The festivity, the joy, the excitement of the people filled the streets as Jesus humbly rode by on a donkey. The palm branches symbolized victory for the Israelites and the phrase, “Hosanna,” was a declaration, a cry for salvation, “Save us!”
They listened, all eighteen first and second grader, eyes fixed on me as I began telling them the familiar story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The people were celebrating Jesus as the fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus’ act was the fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Jesus, by his action, made a statement declaring that He is the King for whom they have been yearning and waiting. He entered Jerusalem and people eagerly awaited His kingship.
My Sunday school class was getting into this scene of people celebrating Jesus.
Then I made a statement that turned my class of church-going kids familiar story upside down.
“Today, the people are yelling ‘Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, celebrating Jesus as the King. But, five days from today, on Friday, the same people will be yelling, ‘Crucify him, Crucify him!’ and Jesus will die.
As silence fell in the room, their eyes in bewilderment, I heard the question, “But WHY? Tell us, WHY?” Why did they want to kill Jesus when they were celebrating Jesus?
Suspense filled the classroom as the kids looked at me wanting an answer.
How can people go from celebrating Jesus, hailing as their king, declaring salvation, and in a matter of a few days, want him killed?
They were curious. How often we, as adults accept the paradox without wondering, “How is this possible?”
If this sudden change of heart does not cause you to stop and to ask, “But why?” I encourage you to take some time to ponder the enormity of their change of position.
It reveals how fickle the human heart is. But, this story draws out something more profound than just fickleness of the human heart. It gets at the real struggle, the real question of the heart of hearts:
Is Jesus of Nazareth, really the King that I want?
They thought they wanted Him, but it quickly became clear that He was not the King that they wanted. They had their ideal version of the King that they held dearly.
“Jesus of Nazareth is rarely the King we want, but always the King we need,”
a friend shared on social media a couple of days before Palm Sunday.
How true it is.
Isn’t this at the crux of why the people so quickly turned away from Jesus? They thought they wanted Him, but what they wanted was someone who would save them from the Romans. The religious people didn’t want a king who would point out their sin, and then claim that He had the authority to forgive sins. They had believed that the temple sacrifice system that they controlled would suffice.
Jesus was clear. The Kingdom He was establishing was radically different. It will be built through sacrifice, service, and ultimately death, not through wielding of power. They wanted liberation. Their oppressors were the Romans, but they didn’t understand how far they had walked away from God and they too had become oppressive. But Jesus came to set all people free from the oppression of their own wickedness and our tendency to seek power for ourselves. They had no idea that they needed saving from themselves.
Perhaps, you find your narrative being told similarly to that of the crowds. You were once hailing Jesus as the King who has come to save. But, Jesus seems slow at saving, or He is not saving in the way you would have wanted. The true condition of our hearts surface in the midst of disappointments, and perhaps what is surfacing is not the cry, “Save us!” but silently, you have been slipping away as disappointments overshadow the hope you once held. Quietly we begin to wonder, maybe Jesus isn’t the King after all.
The temptation is to take offense at Jesus like the crowd and the Pharisees. If we let our offense grow, one day, we might find ourselves turning our backs on Him.
As we are entering the Holy Week, let’s take the time to unearth any offenses we might have held against Jesus for not being the King we wanted because He is the King that we need. It is time to ask again, “Will I let Jesus be my King? Will we let Jesus be our King?”
Jesus of Nazareth is rarely the King we want, but He is the King we need. Hosanna, Save us!