By Pastor Glenn Pease
The final week of the life of Abraham Lincoln has an amazing parallel to that of the final week of Jesus. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday is only 5 days, yet in that 5 days we go from the scene of the triumphal entry of the King to the scene of the tragic exit of the King on the cross. Listen to the parallel of Lincoln's final week.
General Grant was surrounding the Confederate Army of General Lee in the capital city of Richmond. Lee realized the war was over, and the South was defeated, and on Palm Sunday of 1865 he surrendered. What a day of victory! People flocked to the White House clamoring for a celebration. Lincoln addressed the people and said, "Fellow citizens, I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves." He called for the band to play his favorite tunes of "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle." The crowds were led in cheers for General Grant and the Army and Navy. When Lincoln went into the White House they cheered him as their hero.
That holy week was one of the best Lincoln ever enjoyed. He worked long hours, but was very relaxed and at peace. On Good Friday he had an early cabinet meeting. In the afternoon he and his wife went for a long carriage ride, and that evening they went to the theatre. On Palm Sunday he was a victor. On Good Friday he was a victim, as he was assassinated. Here was a man so loved he was praised by the masses, but here was also a man so hated that he was murdered. Love and hate are never far apart, and that is what we see in holy week, the last week of the life of Jesus. It begins with the wildest expression of mass affection that Jesus ever received. When the Jewish leaders complained to Jesus about this excessive display of emotion, Jesus said it cannot be helped, for it is impossible to suppress the explosion of praise. If you silence the people, the very stones will take up where they left off, and continue this cry of rejoicing.
Jesus knew He would soon be on a cross, for that was an essential in God's plan to save man, but He says, not only is Good Friday a necessity, and not only is Easter Sunday a necessity, but Palm Sunday is also a necessity. It is one of the pieces of the puzzle, and it could not be complete without this day of triumphal entry. It was not enough that Jesus died for us, He had to die as our King. He did not die as a carpenter, or as an itinerant preacher. He died as the King of the Jews, who was long promised, and who would be the king of God's people forever. The sign Pilate put on the cross said, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." The leaders of Israel would not acknowledge He was their king. In verse 42 Jesus says the truth was hidden from their eyes.
On the night of May 14, 1912, a well dressed man collapsed on the street in the center of Hamburg, Germany. A doctor passing by helped a policeman get him into a cab. He died on the way to the hospital, and since he had no identification on him, he was taken to the morgue until someone could identify him. It was 2:00 in the morning when the valet of King Fredrick VIII of Denmark realized that the king had not returned from his walk. He called the hotel manager who in turn called the police. After several hours of investigation it was determined that the man who had died in the cab was the Danish king, brother of Queen Alexandra of England, and Uncle of the Czar of Russia. He was a great king, but he died unrecognized. So it was with Jesus. He was the promised king, the Son of David, but He was unrecognized, and died in the eyes of the Jewish leaders as a mere criminal, rather than the Royal Redeemer that He was.
Jesus said in verse 42, if they had only known He was their king, they could have had the peace of God, but because they could not see He was the king, they had to suffer the judgment of God. One of the lessons of Palm Sunday is that we need to listen to the perspectives of the little people, and those outside the circles of influence. From the day Jesus was born until the day He died, the people who saw who He really was were the little people and outsiders.
The wise men came seeking Him asking where is He who is born the King of the Jews. The pagan ruler Pilate put up a sign on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews." Now on Palm Sunday Dr. Luke tells us the multitudes were shouting with a loud voice, "Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord." Jesus was recognized as king by many, but the leaders of Israel refused to recognize His royalty. They had their own self-centered agenda, and Jesus just did not fit in. Palm Sunday teaches us that it is possible that a little child may have more insight into the will of God than those who are the official leaders. Leaders can be so full of their own agenda they are not open to the leading of God.
Matthew tells us the children were crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," and the chief priest and scribes were indignant at this corruption of the youth. Jesus said to them in Matt. 21:16, "Did you never read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise." The Word of God was coming to the people, not through the religious leaders who should have been the channel open for God to speak through, but through little children.
In the fourth century a great crowd gathered in the city of Milan, Italy to decide on who was to be their religious leader. Ambrose, the governor of the city, was there to keep order. There was great uncertainty as to who to choose until a child shouted out, "Ambrose for bishop!" He was a layman, and not a trained clergyman. But he was of such exalted character that the idea was like a spark igniting powder. The shout spread through the crowd, "Ambrose for bishop!" Ambrose did not feel qualified, and resisted, but the crowd insisted and forced him to be ordained, and to become their religious leader. He became one of the greatest leaders of all history, and was a major influence in the church for a thousand years. The implication is not to let the juniors run the church, but to be open to listen to the insights of children and the non-professional.
Palm Sunday is a revelation that God often gives greater light and insight through the child on the things that matter most. The pros were totally blind to the evidence that others could see. They were so envious of Jesus, and so anxious to get Him out of the picture, they broke every law in their own book to get Him to the cross. Their law forbid a trial at night, but they had to try Jesus at night to avoid the crowds who would protest. Their law forbid trials during Passover, but they had to get Jesus while He was present in Jerusalem for the Passover, so they set that law aside. The death penalty was not to be cared out until a night had passed, but they did not wait, but went straight from the trial to the place of execution. They had to break their own laws because they were going against the insights of the common people. If they would have followed their own rules, the masses would have prevented their evil plot.
History reveals that the majority is not always right, but the fact is, it is still the wise way to go. The last week of the life of Jesus makes this so clear. The majority could see Jesus was a man of wisdom and loving compassion, and just the kind of man the Messiah was to be. The leaders could only see He was going change their legalistic religion and introduce one of love and grace, and they would lose their power over people. Jesus knew these leaders were clever, and that they would get around the will of the majority, and kill Him. But He had to give us this scene of Palm Sunday so that all through history we would be reminded: If you give the masses of people a chance to see Jesus as He really is, the commonplace people and children will recognize Him as the one they can acknowledge as their king.
Palm Sunday is a day of great paradox, for it was a day of such contrasting emotions. Jesus was such a glad king; such a sad king, and such a mad king. Many feel it was the single most happy day of His life as Jesus saw the supportive crowds acknowledging His kingship. But it was also a day Jesus felt so sad that He had to weep over Jerusalem, for He knew the leaders were determined to kill Him. He was so upset that day by the corruption of the temple by their greed that, in anger, as never before displayed, He chased them out with a whip. This was the most emotional day in the life of Jesus that we have revealed in the Gospels. We have been looking at the determined and steadfast face of Jesus as He set His face to go to the cross. Palm Sunday was a major event in His plan to get there. We want to focus on the emotions of Jesus on this special day, and look at His sad face and glad face. We will look at the negative first and focus on-
I. THE KING'S SAD FACE.
In verse 41 Dr. Luke says Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. It was the city of God's people, and the place where God's temple was, and where God met with man. It was the center of true worship from which God's light was to go into a dark world. Jesus would make it that yet by His death, and the Gospel of light and life would go from Jerusalem into the whole world. But the sad fact Jesus was facing was that these people who had the chance to be in on the ground floor of God's plan were going to miss it, and not only stay in the dark, but suffer the judgment of God. They would reject the king God sent them, and in 70 A. D. they would be totally destroyed for this blind choice.
It is sad when people suffer judgment, for judgment is never God's chosen will. The whole point of God's plan of salvation is to prevent judgment. God hates judgment, and does everything possible to avoid it. That is why it is so sad, for judgment is always preventable. There are a lot of things sad in a fallen world, but the saddest of all is preventable suffering. It is sad to see people die of lung cancer because they smoke cigarettes for years. Light is there for them to see and heed the warnings, but they chose not to see. Jesus gave all the light needed to see He was the Messiah, but people chose to ignore all the evidence, and reject His kingship. He wept because the price they would have to pay was all preventable.
There is a tremendously positive message in the sad face of the king on Palm Sunday. Jesus cared about these people who would be lost and suffering the judgment of God. There are Christians who believe Jesus only cares about those who will be saved. Not so, He loves His enemies, and He weeps for them. They will not repent and receive His love, but will die and miss His grace, and Jesus is broken hearted over them. He does not say that hell is just what they deserve, and rejoice in their judgment. If you are glad anyone is going to be lost, you are not filled with the spirit of Christ our King. He hates it that even these wicked leaders who are out to crucify Him are going to suffer judgment.
There have been Christians all through history who miss the sad face of Jesus on Palm Sunday. They have devised their own value system, and reject that of the king. They have taught that it is one of the joys of heaven, for example, to be able to see the lost in agony in the flames of hell. They have taken their values from the people Jesus is weeping over rather than from Jesus Himself. The Old Testament makes it clear that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and Jesus did most of His weeping over people who would not respond to His love. The sad face of Jesus is to be our constant reminder that we, as His disciples, are to feel sorrow over the lost. Our task is to do all we can to prevent such judgment by getting light to those in darkness. When they fail to respond we can call down fire from heaven like the sons of thunder, or we can weep over them, as Jesus did. But now let's look at-
II. THE KING'S GLAD FACE.
Jesus was delighted with the response of the people, and the praises He received from the children. If for some reason they had not come through as He expected, He was prepared to do one of the strangest miracles of His life, and make the stones grow tongues and cry out that He was the king of Israel. Jesus was happy that He did not need to do this miracle, for the people did come through and exalt Him as king.
The people were fulfilling the prophecy of Zech. 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughters of Zion! Shout, daughters of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Jesus was glad that people are not always as blind as their leaders, and not always blind followers of the blind.
History is filled with examples. The leaders said the Bible must be kept in the language of the scholars, and not be put in the common language, but the masses said, "We want to read God's Word for ourselves, and hear Him speak to us directly." Thus, you have the whole history of men like Luther and Wycliff who risked their lives to put the Bible in the language of the people. The people said, "We will honor God's Word," and they did, and Christianity was purified by the people. No longer could leaders keep the masses in the dark, and manipulate them by man made rules. There are endless examples of how Jesus has been glad, and has been exalted as king of lives where the people have direct access to Him as they did on Palm Sunday.
For centuries Holy Week was regulated by the leaders of the church, and the whole plan of Jesus was hidden until Easter morning. The folly was that Christians were blocked from seeing the whole week through the positive eyes of Palm Sunday. The glad face of Jesus was hidden, and not allowed to show until Easter. Good Friday was sad and mournful, and black Saturday, as it was called, was also depressing. The whole emotional content of what Jesus did for us in His death was seen from the point of view of unbelief rather than from the point of view of the King. In other words, Palm Sunday was dismissed as a fluke, a failed attempt to change things, and so of no relevance, for it changed nothing. This whole perspective is a rejection of the kingship of Jesus, and the glad face of the King.
Jesus was not a victim of the events of that week that led Him to the cross. He was the Victor. Palm Sunday was no failure. It was a total success, and Jesus became the King of Israel, and from that point on was in control of the future and of the destiny of Israel, and the fulfilling of the plan of God. Israel's Messiah was to be the Savior of the world, and that would be the task of the new King to achieve. The events of the coming week that led to the cross were not tragic from His viewpoint, but were the very agenda of the new administration. Even the rebel leaders of Israel were carrying out the orders of the new King. Nobody took the life of Jesus-He gave it.
History has some examples of people collecting and giving a ransom to gain the freedom of their king, but here is the King who is going to give Himself as a ransom to deliver His captive people. Jesus is giving Himself as a ransom for our release. It is His choice. He is the King, and He has the sovereign power to decide, and the cross was His decision. Robert Eisler said, "Jesus was a King who did not reign." He missed the whole point of Palm Sunday. Jesus was reigning all through the events of the week, and His orders were being carried out to the letter.
Even the cross with all its cruelty was the plan of the King, and He had a glad face as He contemplated the fulfillment of the plan. He timed it just right so He would die as the Lamb of God just when the Passover lambs were dying for the sins of the people. It was all perfect, and Heb. 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
The cross was not a tragedy from His point of view. It was the joyful conclusion of the plan of God for His life as the Lamb of God. He was born to die for sinners, and as the King He fulfilled the plan.
The truth that David learned to sing,
Its deep fulfillment here attains;
Tell all the earth the Lord is King!
Lo, from the cross a King He reigns.
The point I am making is that the sad face of Jesus is the face He had for unbelief. The glad face of the King is the face we are to focus on as believers. Good Friday is good because of that glad face. It was His choice, and He did it for us, and it is a day to celebrate His choice for our salvation. It is not a day to mourn the folly of man, but to rejoice in the love of Christ. It is legitimate to have a sad face for the blind who do not see the love of Christ, but the focus for the Christian is to have a glad face like Jesus did because He knows before the week is over He will fulfill the plan that makes Him King of Kings forever.
May God help us to ever see the cross through the eyes of the glad face of our Palm Sunday King, and join in the eternal chorus-
The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
O earth, and all ye heavens rejoice;
From world to world the joy shall ring,
The Lord Omnipotent is King!
Because He is King, and began His reign on Palm Sunday, our focus is to be primarily on Our King's Glad Face.