Cheering a Slave

Let’s prepare ourselves for a shift in the Lenten season. If you’re in a worship service this Sunday, you likely will hear a story that moves us into “Holy Week,” a chance to walk toward the cross with Jesus.

We are about to arrive at Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. The main point of Palm Sunday is to remember Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, the trip taking him toward death on a cross.

Crowds cheered Jesus as he rode along, hailing him as a conquering king. In our Palm Sunday worship, we mimic them, singing “Hosanna!” and waving palm fronds. (Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-15 record this celebration.)

The scene in Jerusalem was a raucous one, a rally in danger of becoming a revolt against the Promised Land’s Roman rulers. But let’s try to shift our viewpoint a little, looking into Christ’s mind as he traveled through the crowd.

In the second chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote about this entry-into-Jerusalem moment and the days that followed, when Jesus made our salvation possible.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness,” Paul wrote. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

The people hailed Jesus as a king, and indeed, he had more power available to him than any earthly leader has ever held. In Matthew 26, which contains one record of Jesus’ arrest, he stops his followers from resisting the soldiers and police by noting he could call down 12 legions of angels if he wanted to do so.

But this power did not go to his head; in fact, Jesus understood the use of such power to be counterproductive where salvation was concerned. Only a perfect sacrifice could save humanity from sin and death.

As Jesus rode by the people along the road entering Jerusalem, they unknowingly cheered a slave, one who had completely submitted himself to the horror to come. He did this for our sakes, of course, expressing a kind of love that is hard to comprehend.

From this story, with a little help from Paul, we learn what it means to be a Christian with power, be it power in a big setting, like a nation, or a small setting, like an office. As Paul wrote, we need to carry within us the mind of Christ, living sacrificially for others.

There’s also a lesson here about assuming knowledge of other people’s motives. A lot of backbiting seems to begin with phrases like, “I know why he did that” or “I know what she was thinking.”

Actually, you don’t. One of the hardest things to understand is another person’s motivation.

Those palm-waving crowds certainly didn’t understand what was in Jesus’ mind. That’s why they abandoned him when he didn’t behave as they thought he should, using power to establish a worldly throne.

As you prepare for worship this Sunday, pay close attention to how people exercise power around you or in the broader world. How would our world be different if people mimicked the mind of Christ as they wielded power?

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