Never one to shy from controversy, the short trek from Bethany to Jerusalem found Him with a growing crowd of the curious and the confessors. Just days before in the little suburb village the One who had become a sensation in both Galilee to the north and Judea to the south by His miraculous powers had done the impossible again. This time His friend Lazarus, dead and entombed for four days had responded to Jesus’ clarion call in the cemetery to “Come forth".
Wide-eyed onlookers must have quickly spread the news around the village, whose population was swelling by pilgrims passing through on their way to the weeklong Passover celebration in Jerusalem. “He raised a dead man to life. I saw it with my own eyes”. So, it was no surprise on the Sunday that kicked off the festival He was surrounded as He made His way to the Holy City.
Surely none of them, other than Jesus, could have imagined how the shouts of joy and exuberance in God’s salvation would within a few short days turn to calls for His execution. Even His twelve disciples, who had been given ample warning that this would be their last Passover with Him; that this visit to Jerusalem would result in His crucifixion seemed to ignore His purpose for this Passover. Maybe they just got caught up in the moment.
Certainly they never imagined how the man they followed – they had already come to believe He was the Messiah – would plummet from the exalted Son of David, the deliverer of the oppressed nation to being traded for the life of a known insurrectionist.
Yet Jesus not only knew what would transpire those coming days known as “passion week”. Imagine knowing that within these city walls waited your unjust arrest, trial and execution for the crimes of others in just a few days, yet being compelled, not by some suicidal death wish, but by your love for those who would hate you to refuse to retreat. Of course we can’t imagine that.
The events of that week, which included stirring up even more “controversy” by upsetting the apple cart of hypocrisy among the religious elite to the common people were all carefully orchestrated by something more than “fate”. This was the culmination of an eternal plan to make possible the reconciliation of estranged mankind back to a relationship with our Creator God.
Around the world this Sunday multiplied millions will gather in churches to remember and celebrate Jesus of Nazareth’s ride on the colt of a donkey through the city gates and into the welcoming throngs of a people longing for a political leader to free them from the grip of Roman domination. To them He would return Israel back to its long ago place of a proud and independent kingdom, reigning from the throne of His ancestor and national hero David.
Palm Sunday is a day that should be full of mixed emotions. On the one hand we’re celebrating with the multitudes, shouting “Hosanna”. But on the other hand perhaps we should be shouting, “Turn around. This isn’t going to end well”, because we’ve read the story. We know what horrible suffering He’ll endure, and that by the setting of the Sabbath sun He’ll die a brutal death.
It’s a tricky day. But it’s a day worthy of our expectation and our exultation. If it has never grabbed your attention, perhaps this is the year to give it some thought. The week ushered in by Palm Sunday was a week like no other in all of history. In fact human history turns on the events that transpired. That includes your history and mine. So, take time to consider this most controversial Man.