Today is Palm Sunday, the day our Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Jesus needed people’s help. He needed someone to prepare a donkey and the upper room for the last supper. Mary also prepared him for his burial by pouring her alabaster jar of perfume on his feet. In this same way, our worship and service to the church participate in assisting Jesus in his work.
Have there been times in your life of faith when you have been disappointed? Were you disappointed with God for his response to your prayer? Or perhaps were you disappointed because what God did was completely different from what you expected? The title for today’s sermon, “Great Expectations” is about the great expectations which the people had for Jesus on this day. Their misunderstanding of the Lord led them to make wrong decisions, wrong actions and led to disappointment.
The Passion Week begins on Palm Sunday, when people waved palm leaves in celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is the week when the Lord will come to Jerusalem for the sake of redeeming his people, the week during which the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.
But why did Jesus enter into Jerusalem? The people who welcomed Him cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” That’s our confession too. “We’ve been waiting since the fall of mankind, so please save us!” Luke 19:38 says that they cried out “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” They saw Jesus as their king. But look at Jesus, riding on a baby donkey. He looks like a grown-up trying to ride a kid’s tricycle, with his legs touching the floor. He didn’t look triumphant at all, so why would the people call him their king? But in less than a week, these same people will cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
By the time of Jesus, the Jews had gone through many political seasons. They were waiting for the true king because their current king was an Idumean, not a Jew. Idumeans were descendants of the Edomites, who descendant from Esau. The Jews had previously conquered the Idumeans and forced them to convert to Judaism. But now, somehow, an Idumean was their king: Herod. The Jews thus had an expectation for a new king, and Jesus fit the description of Zechariah 9:9 (‘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’).
The Political History of Judea
From the time of Babylonian captivity (586 BC), the Jews were under another world power. They came under the power of Persia (539 BC), and Greece (331 BC). After the fall of Alexander the Great, his generals took over. Ptolemy ruled over the Jews first (320 BC) but was later overthrown by Seleucid (198 BC), whose reign was considerably harsher. One of the Seleucid kings was Antiochus IV, who forced the Jews to sacrifice pigs on the altar; an incredibly blasphemous act.
In the midst of all this, Mattathias started the Maccabean revolution (167 BC). As an influential person, Mattathias went into the wilderness and gathered forces for a guerrilla war. After he died, his third son, Judas Maccabee, continued to grow their forces for a revolution. And somehow they gained victory and independence for the Jews. Under such independence, the Jews cleansed and purified the temple. They were finally free to worship God. But the kings and priests became corrupt and followed the ways of the Seleucids and even worshipped the Greek idols. This made them weaker till the point that Rome could take over. This was the context into which Jesus was born (4 BC), and this shaped the people’s expectations of their Messianic King. They expected their Messiah to overthrow the foreign powers ruling over them.
What factors can we identify within the period of the Maccabean revolution?
• The revolutionaries killed the blasphemers and those who oppressed the people.
• The revolutionaries gathered forces in the wilderness.
• The revolutionaries purified the temple.
• The revolutionaries received victory against impossible odds due to God’s intercession.
The People’s Expectations for Jesus
These factors led the Jews to have similar expectations for Jesus, and even for John the Baptist. John the Baptist preached and gathered people in the wilderness, and rebuked Herod. However, John the Baptist was killed by Herod. Jesus fasted in the wilderness and began his ministry by cleansing the temple (John. 2:13-17). Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples were named Simon, John, and Judas; names associated with the leaders of the Maccabean revolution. The people saw Jesus as the new Maccabee.
Who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem? The people expecting Jesus to be a revolutionary. Who was uncomfortable with Jesus’ entry? The religious and political leaders were comfortable with the current way of things. The Pharisees and Sadducees were profiting from the political situation. They could buy the position of “high priest” because of the Roman Empire’s influence. And they would be the first ones to be executed for their opportunism.
What about us? What are our expectations for God, and how do we respond when God doesn’t fit into our idea of who or what God should be like? What if the Bible says something we don’t like? We might persecute God or change what the Bible says. The victory was given by God’s intercession during the Maccabean revolution. Likewise, the people expected Jesus to have a great victory over the impossible odds. John the Baptist had the same expectations, and when Jesus didn’t fit, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come?” (Matthew 11:3). Unlike the Maccabean revolutionaries, Jesus and his disciples did not kill the traitors or sinners. Instead, they were hanging out, eating and drinking with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and ex-demoniacs. Jesus only seemed to be interested in the widows, the orphans, the sick and the poor. He didn’t make any plans for guerrilla wars to overthrow Rome.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the people’s final hope for a huge climax. The people wanted to see Jesus overthrow Herod and Rome through some miraculous revolution. But Jesus got himself arrested, was beaten, and suffered. And so the disciples were shocked. Jesus was crucified, and the Jews remained under Roman rule.
Jesus was the King of Peace, and he came to give people. The people wanted political independence. Jesus came to save those under the oppression of sin and idolatry, not from our political overlords. The purpose was different. Jesus judged the religious leaders for turning away from the Word, rather than judging the traitors of the nation such as the tax collectors. Jesus cleanses and purified the spiritually defiled temple, and invites the people to the true temple of His body. Jesus sought the true citizens of God’s kingdom instead of soldiers for a guerrilla army. Jesus was supposed to kick out the Romans from the temple, but instead, he kicked out the religious leaders.
Through the cross, we are given independence and freedom from our sin and death. The Jews missed all of this because of their misguided expectations.
Isaiah 9:1-7 talks about the king of peace who comes as the leader to fight against the forces of the enemy. But the people did not understand what peace meant (cf. Lk. 19:41-44). Jesus came to give us real freedom and real independence. Jesus came to give us the kingdom of God.
Conclusion: What is the expectation we have of God and the Lord’s Second Coming today?
What do we expect from the second coming Lord? Are we actively waiting for Him, or are we uncomfortable with His return? Why do we want Him to come back? To stop our pain and suffering? Jesus comes as the King of Peace. Like the one who prepares the donkey and the upper room, who only knew “The Lord has need of it”, we need to have the same attitude of service. We need to give our own alabaster jar of perfume in welcoming the Lord Jesus.