At the time of Jesus' earthly life, the world was ruled by Rome. Rome's way of ruling was by domination and control. They dominated with their powerful armies and controlled through puppet rulers who were willing to collaborate with Rome for personal advantage.
Israel at this time was split into three political zones, and the rulers of these zones were accountable to a Roman govenor. He made sure the rulers did their jobs to the Emperor's satisfaction and that the required taxes were duly collected and handed over. Jerusalem lay in the zone comprised of Judah and Samaria and was ruled in this period by the temple authorities. The elders, chief priests and scribes were therefore in the deeply conflicted position of holding responsibility for both spiritual and political governance.
The Roman govenor of the day, Pontius Pilate, lived in the coastal town of Caesarea which was an altogether nicer place to be than Jerusalem. But Jewish festivals were centred on Jerusalem, and the huge crowds that gathered there had a reputation for trouble and unrest. This was especially true of Passover, when the population of Jerusalem could swell by 200 000 or more and which was, as the Romans well knew, a celebration of Isreal's release from bondage to another foreign power. So, to discourage trouble-makers and to be ready to stamp out any trouble they might cause, at festival times the govenor moved to Jerusalem accompanied by a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers to reinforce the normal garrison.
They made a big show of their arrival, an Imperial Triumphal Entry calculated to project control and power – but they wouldn't have found an enthusiastic welcome from the Jewish people.
On the other side of town, probably on the same day, maybe even at the same time, and in total contrast, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the untamed, jittery foal of a donkey to the uproarious welcome of a large crowd of disciples.
As well as Messiah's entry into Jerusalem on a colt being pre-ordained in prophecy, our reading from Luke's Gospel shows signs that the loan of the donkey may well have been pre-arranged by Jesus. So the coincidence of these two events is a distinct possibility. Little wonder, then, that the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to shut his disciples up, lest the Romans hear!
So much for the history lesson.
The Expectations of the PeopleOur expectations in life are often different from what turns out. I remember my first day at school. My mum had told me I was going to school, so I was expecting it. But I didn't really understand; I had no idea what she was talking about.
When the day came, she got me ready and took me to school. (This next bit is quite sad, actually, so if you need to reach for your hanky …) I was then abandoned, by my mother, in a classroom full of strangers. I was just left there, crying to go home. Still, Miss Wood, the teacher, gave me a nice cuddle and I managed to get through the day.
The next day, my mum woke me up with, 'Come on, Nigel, time for school,' to which my shocked response was, 'Do I have to go again?' I was allowed to go in my cowboy suit but was a bit disappointed when my gun was confiscated on arrival. Despite my initial expectation of a one-off visit to school, the 17 years of formal education that followed turned out to be quite good for me.
The expectations of the disciples, and the Jews in general, were, of course, of much greater import. They were expecting a great leader who would kick the Romans out and bring peace and freedom to Isreal.
I've alluded to the idea that the Palm Sunday procession was not entirely spontaneous but planned by Jesus, although we have no record of what he may have told his disciples beyond the arrangements over the donkey. Whether he had taught them anything about the prophecy in Zechariah that he was about to enact, we don't know.
Even if they were aware of the prophecy, it could have reinforced the expectation of an impending political change since it declares the coming of a king who, 'will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle-bow will be broken.' (v 10 NIV).
The disciples had seen the power of Rome. They had also seen the power of Jesus. And with this fulfilment of prophecy, and this direct and flagrant affront to Rome, surely now is the time! 'Hosanna,' they cried. 'Save us now!'
Somehow, they missed the point that the foretold king was, 'righteous and having salvation, gentle...' They hadn't grasped the nature of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached, that peace would come to the nations by the transformation of the hearts and minds of men and women, not by armed struggle.
Christ's Expectations ThenWhat did Jesus expect? By this time, Jesus has already told his disciples on several occasions exactly what to expect in Jerusalem: '[The Son of Man] will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.' (Lk 18:32-33, NIV) But we're told the disciples didn't understand, they had no idea what he was talking about. Even after the resurrection they were still asking about the kingdom being restored to Isreal (Acts 1:6).
Jesus went to Jerusalem expecting to die.
Jesus was the suffering servant foretold in other prophecies such as the famous passage in Isaiah 53: 'Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.' (v 4-6, NIV)
Jesus wasn't picky about which prophecies to fulfil. He went to Jerusalem to die for all of the sins of all of us and to rise again on the third day.
Christ's Expectations NowWhat of Christ's expectations today? Christ comes to us today, full of expectation. Now, he comes to us to be our King, and we are the ones who must die.
He is not a king like those who ruled over Isreal by Roman permission, and worked as much as they could for their own selfish gain. He is not a king like the Roman emperor who exercised domination and control.
He is all-powerful, and he is worthy of our obedience, but his methods of ruling us are not domination and control. The kingdom he reigns over is a kingdom ruled by love: solid, dependable, unconditional, loyal, true and affirming love.
He is the one who has the promise of everlasting life for those who trust in him. He expects us to live lives that show the Kingdom of God to the world, bringing God's peace to the nations in his name. He expects us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.
Somehow, when I think of what Jesus did for me, what he went through in both the physical agony of his death and the spiritual agony of being forsaken by God because of my sin, saying, 'Thank you,' just doesn't cut the mustard; it's not enough.
The only response anywhere near worthy of my King is to bow the knee to him and say, 'Here is my puny life. Take it and use it for your glory in any way you can.'
ResolutionYear by year, we remember the events of Holy Week – the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the last supper, Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest, the mockery of a trial, the beatings, the crucifixion and the resurrection.
In Holy Week, we journey figuratively with Jesus into Jerusalem and on to Resurrection Day in the company of believers all around the world. There are people everywhere who bow the knee to King Jesus. His rule, right now, extends to the ends of the earth; and the best is yet to come!
Let's worship our King each day this week in full knowledge of what he did, and that it was for us.
Let's worship him because he is a worthy king.
Let's worship him in the best way we can, by handing over our lives to him, and living our lives for him!