Choosing a Wise King

We have just finished Holy Week, and I am still reflecting on what it all means. Resurrection Sunday morning provides some hearty food for thought, considering that the followers of Christ are promised to one day experience being resurrected with new incorruptible bodies themselves. Good Friday is a bit more challenging. The Cross tends to stir offense or ridicule. But each one of Jesus’ followers have to wrestle with why he had to die a bloody death. What does it mean that Christ died for me? Christ’s death and resurrection have been and always will be the core of the Christian faith. How one responds to them determines what kind of Christ follower a person really is.

But what about that first day of Holy Week? We call it Palm Sunday. It has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Even as a child, I noticed the incongruence of Jesus being hailed the King of the Jews by adulatory crowds on this day only to be arrested, beaten, mocked and killed as a criminal a few days later. Why is recognizing this day significant? Why should we still celebrate it? And what application does it carry for our daily lives today?

The Cry for a Savior

All four of the Gospels in the Bible give a description of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. There are a few minor variations between them. But they all have Jesus riding in on a donkey with crowds throwing their cloaks onto the road in front of him, along with tree branches, assumably palms. The people shout blessings over the one who is coming in as their king, the promised son of David! The word they use is “Hosanna!” Which means, “Save us!”

The Jews of that time would have been thinking of their cry of “hosanna” in a different way than the average congregation in the US says it the week before Easter. They would have been calling for a new ruler to save them from their Roman oppressors. The cutting of palm branches and laying them on the road as their would-be king entered the gates of Jerusalem was an act rooted in their history. Its significance was deeply imprinted in every first-century Jewish mind. More than 150 years before, the Jewish Maccabean warriors had ridden into Jerusalem after finally driving out the last of the Seleucid Greeks — their brutally powerful overlords. It was a political miracle! Logically, it never should have happened. And it became the standard the following generations used for how the Messiah was expected to arrive. However, whereas the conquerors over the Greeks had entered Jerusalem on war horses, Jesus ascended to the city on a donkey.

A Different Kind of King

The Gospel accounts are very clear that Jesus specifically chose this lowly animal to make his entrance. We’re told that it was a fulfillment of prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” Zechariah 9:9 ESV).

The use of donkeys was also embedded in Jewish history. Kings were known to ride them — but never to war. David, just before he died, sent his son Solomon on his own donkey to be crowned Israel’s king. Such a mount carried a connotation of peace. Thus it seems that Jesus wanted to communicate that he was the Messianic king of the prophecies coming into Jerusalem but for a different purpose than they expected. 

Answering the hosanna cry? Yes! 

But the salvation He was about to purchase for them would go far beyond a military and political victory. He had come to save them from their estrangement from God — to bring peace with their Creator. This was something the average citizen of Israel was not looking for because it did not seem like their most urgent problem.

When He Doesn’t Meet My Expectations

How easily I fall into the mindset of those Jews. They wanted a king. They wanted relief. They wanted salvation. But they wanted it all on their terms. And like them, my attention typically goes to all my cries for immediate comfort and satisfaction. Oh God, meet all my felt needs (and desires) now! How often have I cried out for my interpretation of salvation to be fulfilled? Lord, keep me from pain. Lord, give me perfect understanding. Lord, make my life easy. Lord, change that person. Lord, . . . And in my obsession for the short-term, I cannot fathom what God is doing when He doesn’t respond the way I want Him to.

Of course, the Jews did not take Jesus’ refusal to take up the sword very well. In less than a week they were calling for his execution. They wanted one who would do their bidding, not one who in His love and wisdom was going to give them what they truly needed. They did not want a real king.

A Misunderstood King

So, in many ways, Palm Sunday is a sad day. It is a reminder of human blindness, of humans determined to have their own way even when they say they’re looking to God. And though they misinterpreted Jesus, He still came, riding in on a donkey just like the scriptures promised. He is faithful even when He’s misunderstood. And maybe this is a good reason to remember that day: to remind us how easy it is to misinterpret what God is doing, to reflect where we may be trying to squeeze Him into our own image.

Today, Jesus is a real king. A wise king. He is still in the process of establishing His eternal kingdom on the earth but also in me and in you. His salvation is coming — perhaps different than we expect. But He is truly a good king, a trustworthy one, especially when we don’t understand. 

Where do we need to confess to our king that we are blind and short-sighted? We cannot really imagine all the good He has for us. He’s asking us to wait for His timing and His way. 

For after all, He is the King!


  • What are some ways that I have felt disappointed with God?
  • What do I need to do to let His ways rule in my life? Even when I don’t understand them?
  • What are ways that I have perhaps misunderstood how God was answering my prayers for help?
  • Jesus, as my king, how are you wanting to save me from my enemies?

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