The event which is simply known as “The Triumphal Entry” is a significant one in the life of Jesus. This event is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19). Jesus’ Triumphal entry is celebrated on Palm Sunday, which many of you may know is observed exactly 1 week before Easter Sunday. In order to reflect on this event and draw some conclusions, it is fitting that we understand the context and background.
Jesus had been in the public ministry for 3 years or so. Through his teachings, powers, and interactions with the public, his fame had spread more and more. The hatred in the hearts of those who opposed him had also increased all the more. At first they grumbled and argued with him, then they became jealous, then hate grew which was now coming to a watershed. They had already looked for ways to kill him, but now they were going to have him killed – no matter what measure needed to be taken.
Jesus had turned water into wine and had provided enough food for over 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, but now, right before Palm Sunday he was to perform his most spectacular miracle up to this point: Raise a person from the dead. His friend Lazarus had died, and wanted to bring him back to life, not just for Lazarus’ sake, but also in order for his disciples to believe all the more in Him (John 11:15). As they were in the wilderness, the disciples clearly thought it was a completely crazy idea to even think about going to Bethany, which was just outside of Jerusalem, for they knew that it meant danger. When Jesus said he was going, they replied “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (John 11:8, NIV). Yet he did go and he did raise him from the dead. The results of this event are might what you expect: Jesus was THE talk of the town, he was on the lips and in the minds of everyone, not just a few followers or his opponents.
Perhaps the best way to describe the situation right before the Triumphal entry is in John’s gospel, where chapter 11 concludes:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
It was not just any time, it was the time for Passover, the largest Jewish festival of the year. Jerusalem was teeming with people who had flocked there in order to participate in this mandatory festival. His followers, those that were merely curious about him, and his haters were all awaiting his arrival. He was to go to Jerusalem, but the way he did it and how the people received him was what made this event special.
We know that Jesus was in Bethany, which was just about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, with the Mount of Olives lying in between. He asked his disciples to find him a specific donkey and bring it to him, which he rode along the way and has he entered Jerusalem. Jesus had walked thousands of kilometers throughout his life, travelling many times back and forth from the area of Galilee to Jerusalem. He certainly didn’t need to ride a donkey these last few kilometers, so why did he do so?
First of all, common folks mainly walked to get around, but throughout the history of Israel it was kings who were known to use mules or donkeys (2 Samuel 13:29, 1 Kings 1:33). Secondly, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “it was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4-5, quoting Zachariah 9:9, NIV).
Regarding how the crowds received him, they received him like a king! They spread forth palm branches before him and threw their cloaks on the ground before him. They were shouting:
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
They were quoting from Psalm 118. That particular Psalm was part of a group of Psalms known as the “Hallel,” which consists of Psalms 113-118. They were often cited during important Jewish festivals, and it very well may have been these Psalms that Jesus sang with his disciples at the Passover meal in the upper room just a few days after the Triumphal Entry. The theme of Psalm 118 is about God’s power to save and conquer.
The Jews knew their Bible and knew that a descendant of David was going to come as king to rescue them. They knew many Psalms pointed toward events in the future and attributed this Psalm to Jesus. On Psalm 118, Charles Spurgeon noted: “That the Psalmist had a prophetic view of our Lord Jesus is very manifest; the frequent quotations from this song in the New Testament prove this beyond all questions.” Psalm 118 was also a Psalm that Martin Luther leaned on for strength to persevere.
The only thing is that the Jews were expecting a political king who would rescue them from the Roman rule. They had been conquered by the Romans in 63 b.C. and had hopes for a physical savior. Here, finally in their midst was their coming king in the capitol city. They rejoiced over the fact that finally they would be freed from all those who oppressed them. Yet Jesus did not do this, and thus the crowds no longer followed him. Just a few days after the Triumphal Entry, the crowds were shouting to have him killed. Only a small group understood that he was king in a different way.
The Kingdom of God which he preached and inaugurated was not an earthly, political kingdom, but the rule of God in the hearts of people who know and serve Him. But this was not the kingdom which the people expected or wanted, and so they rejected Jesus as their Lord. -William Lane Craig
Jesus does not fulfill our expectations all the time, but that does not mean he is not our King.
In conclusion, I will cite Charles Spurgeon again, who talks of the fact that there is a second Triumphal Entry that will occur sometime in the future: “We know who it is that cometh in the name of the Lord beyond all others. In the Psalmist's days he was The Coming One, and he is still The Coming One, though he hath already come. We are ready with our hosannas both for his first and second advent; our inmost souls thankfully adore and bless him and upon his head unspeakable joys.”
Questions to consider:
Do you view Jesus as your spiritual King? Are you a member of his kingdom?
Do you seek to serve the king? Do you serve him with joy?
How do you handle it when the King does not fulfill your expectations? Do you abandon him like the crowds?
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