We remember it in the church as Palm Sunday. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s the day when Jesus of Nazareth pre-planned a comical, yet prophetic event, in order to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah (Zech. 9:9).
Jesus literally acts it out.
It’s no coincidence. At the same time Pilate is parading in on the west side of the temple to oversee Passover, ready to put a stop to any chaos that might ensue, Jesus decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. He’s not on a war horse wielding a sword, he’s on a donkey. And he’s not packing.
Think about that.
Not quite the entrance folks were expecting from their Messiah.
Nevertheless, the crowds give him a royal welcome. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And all of this to the waving of palm branches, symbolic of messianic deliverance to the Jews, clearly harkening back to the time the Maccabees threw off Greek rule in Judea. Everyone understands this scene.
This is it. It’s Jesus’ time to prove himself as the long-awaited Messiah, the son of God. Will he go to the Antonio Fortress, where the largest garrison of soldiers are housed in Jerusalem, where Rome kept an eye on things? No doubt, the crowd could quickly turn into a mob and rush the place.
But he doesn’t take a right for the fortress, instead he goes left through the eastern gate, and into the temple. He goes in, looks around, and according to Mark’s gospel, he leaves and returns the next day for some prophetic theater in the spirit of Jeremiah. We all know what happens next.
He wasn’t “cleansing” the temple. He was shutting it down.
By the end of the week, Jesus had pretty much peeved everyone off. And early Friday morning Jesus is standing before Pilate saying:
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 NLT)
He said his kingdom is not of this world. Wait… what?
What does Jesus mean that his kingdom is not of this world?
Let’s be clear about this.
Jesus doesn’t mean his kingdom isn’t for this world, or that it isn’t to be manifested in this world. He isn’t saying that his kingdom is far away in another dimension where we all walk on clouds with our loved ones singing “Amazing Grace” for eternity. That sort of kingdom isn’t a threat to Pilate or the Sanhedrin. But too often that’s how we’ve imagined it.
An immaterial, escapist “heavenly kingdom” doesn’t reflect anything Jesus has been living and preaching for three years. No, the kingdom of God is real. You can see it if you’re born from above. You can touch it. It’s definitely subversive.
But it’s nothing like the kingdoms of the world.
“The crucial distinction between the two kingdoms is how they provide antithetical answers to the questions of what power one should trust to change ourselves and others: Do you trust “power over” or “power under”? Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but noncoercive power of Calvary-like love?” — Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (pg. 33)
This is the kingdom we’re being invited into: A kingdom that looks like sacrificial, Calvary-like love. It looks like Jesus riding on a donkey. It looks like him hanging on a cross for the sins of the world.
Make no mistake about it. If we’re being faithful to the King and his kingdom, our obedience will inevitably lead to a collision with the kingdoms of the world, those systems which Satan controls (Matt. 4:8-9). We need to hear this now more than ever as disciples living within an American empire.
Are we willing to suffer with Jesus and follow him to Golgotha?
As we think back on the discouraged disciples in those final hours, and learn from their despair in the garden with a steadfast Jesus, may we be reminded that this is not the time to fall asleep from the weariness of our trials and tribulations, from our striving to do what is right.
It’s also not the time to be overcome with sorrow because Christendom is crumbling and we feel clueless as to how we live in a world hostile to our message. We shall learn to do what most Christians have done before us.
We mustn’t give into the temptation that Jesus rejected in the wilderness with the evil one — the temptation to trust in the power of the sword and law to fight back. As Paul said, our weapons are not like those of the world (2 Cor. 10:4).
So we must be careful that just because we’re not one of “those evangelicals” on one side of the American political aisle, who are certainly an embarrassment, sometimes a mockery, to the name Christ, that this means we are somehow more qualified to use government for kingdom purposes, or that we’ve actually found the third way of Jesus. Far from it.
Leaving one party and political philosophy for another doesn’t mean we now know how Jesus would vote, even if he would vote.
As an Anabaptist, I’m often asked that: “Do you think Jesus would vote?”
Well, let me say this: If he would, I don’t think he’d tell anyone about it. As petty as it may be for the Lord of the Cosmos, I’d say maybe he would cast his ballot, but then he’d move on about the Father’s business, knowing that participation in the political process is sort of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It may allow some folks to make it more swiftly to the lifeboats who don’t want to drown, but the ship is going down.
I don’t say that as a cynic-saint, but instead as a disciple who hears the Lord saying: “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, I’d be doing worldly kingdom kind of stuff. Sure, I’ll talk with Pilate. I’ll even call Herod a sly fox. But I’m not doing the power-over, tit-for tat thing. No, I’ll expose the evil and injustice of the system by my good works, but I won’t play Caesar’s game. All those who know me will follow me.”
It’s more apparent to me now than any other time in my own life: It’s time that the church adopt a healthy suspicion of all kingdoms of the world, all parties and all candidates. If you feel convicted to participate, OK. But don’t be fooled into believing, into trusting, that there is anything uniquely Christian about it. Don’t get your life from that.
Don’t put your hope and trust in any earthly, political savior or slogan.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you belong to another. Your citizenship — your allegiance — is to a heavenly King and his kingdom (Phil. 3:20). Don’t confuse your calling as a kingdom ambassador by mixing the language and concerns of Jesus with partisan politics. Our Lord doesn’t approve.
It’s time to trust in the power of the cross, to pledge our allegiance to the one riding into town on a donkey, the suffering Messiah — vindicated in resurrection because of his faithfulness. It’s time to believe that his kingdom advances when we stop trying to bring it through worldly kingdom means, and instead see the church as his agents of new creation.
We can do this with a holy confidence that God will renew all things in this way, as slow and foolish as it may seem, because we’re not left alone in that wilderness with the evil one. As it was with Jesus in the desert, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, we have the Spirit to lead us and God’s angels to protect us. We have a Lord who says, “Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you. I will be with you to the very end of the age.”
As we begin to adjust ourselves to a post-Christendom culture, I want to say to us that now is not the time to be overcome by fear, reaching for control in an angry panic. No, this is the time that we learn what it means to be a faithful presence, to patiently make disciples like Jesus, and wait on the Holy Spirit to move among us. This is the way of the cross.
In the days ahead, I pray we return to, or simply be reminded of, the basic beliefs and practices of our faith, and what it means to be faithful aliens and exiles in a foreign land. Let us live in active obedience to Christ, and not in fearful reaction to the mess around us.
May we stand and pledge our allegiance to our commander and chief — the crucified and risen Christ who rides into his house on a donkey. With him we shall overcome, crushing the head of the serpent with feet fit with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Finally, when your allegiance is tested in the months leading up to the election, as it likely already has been, I want to encourage us to remain faithful to what we have professed in the ordinance of baptism and what we remember every time we share in holy communion: It’s in dying that we live.
Lord, help us say it with our lips and with our lives:
Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
David D. Flowers is pastor of Christiansburg (Va.) Mennonite Fellowship. He blogs at The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ, where this post originally appeared.