Palm Sunday is nearly upon us, and with it, the most significant week in the Christian calendar – Holy Week – when we remember the final days of Jesus' life, his death and resurrection. The story of Palm Sunday, recounted in the four Gospels, is a story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus was 33 years old, He'd ministered for three years, doing extraordinary things. There were miracles, healings and profound parables. Jesus had gone from having 12 disciples to a band of followers. As the Passover approached – the most important time in the Jewish calendar – Jesus was ready to enter Jerusalem.
Everyone was ready for a celebration and Jesus rides in like a celebrity... with a difference. The crowds grabbed palm branches and waved them, laying them before Jesus – this was one way Jewish people welcomed a revered person. They were so hyped up because this was a people crying out for release from Roman opression.
This was just latest in a line of struggles for the Jewish people. They were sick and tired of their lot, yet also had the weight of history on their shoulders. The scriptures had promised a Messiah, and they were ready. Jesus arrived (at the same time as Pilate rode in on his splendid horse, no doubt), but on the opposite side of the city, and riding on a humble donkey.
The people responded as if they thought he was the Messiah. They shouted 'Hosanna!' which literally means 'give salvation now!' And they acclaimed Him as the 'King of Israel.' Again, though – He's on a donkey. Why??
The answer is simple. He was doing things God's way, in God's time. In John's telling of the story we learn that Jesus found the donkey and sat on it, "as it is written." In other words, He is fulfilling prophecy and therefore God's plan. While everyone around was losing their head in the excitement, Jesus kept his and carried on as he had been – doing things God's way, and in God's time.
It's very easy for us with our modern reference Bibles to turn back a few pages to Zechariah and say "Of course, the donkey – nice touch". But this is very significant. It is Jesus telling those present that He is the one they've been waiting for all this.
Jesus acts in the way he does because He knows He needs to follow God's timing and God's plan. The people had been allowed to glimpse some of that plan through the prophets and when they joined the dots, they could see that (in one way) the crowd had been right all along. He was the Messiah. But they were wrong if they thought He was going to start an armed uprising. He had far greater plans than that.
Jesus waited until the right time, and acted in the way the scriptures predicted.
So how should we look to emulate Him? We can certainly ask the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" There's another question thrown up by this text, though. "When would Jesus do?"
Jesus did what God wanted, in God's time, and didn't bow to pressure from anywhere else. Jesus waited until he was 30 to start his ministry. This is alien to us today in the West where we are being asked about what career we want from the age of about 14. He then spent three years travelling round, before finally we get to this point.
Jesus knew who he was from a young age but his active ministry waited until later on. Why? Because that was God's chosen timing. We can all probably think of things which appeared to be good opportunities – jobs, relationships, churches, even, which seemed good, but in the end, the timing wasn't right.
There is so much great work to be done for the Kingdom, but it's useless if we don't do it in God's timing. That's one risk to getting God's timing wrong – failure, and consequent discouragement. Another is burnout. If you're always trying to do too much too soon, you can end up becoming bitter with God and bitter about church. We all know of people who used to be the life and soul of church and be involved in everything. But slowly they drift away. This is often because they bite off more than they can chew. They don't wait for God's timing.
Hearing God's Calling
If you feel a sense of God's call on your life, that's great. But are you called to do things now? Or are you called to wait? Now, some of this is obvious. If you think God wants you to be a doctor and go and serve in the developing world, that's fantastic. But God won't ask you to do that until you've finished your education and qualified – that's clear cut. But for others of us, it won't be as easy.
Should you take that job? Should you uproot your family and go and live in a tough part of the world? Does God really want you to sit behind that same desk for the rest of your working life? Unfortunately, there are no Old Testament references for our lives. The answer must be to seek God – through prayer, through the advice and wisdom of friends, through guidance from Scripture, through a million little hints in our daily lives.
For many of us, and for the Church as a whole, it really seems that 'The Time Is Now.' Yet if you're sitting there and thinking that you're not sure what God's timing for you might be or indeed whether you've got much of a call on your life, don't worry. There is so much you can do for the Kingdom even before you have your 'donkey moment'. If you don't feel you're ready for God's call on your life yet, or if you feel you are in the place that God wants you to be already, then that's ok. As and when God's timing comes for things to change in your life – be that marriage, university, retirement, foreign mission or whatever it is, you'll have served your apprenticeship just like Jesus did and you'll be ready to enter the next phase.
When Would Jesus Do?
A friend of mine wrote the following words which have always stuck with me: "Moses spent 40 years thinking he was someone special, 40 more years realising he was nobody, and then another 40 realising what God can do with someone who recognises they're nobody without Him. After conversion, Paul spent 14 years tent-making (it is thought) before his first real push at energising the Church in such dramatic fashion (Acts 13-14). Jesus was around 30 before His overt ministry began. They didn't rush into ministry, they all had space to serve, observe and build up a reserve. It wasn't a sprint, it was a marathon (2 Timothy 1)."
We may be living in desperate times, but God still has His timescale to bring us forward at the right time. Taking hold of that thought, we often need space to wrestle with the big issues of faith and life, to allow God's truth to take root in our hearts. Like Jacob needed to wrestle with the angel of God in order to really know Him, perhaps today we also need.
This isn't an excuse to let everything go – to give up on the pursuit of holiness. It's just that God may want us to grow first in wholeness, before going out in boldness; to learn from our mistakes in private reflection, to avoid later facing public humiliation.
On Palm Sunday, did Jesus' donkey gallop into Jerusalem? Is Jesus recorded as ever running to get to His next healing appointment?
So, if the question is 'When Would Jesus Do?' the answer is 'When God said so'.