There really is only one story in the Bible. Now, yes, there are hundreds of stories, but these are all part of the grander story that is God demonstrating his great love for all of creation, through his creative acts and his redemptive acts.
Amidst all these stories are certain ones that we know so well, we actually don’t know them at all. It’s the familiar stories that we hear every single year. We attach sentimental feelings to the story so much so that we neglect the biblical truth that is being proclaimed and we gravitate towards the sentimental feelings they provide.
Palm Sunday, or the Triumphal Entry as some call it, is one such story. The scene of children waving palm branches ushers the warm fuzzies into our hearts as we imagine Jesus riding on a donkey. How cute, we think.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a neutral thing – warm fuzzies don’t always lead us deeper into the life of Jesus. We don’t need neutral feelings, we need heart-gripping truths. We can grasp such a truth when we go a bit deeper into the story that we hear on the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It’s the story of the King entering Jerusalem. It’s the fulfillment of Luke 9:51 when Scripture records of Jesus, “and he set his face towards Jerusalem”. The public ministry of Jesus, though beginning in Capernaum, would end in Jerusalem. Everything about the life of Jesus is about what will happen in Jerusalem.
The story of this day isn’t about the palms, the donkey, the cloaks, or the praising; it’s about the fact Jesus has come to Jerusalem. The King is in the House, and he is going to take it. He knows what it takes, he knows the price (it will be his life).
The King has entered Jerusalem, because the hour is approaching. Soon this King will not feel the swift breeze of palm branches waving at him, he will feel the unforgiving lashes in his back from a cat of nine tails, effortlessly ripping apart his flesh. Soon the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest” will shift to “crucify him!”. In a matter of days, where hands once reached out to touch his hands, no longer, as nails will be driving into his hands. Soon there will be no cloaks on the ground to pad his fall, he will simply fall on the cruel rocky soil of Jerusalem streets with a cross mounted to his back. On Sunday he is lifted up on a donkey, on Friday he will be lifted up on a cursed tree, we call a cross; affixed to it with 3 nails and some rope.
This is no triumphal entry, this is no palm Sunday, this is the day Jesus enters Jerusalem. Now, it’s not merely his face that is set towards Jerusalem, his body is in Jerusalem and he has work to do and words to say. He has come to enter into the hour for which he was sent and to do the work on a hill called Calvary that would open paradise, set the captives free, and crush the head of the serpent.
The story on the Sunday before Easter Sunday is the story of the King entering Jerusalem. Humble and riding on a donkey as Zechariah prophecies? Oh Yes. But even deeper, even more heart wrenching is that the King has come to die, that he might bring the dead to life.
Luke is Pastor of Discipleship to the community of saints, in Christ, at Nashville UMC.