Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I Don't Wave Palm Branches

Another Palm Sunday has come and gone and once again, I didn't spend much time talking about it in my message. To be honest, not too many Assembly of God churches focus on the events leading up to Holy Week. There is no major doctrinal reason for this other than it always seemed these things were better left for the Lutherans and Catholics. Not sure why - it's simply what has been quietly taught and accepted. 

However, Palm Sunday raises a bunch of questions in my mind. Why would a group of people be so excited about this Messiah only to crucify him the very next week? Even more so, why would Christians today want to re-enact that parade each year? It almost seems a bit morbid to want to celebrate the events leading up to Jesus’ public execution. I understand in order to grasp historical events we must embrace the whole story, including the parts that make us uncomfortable. That fact carries over into our individual lives today: we must embrace our whole story too.

So what is the story of Palm Sunday? Jesus lived and taught as a Jewish rabbi, presenting his message amidst a mixing pot of competing ideas. Jesus' message differed greatly from that of the Zealots. The Zealots were the people who waved the palm branches as Jesus made his way through Jerusalem and cried out, “Hosanna,” which was actually their war cry. Sadly we have transformed this war cry into a cheesy worship music record label. Jesus offered freedom, but not in the earthly or political way that the people expected. Instead, Jesus offered spiritual freedom and lived a humble lifestyle with little earthly power.

Jesus conducted his ministry as a Jewish rabbi in the region of Galilee, an area consisting of often conflicting worldviews. In one city secular Jews cooperated with Rome while in another, passionate Zealots encouraged revolt. Jesus presented his own message amidst this chaos. Because he spoke with God's authority, many people recognized Jesus as a rabbi with something more powerful than the others they had heard from: the authority to teach his own interpretation of the Text. As Matthew 7 records, "The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority." Jesus had a passion for the Text. He had probably memorized the entire Hebrew Testament. And as a master storyteller, he often wove biblical concepts together in ways his audiences had never heard before.

The Zealots (the ones waving the palm branches while shouting “Hosanna!”) anticipating that the coming Messiah would use military power to bring freedom from the Romans. Jesus was greeted with jubilant war cries and the laying down of palm branches to signify the Zealots’ acceptance of him as their Messiah as he entered Jerusalem during his final days. With their hearts set on earthly freedom, the Zealots expected Jesus to overthrow Rome. Sadly, they completely misunderstood Jesus' message of spiritual freedom and couldn’t see that he was offering them so much more than a simple earthly coup d’├ętat.

Jesus wept as he saw the Zealots' palm branches, knowing that their quest for political freedom would come to a gruesome end. He spoke to the crowd, saying, "If you only had known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:42)
When the Jewish Revolts began around AD 66, Rome sent her army to crush the Zealot movement. At Gamla, the arrival of the Roman army created mass panic. More than five thousand people lost their lives as they jumped or fell off Gamla's northern cliff.

After reading this brief history of Palm Sunday, maybe you can begin to understand why I do not want to line myself up with the Zealots. This dark time in history lead to our Savior's torture, death, and Resurrection. It’s an essential part of our story, but it’s just not a chapter I want to dwell on. To me Palm Sunday highlights the “build them up so we can tear them down” mentality that is all too prevalent in society even today. The Zealots’ immediate acceptance of Jesus was followed by a quick and vicious betrayal when he didn’t fit their mold. That’s just not a celebration I want to be a part of. To stay consistent in the Christian walk and live this Resurrection message out all the time is my desire…not just on one particular day for my own personal gain. Perhaps we should have bit more "zealot" in us; we ought to be passionate and relentless in our thirst for Jesus – but the real Jesus, not our preconceived notions of him or who we want him to be.

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