When Lesley Gore wrote the song, “It’s My Party” several decades ago, it was about a girl who got betrayed by her best friend who took her guy. And this was at her birthday party. So she laments “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to, die if I want to….” Although the parallel between this song and the text seems purely accidental, it remarkably describes what happens to Jesus as He comes up to Jerusalem.
Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to finish fulfilling the prophecy about him in in Isaiah 53:3 that He would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Let us see how Luke portrays Jesus “Triumphal Entry” on Palm Sunday. Open your bibles to Luke 19. We will start reading from verse 29.
Jesus had just finished telling the dual parable which described His rejection of being king by the Jewish people and that the kingdom was not arriving at His coming to Jerusalem. So Luke has prepared the table for the events that were about to happen, Despite the many times Jesus had told them of what was coming, rejection, and death, His disciples were deaf.
As Jesus arrived at the Mount of Olives, he came to the small villages of Bethany and Bethpage. John records that Jesus spent the night at Bethany with his friend Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. There, Mary anointed Him with costly oil for his burial. The Messiah, the Anointed One was prepared for death rather than christened King which should have been the proper honor due Him by the people of Jerusalem.
As soon as Jesus got back on the road again, he called two of his disciples and told them to loose a colt that was tied up in Bethpage on the other side of the Jericho-Jerusalem road. If we read along with Matthew’s account, this cold was tied up with his mother. As a means of calming the colt who never had borne a burden before, the mother was led along as well. Whether Jesus had prearranges the borrowing of the colt is impossible to determine. It may be so if we understand the human Jesus. But the divine Jesus is Lord of all and owned the colt anyway.
The colt was brought to Jesus. A white majestic steed it was not. A donkey was a humble beast of burden. Jesus did this to fulfill the words of Zachariah 9:9 which said that Israel’s king would come as a humble man upon a humble beast of burden. This is how King Jesus came to Jerusalem. Some of the crowd understood what Jesus was doing without understanding why He was doing it. Their level of excitement was raised. King Jesus the Messiah was coming to town! The people placed their expensive garments to be trodden under by the colt and her mother. Palm branches were cut from the trees and waved. A casual English reader needs to know that the Palm Branch was the symbol of the last time Israel was a free nation. The Zealots of Jesus’ day who wanted to overthrow Roman dominion in Israel and set up an independent Jewish state used it as their symbol. And Passover was a religious equivalent of our Independence Day, their fourth of July in which Israel remembered how God had freed Israel from Egyptian bondage.
So despite all that Jesus had tried to teach rightly concerning Himself and His upcoming mission to Jerusalem, the people and his disciples got it all wrong. The people started singing the 118th Psalm which was always recited around Passover time with a new fervor. They cried out the line of the psalm “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD. They were fast to recite the lines of kingship. They could see this was the day the LORD had made. They rejoiced and were exceptionally exuberant. But they did not seem to remember that this Psalm also says “The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Like humans are apt to do, their hearing is very good when it is something they want to hear but stone deaf to that which is not.
When we look at all of the Palm Sunday accounts, those who were coming with Jesus to Passover in Jerusalem were the first to be infected to a fever pitch. But people who were already in the city heard the excitement and came out to join the procession. The King was coming to Jerusalem. God had finally heard the cries of the people, and the Romans were toast. King Jesus was coming to exercise His dominion over not just Israel but all the world. This Son of David was coming to punish Israel’s enemies and usher in a time of peace in Israel. This is what most were thinking as Jesus approached the city. It is painful to realize that the crowds shouting “Hosanna” would soon shout “Crucify Him!” with equal vigor. The waving of Palm branches would soon be replaced by the palling of the palm of human hands against the face of Jesus.
The Pharisees also understood what was going on. They sent a delegation to Jesus and begged Him to silence the crowd. They knew that the Romans had at least part of a legion in the fortress in Jerusalem which was seeing everything that was going on. The Romans, especially under Pilate’s direction were brutal in suppressing independence movements like these. They once filled this same Jericho-Jerusalem road with crosses of perpetrators whose bodies were left to rot upon their death as a warning not to repeat acts of rebellion. In a sense, they acted as the delegation Jesus had just referred to in the previous parable who said “We will not have this man rule over us”.
Jesus refused to silence the crowd. They were right in welcoming Jesus as King. He is the rightful King. Even if they were entirely wrong in their understanding of this kingdom did not matter. They were rightfully acknowledging Him as their King. The fact that the crowd would so quickly change its mind about Jesus did not matter either. In fact, He was coming to establish a Kingdom, but on His termas, not theirs. The beatings, mockings, and crucifixion were part of the Father’s plan which He came to fulfill. The full realization of this Kingdom along the lines that the Jewish nation expected in the immediate present would come when Jesus returns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But His Kingdom at this time would have been devoid of subjects. No person on earth was or is worthy to be part of this Kingdom. Jesus had to die to redeem a people unto Himself. And Jesus through the church continues to invite His chosen to the Kingdom. The glorious Kingdom will come when the last one to be redeemed is redeemed.
So from all appearances, it was a great party. Everything seemed to be according to expectation. But then, something most unexpected happens. Instead of being blown away by the joyous shouts at the party for Him, Jesus breaks out in tears. These were not tears of joy such as the ones at a wedding. Rather it was the bitter cry of a funeral. Jesus was weeping at Jerusalem’s funeral, not His own upcoming one. He was the new Jeremiah crying over the impending destruction of the city. The people did not understand what Jesus had come for, and it would be fatal to them. They did not know what this visitation of the LORD was all about. The Romans would come and destroy the city because of the rejection of the Jewish nation of their own Messiah. The very things the leaders of the nation feared the most, what they feared so greatly that they would destroy Jesus would come to pass because they rejected Him. What a terrible irony.
The people must have been taken back. Why was He crying like this at His own party? But it was Jesus’ party. He could cry if He wanted to and die if He wanted to. He was about to be betrayed by one of His own who had come to the party. However serious, the pain a young woman could feel about the betrayal of her best friend at her birthday party, it was nothing in comparison to the rejection which Jesus was about to undergo.
But despite all appearances, things were going exactly as planned. Jesus was no victim of circumstance. This day was the day the Jews would select the lamb for the Passover meal. The Temple courtyards Jesus was about to enter was full of lambs or sale. But the crowds in their ignorance chose Jesus to be the sacrificial Passover lamb. As John the Baptist cried out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Palm Sunday begins what the church calls Holy Week. It starts with great excitement, dives into deep despair, and then emerges with even greater joy that our Lord is risen from the dead. The kids always look cute coming into the church waving their palm branches and singing “Hosanna!” The church puts on a good show. We know the ritual well.
But I hate to ask what Jesus thinks about our little party for Him. Would he laugh or would he cry bitter tears. Has the church lost her way? Do we even expect the return of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords anymore? Is Palm Sunday just a cute day for kids on a par with the Easter Bunny and egg hunts? Are Maunday Thursday and Good Friday days to shed crocodile tears over what happened to Jesus? And just what does Easter mean? We need to come back to the understanding that the party is Jesus’ and not ours. He invites us to join His party, but on His terms, not ours. This means we need to come back to a proper understanding of what these vents mean. The life of the church depends on this. If we continue in illiteracy to the truth of God contained in Holy Scripture, we shall be marked for death. In this the Lord will cry bitter tears over us. Do nit perish over lack of knowledge!
If we are truly looking for freedom, we do not find this in an Independence Day celebrated on Human terms. Rather we must follow the words of Jesus: “You shall know “the” Truth, and the Truth will set you free. Freedom comes in what Jesus Christ has done for us and not from what we do, for Him or for ourselves. The Holy Trinity is not willing to pronounce the sentence of death on anyone, but this does not mean people will not perish, even those who think themselves Christian. Let the tears Jesus sheds for you be those of joy and not sorrow.
Not everyone who heard Jesus cry at His party that day would die. Some would believe rightly on Him and live. Those whom He calls shall hear His voice and live.