People generally come to God for one of two reasons: either they want help or they want forgiveness. The first group is much larger than the second. If you ask people if they want to be prayed for, surprisingly few will say no. If you ask if they want to repent and accept Gods mercy, surprisingly few will say yes. We humans seem quite aware of sin in others, but view our own with much more compassion. When talking about our own failures were likely to spend a good deal of time explaining why we did such a thing and to point out that really we were victimized in the process ourselves. After all, we didnt mean to do the wrong thing. We just did what we thought was right, or at least necessary, at the time. And did we mention all the bad things that have been done to us? And lets not forget the fact that we know lots of people who do things that are far worse. So when put in perspective we really arent that bad. Wed rather think of ourselves as good people whove been misled. Most of us only begrudgingly admit our sins when God presses us hard enough.
Theres always been a controversy over the question, Are we humans good by nature or bad? Are we the source of the problem or just victims? And those who believe they are good dont feel the need of a Savior. All they want from God is supernatural help so their life on earth will be happy. But in Gods opinion our first and greatest need is forgiveness. Thats why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey.
Palm Sunday (Lk 19:28-44)
Its not that Jerusalem in Jesus day wasnt ready for a Messiah. They were! And great multitudes thought Jesus was He. As He came up from Jericho to celebrate Passover huge crowds followed Him full of anticipation. They had seen Him work miracles on a level of power that only the Messiah could perform (Jn 12:9-19). They longed for Him to declare Himself openly, to fulfill those promises found in the prophets about God delivering their nation from her enemies and making them prosperous. They took off their outer robes and lay them on the road to welcome Him as king. They waved palm branches which was the symbol used by the zealots to declare freedom. But Jesus refused to give them what they wanted, instead He offered them what they needed.
Choosing a lamb (Ex 12:1-14, 21-28)
What we call Palm Sunday was the 10th of Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar. It was the day on which lambs were to be chosen for the Passover. While still slaves in Egypt God had instructed Israel to prepare for His deliverance. They were to take an unblemished lamb and put it in a pen by the house until twilight (3pm-5pm) on the 14th of Nisan, which, that year, was Thursday evening through Friday evening. At twilight it was to be sacrificed and its blood splashed on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. On the night in which He brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt He would pass over every home where He saw the blood. While crowds pled with Jesus to rise up as the lion of Judah, He refused. Instead He rode toward the temple as their passover lamb (Lk 22:14-20).
When you read through the prophets there are large sections describing what the Messiah will do when He comes as a great king with power and authority. He will bring peace and prosperity to Israel and the whole world. But interwoven among these passages are other passages which describe another kind of Messiah: One who is humble and comes to suffer and die for our sins. The two messiahs seem dramatically different. So much so that there has always been controversy. Its interesting that the Qumran community (the Essenes) who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls saw these passages and concluded that there must be two messiahs. One they called King Messiah, after the order of David, who would come in power and authority to rescue and rule, and a Priest Messiah, after the order of Aaron, and they also mention Melchizedek (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:17), who would redeem Gods people from their sins (Ray Vanderlaan, That the World May Know, Volume 3, lesson 3, Focus on the Family, 1996). As Christians we believe in a king Messiah and a priest Messiah also, only we believe they are the same Person, Jesus. We believe He comes to earth on two different occasions. He had to come first as our priest in order to atone for our sins, and having been raised from the dead will come again as our King with power and authority. Here are examples of these dramatically different passages:
1) King Messiah: Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-16
2) Priest Messiah: Isaiah 53:3-12; 59:9-21
The horse and the foal (Rev 19:11-16; Zec 9:9, 10)
With this background in mind, can we see the powerful statement Jesus was making as He rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey? He was introducing Himself to the nation as their humble Messiah who had come to bring forgiveness before prosperity. He chose the foal of a donkey, not a warhorse, to tell Israel He was their lamb, not yet their lion. He had come to atone, not rule in power. He was refusing to be their king until He had first been their priest because unless they repented and believed the next time they saw Him He would be their Judge, not their Savior. So His ride down the Mt. of Olives divided the crowd and disappointed most. Only those who knew they were sinners and desperately wanted forgiveness rejoiced to see this kind of Messiah.
Johns baptism (Luke 20:1-8)
John the Baptist had told the people of Israel they should fear the coming of the Messiah because they werent spiritually ready to meet Him (Mt 3:1-12). They needed to repent and live holy lives or King Messiah would bring judgment rather than blessing. His warning is still true today.
How do you and I react when we see Jesus riding humbly toward the cross? Are we profoundly grateful because we know we deserve Gods judgment? Do we fully accept responsibility for our own sins? Can we look beyond excuses and recognize weve chosen evil and need mercy? Can we say with Isaiah:
All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his (or her) own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isa 53:6).
Because if we really see our own sin and the terrible danger we would be in were it not for Jesus, then Palm Sunday becomes a day when we too choose a lamb for Passover. We who want mercy more than blessing recognize this priest messiah, this lamb of God. We have eyes to see and ears to hear (Mt 13:16) because we are willing to repent. For a very different reason than most of the multitude on the Mt. of Olives we cry out, Hosanna, Lord save us now!
1) What did you see or understand that made it possible for you to repent when you first came to Jesus? What did God show you about yourself? What did He show you about Himself?
2) For believers repentance becomes a lifestyle. We often find ourselves needing to repent. Tell us something you repented of recently (please, nothing too personal).
3) How would you explain repentance to an elementary-school-age child?