Recognizing the Ultimate King

Priscilla had learned the pattern of pilgrims during their high holy days. Ever since her father had been assigned from Rome to the garrison of soldiers overseeing Judah and Galilee from the fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem, she had become fascinated with the odd religion of the Jews. Unlike the many gods worshipped at the Pantheon in Rome, the Jews insisted that “The Lord our God is One.” and the most righteous among them would have nothing to do with other local deities or the Roman gods. And the Jews were especially sensitive about what happened in and around the Temple in Jerusalem. Just having Roman soldiers so close to the Temple in the fortress of Antonia kept many of their zealots seething with resentment at the Romans. That’s why her father spent as little time as possible inside Jerusalem and why he settled his family in a villa on the Mount of Olives opposite the city on one of the busiest roads leading into Jerusalem.

This Sunday began like most others in Judah. Many Jewish boys gathered for what they called synagogue school. She liked talking to them whenever she could about the things they learned about the Torah and their other sacred writings. She really loved the stories about how God had chosen, redeemed, and blessed the nation of Israel. Why they had become unfaithful and had been taken away into exile with their God’s assent was a puzzle to her. But now with the Roman peace, Jews from all over the Roman world were able to travel to Jerusalem for their most important festival, the one they called Passover. It was a grand celebration of God’s most dramatic act of saving his people. Jerusalem always swelled with about five times more people than usually lived there for Passover – and Priscilla had a prime seat to watch them pour into the city.

One girl Priscilla liked talking to had moved to their village from Nazareth, up north in Galilee. She told wonderful stories about a prophet from her hometown who had become famous for doing astonishing things like healing sick people, feeding huge crowds with just a basket of bread and fish, and even raising a dead man back to life. His teachings about love and grace and serving were very different and attractive, too. She had heard that he promised fully meaningful life to anyone – Jewish or not – who followed him faithfully. Priscilla was curious about her friend’s report of hearing the Galilean prophet read in the synagogue one day and saying that what he read was being fulfilled in his own works that very day. Her other conversations informed her that the Jews were looking for an “anointed one,” a Messiah,” or deliverer who would dramatically save his people in a way unlike anything they had seen before. Priscilla liked that idea, and she was especially intrigued that some people thought that this Jesus from Nazareth might just be the Messiah. But she had also heard from her father that the authorities and some others had plans to suppress this prophet, maybe even planning to kill him.

The ordinariness of that Sunday afternoon was shattered by a growing commotion coming down the hill from Bethphage. What started as a faint few voices in the distance became louder and louder as the gathering crowd made its way along the road to Jerusalem. She had heard pilgrims singing songs – psalms, they called them – as they traveled and got closer to Jerusalem, but this was no unison songfest. She could see a group of men and women walking along behind a gentle-looking man who was riding a donkey’s colt. A couple of men were leading the donkey, and the colt calmly followed its mother in spite of the clamoring crowd. A man near Priscilla’s house called out what she later learned was a verse from one of the Jewish Messianic prophecies: “Rejoice greatly, people of Jerusalem! Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem! Your king is coming to you. He does what is right, and he saves. He is gentle and riding on a donkey, on the colt of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 NCV) Only one person in this part of the world could evoke such a response, she knew. It had to be Jesus of Nazareth! People were lining the road and paving it with a royal carpet of branches from the fields. She saw excited people coming from the direction of Jerusalem – going the wrong way for any festival traffic – with palm fronds to cushion the roadway. Many people were taking off their tunics and laying them on the road adding all kinds of color to the path. Priscilla had seen spectacles in Rome when Caesar made a new conquest, but this seemed more personal and intimate. People were cheering, “Praise to the Son of David! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in heaven!” They looked like a jubilant throng welcoming a victorious king – who didn’t look anything like a king at all.

Welcoming a king.. Priscilla felt a strong impulse to join the celebration. She prided herself on her curiosity about all things. After all, her name meant “she who knows,” and she tried to learn all she could. Something about the story of Jesus drew her more powerfully than simple facts about his life and actions could explain. She found herself feeling compelled to trust this Jesus with heartfelt devotion. She didn’t understand all of the ways and teachings of the Jews, but the presence of Jesus bore an unusual attraction. Grabbing the new linen palla her father had brought her from his recent trip back to Rome; Priscilla rushed to spread the cloak on the road ahead of the approaching procession. Perhaps she could do more in the future to demonstrate her deepening devotion for Jesus. What “she who knows” knew at this point was that she wanted to know much more about this Jesus both with her mind and heart.

Palm Sunday is this Sunday. What do you know of Jesus with your heart and mind? What can you tell or demonstrate to others about the life and work of this Jesus? What personal sacrifice will you spread before him to welcome him as king of your life?

(Matthew 21:7-11 NCV) They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus and laid their coats on them, and Jesus sat on them. {8} Many people spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. {9} The people were walking ahead of Jesus and behind him, shouting, “Praise to the Son of David! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in heaven!” {10} When Jesus entered Jerusalem, all the city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?” {11} The crowd said, “This man is Jesus, the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”

- J. Edward Culpepper

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