By Pastor Glenn Pease
About 140 years before Christ one of the Macchabee brothers, Simon by name, became the leader and high priest of Israel. Through his effective efforts the yoke of the Gentiles was taken off Israel, and he was called, "The great captain and prince of the Jews." He lead his army against Gaza, and when the people cried out for mercy he dealt with them in peace. He cast out the idols in the city, and he entered it with hymns and praise of the Lord. When he dealt with Jerusalem, he did the same. He came in peace, and cleansed the city of its uncleanness, and then entered it in triumph.
The record of his entry says he entered "With thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and harps, and cymbals and psalteries, and hymns, and canticles, because the great enemy was destroyed out of Israel. This is so similar to the triumphal entry of the Prince of Peace Himself, as he rode into the city of Jerusalem, that it is obvious that the people expected Jesus to conquer their enemies, and lead them to victory. The question is, did he do it, or did he fail? Was His triumph merely temporary, or was it timeless? Was He really the king of Israel? Did He really establish the kingdom of David, or was this all just futile emotionalism soon to dissipate itself among the fickle crowd? These are some of the questions we will seek to answer as we consider this important event. It is important because it is recorded in all 4 Gospels. We will look at it from 4 points of view: The king himself, the people, the Pharisees, and ourselves.
I. THE ENTRY OF JESUS.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell in detail how Jesus sent two of His disciples to bring Him the colt the foal of an ass. Never before have we ever heard of Jesus riding. He always walked, but now He deliberately plans to ride. Jesus knew the effect this act would have, and He did it just for that effect. All through His ministry He had avoided publicity when He could. He urged people whom He cured to not spread the news. But now for the first time, and only time, He makes a deliberate and planned appeal to the crowd. He purposely stirs up their emotions.
This was an act of defiance against the religious authorities, and it took courage, for John 11:57 indicates there was a price on His head, and they were anxious to take Him. Jesus had to have a great deal of popular support if this triumphal entry was to be successful. That is why Jesus let Lazarus remain dead until he began to decay. Others that Jesus had raised had been dead only for a short while, and so they skeptics could always point out that they may have not really been dead. But no one had any doubt about Lazarus, and the result was just the popular support Jesus needed to fulfill Old Testament prophecy in the triumphal entry.
This event was not only planned in advance by Christ as He proceeded toward it, but had been a part of the total plan of redemption even before the incarnation. No where do we see the providence of God working more accurately in human events as in the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. All of it was according to cause and effect, however, and free wills were not coerced into cooperation. All were moved to act in response to events which Jesus arranged, and which He knew would end at the cross. Calvin said of Jesus that He here, "openly declares that He commences His reign by advancing to death." That is the meaning of this well planned event. Jesus is now declaring openly that He is the Messiah; the promised Son of David for whom the Jews longed, and He hereby declares that He is about to ascend to the throne and establish the kingdom of David.
Mark 11:10 records that some of the people shouted, "Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David." They, of course, did not know that it was by way of the cross that He would reach the throne. Jesus makes it clear by His act, as He did to Pilate in words, that His kingdom is not of this world. The donkey is a symbol of daily life in contrast to the horse, which represents the military. The colt on which Jesus rode was a way of saying that Jesus was coming as a Prince Of Peace, and not as a man of war, as the Jews had falsely hoped. In the book of Revelation we see Jesus coming on a horse with sword prepared for battle, but then He will be coming in judgment. Here He comes in humility and peace.
Verse 15 says fear not, but why? It is because a king who comes in peace is not a tyrant to be feared, but a leader to be welcomed with joy and song. The prophecy of Zech. 9:9 was literally fulfilled in detail, and no one can doubt that Jesus declared Himself to be the king of Israel. The sign that Pilate put on the cross saying, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, was again the work of the providence of God. Pilate did it from a personal motive of revenge against the Jews, but God meant it as a proclamation that He really was the king. On the cross the Prince of Peace conquered the prince of darkness and death, and God exalted Him to His own right hand until all enemies are put under His feet. From Christ's point of view the triumphal entry was the day He proclaimed Himself to be the King of Israel. Next we see-
II. THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE PEOPLE.
The timing of Jesus is of obvious significance. It was the feast of Passover when Jews would come from everywhere to Jerusalem. Men like Simon of Cyrene would travel over 1000 miles to be there. Josephus says there were over 2 million for one Passover. The word spread like wild fire that Jesus was going to come to Jerusalem. It spread by word of mouth, and verses 17-18 make it clear it was spread by those who had seen Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had waited until the period of mourning, when there would be many sympathizers comforting Mary and Martha, so that He might have many witnesses, and so that the news would spread and be impossible to deny. Both before and after the cross the most effective way of spreading the good news about Jesus is by the testimony of persons who have encountered Him. In spite of all of our means of communication today, there will never be anything that can surpass the person to person witness.
When this message spread the people became excited, for they had heard of the miracles of Jesus, but this was the prize that a man could raise the dead. They thought He must certainly be the Messiah, and that they would soon conquer the Romans, for now they could even die and be restored to life. One who can conquer death can certainly conquer the world. No crowd in history has ever had more reason to be excited than those Jews on that day. Henry Ward Beecher said, "In things pertaining to enthusiasm no man is saying who does not know how to be insane on proper occasions." And this was a proper occasion, and it was perfect, for it was all worked out according to divine wisdom.
Hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem in spite of the threat of the Pharisees, the people concluded that this must be it. He is at last going to exert His power, and so they go out to meet Him, and by song and symbol they proclaim Him King. Verse 13 says they cried Hosanna, which means save now, and it is equivalent to the British cry of God save the king. Blessed be the king of Israel was their cry. Many delight in teaching a lesson here about the fickleness of crowds by saying that these who now shout Hosanna will in a few days be shouting to crucify Him. Crowds are doubtless fickle, but this is a poor place to teach that truth, for there is not a shred of evidence for it, and overwhelming evidence against it. Luke tells us that many who were shouting were disciples of Jesus. These would be shaken by the cross, but they were the firs to believe in the resurrection, and would be among the 500 brethren who saw Jesus after the resurrection.
If we read on in all of the Gospels we see that Jesus returned to the city day after day. He drove the money changers out of the temple. He taught the people, and they swarm to hear Him. That is why the rulers could not take Jesus, for they feared the crowds. They had to take Him by night, and that group of people who were led by their rulers to cry crucify Him were, it is agreed by Bible scholars, those from Jerusalem where Jesus was not well received, and not those who had come into Jerusalem from surrounding areas, where Jesus was in high favor. Those who shouted Hosanna meant it, and the point is, that from their point of view this event meant the same as it meant to Jesus. It was the day He proclaimed Himself to be the King of Israel, and the day they acknowledged Him as King. Many of them were, doubtless, among the three thousand converted to Christ at Pentecost. Next we see-
III. THE EMBARRASSMENT OF THE PHARISEES. v. 19
The Pharisees had good reason to be discouraged, and we know also that they were exceedingly envious. They had laid down the law that He was to be turned in, and what happens? They all turn out to welcome Him as King. Imagine the feeling of a sheriff who hangs out a wanted poster and then discovers that the people on the very next day are clamoring for the wanted man to be mayor. It would be rather embarrassing for the sheriff to say the least, and so it was for the Pharisees.
Their aggravation was evident by their exaggeration. People always exaggerate when they get aggravated. If a child does something when you are aggravated, it is not simply reported that he spilled the milk, but that he spilled the milk and everything. We like to add all inclusive terms when we are aggravated in order to magnify the guilt of the child. This is to make us justified by being so angry about what otherwise would be trivial.
The Pharisees should have been out there shouting too, but they were disgusted with the whole thing. The ignorant masses were being moved by emotionalism, and in despair they say that the whole world is gone after him.
Of course, the whole world hadn't, but enough of them had to weaken their authority, and that to them was the only world they cared about. There was nothing they could do. Luke says that some Pharisees said to Jesus, "Master rebuke thy disciples." But Jesus answered, "I tell you that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out." Nothing could stop the proclamation, for it was pre-ordained of God. From the Pharisees point of view the triumphal entry was indeed a triumph, and Jesus did successfully proclaim Himself King of Israel. Next we consider-
IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT FOR TODAY. v. 16
John says the full implication of this event was not understood until what it portrayed so dramatically became a fact of reality. John admits that though Jesus planned it, and knew exactly what was going on, the disciples were unconsciously fulfilling God's will. Only after Jesus ascended to the throne did it register. The cross seemed to be inconsistent with the whole plan, but now that Christ had conquered Israel's real foe-not Rome, but Satan-God exalted Him, and gave Him all power in heaven and on earth. Ever since Pentecost the church has preached this message of Peter: "God has made that same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." John Moment has shown us in verse what Peter said in prose, that the cross was the stepping stone to the throne.
Thy Savior comes, Jerusalem, make haste, thine altar bring!
His body for an offering take,
His heart of all the world to break,
And on the cross uplifted our God shall own Him King!
He lands afar, His triumph sing,
For with the love of all mankind our God shall crown Him King!
The message of Palm Sunday is the same for every age: Jesus Christ is King. Because the kingdom of God is the only absolute monarchy without tyranny, force is of no value. The only way into this kingdom is to accept Jesus as Savior. You must let Him forgive and transform you, and give you a new life, and then you will be a citizen of His kingdom. From our point of view Palm Sunday is a day to acknowledge Jesus as King of our lives, and make it a day in which He enters triumphantly into our hearts, and makes us a child of the King.