On Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday, as some know it) we consider Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he is crucified. Jesus’s disciples, like many of the pilgrims arriving into Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, are expecting that his arrival will herald a new era where he will heal the sick, raise the dead, rebuke the Pharisees and sit in the throne to rule as king. When Jesus arrives on a donkey, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, the messianic expectations of the people are fuelled. But there are a few hints that Jesus’s agenda as ‘king’ is a little different to what the people expect.
Jesus’s use of a donkey is the first hint. Numbers 19:2 and Deuteronomy 21:3 tell us that heifers who have never been put to work, or ‘never borne a yoke’, are chosen to be sacrificed to God. So the fact that this donkey – a colt – has never been ridden suggests that a sacrifice to God is about to be made.
The other detail to note about donkeys is they were used for civil rather than royal or military processions. So Jesus’s triumphal entry is meek and peaceful – another hint that Jesus coming as king is not going to play out in the way the people expect.
As Jesus arrives in Jerusalem palms are being waved and cloaks are being laid down for the donkey to walk on. The people cry, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’, which comes from Psalm 118:26 and again connect the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament with Jesus.
Not everyone is happy, though. The Pharisees in the crowd ask Jesus to rebuke his disciples. That Jesus is received so enthusiastically by the crowds provides a powerful motivation to the Jewish religious leaders to get rid of him – and quickly.
And how does Jesus respond to the Pharisee’s request that he rebuke his disciples? According to Luke’s gospel Jesus says: ‘I tell you, if they keep quiet the stones will cry out.’
The stones will cry out? What does this mean?
I’ve had two thoughts. Firstly, I wonder if the stones Jesus refers to are the stones of the temple. And since Jesus is the temple (John 2:19) the stones work as a metaphor for Jesus. Jesus’s life, his actions, his choices, his words, his behaviour, are all going to cry out and praise God and speak of his glory – especially in the pivotal event of his crucifixion and resurrection.
The second idea is that stones are literally stones, and it is all of creation that will speak of God’s glory. In Psalm 19 David wrote: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ As I’ve walked my dog at sunrise for the past few months, I have seen the skies proclaim the glory of our God. But while I’ve been out there, I’ve seen a few stones crying out as well – with messages of hope and encouragement for us all during this challenging time of the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been encouraging to see our community come together through the simple act of footpath illustrations. University of Melbourne public health researcher Professor Lisa Gibbs refers to it as a form of community mobilisation, and the kind of action that will hold us together throughout our current trials.
But isn’t it interesting that when it comes to promoting hope people have chosen the rainbow as a symbol. It reminds us of the hope offered in Genesis chapter 9 verse 14 when God made a covenant with all living creatures for all generations: Never again will I destroy all life.
Instead, in response to our sin, God offered plan for our redemption.
This is how Jesus will become our king and defy the expectations of many of those around him.
This plan is why Jesus is arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. To die on the cross, take on the punishment for our sin, and then to defeat death through his resurrection that we might be reconciled to God.
Now there’s a message of hope worth declaring on our footpaths.