There had been all kinds of rumors about the man Jesus of Galilee. He had left his home and spent most of his time with a band of twelve other men. He appeared to have unusual powers. Some claimed that he had healed their sick. Others said that he had cured their lame. There were those who even claimed that he could cast out evil spirits.
He was a man of considerable authority, yet he was very kind. There were those who suggested he was the expected Messiah, the chosen of God, who would bring freedom and new life for the Jewish people. But up until then, he had made absolutely no overture toward establishing a kingdom. On the contrary, as pointed out last week, he had always dismissed large crowds. But on the Sabbath of Palms, as it has come to be called, things were different. He seemed to welcome being hailed the chosen of God. In fact, for several days as he had made his journey south from Galilee to Jerusalem, he encouraged the crowds to come along with him to Jerusalem.
People were beginning to ask, "Just who is this Jesus?" The arguments and debates were many, and sometimes heated. Some believed that Jesus was the expected Messiah the Jewish prophets had foretold of, while others scoffed at such an idea. And there were many who could not decide and wanted to wait until further developments before committing one way or the other.
By the time Jesus got to the outskirts of Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders -- the priests, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin -- were concerned about the large number of people who apparently had joined up with him. Was Jesus about to launch a campaign to anoint himself as the expected Messiah? Would he try to oust them as the religious leaders of the Jewish nation and pronounce himself as the ruling religious authority?
At the same time, the Roman officials were concerned about the possibility that this man Jesus would try to establish himself as the "king" of the Jews. There had long been rumors that the Jewish people were expecting a revolutionary hero to emerge and lead them in overthrowing the Roman government. So the Roman politicians and military personnel were keeping a close eye on Jesus and his followers, ready to squelch any signs of a revolution before it got started.
As we read in the Gospels the story leading up to and including that first Palm Sunday, we realize that Jesus had a strategy -- a master plan -- he had been following from the very beginning of his ministry. It included the delicate balance between revealing that he was the Messiah and yet keeping it a secret. His plan was to reveal who he was gradually until enough people believed in him that he had creditability, and then he would make a public announcement that he was, in fact, the Messiah and what kind of a Messiah he was destined to be.
Prior to heading south on his journey to Jerusalem, he preached, taught, healed the sick, cured the lame, calmed the storms, cast out the demons. Jesus usually undertook these deeds in quiet places -- in someone's home, on a quiet hillside, or by the roadside -- in small groups. This was his way of "revealing" that he was the Messiah.
But when the small groups grew to be large crowds, Jesus dismissed the people, and he and his disciples withdrew to remote areas. (Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-46, John 6:15) When he performed miracles he frequently "charged" or "commanded" the people to tell no one. (For example, Mark 7:36, 8:30, 9:9) He even "ordered" the demons he cast out to tell no one. (Mark 3:11-12) These actions were his way of keeping who he was a secret until he was ready to go public.
Finally he decided that he had enough credibility to make a public announcement. He had pre-chosen Jerusalem as the place to do this. He had made secret arrangements: for a donkey to be brought out to the edge of town for him to ride (Mark 11:1-6, Matthew 21:1-7, Luke 19:29-35); for people to come out and meet him (John 12:12-13); and for a place to gather for what has become known as the Last Supper (Luke 22:7-13, Mark 14:13-16).
Just as Jesus had spoken with veiled "language" in his parables, on the Sabbath of Palms he spoke with veiled "action" -- not by what he said, but by what he did.
It had been expected by the bulk of the Jewish people that the long-expected Messiah, the Savior, would ride a great white stallion and organize a military force that would drive the Roman authorities from the Jewish "Promised Land." All great leaders rode white stallions. Instead, Jesus made arrangements to ride a donkey into town. Why would the Savior ride "the beast of burden"? And what does he do as soon as he gets into the city? Does he go to the governmental headquarters to lead a demonstration that will stir the people to rise up against Rome? No! He immediately goes to the temple (Mark 11:11, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45). Again, why would the Messiah, the new "king" of the Jewish nation, do this?
By his actions Jesus was telling the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman politicians who he really was -- that he was a man of peace and service -- not the typical king. By riding a donkey and going directly to the temple he was making it clear that he came to establish God's kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10, from the Lord's Prayer). And in this kingdom, it will not be necessary to keep all the "laws and commandments." Instead, all the laws and the prophets will be fulfilled by only two commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:28-31)
Truly, Jesus was the Master Strategist.
(Biblical quotes from Revised Standard Version)