Palm Sunday - The Triumphal Entry
by Jonathan T. Parks
Take a few minutes and read John 12:12-19, Matthew 21:1-11, Psalm 118.
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week: Palm Sunday.
Here is what I found interesting about the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem found in the gospels. This ‘holy week’ that gradually gets darker and ends in Jesus’ gruesome death actually begins quite bright. It begins with people worshiping.
You see, the people of Israel had been waiting a long, long time for this very moment. Back in the time of the Judges, Israel didn’t have a king and they thought if they did have one then their problems (which they had many) would finally be resolved. So they asked God for a king and, even though He knew their motives are wrong in asking, He gives them one anyway. He uses his prophet Samuel to anoint their first king, Saul. King Saul turns out to be quite successful in some areas, but a total disaster in others. The same is true with the next king, David, and the one after him, Solomon, and so forth for generation after generation. Their kings came and went, and as they continued to look for an ideal king they began to ask themselves, “there must be something more than this.”
They never forgot the covenant God made with David. A promise where God said, “Your house, your kingdom will be made sure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)
And so generations came and went wondering just how that promise would be fulfilled.
They were hoping not just for a better king, but a perfect king. With each new king Israel hoped this would be the perfect messiah, one to bring in the golden age. Of each new king, Israel asked, “are you the one who has come or should we look for another?” They expected a ruler who would save his people, who would restore to them all of the goodness of creation.
And as years went by the promise became larger than life. It was still an expected reality but it was now beyond any mere human’s capability.
And this is when we come to the triumphal entry in John 12.
Here is this Jesus of Nazareth from the family line of David. One who comes giving sight to the blind, allowing the lame to leap, literally raising people from the dead. Surely he is the one! Has their perfect king, their messiah finally come to take his reign, to restore their nation, to fulfil the promise made generations ago? Was this who Jesus was?
And here we see him riding into Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, the centre of Israel’s religious life and messianic expectations, to assert his authority as King, as the long awaiting Messiah.
And you see the crowds coming out to welcome him, laying down their cloaks and placing palm branches down and crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Finally our perfect king is here.
Not a very dark scene is it?
If you were just to look at this scene alone, it seems as if the reason Jesus came into the world in the first place has been accomplished. People are singing and worshiping, declaring Jesus as King. It even sound like what we do here in our church every week, doesn’t it? You may even read this and have an urge to join in the celebration.
But as we know, this isn’t where God’s plan was achieved quite yet. As the darkness of Holy Week grows, these cries of “hosanna in the highest!” get quieter and screams of “crucify him!” become so audible they piece our ears and make us cringe.
You see, the people waving their palm branches thought Jesus was there to restore their nation…which he would do, but not how they thought he would.
As the week goes on, we see that Jesus is a different kind of King with a very different kind of kingdom. Most of the crowd probably understood the title ‘King of Israel’ in a political and military sense, still hoping that Jesus would use his amazing powers to resist Roman rule and lead the nation to independence.
But Jesus isn’t that kind of King.
Most kings ride a mighty steed, a war horse. Jesus rides in on a donkey. (John 12:14)
Most kings are high, lofty, and unapproachable. Jesus was gentle and lowly in heart. (Matt 11:29)
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)
He will wear a crown of thorns, not one of rubies and diamonds. (John 19:2)
He is mostly focused on his death, not his royal pedigree. (Phil 2:6-8)
We see in this scene an explosion of public sentiment alive with expectation that Jesus was the messiah for whom they had longed for centuries. The crowd was giddy, the excitement was almost unbearable. But, like the disciples who constantly thought Jesus’ kingdom was going to be a political one, the people of Jerusalem were expecting a bloody uprising and as they saw that Jesus was not the warrior king they had expected, enthusiasm wained. The religious leaders spread lies and stirred up the crowds against him and by the end of the week opinion of Jesus turned. He was no longer the promised one, but yet another fraud come to deceive.
He was not who they thought he would be.
I’m sure you have friends or family (or maybe even you yourself) who once professed faith in Jesus but have since fallen away from the community of Christ. It’s incredibly heartbreaking and there are many reasons for spiritual failure, for people “falling away”. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we had hoped, or perhaps you were let down or burnt out by other believer’s failings or hypocrisy. There are many reasons for people “losing faith”, but the root of them all is really that the person never truly knew Jesus or else lost sight of who he is.
Understanding who Jesus truly is and, in turn, worshipping him because of that identity and what he accomplished on the cross is absolutely crucial.
If fact this is the very reason John wrote his gospel!
“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31
You see, life, and I mean a full, never-ending, absolutely satisfying life, comes from understanding and believing who Jesus says he is. Which is why if you have false notions about who Jesus is or false hopes about what he will do in your life, at some point you will be disappointed and that worship you joined in on at the beginning of your journey with Jesus will turn stale and grow quiet.
But the good news is Jesus doesn't change. And neither does his love for you. If fact his love, his passion for you, doesn't depend on you and how well you understand. Because he still went to the cross for you regardless of how you feel. Just like he did for the crowds in Jerusalem who may have changed their tune. It's his love for you and his goal of glorifying the Father that drove him to the cross.
He does want you to understand, to believe...but slow down this week. Look to Jesus. Enter the darkness. Remember what he has accomplished for you on the cross and behold your King for who he really is.
Let your worship flow from this.