Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 1 – Palm Sunday


Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 1 – Palm Sunday

Published: 2nd April, 2024

Palm Sunday
Mark 11.1-11
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Ps 31.9-16
Phil 2.5-11
Mark 15.1-39

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

When we read the gospels it is striking how often Jesus is referred to as the Son of David. We might even draw the conclusion that this was the principal way in which His followers understood Him during His earthly ministry. We heard a striking example in our palm gospel earlier this morning: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”.

Why was the connection between Jesus and King David so important to Jesus’ contemporaries?

In the first place, David and Solomon stood for a sort of golden age of Ancient Israel that was beguiling to Jews living under the rule of successive gentile empires. The hope of the return of the Davidic monarchy was perhaps in some respects not so different to the politics of nostalgia that is quite familiar in our own time. Such slogans as “Make America great again” hark back to a better day, real or imagined, in the nation’s history; the hope of the return of the Davidic monarchy feels quite similar in some respects.

Second, there were quite specific Messianic hopes attached to David and his dynasty. The belief that a new David would come to lead his people was not merely a programme of political nostalgia; it was also a hope of national spiritual renewal. And so starting from this hope of spiritual renewal, the stories of David, and especially the psalms, provided some of the key building blocks in the development of early Christian understandings of Jesus as Messiah. David was under stood as a prophet of Christ, speaking of His coming particularly in the psalms.  And he was also understood as a prefiguration of Christ, with the episodes of David’s life anticipating aspects of the life of Jesus.

It seems that the crowds on Palm Sunday were expecting a triumphant Messiah. And it is certainly true that David had a lot of triumphs both before and during his time as king. We might think for example of the old Sunday school favourite, the story of David and Goliath. David, at that time little more than a boy, triumphs against the odds over the Philistine giant. And David goes on to triumph again and again, first as a leader in Saul’s army, and later as King himself. He makes the borders of his kingdom secure, and establishes peace within his lands.

Jesus’ seeming failure to live up to the expectation of a triumphant Messiah is perhaps the most plausible explanation for Judas’ motivation in betraying Him, and also of the speed with which the crowds turned against Him. It seems that there were many in first century Jerusalem who were hoping that Jesus would be the one to “Make Israel great again”, the one who would drive out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic kingdom. But as time passed, nothing much seemed to happen. Jesus came to offer something much greater than a mere change of political regime; but from the perspective of first-century Jerusalem, struggling under the oppressive weight of Roman military rule, He seemed a disappointment to many.

But a closer reading of David’s story will reveal that there is much more to it than a story of endless triumphs. Yes he is a king who overall is successful in leading his people and giving them peace and security, but there are very many struggles and twists and turns along the way. During Holy Week we will be exploring some of the details of this story, with an address each day exploring a few of the specific connections between the stories of David and the events of Holy Week.

One aspect of David’s story that is often overlooked is his humility. It’s easy not to notice it.

The boy who goes out to fight Goliath may seem overconfident. But if we read his words with care, we notice that his confidence comes from his trust in the Lord, the God of Israel.

The handsome youth who is anointed by Samuel may seem like an image of youthful male swagger. But if we read the whole story we discover that he was the youngest of eight sons, who was left keeping the sheep whilst his older brothers attended the sacrifice.

The king who secures his kingdom, builds himself a magnificent palace, and sets about planning a vast temple to the Lord may seem to be the epitome of worldly power; but we must remember the earlier phase of David’s life when he was on the run from King Saul, hunted from town to town, and even reduced to feigning madness whilst living in the towns of the Philistines.

In short, there is a humility about David, especially in those stories of his youth. David’s humility finds a fulfilment in Christ, who humbled Himself, being born in human flesh, and becoming obedient even unto death on a Cross.

But whilst the humility of David points us to the humility of Christ, we must not forget that the victories of David also point us to the victories of Christ. I think it is probably a mixture of Victorian sentimentality and liberal queasiness that has led to Jesus being portrayed at times almost as a bit of a wet blanket. We need to be clear that the crowds who acclaimed His triumphal entry into Jerusalem were not wrong: Jesus is a triumphing Messiah. It’s just that the triumph was a very different sort of triumph from that which the crowds expected. Be in no doubt: Jesus is a warrior, and Jesus is a triumphant warrior, just like David before Him.

But unlike David, He fights not against the Philistines but against sin and death, and against the ways in which sin and death have taken hold in human life. Whilst David freely sheds the blood of his enemies, Jesus freely sheds His own Blood to attain the victory. As both John’s gospel and Paul’s letters make clear in different ways, His triumph and His glory are manifested through the Cross.

Humility and victory. Lowliness and triumph. The youngest son, plucked from obscurity in the hills around Bethlehem to be the warrior-king of Israel. The carpenter’s son, raised in obscurity in the northern town of Nazareth, to be the Saviour of the world. The promise of David is fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, to whom with the +Father and the Holy Spirit, be all praise and glory, now and unto ages of ages.