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Palm Sunday Sermon: What Kind of King Did You Expect?

So, when Jesus miraculously saves the lame man by first saying, “Your sins are forgiven” and then healing him, he challenged the authority of the Temple system. And when Jesus drove the money-changers from the Temple, proclaiming that the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but that the religious leaders had made it a den of thieves, Jesus exposed the corruption of the Temple tax, the scandalous monetary exchange rate, and the dishonesty of those who sold animals for sacrifice.

Jesus had disappointed and alienated powerful people.  He did so because the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priest, the scribes, most of the Levitical priests, and others who ruled on Rome’s behalf, were part of the same system of oppression and domination that Pilate was part of.

A Contrast of Kingdoms

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem may or may not have been planned to occur on the same day as Pilate’s procession through the western gate of the city.  Whether it was planned or not, the two processions provided a contrast that was unmistakable.

For, you see, Pilate served the Son of God, too.  The late emperor Augustus, who ruled from 31 BC to 14 AD, was said to have been fathered by the god, Apollo, and conceived by his mother, Atia.  Inscriptions referred to him as “son of God,” “lord,” and even, “savior.”  After his death, the legend had it that he was seen ascending into heaven, to take his place among the gods.

Augustus’ successors—Tiberias during Jesus’ life and ministry—also bore divine titles, until later in the first century the emperors would demand to not only be addressed as “God,” but to be worshipped as God also.

A contrast between kings and kingdoms was on display that day in Rome.  And, although many of the common people thought they sided with Jesus, they did so for the same reasons the Pharisees and others sided with Rome.  They thought Jesus could do for them what Rome had done for their rulers—make their lives better, deliver them from the oppressive system under which they lived and worked, and turn the tables on the Romans.

That’s why the crowd turns on Jesus by the end of the week.  They don’t think he’s going to do any of those things.  And, in addition, Jesus is going to make life worse for them, not better.  Their religious leaders, all of them, who never agree on anything, agree that Jesus is going to attract the attention of the Roman empire, especially during Passover, and Rome will come down fast and hard on the entire nation. (see Caiaphas’ speech in John 11:45-50)

So, when Jesus is accused, when he is brought by Pilate before the angry mobs, they want to be rid of him.  Jesus, in their minds, never did what they wanted him to do.  He never defeated the Romans, he never dissolved the unfair tax system, he never put common people in charge of the government, and furthermore, he never would.