Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry
Jesus lived some 2.000 years ago when he turned the world of his day upside down. He only lived for some 33 years and yet today millions owe him their allegiance. This is an astonishing man. In order to try to understand him we have to rely upon the only reliable records we have – the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which were written by close followers within decades of the life and death of the remarkable Jesus of Nazareth.
When we turn to those records we quickly find that the gospel writers were not bothered about given us a comprehensive account of the whole of Jesus' life. We do find a small amount of information concerning his birth but there is only one story from his childhood years and then more nothing until he is about 30 years old.
It is clear then that the gospels are not attempts to write biographies as we know them. These gospel records are almost entirely taken up with the three years of Jesus' public life of ministry. Even then the three of ministry are not given equal treatment for we find the gospel writers directing our attention towards the end of his life. Everything pushes us to think about his death and resurrection that came as the climax to the final week of his life.
Luke who possibly gives us the widest picture of all the gospel writers still uses some 20-
This tells us that this one week is of vital importance. If we would understand this man Jesus we must think about this week.
And this is the week that we are now entering in the church calendar. Today is known as Palm Sunday – and the week that begins today is known variously as Holy Week or Passion Week . Next Sunday, the beginning of a new week, is Easter Sunday.
Jesus had been headed towards Jerusalem for a long time now. He knew he had to go there and he knew why. He knew exactly what lay ahead of him when he got there and he went because that was the reason why he had come into the world at all. It would be at Jerusalem that he would spend the final days of his life and it would be there that he would lay down his life as a sacrifice to settle his people's debt with God.
We must be in no doubt about the matter – Jesus was in charge of what was taking place. His arrival in Jerusalem was no accident. If we cast our eyes back over the gospel record we find that Luke in particular records a series of references to both to Jesus' understanding of how his ministry had to reach its climax in Jerusalem and also to his determination to go up to Jerusalem so that this climax might be achieved. Jesus' final visit was most definitely a planned visit.
This is an important point for us to understand. It emphasises the fact hat the salvation which Jesus would secure there was a planned salvation – nothing had been left to chance. If you are a Christian you're not basing your hopes upon some chance happening but upon something that was carefully planned in advance and then secured in time. If God's plans had been so carefully laid out and followed through in precise detail then you can believe confidently in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As soon as Jesus began to teach his disciples that in order to fulfil his ministry he would have to suffer and die they didn't like what they heard. Nevertheless this did not influence Jesus who insisted that this simply had to be, he added further detail by telling them that this would all take place in Jerusalem (Mt.16:21 cf. Lk.9:21-
A little over a week after Jesus had begun to teach his followers of the sufferings that lay ahead of him, Jesus had the mountaintop experience which we know as the Transfiguration. There on the mountain, accompanied by Peter, James and John, Jesus had a unique conversation with those OT representatives of the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah. The subject of that conversation was his departure/exodus which he would accomplish at Jerusalem: it was a conversation that focused on his death which would take place at Jerusalem (Lk.9:31).
Moving on it is not long before we are reading that Jesus was now on his way having "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk.9:51, 53). While on his way Jesus continued to teach and to preach but it was clear to all that he was journeying with determination towards Jerusalem where he was determined to "finish his course" (Lk.13:22, 32-
So it was Jesus who led the way towards Jerusalem and he did so without hesitation courageously pressing on. The disciples continued to follow him though the intensity of Jesus' determination so impressed them that they went somewhat fearfully – something serious was afoot.
Preparations are Made
All along it had been Jesus' purpose to come up to Jerusalem – now he had arrived. But just how did he intend to enter the city?
When we look at the instructions he gave to his disciples we quickly realise that he did not intend to slip quietly unnoticed into the city. In a few hours time no-
Up until this point we have no indication that Jesus ever travelled any other way than on foot. But that was all about to change. As he arrived he sent two of his disciples to go and collect a donkey's colt that had never been ridden before and bring it back to him so that he might ride openly into the city of Jerusalem.
Of course it was possible that these disciples would meet with some questioning if they simply turned up and started to untie an animal that obviously didn't belong to them. How were they to react if they were challenged?
They had nothing to fear because it was Jesus who was in control and he instructed them in just what to say:
The words they would speak in such circumstances were simple and straightforward. They must simply declare that "the Lord has need of it". Jesus was already laying out his claims – while this word "lord" was sometimes used a term of polite respect it was also the word that referred to God himself – Jesus was announcing himself as the divine messiah, the long promised and long expected deliverer of his people.
So the disciples went off and they found the animal, as they started to untie it they were challenged and they did just as Jesus had told them.
"The Lord has need of it" they said.
And that was enough. Were the owners of the colt already friends of Jesus so that as soon as they heard that Jesus needed something from them they were ready to give what he needed? We can't know for sure but Jesus' authority is underlined.
The colt was brought back by those disciples who were doubtless impressed by the Master's knowledge and authority. The next thing to do was to prepare the animal for its task.
If Jesus was planning to enter the city of Jerusalem in a highly visible and public manner setting out his claims to be the messiah then why did he choose to ride on such a lowly animal as a donkey's colt?
When a monarch or head of state visits another country on a formal visit care and attention is paid to detail. The royal carriage is prepared or the limousine is polished. The importance of the visitor is emphasised by the pageantry or by the attendant motor cavalcade. The proverbial red carpet is rolled out. By all these means attention will be drawn to the status of the visitor – no-
In similar ways Jesus' choice of a lowly donkey's colt was also intended to send a signal and it was a signal that had been flagged up some centuries earlier by the prophet Zechariah. Kings riding to war would ride upon impressive horses, all those seeing such a sight would be brought into fearful submission – it was a dangerous thing to be on the wrong side of a King who was going to war! But Zechariah in his prophecy didn't speak of a king riding out to do battle but of a King coming quietly and in peace:
Mt.21:5 (quoting Zc.9:9) "Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’"
In choosing this particular mode of transport Jesus was deliberately fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy – this is yet more evidence that Jesus was acting according to a plan, a long-
Also by choosing such a mode of transport Jesus was sending clear signals as to the type of Messiah he was. His Messiahship was not about securing political or military deliverance from the Romans for example – he was coming to bring peace to his people by securing a spiritual salvation for them, he was coming to do what was necessary to make them right with God.
Having arrived at his destination and chosen the appropriate means of transportation for making the final ascent into the city Jesus was happy to allow his followers to organise the procession towards the city.
This was the red-
And there was excited joyful celebration has they all made their way up towards the city.
Luke doesn't want us to think that suddenly emotion took over and the crowd was simply carried along by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Men and women rejoiced – but they had a real reason for doing so and in their joy they praised God.
Because they were able to think back over some of the wonderful things that had recently taken place when they had been able to see the accomplishment of many mighty works –the most recent of these being in all probability the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the healing of blind Bartimaeus.
As the multitudes in the crowds reflected on these things that Jesus had been doing amongst them they quite naturally came to the conclusion that this Jesus was indeed the Messiah and they proclaimed as much loudly and clearly as they described him as the King who came in the name of the Lord. He was the One who came as the rightful heir of King David and he came to secure salvation! Matthew tells us they called out in celebration and in acclaim:
Mt.21:9 "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
The crowds were right to celebrate like this but how many really understood just how Jesus would fulfil his mission as Messiah? How many of this happy crowd would form part of another crowd the bayed for his blood less than a week later when it became clear to all that Jesus really had no intention of being the military leader that so many longed for?
But for the moment let the rejoicing go on!
Not all were happy
The crowds were enjoying themselves – one crowd had travelled along with Jesus and then another had flooded out of Jerusalem to lead him into the city as his triumphal procession neared the walls. What a happy scene it was!
But not everyone was pleased.
The Pharisees were appalled and thought the singing and chanting was totally inappropriate – but they didn't have the courage to speak their mind to the crowd and instead urged Jesus to restrain his exuberant followers.
The enemies of Jesus Christ don't like to see Jesus' followers joyfully and openly praising the Saviour and declaring his infinite value and worth. If you are a Christian and at times so full of joy that you can't stop talking about him don't be surprised if others try to silence you too.
But how could Jesus accede to their requests? How could he rebuke his disciples when they were the very ones who were responding the most appropriately to what was going on.
Jesus would not silence them and added that were they to keep quiet it would be so unworthy of them and so inappropriate that the stones, the inanimate objects of God's good creation would be compelled to break forth in the necessary praise!
In other words Jesus was endorsing in the fullest possible way what his followers were doing and saying.
Yes, I am the rightful King coming to his people
Yes, I am David's true descendant, great David's greater Son
Yes, I am come in peace and to bring salvation
And as Jesus entered thus into Jerusalem he ensured that throughout the coming week it would him who occupied centre stage; it would be him in the eye of the storm, it would be him to whom the attention of everyone would be drawn.
Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem knowing that later in the week for a short while his triumph would appear a failure as his enemies would seem to gain the upper hand as firstly they arrested him before handing him over for execution.
Jesus would die at the end of the week – it would be the moment of his greatest triumph though that would only become apparent a couple of days later. His victory would be recognised early on the following Sunday when he would rise from the dead. It would take his followers a while before the wonderful truth could sink in but sink in it would and ever since the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ ha focused upon the fact that Jesus died for our sins and on the third day rose again for our justification.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will enter into the joy of sins forgiven, peace with God and a hope of heaven. Refuse to believe, go on as the faithless Pharisees did, and you will miss out on God's salvation for all of eternity.
May God grant us the grace we need to see clearly and to respond to his wonderful love in which he offers us his Son to be our Saviour.