If you follow the established Christian calendar, this past Sunday was Palm Sunday. It marks the start of Holy Week. The beginning of the end of Jesus three year journey to Jerusalem and His ultimate death and resurrection. On Palm Sunday the church reminds itself of the King on a donkey, humbly riding into Jerusalem to the fanfare of the crowds. Palm branches are torn from trees and strewn on the ground in front of the colt-borne Messiah.
I sometimes think of Jesus as the ultimate illustrator. He speaks simple parables about seeds, salt, trees and vineyards that delve into the depths of the human heart; profoundly uncomplicated yet bursting with meaning. Palm Sunday is another of Jesus perfectly staged illustrations. On the surface it is the simple story of a man taking a journey on a colt but in the depths and shadows of the story Jesus is making the ultimate statement about who He is.
If you've been in church for any length of time you will have heard a Palm Sunday sermon that talks of the donkey and route chosen as a deliberate fulfilment of Zecariah's prophecy 'Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and victorious is he, humble and riding on a colt.' You'e heard how Jesus choice to fulfil this prophecy was His public statement of His identity. Yet, hidden in story of Palm Sunday is the other side of Jesus ministry; that of the religious and political rebel.
As Jesus processes the crowd decorate His path. Some lay cloaks in front of Him and others lay palm leaves. It is in the palm leaf that we see the other detail of Jesus statement. Those who plucked the palm leaves and threw them on the ground were making their own statement. Jesus was to lead their rebellion. This was a people living under occupancy of Rome and the desire for revolution constantly bubbled beneath the surface.
The last great power to occupy Jersualem was the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BC and the last successful revolution was against this power led by the Judah Maccabee. They were triumphant in recapturing Jerusalem and rededicating the temple to God. The Palm branches were a commemoration of Judah Maccabee and marked Jesus as the new revolutionary who would defeat the oppressor and rededicate the temple. He was the new rebel.
Jesus was about to teach a lesson in what Godly rebellion meant. He was going to reclaim the Temple but not from the Romans. Jesus was going to rebel against the religious. Jesus rebellion was not one of strength but one of submission. Jesus rebellion was not against a political empire but against a religious empire that kept the 'normal' people out there and kept the elite safe on the inside of the Temple.
Jesus drew the title of rebel leader in order to make the bigger statement. The people's freedom was not being stolen only by the Romans but their greatest freedom was being stolen by religion that bound them as sinful and named them as unworthy.
As we reflect again on the Easter story of Jesus submission to death in order to open the way to God we must remember that at the centre of the gospel is a message of rebellion. In each of us there is a voice that tells us we must up our game to enter His presence. In each of us is a voice that judges others as not quite clean enough to get close to Him and yet the whole story is about levelling the playing field; because of this story all of our stories can have God at the centre.
On the first Palm Sunday Jesus started a revolution against the oppressive power of religious powers that can crush our freedom to live and worship God. The Easter story invites us to join him in rebellion and to be people who release captives and set the broken free. Make choices to rebel this Easter.