Year after year at Passover, Jews by the hundreds of thousands savored the national memory of their liberation from slavery and their start on the road to the Promised Land. In Jesus’ day, they were still in that land but no longer as a free people. They were enslaved by Rome, and the freedom of Passover was only a dream. Many saw Jesus as the Messiah sent by God to make their freedom dream come true.
He certainly had the perfect name for a liberator, like a banker named Banker or a baker named Baker. Jesus, or Yeshua, or Joshua, means “God liberates” or “God saves/delivers/sets free”. When the crowds chanted, “Hosanna,” they were using the same root word as that name comes from. “Liberator, liberate us! Savior, save us!”
And when they called him, “Son of David,” they were saying, “Rightful heir to the throne”. Since he literally was a descendant of King David, he fit that prophetic specification for the Messiah. Even more obvious, he himself chose to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, which is how the prophet had said the God-sent Messiah would one day enter. (Zech. 9.9)
It did not take a genius to connect the dots. Such a good man! Such a great teacher! Such a powerful healer! All these prophecies fulfilled! And he had just raised a friend from the dead, even going beyond the prophecies! If not him, who could ever be the Messiah? If not now, when?
The crowd was so, so primed and ready for Jesus to say the word, so eager to let Jesus know that if he would say it, they would back him up with their lives. In effect, they were giving him the keys to the city of Jerusalem and to the whole nation. It was Jesus’ golden opportunity to take power, exactly as they expected him and urged him to do.
But Jesus was not swayed by their expectations. He was “all prayed up” for the occasion and thus inoculated against the first and most subtle of many temptations he would face that week: the temptation to be what his admirers wanted him to be. In the desert at the beginning of his ministry, the tempter had failed to deceive him or deflect him from his mission, and now here in the city of Jerusalem, at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the tempter would miserably fail again. Jesus saw through everything, even the roar of the crowd, and he stayed free from the tentacles of acclaim.
Affirmation: I join the Palm Sunday crowd in cheering Jesus, but I will never tell him who he has to be for me. The King of Freedom is free to be who he is.
Prayer: Son of David, may I never get carried away by the expectations or the praise of friends, letting it drown out your voice as the defining, liberating voice in my life.