I grew up in the Church. Every time the doors were open we were there. As a small child I heard the many Bible stories that make up the fabric of our Christian faith. Unfortunately over time, my familiarity with these stories served as a form of inoculation to their real power. The overall testimony of Scripture and of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are a window of brilliant illumination by which we can peer into GOD’s eternal mysteries. But too often we have domesticated the revelation – we have reduced it to fairy tales, principles to live by, and general inspiration that reinforces a life of ‘greeting card sentimentality’ and selfish spirituality.
So I often need a refreshed perspective on the timeless testimony of the Bible to break me out of what I assume I already know and understand. I’m not looking for something new – I’m looking to uncover what has been there all along. And so I try to place myself in the story to understand what the living characters would have seen and understood. All of this is freely available to us in the Biblical text. The short story below is my efforts to place myself in the cultural context of that time.
In the story of Jesus’ ‘triumphal’ entry into Jerusalem it is clear that his followers and the crowds that joined them were high in hopes that Jesus was about to be unveiled as their Messianic King. For them it was both a spiritual and political reality. They were looking for deliverance from a very real oppressor – the Roman Empire. From the Jewish religious leader’s perspective the movement started by this rural Galilean, Jesus, would bring about the crushing blow of Rome upon their heads. They decided to sacrifice him to The Empire in exchange for their own lives – and positions of power. The revolt would be cast down and this miracle worker Jesus would be silenced, no longer deceiving the people. The religious leaders’ motivation appeared to be a perfect storm of religious jealousy, mis-perceived “blasphemy” and political anxiety. Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb for all of Israel. They were blinded to see that this was indeed our Creator incarnated and that his life, death and resurrection would change everything. His kingdom which will one day unleash restoration on all nations and the entire Created Order will, if we are willing, also restore our wayward and selfish hearts in reconciliation to GOD. The Creator Himself became the Passover Lamb for all peoples of the earth. And in our partaking of Him – the Angel of Death has been disarmed.
But they did not expect this kind of deliverance- and still today this is largely true. Jesus said ‘my kingdom is not of this world’. Are we still trying to make Him king by force or can we accept that His ways are not our ways?
I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a sense of joy and excitement in all the camps as we traveled towards Jerusalem. We were all looking forward to the Passover feast but most of all, we who had been following the Rabbi Yeshua all this time, had been hoping that he was the fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah who would deliver us from the Roman occupation. In fact, we were convinced. We were waiting for the moment when he would publicly reveal himself to all of Israel.
Some of us had tried to make him king by force earlier on but somehow he had repeatedly averted attempts to be exalted. Many of us believed though he often seemd too humble to accept it. We knew he was the Promised One. We witnessed the miracles. We saw the healings – even experienced them ourselves! We heard his teachings. The kingdom was at hand – Israel was to be restored. And yet he spoke of the kingdom in strange terms at times – in language that seemed like maybe it would not come in our lifetime…or in another way, without overthrowing Rome. But we did not understand.
There were many of us: the hungry crowds lost and searching for food, for both their bodies and their souls. Their was the seventy or so who were commissioned to go out. Their was the twelve of the inner circle and those who knew them, and then those of us who had been touched by Yeshua, who followed him out of a grateful devotion. We had been changed. I was once a beggar who could not walk for many years. But with his word I was made whole. He had changed everything for me. And in this movement there were many who could say the same.
As Yeshua approached Jerusalem many of the Judeans who had been with us the day before and many others who had not yet seen him seemed to be joining our cause. Many had heard of Yeshua’s teachings and miracles but had never actually seen him. They had been convinced from afar. We were all charged with a renewed hope and restored faith in Hashem. Maybe He had not abandoned us. Maybe this was to be a Passover like the first – when we would become the victorious ones – no longer slaves to our oppressors. Yeshua rode into the glorious city on a humble beast of burden. I could not help but meditating on the words of the prophet Zechariah:
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses 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…” (Zechariah 9:9-10)
And yet I felt he deserved more than riding on a lowly beast. Here was our promised king. We shouted “Hoshana!” “Baruch Haba B’shem Adonai!” (“Deliver Us!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”) and honored him with palm branches and layed out our cloaks to pave his way. As we crossed through the gate with singing, we were drunk with joy. But I could not help but wonder in my heart if this victory would be short lived. I looked and noticed a heavy presence of several Roman Legions throughout the city. Several of us whispered nervously. Our crowds became intermingled with the Passover crowds and somehow I knew that this was indeed our moment. Either Yeshua’s movement would become unstoppable or somehow the unspeakable was at hand. But I could not even bare to think of it.
I had heard of the plots to kill Yeshua but many of us considered them to be merely rumors…until that night. We were all observing the Passover meal according to our tradition. Yeshua and his inner circle were in a hidden location. Later in the evening I had laid down to rest and had a strange dream in which I saw Yeshua riding a white horse with a sword in his hand. He was flying like a hurricane force wind and his hair and beard were gleaming white and he rode as if he were breaking through the clouds of the sky. I saw all the Roman Legions standing to oppose him and with a single phrase that shot forth from his mouth like a flame they were all set ablaze and turned to dust. I woke up startled at a knock on the door. The dream was still hanging like a weight in the corner of my mind when I heard the news that Yeshua had been arrested. My grandest dreams came crashing down.
I sat on the floor. Collapsed in weeping. The messenger had moved on to spread the word. Everything had suddenly changed…