As we remember the ‘triumphant entry’ of Jesus into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, I began to wonder afresh what the Jews of that time were expecting Messiah to look like. They were celebrating his arrival, waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna’, and yet somehow seemed to have missed who He was and what His mission was entirely.
Jews today still wait for Messiah to arrive.
What or who are they looking for? Did they simply not notice, or were they blinded to the truth so they didn’t try to stop events?
I headed to a website that described what Jews believe about Messiah and what sort of attributes He would have. I found it fascinating that the majority of the things are clearly already fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
They say that Messiah will be a ‘child who grows up to rule in peace.’
Jesus was the Prince of Peace. He gives us peace that surpasses understanding. I know that I can testify to encountering that peace, while in the midst of personal storm I have felt a peace that doesn’t make any sense.
They say that he will be a skilled judge and will be a descendent of King David.
Matthew 1 lists the genealogy of Jesus, clearly showing His lineage back to David and beyond. There is no doubt of His pedigree in that respect. His judgements were like nothing that had ever been heard before. There were two types of Rabbi – those that followed after the teaching of a previous Rabbi, and those that had authority to interpret scripture. Jesus clearly had the authority to interpret scripture. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him, those watching on knew what the traditional interpretation of the law was and were eager for an opportunity to trip Him up. Jesus also knew the law but knew that there was far more to it than had been originally interpreted.
They say that Messiah will be a great warrior. Now, that one is perhaps a little harder to see fulfilled, certainly on Palm Sunday. It wasn’t until a week later that Jesus would fight His greatest battle – and win. The war He was fighting was against the effects of the enemy in people’s lives. He cast out demons, He raised the dead to life, He healed the sick. The Jews were looking for someone who was going to come and over-throw the Romans and give them back their nation. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, He turned towards the Temple, rather than towards the palace. It became clear to those who knew their scriptures, that this was to be no rebellion and uprising.
The website went on to suggest that the arrival of Messiah depended on the people Israel. If Israel merited a Messiah, He would appear on the clouds. If not, He would arrive on a donkey. Perhaps they were so convinced that they were doing the right thing, that they were obeying everything that Moses had commanded them, that they were already righteous enough to merit a Messiah coming on the clouds. They missed the fact that Jesus wept for them, and for Jerusalem. He could see that theirs was an empty religion, in desperate need of a Saviour. He rode in on a donkey to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah yes, but also to declare to the Jews that it was time to realise their need of relationship with the God who had chosen them centuries previously.
They believed that the Messiah would come as a blighted beggar. Jesus himself said that foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He didn’t sit at the gates of the city and ask for alms as the beggar who was later healed by Peter and John, but he didn’t come from a well to do family with riches. He didn’t have a foot on the 1st century property ladder. He slept where He could, in the homes of those who believed who He was.
The Messiah was to be a successful philosopher. From the age of 12, we know that Jesus was able to confound the teachers of the Law with His knowledge of scripture. He spent so long in the temple in Jerusalem at that time that His earthly parents lost Him. He answered questions with questions and tied them up in knots.
I think for me the one that is closest to my heart is that they believed that the Messiah was to be “waiting for us, among those who need healing.” The gospels are full of stories telling us that Jesus healed each and every one who came to Him for healing. Others He went out of His way to find and heal (think of the man at the pool of Bethesda). Others were healed with a word, some He touched. Each time, He was filled with compassion for them and brought the Kingdom of Heaven near to where they were.
So close that they could reach out and touch it.
I am so grateful that there were some there on that first Palm Sunday who did see Jesus for who He was. The read the signs and believed. Without them, I would never have found out about the man who was God, who gave up everything for me. The one who suffered the most brutal death imaginable in my place, is the one whose resurrection we will celebrate in a weeks’ time.
I pray that unlike the majority of those who were there, you will see the signs, that you will open your heart, and that you will allow the One who suffered for you, a place in your life today.