I am learning that there is an ebb and flow to ministry as I continue to navigate my first year as Senior Pastor. Certain times of the year are busier than others. As a youth pastor, the summer was always the craziest. Mission trips, summer camp, VBS. It seemed like it would never end. Now that I am a Senior Pastor, the expectations are different. I am experiencing first hand the busyness and stress that the Easter season can bring.
As I write this, I am in the eye of the storm. We just celebrated Palm Sunday, which just so happens to be Confirmation Sunday as well at First Church. On Thursday, Easter weekend begins with our Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday, and finally two Easter Sunday services with breakfast in between. Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time over the past weeks and months planning services and messages for this week.
I share this with you because, as I prepared for Holy Week, I was struck by the dramatic shift that takes place between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. At the beginning of the week, Jesus is welcomed as a king. He is given the red carpet treatment. Crowds follow him into the city like an ancient victory parade. People are swept up in the excitement of it all as they shout “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” These words are dripping with Messianic expectation. The people were hoping that Jesus was God’s Messiah, his chosen one, who would set them free from oppression and reestablish David’s throne.
Oh, how swiftly public opinion changes.
In just a few days, Jesus will be arrested, unfairly tried, beaten, and crucified. All the while, the crowds that once cried “Hosanna!” are shouting “Crucify him!” Jesus went from being welcomed as king to being executed as a rebel and thief. That is a huge change in just a few days. Why did their opinion of Jesus change so quickly?
You have to take into account, of course, that the crowds were not composed of the same people. The members of the murderous crowd were not necessarily the same people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, although it is likely there was some crossover. More important, however, is the fact that Jesus was not the Messiah they expected. For a long time, God’s people expected a Messiah who would come and set Israel free from foreign rule. They wanted a military leader who could establish Israel as an independent kingdom, much like they were under King David centuries before.
But Jesus is not that kind of king. Instead of conquering his enemies through military force, Jesus taught his disciples to love them and to pray for those who persecute God’s people. He said whoever wants to be first should be last, and whoever wants to be the greatest must become the servant of all. Jesus’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom. It flies in the face of the expectations of the world. The people of Israel expected a conquering king. Instead, their king came in peace, willingly laying down his life to set his people free.
And so people rejected him. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they expected. But he is the one they needed.
The shift from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is not the only change that takes place during Holy week. On Easter Sunday, like on Palm Sunday, we celebrate and welcome our king. This time, we worship our Resurrected King. On Easter morning, Jesus conquered an enemy even greater than Rome. He conquered sin and death itself. In doing so, he opened eternal life to all who put their trust in him.
As you celebrate Holy Week, thank God that he did not give us the king we want. He provided the savior that we need.