We begin “Holy Week” by celebrating an event many refer to as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry.” In recognition of that event, I felt compelled to share with our Gallagher’s Pen family the piece below from my book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World” . . .
The episode we’ve come to call “Palm Sunday” begins what is popularly referred to as “Holy Week” and will be celebrated this weekend by Christians around the world. All four Gospel writers record the event, but John’s account provides a concise summary:
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ John 12:12-15 (NKJV)
It was an event full of profound implications. Though it involved no public exhibition of miraculous power, there is little doubt that many in the crowd of pilgrims around Jesus on that day were hoping to see something like that. After all, the road they were traveling had brought them near the place where He had recently raised Lazarus from the grave, so anticipating another impressive demonstration of divine authority would be reasonable as they approached Israel’s religious capital at the holiest time of the Jewish year.
Hosanna ~ More than a Praise Word?
Their loud shouts of “Hosanna” were more than just a ritualized praise word. The term amounted to a collective desire blended into a passionate prayer and then condensed into a single word. It simply means “save now,” and it was a perfectly appropriate request to offer because Israel was a conquered and occupied nation. They were chafing under the heavy burden of foreign occupation and longed to be free of Rome’s oppressive and restrictive demands on their lives. They wanted a revived sense of national pride and spiritual well-being — and they wanted a resurgence of personal prosperity and security reminiscent of the glory days of Solomon.
Unlike the current conditions in America where the term “oppression” is likely to be invoked and weaponized in response to any situation that challenges someone’s political, racial, or ideological preferences, the oppression in Israel was real, and the losses incurred because of it were both personal and severe. Again, unlike those claiming oppression in our nation, the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t have the option of rioting in the streets, burning chariots, and destroying buildings to make their point. Their only hope was that God would fulfill His prophesied promise and send a supernaturally-endowed leader, a new King, who would rise up and vanquish their enemies. People were saying that Jesus was the long-awaited “Anointed One.”
But in spite of their shouts of praise, this physically unimpressive guy on a donkey may not have been as inspiring as they would have preferred. He didn’t seem able or equipped to offer the kind of salvation they wanted, and if He was a king, He certainly didn’t look like one.
A Perplexing Picture ~
Calling the episode “Palm Sunday” makes sense because of the reaction of the crowd in throwing palm branches ahead of Jesus’ little procession, but we also refer to the event as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry,” and that can seem perplexing. The picture we get from the text definitely shows excitement and enthusiastic anticipation, but Jesus didn’t look like someone celebrating a major triumph.
Think about it . . . He was way underdressed for a triumphant procession. There’s nothing to indicate that He even had a new outfit. As nearly as we can tell, He was clothed as He always was, in the common, ordinary garb of a rabbi from the poorer classes. He had no choreographed entourage to spice up His image, just the rag-tag bunch of work-a-day men and women who followed Him around, listened to His teaching, and assisted Him in whatever way they could.
The Missing Pieces ~
If this was a triumph, it couldn’t have been mistaken for the military kind. In spite of any references that might have been made to identify Him as the Son of David, and thus the upcoming King of the Jews, the position apparently included no local military force, nor did He arrive attended by commanders or troops. Jesus had accomplished no heroic exploits on a battlefield that anyone else could have seen. He had engaged no human opponent in a physical struggle and had slain no human enemy.
He had no diplomatic triumph to claim or celebrate either. There was no aspect of problematic Jewish foreign policy over which Jesus emerged victorious as the Jews’ premier statesman. He did not enter the debating halls to do verbal battle with Roman diplomats and attempt to win them over to His way of thinking. Neither did He confront the Greek philosophers in their academic halls and present His arguments in their arenas. He wasn’t an official representative of any organization, agency, or government. He wasn’t recognized as a leader of any currently recognized sect, party, or group. If this was a “triumphant” procession, it was definitely a peculiar one.
A Problem with Our Triumphant Heroes ~
Whether or not the crowd was a bit disappointed about any of that is pure conjecture but not outside the realm of possibility. After all, we want heroes to be larger than life, sporting a ride we can’t afford, exuding a commanding presence we don’t have, dressed in garments we could never wear, and displaying physical strength and intellectual genius totally beyond us. We want heroes who look like we want to be, not so much like what we are. The downside, in case you haven’t noticed, is that our triumphant heroes riding on their prancing stallions don’t invite us to join them, and certainly not to come home with them, or even to be like them. Quite the contrary. Instead, they are smug and content in the awareness that they are not like us and that we cannot be like them.
Jesus didn’t look like much by the world’s standards of His day. But that’s okay . . . His triumph was not in this world’s system or by this world’s standard; it was over it. He did something the iconic “triumphant” stars and heroes the world produces refuse to do, and John described it with eloquent simplicity. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” John 1:14a (NKVJ). Jesus didn’t come to look down on us and be envied by us. He came to be one of us, and one with us.
Now, from His humble place on a simple donkey’s back on His way to a cross, He calls to all of us in our ordinary clothes, oppressed by our flaws and failures, and bound in our frustrating weaknesses, to come follow Him, to be with Him, and to be like Him. He calls us to an eternal triumph over the sins that plague us and the death those sins demand. “Hosanna” is more than an ancient word from a bygone day; it’s a prayer that He will answer for us … here and now.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “The Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t have the option of rioting in the streets, burning chariots, and destroying buildings to make their point. Their only hope was that God would fulfill His prophesied promise . . . ” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Jesus did something the iconic “triumphant” stars and heroes the world produces refuse to do . . . He didn’t come to look down on us and be envied by us. He came to be one of us, and one with us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Jesus didn’t look like much by the world’s standards of His day. But that’s okay . . . His triumph was not in this world’s system or by this world’s standard; it was over it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Now, from His humble place on a simple donkey’s back on His way to a cross, He calls to all of us in our ordinary clothes, oppressed by flaws and failures, and bound in frustrating weaknesses, to come follow Him, to be with Him, and to be like Him.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
Check out Ron’s book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth.”
Click HERE for details …
© 2019 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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