Palm Sunday often is the neglected sibling of Easter Sunday.
After all, the message of the resurrection of Jesus from the grave makes a far more sensational headline than Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
However, we might examine more closely this less emphasized act of Jesus and learn some important truths about servanthood, humility and greatness.
The context of the story is important.
The land of Israel was an occupied territory under the iron rule of Rome. Rome's legions had subjugated the fiercely independent peoples of Palestine through the sheer force of military might.
The peace was an uneasy one. The Romans were not known for their compassionate governance of Israel.
On the contrary, the Romans lorded their superiority over their subjects at every opportunity. Their rulers and generals paraded through the ancient city with pomp and displays of might. The centurions rode their battle steeds on the streets of Jerusalem inducing fear of them in the local citizens.
It is into this context that Jesus comes, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
More of an anti-hero than a conqueror, Jesus, the man who was a miracle worker, the one who was at the height of his popularity among the population, the one who was an Israelite, could have taken advantage of the situation.
The people threw their garments into the street lest the beast who carried the hope of Israel tread upon the common ground.
The children shouted, "Hosanna to the son of David," as the people waved palm branches to their choice of a leader who would overthrow Rome.
Yet Jesus did not rise to the occasion as we might normally expect. He did not rally the volunteers to topple Roman rule. He did not exalt himself and allow the people to crown him king.
Jesus simply rode the donkey's colt into Jerusalem in contrast to the expectations of many.
By the end of the week, he was washing the feet of his disciples and teaching them about servanthood, and then dying willingly on a Roman cross.
One of the truths about Palm Sunday is what Jesus demonstrated by not exploiting the willingness of the people to make him their king. It was that humility that was needed to make his death on the cross a reality.
Palm Sunday was really a test of either grasping the obvious opportunity of earthly greatness or doing what was right in the sight of the Father, and giving up Jesus' own life as the payment for our sins.
Think of a world patterned after the example of Jesus. What causes conflict, bitterness and war? Isn't it the contest of who will be first? Isn't it about looking out for number one? Isn't it about who is the most powerful and who will be dictating what others will do?
What if we acted counter to the strong pull of exalting our own interests? What if we intentionally set aside our own ambitions and put the needs of others ahead of our own?
What kind of world would we be living in if we were more concerned about the needs of others as opposed to our own?
It is easy to see that most of us choose the pattern of ancient Rome, one of power and might. We live in a world of conflict, a nation of conflict and often in families of conflict.
Who is ignorant enough to put themselves at a disadvantage so others can prosper?
That brings up another truth about Palm Sunday: humility now gives way to exaltation later.
The story of Palm Sunday doesn't end at the crucifixion, or even the resurrection, as wonderful as those events are. The Bible tells us that now Jesus is in that place of exaltation.
"And being found in appearance as man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
"Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on Earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," Philip 2:8-11 (NKJV).
Don't miss the great truth of Palm Sunday in anticipation of the resurrection. There is much to learn here as well.
I encourage you to find yourself in church this Sunday seeking and worshiping Jesus, the humble servant king.
Stephen Brown is a minister at the Kenai New Life Assembly of God, 209 Princess St., Kenai.
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