the Cross. The Kingdom has come in power, even if it didn’t look as people imagined. It came with love, not force; it came with hope, not political upheaval; it came with sacrifice.
Jesus is the King who suffers for His people. “Kingdom” and “Cross” belong together. In the city where Caesar ruled, the Catholic Church has just elected a new Pope, while the Roman Empire is nowhere to be found, except in ruins. That mighty pagan empire is now a Christian state. All over Creation, King Jesus has overthrown the power of Caesar and has rescued His people from tyranny. The establishment of God’s Kingdom means Jesus claiming His sovereign rule over the world, and the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms.
Kings of old would conquer enemies in battle and put them in slavery. When the Roman generals returned in triumph to Rome, there would be a magnificent public procession in which the defeated armies would march in chains and disgrace. King Jesus has rescued us from the bondage of sin. By His stripes we are healed. He died in our place, on our behalf--the Just for the unjust; that we might be rescued, forgiven, and have life eternal. Caesar governs; Jesus saves! Caesar’s story was a power story…the story of Jesus is a love story. Upon the cross the One that is mocked as king is the King! The soldiers dressed Jesus in a robe and put on His head a crown of thorns, then spat upon Him. Pilate continued in the mockery, putting a sign above Jesus on the cross that read, “This is the king of the Jews”. He was making a point and issuing a warning: Don’t even consider having someone try to usurp the power of Rome.