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A Parade Fit for a King

Jesus is our hero who restores us into living temples of God.


Batman was my boyhood hero. Truth be told, in many ways he still is. He transformed his grief over his parents’ senseless murders into a lifelong crusade against crime in gritty Gotham. Possessing no superpowers but controlling his family’s vast wealth, as a youth he set out to tone his body and hone his mind into becoming the world’s finest vigilante detective.

I read the tales of other comic book heroes as a youngster, but the Caped Crusader always held a special fascination for me. Years later, I passed that fascination along to my son. He’s now in his thirties, but we still talk about our superhero’s latest blockbuster or plans for the next one whenever we get together.

A few years ago, my wife purchased us t-shirts showing a group of my lifelong heroes sitting atop a wall, with Spiderman dangling curiously from a web below. They’re listening with rapt attention to Jesus, sitting there in their midst, as he explains, “And that’s how I saved the world.”

Holding Out for a Hero

I’m sure all of us would agree that our world needs saving. For who can deny that we live in dark times, ravaged by uncensored sensualism, unexamined secularism, and unbridled selfism? That’s why Bonnie Tyler’s rock anthem “Holding Out for a Hero” rattles something deep in our bones when she sings:

Where have all the good men gone,
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night, I toss and I turn,
And I dream of what I need

I need a hero!
I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night.
He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast,
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.

From the time we’re born until the day we die, we spend our lives crying out for a hero.

As babies, we cried for others to come feed, clean, and hold us, and to assure us that everything was going to be alright. As children, we cried in the dark for our parents to come chase away the monsters of our imagination. As adults, we cry out to our elected officials to secure our borders, stabilize our economy, and satisfy our American dreams. Then at last when we peer across death’s dark waters, searching for some glimmer of light on the other shore, we find ourselves feeling once again like that same crying child from years gone by. Always looking, always hoping, forever holding out for a hero.

Two thousand years may separate us from the events described in Matthew 21 but, truth be told, we’re really no different from the people who lined the road to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. They, too, were holding out for a hero.

God first threatened Israel with exile should she break covenant with him in Deuteronomy 28. The nation eventually suffered two significant exiles during the Old Testament era. The northern kingdom of Israel fell prey to Assyria in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah’s exile to Babylon began in 605 and was nearly complete by 586 B.C. Although the Persian king Cyrus eventually decreed that the Jewish exiles could return home in 539 B.C., they were never again truly free up to and beyond the time that the New Testament ended. The Judean Jews lived under the control of the Babylonians, followed by the Persians, followed by the Greeks, followed by the Romans. They enjoyed a temporary respite of limited self-government following the Maccabean Revolt in 167 B.C., but it did not last. To many a Jewish mind in Jesus’ day, the Babylonian exile had never really ended. Even their temple was subject to Rome.

I Asked for a Hero, and You Brought Me a Sandwich?

In Alice Childress’s novel A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich, readers are introduced to Benjie. He’s a thirteen-year-old who lives with his mother, her boyfriend, and his grandmother in a declining neighborhood. On the surface he appears to be a good kid. But the pain of being abandoned by his biological father, his mixed feelings over his mother and her boyfriend’s relationship, and his growing awareness of societal racism drive him first to marijuana, then later heroin, looking for an escape. (There is a “hero” in heroin, after all.) It’s a disenchanted Benjie who eventually tells a social worker that in his neighborhood, “A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich.”

The social worker reports what Benjie said back to his mother and her boyfriend Butler. She tells Butler that Benjie needs a male hero figure with whom he can identify. She shows him a list of books about Black history, tells Butler about “colored” movie stars and sports figures, and talks about how he should take Benjie to the movies and ball games so that he can see more heroes. Butler listens until his patience runs out, then fires back:

Some these big time, celebrity high-lifers can’t take care-a themselves, they in as much trouble as you and Benjie. Yall gotta learn to identify with me, who gotta get up to face the world every … mornin with a clear head and a heavy heart. Benjie once told me a hero ain’t nothin but a sandwich—and you say a hero is a celebrity! Listen to my credentials; then maybe yall can pin me on a hero button. I’m supportin three adults, one child, and the United States government on my salary … and can’t claim any of em for tax exemption. So, explain to me no heroes.

What is a hero? “A white knight upon a fiery steed,” like Bonnie Tyler dreamed and sang? A figure of historical significance? An athlete? A movie star? A politician who says all the right things? Benjie and the social worker had their ideas of what makes a person a hero. But Butler knew better. He may not have been the hero they dreamed of, but he was the hero Benjie needed.

The people lining the parade route on that first Palm Sunday dreamed of a hero who would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome’s boot. Their dreams drove their actions and words that day. They paved the road with their cloaks and branches from the overhanging palm trees (Matt. 21:8).

(From here the preacher can delve into some of the details found in my article to explain the symbolism of these objects and act.)

They shouted “Hosanna!” (v. 9). (The dual meaning of this word, also explored in the article, should be explained.)

To some of those onlookers, spreading their cloaks and those palm branches was like lighting the Bat Signal. “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” they cried. To others in that throng, their actions were more akin to rolling out the red carpet to welcome home a beloved king. “Bless God! We’re saved!” they shouted. “Hosanna!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

The effect upon the city as that parade came into view is understated in most of our Bibles. As the English Standard Version translates it in verse 10, “the whole city was stirred up.” The root word of the verb here is seio. It means “to be thrown into a tremor, to quake for fear.” Jerusalem was experiencing an earthquake of sorts. You could say that it was a spiritually seismic Sunday when Jesus rode into town! A better translation would be: the whole city was “wild with excitement” (The Passion translation) or “thrown into commotion” (Weymouth New Testament).

Now, you can excuse any onlooking Roman soldier that day who was less than impressed with the figure at the center of all that commotion—a peasant riding a donkey with other peasants’ coats for a saddle. In his estimation, it was all much ado about nothing!

You can excuse him because he didn’t know. He was unfamiliar with Zechariah 9:9 (as quoted in Matt. 21:5). The soldier didn’t see the connection to Isaiah 62:11, “Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.’” He had never heard about the long-anticipated ruler who was to come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10-11).

That soldier had seen parades back in Rome—Caesars and generals riding on fiery steeds. This poor fellow was riding a donkey’s colt, and not a particularly experienced one by the looks of it!

Like that Roman soldier, like Benjie, and like Bonnie Tyler, the heroes of which we dream are rarely the heroes we need. Real heroes resemble Butler in Childress’s novel far more than they do Batman or any of his super friends.

Hero Worship

“Who is this guy?” the city folks asked. “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth” came the reply (v. 11). Earlier they had called him, “Son of David.” Those were honorific titles back then, bearing messianic overtones. Really, though, it was all faint praise. Israel had entertained all sorts of prophets throughout her history. They had come and gone. David was surely a great king, but he was no paragon of virtue. Jesus was something far more. And that’s why Matthew’s account of that first Palm Sunday doesn’t end just inside the city gates but down at the temple (vv. 12-17).

In the ancient world, triumphal entries were expected to end at the temple. That’s where Psalm 118 ends. (A quick connection between this psalm and Jesus’ triumphal entry can be sketched using information supplied in my article.)

Unlike the priests in the Psalter, those in Jesus’ day didn’t rush out to meet him with songs of praise. They were indignant! He had stormed into their temple and toppled its tables. He had accused them of making his Father’s house into a haven of thieves and thrown their treasures to the floor. No, they weren’t at all happy to see him enter their sacred sanctum and were more than glad when he left for the night.

But there were others present that day—the blind and the broken. They came to him, and Jesus healed them, right there in the middle of the temple. In doing so, he transformed that den of thieves back into a house of praise. “Hosanna!” they shouted. “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

That’s my testimony and the testimony of every believer. Once I was blind, but now I can see. Once I was broken, but now I am being made whole. My soul was once a devils’ den and refuge for the worst thief of them all—he who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. My heart was a haven for bad habits and self-destructive tendencies, for corrosive bitterness and soul-consuming guilt, for fear and hate. But then Jesus came, cleansed, and restored me into a living temple of the living God.


With all God’s children I can sing today, and together we will sing throughout eternity:

What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I have sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Since Jesus came into my heart,
Flod of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.

And all God’s people said, “Hosanna!” and “Amen.”

Gregory Hollifield is the Associate Dean at Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies at Union University and Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.

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