In honor of Palm Sunday, we took a break from our Story of Scripture series to discuss the Triumphal Entry and other events of Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday). We did this in a way that was more thematic rather than expositional.
In the Triumphal Entry, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, which itself is a claim to be Messiah (see Zechariah 9:9). Jesus does this on purpose, expecting the people to recognize him as Messiah. However, the way that he enters the city shows that he is indeed the promised King from the Old Testament, but the Kingdom he is claiming is not the kingdom that the people expected. The people of Israel mostly would have expected a Messiah to overthrow the oppressive Roman empire and restore Israel to the glory that it had under David’s and Solomon’s reigns. This is even demonstrated in the blessing people shout about “the coming kingdom of our father David!”
But it’s important to recognize that this is not the way that Jesus will act as the Messiah (at least not yet). Rather, the Kingdom of God that Jesus rides into Jerusalem to take reign over is an Upside-down Kingdom. What this means is that the Kingdom of God does not work the way that the kingdoms of the world work.
To illustrate this some, we watched a Bible Project video about how throughout Scripture, we see that the last will be first, and this is no different in Jesus’ ministry and in the Kingdom that he proclaims.
Specifically looking at the events of Holy Week, we see how clearly Jesus demonstrates this Upside-down Kingdom and calls his followers to live in the same way. He washes the feet of his disciples before they eat dinner (John 13:1–20), which was a job reserved for servants (and the lowest of them, for that matter). He even calls his followers to imitate that mindset. This humility and upside-down-ness is most clearly seen, however, in the events of Good Friday—his death on the cross.
Jesus rode in as the Messiah, and it can be tempting to think that his death upset that plan. However, we see in Scripture that his death was God’s plan all along, and that it was by dying that he really became King. His death was not an accident. It was not sprung upon him by the religious leaders and Romans. Rather, he willingly chose to lay down his own life so that the rest of the world could take up the true life that he offers. In an earthly kingdom, the ruler would do everything he or she could to preserve their own life. Jesus, in this Upside-down Kingdom, however, models that true life is gained only by self-sacrifice. We inherit true life by dying to ourselves and following Jesus. We experience the joys of true life by giving up our own desires to serve the needs of others, pointing them also to the life that Jesus offers.
And in the events of Easter Sunday, which we eagerly long for through Holy Week and celebrate on Easter, we see that Jesus’ self-sacrifice leads to resurrection. The Kingdom of God is an Upside-down Kingdom, and he invites each one of us into it. True life is found not in the offers of the world around us, but in the call to die with Jesus. Let’s cling to that truth and hope each and every day!