The Palm Sunday Mistake

March 22, 2018

by Erin Bird

It's no secret; I love movies. One of my favorite directors is Christopher Nolan, famous for writing and directing Inception, the Dark Knight (Batman) trilogy, Interstellar, and 2017’s Dunkirk.

The first Nolan film I ever saw was The Prestige. The film is about two 19th-century magicians competing to be known as the greatest illusionist of their time. Both men were so committed to their craft, they were willing to make major sacrifices. But the viewer doesn’t realize just how deep their sacrifice truly was until the end of the film approaches. The reason you, as the viewer, get surprised by the ending is because you naturally made assumptions about what you were seeing, causing you to fall into a “mental mistake” regarding the story.

A Biblical Mistake

In the New Testament, all four Gospels share a story of what has become known as “The Triumphal Entry.” This true story is remembered every year on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter (which is this Sunday if you didn't realize it!). If you aren’t familiar with the story, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey as people wave palm branches while yelling, “Hosanna!” (which means “give salvation now” in Hebrew).

But the palm wavers were making a huge Prestige-level mistake.

The palm branch had become a symbol for Israel, meaning the wave of a palm branch was a rebellious gesture against the Roman Empire. On top of this, Jesus was riding into town on a donkey, in fulfillment of a prophesy about a coming king (Zechariah 9:9). So, the people assumed Jesus was arriving as a political Savior who was going to “give salvation now” by overthrowing the Roman government and reestablishing Israel as a sovereign nation.

But that’s not why Jesus was entering Jerusalem.

You see, Jesus didn’t come to earth to overthrow or establish a political nation. As the eternal Son of God, He knew powerful nations rise and fall. Rather, there was a spiritual empire that had enslaved God’s people for several millenia. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit (see Genesis chapter 3), sin had subjugated mankind. So Jesus did not come to overthrow a temporary Roman empire, but rather overthrow the long-reign of sin. His aim wasn’t to simply be a political king, but the True King over all things, including life and death.

But it is not just the palm wavers that were mistaken about Jesus. Sometimes modern humans like you and I make assumptions about Jesus that are also incorrect.

  • Some view Him as simply a good moral teacher,
  • Others see Him as a benevolent God who will give us nice things if we behave,
  • And still others have an opinion that He's just a myth created by desperate people.

But Jesus is none of those things.

Like a Prestige magician, Jesus, fully God and fully human, willingly sacrificed Himself on a cross, not to pull off the greatest illusion ever, but to truly pay the penalty of sin so you and I might be freed from its tyranny and could enter the Kingdom of God. And to make Jesus the King of your life is not a mistake, but rather the best thing you could ever do!

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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