Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Roman troops deployed to Jerusalem in the province of Judea did not know that this day would be called Palm Sunday.
They were, however, very aware that the festival of the Passover was approaching. They could expect big crowds to jam city streets. Jews from near and far would come to celebrate the time when Israel broke free from Egypt. Overnight, they went from slavery to freedom.
The story was told that the firstborn in every Egyptian household was found dead in the middle of that night. Soon afterward, its mighty army perished in the Red Sea. It was whispered that the people of Israel were protected by a mysterious force. Their history was filled with amazing stories of divine intervention.
But that was all in the past. The Assyrians had decimated these same people, and those in Judea had been taken as captives of war to Babylon. Since they returned, they had no standing army and no king.
Yet, the soldiers knew that violence could break out at any time—especially at a time like this. There was a group called the Zealots that vowed to kill as many Roman soldiers as possible. They were a standing threat.
Now, a new threat put them on high alert. Among the crowd expected to pour into Jerusalem was a rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth. He had drawn crowds numbering into the thousands at times. Reports of his miracles had spread. It was said that he even raised the dead. Some even claimed he called himself the Son of God.
More disturbing was the rumor that he was the Jewish Messiah. Some expected the coming Messiah to set himself up as a king. He would drive the hated Romans out of the Promised Land.
To the deployed soldiers, that seemed an empty threat. But any insurrection could turn ugly and dangerous—and arouse the displeasure of those in power back in Rome. Careers could be ruined. Blame could easily be thrown around. The consequences could be painful.
Rebellion was not tolerated by Rome. Those who failed to quickly suppress it were not tolerated either. The troops were on edge.
Word spread quickly when Jesus began to make his entrance into Jerusalem ahead of the Passover. Reports came in that huge crowds were cheering him. Worse, he was arriving the way the old Jewish kings had traveled. He was on a young donkey—just as the ancient writing had predicted the king would come.
The crowds called out “Hosanna!” which was high praise. They were laying down cloaks and branches in his path. They were calling him the “Son of David.”
David had been a famous Jewish king. Were they saying that this Jesus had now come to rule as an heir to his throne?
A prophet had written long ago that the day would come when Jerusalem would break out in celebration. That would be the day on which her powerful king rode into the city.
Roman soldiers were inclined to write the prophecy off as foolish. “Behold your king?” What a joke! If the one riding the donkey claimed to be the king of the Jews, they would easily overpower him. They would make him a laughingstock before his own people.
They did do that. But it wasn’t so easy. In fact, it became a bit frightening. The sun stopped shining at noon on the day of his execution. The words he spoke while dying were strange. He was heard calling out to his Father. He asked his Father to forgive those who were killing him. He wasn’t as much killed as he died by giving up his life into his Father’s hands. Hard to forget!
The centurion in charge of the execution detail was heard to cry out, “Surely, this was the Son of God!”
And then, this Jesus came back from the dead! Soldiers had been there when it happened. They were bribed to keep quiet and tell a lie. But the word spread.
“Behold your king!” The ancient message wasn’t just meant for the Jews.
It also meant, “Roman soldier, behold your King!” For he was.
It also means, “American soldier, behold your King!” For he is.
It’s the voice of God calling out, calling out still: “World, behold you King!” For he surely is.
Prayer: Surely he is the Son of God—my King and my Savior. Amen.
Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.
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