Holy Week Devotional: Palm Sunday, April 14

Palm Sunday

By Steve Wells, Pastor

Matthew 26:35–27:54; Psalm 118 and Psalm 22

It was the Sunday morning before the Passover and Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the Roman Province of Judea, awoke early. He and his troops from the Italian regiment were twenty miles west of Jerusalem, having left the fortress at Caesarea Maritima — Caesar by the Sea — two days before. Pilate preferred the ocean and his real work was there. The port at Caesarea was strategic: grain from Egypt stopped there en route to Rome. Without that grain, Rome would starve; without a working port, there would be no safe shipping lane. Caesarea was also a much more pleasant place to live than was Jerusalem. Jerusalem was inland and insular, provincial and partisan. Caesarea was a global port with a constant stream of world travelers. Nonetheless every year Pilate and his troops came to Jerusalem for the Passover. They did not come to observe the feast; they came to prevent a revolt. When Jews got together to remember how their God threw off the yoke of Egyptian oppression, it was Pilate’s job to ensure no one began to think it might happen again. Everyone knew he was coming and he planned to arrive in a way that would command respect.

Pilate rode into Jerusalem at the head of a genuinely impressive imperial parade: cavalry on horseback; infantry wearing leather armor, helmets, weapons, and carrying banners; and in the very front leading the procession, the golden eagle of Rome carried on poles, glimmering in the blazing sun. Pilate was the representative of Tiberius Caesar. According to the Romans, Caesar was not simply the emperor, he was the son of god, a title that went back to Caesar Augustus(reign 31 BC - AD 14), son of Apollo and Atia. Tiberius’s titles include “son of god,” “lord,” and “savior.” Tiberius claimed to have brought “peace on earth.” But Tiberius brought the Pax Romana not shalom. And Pilate intended to enforce the Pax from his permanent garrison in Jerusalem, Fortress Antonia, a formidable structure overlooking the Jewish courts and Temple. Pilate represented the love of power. 

Mark 11:1-11 tells the story of an altogether different procession, a procession Jesus planned to demonstrate the power of love. Jesus came to enact a prophesy:                    

Zechariah 9:9-10 “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

No one knew Jesus was coming. And yet as Jesus approached Jerusalem from the east people at the mere site of Him ran to put their cloaks on the road before Him and cut palm branches from trees to pay Him homage, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This king, this Messiah, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land. He will command the nations; He will be a King of peace. Of the increase of His governance and peace there will be no end. 

Two thousand years have passed since that first Palm Sunday. No one remembers Pilate’s parade anymore. Rome is a lovely tourist destination where the only global seat of power is the Vatican. Meanwhile all around the world people still gather to worship Jesus.  

When you look at the world around you, do not be confused by apparentpermanence. Kingdoms come and go. Nations rise and fall. Tyrants have short seasons. But the reign of our Lord Christ endures forever. 

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