To the Victor Go the Spoils
We call Jesus’ entry into the temple on Palm Sunday the “triumphal entry.” This event is said to be a time where Jesus received the honor and respect He deserved. But how triumphal was His entry? The Triumphal Parade as it was practiced in the ancient world was a spectacle. It was not the providence of kings, but of generals who, having conquered a foreign land returned home to be honored. For the people who gathered it was a chance to see what the empire felt was worth fighting for. To the victor go the spoils.
The Triumphant General dressed for the day in a purple and gold toga, designating him a status just below a king or a god. He led his army through the streets, driving a chariot drawn by four horses. Before him were the prizes. Those things which made all the bloodshed worthwhile. Anything rare, beautiful, valuable or exotic might be displayed. Conquered royalty were brought home to serve as slaves, strange looking foreign people. Exotic creatures walked, such as tigers from conquered land in India, elephants captured in a victory over the Carthaginians. Gold, silver, jewels, artwork, statues, even fine furniture would be shown off. The wealth on display would convince all present that the shed blood of the empire was worth what was gathered in return.
Jesus’ Triumphal Procession was nothing like the opulent displays of power and wealth to which it is likened. Jesus dressed himself in a cloak of humility and mounted what could be the furthest thing from the majesty and awe of tigers and elephants—a donkey. The people who ushered in this strange triumph waved palm branches and laid their cloaks in the street. Their shouting voices proclaiming their heart’s desire: “Hosanna” which means “Save now!” This is an uncomfortable level of humility to witness. It must have looked strange to those who gathered to see this spectacle. I doubt the likeness of this event to the Triumphal Procession would have been clear to those assembled.
Where is the pageantry, the drama, the awe and wonder? It is found in how far it missed the mark in its representation of the original. No general, no army, no powerful and exotic animals, no gold silver, or objects you might call beautiful. In their place Jesus and His disciples. The spoils of Jesus’ campaign were a ragtag bunch of tax collectors, prostitutes and fishermen assembled from the hinterlands where Jesus spent most of His time. Who could see these people—the dregs of their society—as those things which made it all worth it? These damaged, hurt, and troublesome individuals unfit in the eyes of their own society for anything positive were precisely whom God sent His son to seek out.
Are you unfit for honor, already so lost, broken and defeated that there is no way to redeem yourself? You are just what God had in mind. God in His mercy gave His only Son to shed His blood and die for you. It is for the forgiveness of sin that Christ’s blood was shed. Your sin does not exclude you from the redemption Christ has won on the cross. Your sin is the precondition for His coming to save you from it. Jesus will not let sin and the death it brings come out victorious, He has defeated it and wrestled you from its grasp.
To the victor go the spoils. If your life doesn’t look like victory, know that Jesus’ life didn’t look victorious either—certainly not on Palm Sunday. That is because His victory and true triumphal entry came on the cross where He entered into death for you and came out victorious and alive. Your victory and life is in Him—He is your treasure. To the victor go the spoils.