Palm Sunday

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The reign of King David was coming to an end. To put it plainly he was old. He was definitely tired. The first half of his life was spent building a kingdom; the second half of his life was spent trying to hold that kingdom together. God had promised that David would never lose his throne, and as long as his descendants were loyal to David’s God, a son of David would always sit on a throne in Jerusalem. Now, David was ready to retire. Old, beaten, ready for rest, he decided to leave his kingdom to his son Solomon. Solomon was not David=s first born son. That son died trying to steal the throne away from David. First Kings says:

King David said, “Summon the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah, son of Jehoiada.” So they came to the king, and he said, “Take my officials with you. Put my son Solomon on my mule, and take him to Gihon. Have the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king of Israel there. Then blow the ram’s horn and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Follow him back here when he comes to sit on my throne. He will be king in place of me. I have appointed him to be the leader of Israel and Judah.” (1 Kings 1:32‑35)

Solomon became king, riding to his anointing on a donkey. Hold on to the that image: David’s immediate descendant, the heir to the throne of Israel is riding to his coronation on a donkey.

When Solomon died, the Kingdom of Israel split into the Kingdom of Israel in the North and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. The Bible has very little good to say about any of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Immediately after the split between north and south, the northern kingdom sought to establish its own holy place to rival that of Jerusalem. Samaria was established as that religious and political center.

About 150 years after Solomon’s death, King Ahab became king of Israel, along with his wife Jezebel. The two rulers systematically set out on a program of eliminating worshipers of the Lord and implementing the worship of Baal. Those who worshiped the Lord, the God of Israel and Judah were hunted down and killed. Prophets and Priest of the Lord were executed. This, of course, led to the famous showdown between the Prophet Elijah and the Priests of Baal. Elijah won the contest, the priests of Baal were killed by the people, but Ahab and Jezebel were still on the throne and they were still dangerous. Moreover, they were more bitter toward anyone who worshiped the Lord. So the Lord chose a new king.

The prophet Elisha called one of the disciples of the prophets. He said, “Put on your belt. Take this flask of olive oil, and go to Ramoth Gilead. When you arrive there, look for Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat and grandson of Nimshi. Go inside, and have him get up and leave his companions. Take him into an inner room. Take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, ‘This is what the LORD says: I have anointed you king of Israel.’ Then open the door and leave immediately.” The young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth Gilead. When he arrived there, the army’s generals were sitting together. He said, “I have something to tell you, General.” Jehu asked, “Which one of us?” He answered, “You, General!” Jehu got up and went into the house. The prophet poured olive oil on his head and told him, “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: I have anointed you king of the LORD’s people, king of Israel. You will destroy the family of your master Ahab. Then he opened the door and left. Jehu came out to his master’s officials. One of them asked him, “Is everything alright? Why did this lunatic come to you?” He answered, “You know the man and the kind of things he says.” They said, “That’s not an answer. Please tell us.” Jehu replied, “We talked for a while, and he said to me, ‘This is what the LORD says: I have anointed you king of Israel.'” Then each one of them immediately took off his coat and laid it on the stairs below him. They blew a ram’s horn and said, “Jehu is king!” (2 Kings 9:1‑13)

Now hold on to that image: The Lord’s people were being oppressed and killed by an enemy of the Lord, so the Lord chose a king, and when the people heard about that pronouncement, they threw their garments and coats on the ground before him as he walked. The enemy was still on the throne, but a new king was chosen and he destroyed that enemy and his entire dynasty.

Many centuries later, both kingdoms had been destroyed (Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 and Judah was conquered by the Neo‑Babylonians in 586). When the Persians conquered Babylon, they allowed the Jewish exiles to return home. Not long after their return to the region of Judah, the Prophet Zechariah stated:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
I will cut off the chariot from E’phraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double. (Zechariah 9:9‑12)

Now hold on to that image: a king is going to come to Jerusalem, not riding on a warhorse as was the custom of victory parades, but riding on a young donkey. This is a symbol of humility, not of bragging. The king is a conquering king, but his conquests are won through acts of humility. This new, humble king will set captives free through a covenant made by blood.

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Centuries later, the region known as Judah, or Judea, was under the control of Syria. The king of Syria was a descendant of one of the generals in Alexander the Great’s army and went by the name Antiochus IV. Antiochus liked to go by the name “Epiphanes”– meaning “God revealed” — but many of his contemporaries called him “Epimanes” behind his back, which meant “Mad man.”

In the year 167 B.C., Antiochus decided that all of his subjects were going to become good Greeks. He initiated a program of forced Hellenization on his subjects, including Jews living in Judea. He put a statue of the god Zeus in the Jewish Temple and he sacrificed a pig on the altar. This triggered a revolt led by the Hasmonean family, whose eldest son Judas was nicknamed Maccabeus — “the Hammer” — and the revolt is known as the Maccabean Revolt. During the revolt, Judas Maccabeus conquered the city of Jerusalem.

Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. And when they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty‑fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore bearing ivy‑wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. (2 Maccabees 10:5‑7)

Judas’ conquest of Jerusalem led to the purification of the Temple and the creation of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Now hold on to that image: Judas liberated the holy city from foreigners who occupied Jerusalem and who desecrated the holy sites. Judas, upon entering the city, took it upon himself to act as High Priest and re‑consecrated the holy sites and the Temple. And they celebrated that victory and the purification of the Temple with palm branches.

In the year 142, Judas’ brother Simon was leading the rebellion. Antiochus had been murdered. And the new king of Syria was willing to make peace. Simon was granted the titles of High Priest and Prince of Jerusalem. Simon’s Princedom would quickly transform into a kingdom, marking the creation of an independent Jewish kingdom, which had not existed since the Babylonian conquest of 586. This independent nation would be short‑lived, lasting only until the Romans moved into the region in 66 B.C. Nevertheless, when the new king announced peace with Simon:

On the twenty‑third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy‑first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. (I Maccabees 13:51)

Now hold on to that image: Simon, the leader of the revolt, established peace and acted as both High Priest and King in Jerusalem.

Now take all of those images that you have been holding and consider this:

When they were near Jerusalem (in Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives) he sent out two of his students. He said to them, “Go into the village before you. And Bam! As soon as you go into it, you will find a donkey colt that has been tied up that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it to me. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you taking the donkey?’ tell him that its master needs it and he’ll immediately send it back as soon as he’s done with it.”

They went and found a donkey that had been tied outside next to a gate on the street and they untied it. And someone standing there said to them, “Why are you untying that colt?” The students told the people standing there just what Jesus told them to say, so they let the students go away with the donkey.

They brought the donkey colt to Jesus and they draped their coats on it and Jesus sat on it. Then a bunch of people threw their coats onto the road, and others cut leafy branches from the surrounding fields and threw them on the road. Those who walked in front of Jesus and those who followed him shouted out:

“Save us!
The one who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed!
Blessed is the coming of our father David’s kingdom!
Save us highest heaven!”

This is an image that has been acted and re‑acted throughout Jewish history. Every Jew in Jerusalem who knew history and who knew the Scriptures understood. A King, like wise Solomon was riding a donkey on the way to his coronation; a King who would destroy the Enemy of God’s people was having coats thrown on the ground before him; a King, humble, yet mighty, was about to establish peace and create a covenant through blood; a King, was coming to conquer the oppressors and rededicate that Temple; a King, who was also a High Priest, was coming to establish peace.

Palm Sunday marks the Triumphal entry of Jesus as King of Israel into Jerusalem. But his coming coronation will be at the hands of the Romans: he will be crowned with thorns, beaten with a reed that was used to mock a king=s scepter. His throne will be a cross. His people who cheer for him as King of Israel this day, will shout for his crucifixion a few days later. This is how the covenant by blood will be established. This is how peace will be established. This is how the oppressor will be conquered. This is how the Enemy of God=s people will be undone. This is how the King will reign in wisdom. There is no other way.

We must always remember that Jesus’ kingdom comes through suffering and the cross. And this is what people do not like. People want a man of action. The people want a man who leads an army into Jerusalem and defeats the Romans, chasing them all the way back to Rome. When the people realize that their King is not the king they were expecting, they turn on him. He was just another disappointment. Just another unfulfilled promise. This is what Holy Week was about to the people who lived it firsthand. It was unbridled expectation met with staggering defeat and disappointment.

But the events of this week established a New Kingdom. The events of this week shatter bondage, liberates captives, gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, heals the afflicted, and gives good news to the poor. It is this week that a King executes himself for the crimes of his murderous subjects. It is this week that Jerusalem will get a descendant of David, who is wiser than Solomon, to rule from David=s throne. It is this week that Jerusalem will get a new High Priest. And it is this week that all of us will be set free from the oppression of the Enemy, who hates God’s people.

It is a new covenant, established by blood, offered in humility by a High Priest and King who liberates the captives and establishes peace.

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming of our father David’s kingdom!
Hosanna highest heaven!”

 

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