(During Holy Week in the Philippines, things usually grind to a halt — but sadly, not because of spiritual matters. “Holy Week” in this country is no longer synonymous with pausing, quietness, and meditation. It has become one of the most anticipated times because everyone has the time to get out of town and go to the beach. In an effort to create some space for meditation, I usually write down my thoughts during these days, and I hope it will help you move into a more meditative approach to this week.)
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one of the few stories captured in all four gospels. This only shows the significance of what happened at that time. In modern church lingo, this is called Palm Sunday.
There is a purpose to this action by Jesus, it was intentional. What happened at this time was a direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy recorded in the book of Zechariah:
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.
Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)
Jesus rides into the capital city not on a horse and chariot, as a conquering king usually will do from a victorious war campaign — but on a humble animal. This should show us that there is something different that is happening here.
It is true that Jesus riding into the streets of Jerusalem, amidst the shouts of praise from the people, is symbolic of his ascension into his kingdom. But it is not a kingdom of this world, but a spiritual kingdom. And this king is riding literally to his death because it is only by his death and subsequent resurrection that this kingdom will be established.
The people welcomed him with shouts of praise and laid down their cloaks on the road so that Jesus can ride in comfort, as it were. Ironically, these people were also blind to the truth. God allowed these people to praise Jesus because he is worthy of it. But they were blind to what this kingdom that Jesus was coming to establish looked like.
They expected that Jesus would finally announce his political ambitions, lead the Jews to revolt and kick out the Romans from their land, and be the “messiah” they expected him to be. But this was far from what Jesus had in mind. So when their expectations were not met, their shouts of praise quickly turned to shouts of hatred and anger, calling for the death of this “king” that they so warmly welcomed just a few days before.
It is natural for us to be drawn to what we call “hype”. Whenever something exciting comes our way, our feelings and emotions are drawn to it in one way or another. And usually, we take “hype” at face value, without digging deeper to find if there is substance behind the hype.
The Jews were drawn to the hype and momentum that Jesus carried into Jerusalem. They knew him as the one who did countless miracles, the one who made the blind see, the one who healed the lepers and cast out numerous demons, the one who (gasp!) brought the dead back to life. If there was anyone powerful and charismatic enough to lead them against Rome, it had to be this guy.
They misjudged Jesus terribly.
Our penchant for being drawn to “hype” naturally puts us in danger. Hype blinds us from depth and substance. It blinds us from the truth. This is why a lot of Christians and churches are unhealthy and in danger— they follow the hype around a charismatic pastor, or a successful strategy or program.
Jesus was bringing a victory that was deeper than what the Jews were looking for. It was freedom from sin, and reconciliation with God — through the Gospel. It was the rebuilding of what a real community looked like. He was going to die for sinners, and those who would repent and believe in him would be justified, sanctified, and called into the community. This was the beginning of the kingdom of God, and it was going to start with what we now call “church”.
When all we see is hype, we usually miss out on depth and truth. Learn to discern, because ultimately, truth is more beautiful than hype.