Who is Your King? Reflections for Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday is almost here. This is the day in the Church calendar where we celebrate Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our King is coming! Within the story of the Gospel narratives, this momentous occasion took place just days before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Jewish people declared this man from Nazareth riding on a donkey to be their king – even though they knew not what they were getting themselves into.
Together, they sang from Psalm 118:
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalm 118:26, Mark 11:9)
Days later, this King would be abandoned and left to die alone.
How could the people who declared their great love for Jesus turn their backs on him just as quickly? Is it possible that for all of our plans for Palm Sunday and Easter this year, we can be just as quick to turn away from Christ to worship lesser things?
What do we really worship? Who is our true King?
Reasons for Praise
Psalms 113-118 are what have become known as the Egyptian Hallel.The word hallel means praise, and Egyptian signifies how each of these 6 Psalms have become associated with the time of the Passover. The people of Israel would have sung these Psalms during their celebration and remembrance of God’s mighty works when He freed them from Egypt.
The crowds of faithful Jewish worshipers sang from Psalm 118 as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. They declared this King to be one who had the power to free them from oppression and restore them to glory – just as God had done through Moses in the past.
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14)
In this regard, the crowds were responding rightly to who Jesus is. Worship is the right response to hearing what God has done and who he is. Psalm 118 recounts several reasons for praise – all of which can be ascribed to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the greatest reason to praise our Lord Jesus is because his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 118:1-4). Christ has pledged himself to his people in love. This is a love that never fails, never disappears, never disappoints. It never changes. It is not a fickle thing as our love is. Christ’s love does not change based on fleeting emotions as ours often does.
The longer I’m a Christian, the more I’ve come to realize what is most often missing in our lives. So many of us are so busy, preoccupied, or consumed by distraction that we are missing the foundation which makes us most human: love.
Jesus himself said it best in John 14:15, If you love me you will keep my commandments. The formula for progress and growth in our lives begins with love. I’m not talking about some kind of generic, butterflies in our stomach kind of love. This is a love for the God who has accomplished our salvation, the God whose steadfast love endures forever. If at any point we find ourselves in despair or feeling unfulfilled, the problem most likely comes down to what we might call misplaced and disordered love.
Only God’s steadfast love is big enough to be the foundation for our lives – a foundation for us to build ourselves upon. Anything else is too small.
But here is the problem: we are incapable of controlling what and who we love. Just think about it. How often do we fall in and out of love with people or things? We start new hobbies only to give them up when we find out its too hard. We buy new pieces of technology thinking they’ll make us happy only to find they’re collecting dust a year later. We enter into relationships thinking this person will make us happy, but as soon as we find out how hard it is to love deeply we run away.
We are incapable of ordering our loves properly. We need Someone from outside of us, Someone who we can trust, Someone who we can really let in to every corner of our lives, who can properly show us what it means to be human and order our loves appropriately.
The Bible answers this great problem of ours by declaring to us that what we need is a King.
The King Who is Praised
The deeper you get into Psalm 118, the more you can’t help but feel like what we’re reading about is the celebration of a person who both knows God’s salvation personally but who also accomplishes God’s salvation for the rest of His people.
Who has the power to cut off entire nations (Psalm 118:10)? Who has the power to demand that the gates of righteousness be opened for them (Psalm 118:19)?
Psalm 118 is talking about a King. The people of Israel knew their Scriptures. They knew that this Jesus was the one which they had sung about for generations.
Hosanna! (meaning “Save us, we pray!”) they cried as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Jesus is their King who could cut off the nations and open the gates of righteousness.
They worshipped him by laying palm branches as his feet; a sign that the people anticipated Jesus being the leader of a military victory. But Jesus did not come to overthrow the forces of Rome, he came to overthrow the forces of sin and death so that his people would be free.
This is an invasion. Light is invading darkness.
The donkey was a sign of royalty in ancient near eastern culture. By sitting on a donkey, Jesus himself was acknowledging that he is the King. But a donkey isn’t exactly a war time animal, is it? As one of my professors used to say, anyone who rides into battle on a donkey knows that he is going to be slaughtered. Jesus rode into battle not to conquer his enemies through military might but through the sacrifice of his own life.
Of course this isn’t the end of the story. Days later his tomb would be empty and the stone rolled away – not primarily so that Jesus could get out but so that we could get in and experience the resurrection for ourselves.
But there is a cost to following this Jesus. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).
You notice how quickly the crowds who celebrated Jesus began to dwindle until ultimate he is left alone to die. Despite all of their Scriptural knowledge, despite all of their outward show of worship – they would still run from the one who just days earlier they declared to be their King.
This is the cost of following Jesus. You must make him your King. You cannot have Jesus as Savior if he is not your King, the one who invades every dark corner of your life in order to properly order who and what we love.
Each of us loves something or someone the most. Whatever we love the most – this is what we live for. This is what drives us and gives us significance, satisfaction, and meaning. This is our king.
We have crowned whatever it is we’re living for and given it authority to rule over us. If it’s our career we say to ourselves, “This is how I know I’m successful and meaningful – by how well I perform.” But if something goes wrong in our career we spiral out of control. Why? Because our career is punishing us for our failures. It oppresses and rules us. We have crowned it king and master over our lives.
If it’s our family then they are our masters. If you’re living for your children, you’ve crowned them. If everything hinges on them being happy then you are not your own. They’ve bought you for a price.
Fill in the blank in your own life. What are you living for? Political and social issues? A relationship? Body image?
Whatever we’re living for, it does not serve us – we serve it. We’ve all crowned something other than Jesus. Ask yourself: what have I crowned in my life that is causing me pain? What oppresses me when I fail? What leads me to despair when I don’t measure up?
Then consider Jesus – the compassionate and tender King who came not to be served but to serve. He is the only King who we can give ourselves to that will show us through the gates of righteousness. He is the only King who shows us grace rather than misery when we fail.
This Palm Sunday ask yourself: Who do you serve other than Jesus? Who is your king?