As we move into Holy Week, we are retelling the last days of Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection. We’ve created a tradition over the last years to tell the passion story in creative ways on Palm Sunday, starting from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his death on the cross. I encourage you to read one or all of the various gospel texts (they’re all a little bit different) to get a fuller sense of the story: Matthew 26:14 to 27:61, Mark 14:10 to 15:47, Luke 19:28-40 and 22:1 to 23:56, John 12: 12-16 and John 13:1-38 and 18:1 to 19:42.
In my sermon this weekend, I talked about some of the details that we can sometimes miss that help shape the story, like:
- The day we celebrate Palm Sunday, Jesus is entering into Jerusalem. He’s going there because he was going to celebrate the Passover- an important festival for the Jewish people.
- There weren’t lots of temples all over the place; there was just the one in Jerusalem. People would travel great distances to get to Jerusalem to worship God together and celebrate the Passover.
- People had been waiting for a long time for the Messiah. The word “messiah” means “anointed one”—it’s a term often used for a king.
- As Jesus enters into Jerusalem, the people start waving their palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord- the King of Israel!”
- The people were not free; the Romans were occupying their land and governing over them. They longed for the day for autonomy and freedom.
- The religious leaders handed Jesus over to the government, using the word “king,” that Jesus called himself the messiah. They used this word so that they could accuse him of treason.
- Barabbas (the prisoner who was the one released on Good Friday) was in prison because he was a criminal, a murderer, an insurrectionist. He was someone who was actively trying to overthrow the Roman government.
- Barabbas’ name means son of the father (“bar” and “abba”). It doesn’t seem like an accident that “the son of the father” is standing next to “The Son of the Father”
- The crowd already seemed to have a replacement in mind with Barabbas. It’s ironic that they accuse Jesus of treason (though he was innocent) and then choose Barabbas who is in prison for treason and murder.
Taking all of those things into consideration, here are some things that I’m wondering about:
- Did the people hope Jesus would be the kind of king they wanted: someone who was strong, someone willing to do whatever it takes to be autonomous again? Perhaps even overthrow the government? Did they end up choosing to free Barabbas in the end because they believed he’d fight for them? Or just to find a way to kill Jesus?
- What changed between Palm Sunday and Good Friday for the crowds? In the first crowd we see people yelling “Hosanna” and calling Jesus a king and the second crowd that’s gathered are yelling “crucify him”?
- Was Barabbas the kind of person they actually wanted as a leader? Did they think that Barabbas was taking Jesus’ place as a leader? I want to say that Jesus took Barabbas’ place. And took our place.
- When are we people who want someone like Barabbas? When are we people like Barabbas?
The kind of king the people may have wanted Jesus to be would only be temporary and situational, but the kind they needed him to be was one that he was and is. Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death and promised us new life when he died. That’s the kind of hope that lasts forever, not just a time. He led with sacrifice, humility and servanthood. That’s the kind of king we need, always.