“…However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem. As he rode into the city on a donkey, many of the residents and visitors to the city spread palm branches and coats before Him. The people were hoping the coming Messiah would defeat the ruling Romans and restore Israel to the glory it had when David was its king. Indeed, Jesus would conquer sin and death, but not the Romans. And He knew that His team of followers, as big as it seemed to be that day, would abandon Him completely over the next few days. He knew how quickly things change.
While we often celebrate Palm Sunday as a happy day, there were dark clouds and evil intentions overshadowing the entire story. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as His procession started from the Mount of Olives toward the city. The people would reject Him as Messiah which would lead to destruction. In less than 40 years, the Romans would destroy the city and the temple.
The religionists, fearful that they would lose their power and status because of this upstart rabbi who had won the hearts of the people, were now bent on the destruction of Jesus. This even though Jesus had passed every test in the book for being the true and long-awaited Messiah. When people put their religiosity and self-interests before devotion to their God, they become idolaters. The religious leaders loved the prestige of their positions more than they loved God. They valued the successful business model they created at the Temple more than true piety and holiness. They were looking for a Messiah who would validate their authority, further their franchise, and consolidate their power. Their self-interest blinded them to the real Messiah.
How quickly things changed for the people, who on this Sunday hailed Jesus as the blessed One who came in the Name of the Lord. By mid-week a great number of them were convinced by the religionists to shout down the Roman governor and demand the death of Jesus. How quickly things changed for the disciples. They entered the city amid a huge crowd of noisy supporters. “The tide has turned,” perhaps they thought. But things changed again, quickly.
The Messiah had come to inaugurate the new covenant and new kingdom on earth, but not the kingdom the people were expecting. This kingdom is like no other, for it extends itself not by land, territory, buildings or human-derived organizations. It does not grow by legal decree, religiosity, rituals or entertainment. It grows through the hearts of faithful disciples who humbly commit their living every day to their God. Disciples who live with humility, love, obedience, self-denial and total devotion.
The focus of this kingdom is Jesus Himself, alive within each one of His true disciples. The focus is not religiosity. The focus is not even upon Jesus as we find Him in the Gospels, the “Jesus with a beard and sandals,” as Juan Carlos Oritiz would say. This kingdom is about what Jesus is saying to each of us today. This does not mean the Jesus in the Gospels is not important. It simply means that the Jesus alive in each of us now by His Holy Spirit is more important.
Even as the coatless multitudes waved the palm branches and shouted for joy, they missed the reason for Jesus’ presence. They could neither see nor understand His message and mission. How many are in the same situation today? We live in an era in which religion has largely replaced kingdom living in the hearts of many. The kingdom is not apprehended in religious works. It is apprehended in a fixation upon Jesus living in us, in a life crucified to self-derived and self-focused living.
Matthew 7:21-23 records words of Jesus that must be heard by every person who claims religiosity as the entrance to the Kingdom. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
Are we living religiously as did those who greeted Jesus that first Palm Sunday, or are we living a new covenant relationship with the Spirit of Christ every day? It is this new covenant relationship our God seeks with us, a relationship characterized by a consuming love for Him, daily intimacy with Him, crucified living before Him. We dare not miss it.
“Learn, then, that if in Christ’s kingdom you would be a peer you must be a disciple; to sit at his feet is the honor which he will give you. Hearing his words, obeying his commands, receiving of his grace — this is true dignity, this is true magnificence. The poorest man that loves Christ, or the humblest woman who is willing to accept him as her teacher, becomes at once one of the nobility that wait upon Christ Jesus.” – C. H. Spurgeon