It’s Palm Sunday – and Holy Week begins. This is the week of the cross and the empty tomb. The week in history upon which Christianity rises or falls.
Holy Week contains all of the hallmark events declaring that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah. His teachings were astounding throughout His ministry, marveled at by many; but there were many good teachers who were not the Messiah. He had great prophetic insight, but the pages of scripture are filled with other prophets. Jesus performed miracles throughout His ministry from beginning to end, but even in this He is not unique.
It is in Holy Week we walk with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem and watch Him demonstrate His lordship, His royal authority and His divinity. It is in this week that His claims — claims to be the Messiah, Emmanuel, God among us in human flesh — this is the week which proves them all. The week in history upon which Christianity rises or falls. It culminates in an empty tomb. And that empty tomb is the absolute hinge pin of history.
Mornings with Bishop Robert will be a bit different this week, and the portions we’ll look at as we gather together will not be single sentences, but a bit larger portions that will help to lay the foundation for the key points we’ll consider each day. Here’s our first scripture portion for today, found in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew’s gospel:
“They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
It’s Palm Sunday, seven days before we celebrate the signal feast of the Church. Let’s consider the signs of kingship and discipleship we find in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Matthew rightfully draws our attention to the prophetic sign of kingship in Christ’s entry to Jerusalem – riding on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy that Zion’s king would come riding on the colt of a donkey. It was a prophetic sign they could not miss.
First of all, please note that the gospel writers tell us this was a colt upon whom no one had ever sat. If you want to understand the depth of Christ’s authority, you ought to give this a try. I guarantee that you’re going to be in for one wild ride. Short, but wild.
The donkey recognizes the authority of its creator and obeys in humble submission. That’s more than can be said for many of us.
The Messiah did not arrive on the steed of a warrior, like the Roman conquerors, but upon an animal that marked Him as the King of Peace. The one Zechariah had said would banish both chariot and warrior’s bow, and proclaim peace. The king whose dominion would not be limited to one nation or region, but whose dominion would be from sea to sea and unto the very ends of the earth.
As He prepared to enter Jerusalem, Christ’s royal authority was evident in multiple ways on this day.
He commandeered the donkey and her colt with only the explanation “the Lord needs it and will send it back shortly.” If you own an automobile, imagine someone coming to take it with only those ten words. We may have questioned the request, but Christ’s royal authority put every question to rest. In this we see that the King’s authority extends down to the least elements of the kingdom.
His kingship is also recognized in the acclamation of the crowds as he rides down the Mount of Olives from Bethany – “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Watching Him ride the donkey down the mount of olives, the people were giving Him the red carpet treatment of that day. As He rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road for the donkey to walk upon.
Even the authority of the religious rulers was subject to His. When the Pharisees instructed Jesus to silence the people, telling Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples,” He rebuked them instead. “If they keep quiet, the very stones would cry out,” He said.
Can you picture this royal parade?? Jesus sitting upon the donkey, coming down the street that joins the top of the Mount of Olives with the Kidron Valley and the gate entering the temple. The throngs of people lining the street, shouting their hosannas and yelling out their praises. It’s as joyous a display as any you’ve ever seen.
But as He approaches the city, something happens that you don’t want to miss. Jesus begins to weep.
He’s not crying about the pain this week will bring Him, or the violent death He knows He will have to suffer. No, He weeps over Jerusalem. “Oh Jerusalem, if only you had known on this day the things that make for peace!” He knew that their rejection of His kingship would put a chain of events in motion that would lead to their death and destruction. It wasn’t HIS impending death that broke His heart and reduced Him to tears; it was theirs. And so, surrounded by shouts of praise in a parade filled with joyous acclamation – Jesus rides the donkey into the city in tears. That’s an image that ought to make us pause.
Entering Jerusalem He continues to show the full spectrum of His dominion, that it extends not just to the least elements but also to the greatest. He demonstrates His absolute authority over every person and activity in the temple, because it is His Father’s house and Christ’s authority extends there, as well. As Jesus overturns tables and drives out those selling their doves and exchanging money, both the Chief Priests and the teachers of the law stand by silently, not even sending the temple guards to stop Him. Jesus tells them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” Just hours ago this was clearly their realm, but in this hour it is His and His alone.
Finally, as if to demonstrate that His kingship and His rule extends over every conceivable situation, the gospels report that Jesus took His seat in the temple. As He sat, He taught. And as He taught even the chief priests and the scribes, the principal men of the people who were seeking to destroy him, did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. And as He sat and taught, He also healed. The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.
The King demonstrates absolute power and authority.
So, as we enter Holy Week, what then shall our response to this king be? How do we demonstrate our submission to the dominion of the King of Kings? We draw our answer in the disciples among the crowds. John reports to us that “the crowd that was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb continued to spread the word.”
The events of Holy Week remind us that Jesus was not the only person called from the tomb. And neither was Lazarus, nor any of those raised from the dead at Christ’s hand during the three years of his earthly ministry. We, too, who believe in Him have been called from our tombs, and raised to a new life. We, like them, are called to “continue to spread the word.” And we do so in the hope of the same result.
John continues by reporting to us that many people went out to meet Him because of what they had heard. Let our words and our actions be such that many people seek Him, many people meet Him, many people commit to follow Him. What then is the greatest sign of a true disciple?
Let me suggest that it can be found in one small and often overlooked verse from Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry. Ten words that apply as much to us today as they ever did to anyone standing beside the Messiah on that day.
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.”