The Lord Enters In Unlikely Ways - Pastor Aaron Dolan
God is a God of surprises. He doesn’t do what we would expect. He doesn’t go about things the way we would. Try approaching the Bible this way. When you are reading it or hearing it, consider, “What should have happened here?” Or “What would I have expected to happen?” Or “What would I have done if I were God?” Forget that you know how the stories end, and you’ll discover that God is a God of surprises. For example, Adam and Eve ruined God’s perfect creation with their disobedience. They hid from him, blamed each other, and brought death into the world. And God responded by…promising his own death in their place. Surprising. When a humble, faithful woman in need came to Jesus to plead for her daughter, our compassionate and caring Savior reacted by…ignoring her completely, until he finally opened his mouth and called her a dog. Surprising. Not what we would have expected. God is a God of surprises. But there’s always a reason for those surprises.
Let’s look at Palm Sunday that way. The Lord Enters Jerusalem. That’s simple enough. He begins the week of his crucifixion and resurrection—the week of our salvation—by entering the city to the shouts and cheers of the crowds. Forget that you know how the day and the week unfold, and see that The Lord Enters in the unlikeliest of ways and for the unlikeliest of people.
How should Jesus, the Son of God, have entered his capital city? After thousands of years of waiting, God became man, entered his creation, and kept The Promise. He entered creation to do one thing, to die for humankind, and now, after thirty-three years of leading up to that moment, the week had arrived. How should the Son of God have entered his capital city for the central moment of human existence? He could have ridden on the clouds of a thunderstorm, really, with a division of angels escorting him while nature itself sang out its welcome and praise. That really could have happened. And isn’t that the kind of pomp such an important moment deserves?
Yes, the day will come when this King will approach with blinding splendor to judge his enemies. But that was not this day. This day he rode not on clouds, not even on a chariot or horse, but on a donkey. Not escorted by angels, or even by religious all-stars, but by fishermen with a spotty record of faith. Not accompanied by the sound of nature singing, but to the shouts of children and of hypocritical bystanders who cheered him when it was popular on Sunday but would desert him when it was convenient on Friday. He came not flashing miracles. In fact the only miracle he did was seen only by a few disciples, who witnessed Jesus’ omniscience when he told them exactly where, when, and how they would find a donkey and colt. Then after entering the city among adoring crowds, Jesus didn’t take advantage of his popularity to leverage their support. He simply turned in for the night, and the crowds dissipated, and the week went on as usual, with Jesus teaching the Word of God.
For such an important entry into such an important week, it didn’t go as we probably would have expected or planned. Jesus, the Son of the Almighty God, entered humbly. This unlikely way says something about him, about God. He came not to rule us, but to save us. He came, not to command us, but to invite us. He came not to demand anything from us, but to give everything for us. He didn’t need the power and the glory at this point, because his purpose was to die in our place, and he needed to humble himself to do that. This day he rode in all humility and gentleness. He was determined to carry out his Father’s eternal plan to save.
God surprises us sometimes. He doesn’t usually do what we would have expected. But there’s always a reason for it. What he does may be unexpected, but it is never a mistake.
But what if God did do things the way we would have done them? What if he always did what we think he “should” do? What would that mean for us? If we’re talking about what “should” happen, we need to cover it all. You should be sinning less than you have been. In fact, you should be perfect. God has revealed his law and gospel to you—it’s no secret to you, so what is your excuse for sin? So you should be hopeless. You should have no good blessing from God and no good future ahead of you. What should God do with you?
But God doesn’t operate on the basis of “should.” We call that grace. He surprises with his grace. The condemnation that should have been yours he puts on his own Son. The condemnation that should have been yours Jesus willing rode into Jerusalem to accept. And so he entered humbly to do so. Now he does the same today. He enters heart humbly, without show or fanfare. He does it through his gospel, his Word. His purpose is not to make a big scene, but to save you for eternity. And so he does what he needs to do to make that happen.
Jesus’ entry is a surprise, not only by how he does it, but also for whom he enters. Let’s consider that part now.
Try to picture Jerusalem. It is situated on a hill, surrounded by valleys. Around the valleys are more hills. A traveler to Jerusalem can’t see the city from a distance. Only when he gets to the top of the surrounding hills is the entire city spread out before him. The week of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was a week when thousands of Jewish pilgrims were making their way to the capital city. What a breathtaking sight it must have been as they finally caught a glimpse of the holy city, all at once.
Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem from the east. They had to climb and descend the Mount of Olives first. On the top of the Mount of Olives Jesus could have seen the garden of Gethsemane down a little in the valley to his right, where in a few days he would spend hours in agonizing prayer, and where one of his own disciples would lead his enemies to arrest him. Into the city to his left Jesus could have seen the palace of the high priest, where in just a few days he would stand on trial, be mocked, spit on, hit, and sentenced to die. To his right in the city, Jesus may have seen the place where the Roman governor stood, where in a few days the crowds would shout, “Crucify him!” And if he lifted his eyes over the buildings to the horizon on the west side of the city, Jesus may have seen a hill shaped like a skull, waiting for him.
What should have happened at this point, as Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives and surveyed the city? What would you have expected? What would you have done. Many of us likely would have turned around and headed the other way. What should Jesus have been thinking? “I’m not walking into that! Those people don’t deserve me.”
Despite all that Jesus knew awaited him in Jerusalem, he rode down into the valley and entered the city. As we just sang, “In lowly pomp [he] ride[s] on to die” (CW 133:5). Nothing was going to stop this King from coming to those who needed him the most—sinners.
Imagine if Jesus could see your life the way he could see Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives—a panorama of your life, including everything you’ve even done, said, and thought. Who of us has not given him every reason to turn around and go the other way. But he doesn’t. Jesus wanted to enter Jerusalem and draw that rebellious city to himself. That’s surprising. Jesus wants to enter your heart and draw you to himself. That’s just as surprising.
And so before this King comes again in judgment, he comes to you and me with all gentleness! He comes to win us to himself, to hand us his robe of righteousness to cover our sins, the robe he was about the pay for with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Our King comes not to interrogate us about our sins, but to save us from them, to forgive us. That is proof of his grace and another demonstration that our God is a God of surprises.
Praise God that he is—a God of surprises and a God of grace. Rejoice on this Palm Sunday that he comes to you humbly, not to condemn but to save. Hosanna in the highest!