9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.
1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is celebrated each year on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of Holy Week. Around the world the eyes and hearts of the devoted followers of Jesus Christ will be focused day by day on those events that took place during the last week of the earthly life of our Saviour. His royal entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of that week, and His triumphant resurrection from the tomb brought it to a climax and grand conclusion. For the followers of Jesus who were physically there, this was a week of glory, utter despair, death and defeat, and finally ultimate victory. By the time the sun went down at the end of that very first Easter Sunday they must have been emotionally and spiritually exhausted. We know the story of Holy Week very well, and during the next eight days Christian Churches all over the world will be looking back and looking inwards as we try once more to consider the eternal implications of what happened that week. 2000 years is a long time, but thankfully we still recognise and understand just what that week means to us here and now.
But let’s try for a moment to imagine what it must have been like for those who were there. The background to the story is that for many years the Jews, once a mighty military force in the Middle East, had been under severe oppression, but they believed the prophecies that told them their oppressors would be overthrown by the promised Messiah. This was why Jesus was welcomed so enthusiastically that day. At last the Messiah had arrived. But there were some remarkable differences between Jesus’ triumphal procession and those of Roman rulers or victorious generals. When a Roman king was give a ticker tape parade after a victorious battle, he was preceded by the senate. Then came the trumpeters, flute players, captives, spoils of war, and even oxen for sacrifices. The captives of war, particularly other kings and chiefs, were chained together and driven ahead of the king. He would enter last, dressed in purple and gold, which reflected his majesty, and in his hand would be the sceptre – the symbol of his absolute authority.
But this was very different to how Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and this should have alerted the people to the fact that all was not as they were hoping it would be, but they seemed to miss it at first. Earthly kings rode in on elaborately decorated war horses, but Jesus rode on a donkey on which the clothes of His admirers had been placed. While earthly kings were praised by the leaders of the kingdom, Jesus was praised by peasants and children. Jesus was given the praise and the acclaim of a king.
There was also a subtle yet significant change in how Jesus accepted all this acclaim and fanfare. Many times previously He had avoided the limelight, even telling people to keep what they’d seen and heard Him do to themselves, but now it was different.
He didn’t deny that He was entering the city as a king. Why this change in attitude? His royal entry was deliberate. It was part of His presentation of His messiahship to His disciples, to the people, and to the leaders of the nation. Jesus knew before His arrival in Jerusalem how things would unfold during the next week. Everything He did and said was according to His plan of salvation. Matthew 20:17–19 says, “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will turn Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day He will be raised to life.’”
Prior arrangements had been made for the donkey on which He was to ride. The royal entry of the true Messiah was a fulfillment of a prophecy Zechariah had written nearly 500 years earlier.
Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament identified the coming Messiah under four major themes.
First, He is portrayed as a prophet who is to come with an authentic word from God concerning God. Secondly, He is pictured as both a priest who will offer a perfect sacrifice on behalf of man and as that sacrifice. He is to bring God down to people (which is precisely what happened when Jesus took on human form and entered our world), and He is to lift people up to God. Through the Messiah we are once more acceptable to God.
Thirdly, the Messiah is pictured as the suffering servant who is to die a substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. Isaiah 53 speaks so powerfully of this truth, which is why it is one of the most-read and quoted Old Testament chapters during Holy Week. And fourth, the Messiah is pictured as a king.
As the centuries went by, Israel looked forward to the coming of the ideal king who would be their Messiah. In times of national crisis that lasted for more than 700 years, the people earnestly longed for a king who would deliver them from the oppression of their enemies.
This expectation gained momentum and reached a climax during the earthly life of Jesus. As He gained more popularity He had to resist the attempts of the people to almost force Him to assume kingship. Even when we move the clock forward to when Jesus was about to ascend to Heaven, His followers had still not quite grasped what He was really here for and who He really was. Acts 1:6 – “They gathered around Him and asked Him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
But Jesus would not be swayed from His mission by human pressure. God will not be dictated to by us. He is sovereign and His will will always be done.
So what exactly was Palm Sunday really all about? What actually happened that day?
Jesus entered the city to offer Himself as King.
He was born to be a king. Matthew 2:2 – “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” He was given the reverence due to a king. Matthew 2:11 – “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” He was feared by a rival king. Matthew 2:16 – “When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” These things had convinced Jesus’ followers that He was the earthly messiah they’d been waiting for for so long. As we’ve seen already, His disciples tried to force him to assert His authority and assume power. They wanted Him to re-establish the Davidic kingdom and get rid of the Roman oppressors. What they wanted was independence, military power and material glory. But God’s plan was completely different to theirs. What Jesus did as He rode into Jerusalem that day was to declare His true kingship and demonstrate the authority of the kingdom of God. Our reading from Matthew 21 this morning stopped at verse 11, but the subsequent verses tell us what Jesus did after arriving in Jerusalem: “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.’ The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them.” (Matthew 21:12-14).
When Jesus came into the city in the manner in which He did, He was following in the tradition of David and the other kings of Israel. He deliberately accepted the acclaim of the crowd as a king. He didn’t rebuke them when they gave Him the applause and recognition of a king, but instead of overthrowing the Romans, He purged the temple of those who’d desecrated that place of worship, and continued to demonstrate His authority over sickness and disease. This was a very different King to the one they were expecting.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem He did so to reveal the true nature of His kingship. He said something very interesting and controversial in Matthew 10:34. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Now bearing in mind that particularly at Christmas we talk about peace on earth to all mankind, what does this mean?
There were certain things and situations that Jesus would not tolerate. He would not condone hypocrisy, injustice and unkindness. He would not give His approval to oppression - whether it was social, political, or spiritual. He came into the world to call people to an undivided loyalty to the will of God. He recognised, as we should, that we can’t make things right without creating some division and strife. Many believe that the only way proper change can happen in society is by violence, and there is a huge amount of historical evidence that justifies that opinion. Jesus came not to create a peace of stagnation and indifference. He didn’t come to condone the status quo in society. In fact, He challenged it. He challenged the corrupt religious and social system of His day. So in that sense He created war instead of peace.
But at the same time, by riding into Jerusalem on a simple donkey, He revealed that His kingship was based on love and grace and not on force and power. He came as King so that we can have peace with God. He came as King so that we would have peace as we discover both the way and the power to live according to the will of God for our lives. As the King of kings He ruled by love rather than by force, and He devoted Himself to a life of humble self-giving service to others.
This King was nothing like the king they were expecting and hoping for. He came into Jerusalem not to take the lives of Israel’s enemies but to give His life for His enemies.
During the six months leading up to Palm Sunday, Jesus spent this time in seclusion with His apostles. He used this time to teach them the reality of His kingdom. He taught them that His kingdom was based on love, and that His was a spiritual rather than a military kingdom. This whole concept was rather strange to them. They wanted a king who would lead a revolt against the authority of Rome. But in a complete role reversal, Jesus offered Himself as the King who would rule by the principle of love, and this is why there was such a remarkable change in the peoples’ attitude to Jesus after Palm Sunday.
They rejected the peace that He could have brought them and instead chose destruction. The fact that Jesus did not fit into the role they expected Him to fulfill played a significant part in His condemnation and ultimately His crucifixion.
The inscription placed on the cross read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The Christ who was crucified on the cross was born to be a king. He lived a sinless life like a perfect king. He spoke with the authority of a king. There was even something uniquely royal about the manner in which He died on the cross. It was as King over death that He rose triumphant and victorious on the third day. It was with kingly authority that He commissioned His disciples to evangelise the world. And one day He will return to earth as the King of Kings.
The king that rode into Jerusalem that day was very different to the king the people wanted. In their eyes He was a failure, and they put Him to death as a fraud and an imposter. Their patience ran out, and the cries changed from Hosanna to Crucify. They weren’t to know who this really was, because of their short-sightedness and the fact that they were only interested in themselves. Salvation was something they mistakenly believed was their birthright because they were God’s chosen people. Sin wasn’t an issue in their lives, because they believed their religion and rituals were enough.
We however, have the benefit of knowing the real story. We know why Jesus came.
The question is, have you made Him the King of your heart, and does He have control over your will? Are you willing today to recognise His kingship and grant Him control of every aspect of your life?
Does He determine how you treat others? Have you forgiven as you’ve been forgiven?
I could go on, but the point is this: We have to be prepared to recognise and acknowledge Him as the one true King of kings and Lord of lords of our entire lives. Unless if we do, we are just one of the many thousands who welcomed Him with open arms on Palm Sunday, only to give into peer pressure and turn on Him a few days later. Jesus Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
He is not just the Lord of the Sabbath or the God of our Sundays. If we really want to know the peace and power that comes from God, then we need to make Him King of all. “Hosanna to the King of kings” should not be our annual cry on Palm Sunday each year. We must choose to worship Him in spirit and in truth always and for eternity. To know Jesus as the Prince of Peace, we must crown Him as Lord and King.
Are you part of the crowd that cheers Jesus when all is going well in your life, but when He doesn’t do what you’d like, the cheering stops?
The Christian faith is not a religion – it is a life spent walking in God’s will, both when it is easy, and when it is hard.
Maybe your problem has been that your desires have been self-centred instead of God-centred. You might be saved, but just like Jacob you insist on wrestling with God, because you have never accepted His terms of service to Him, and you have been doing things on your own, and in your own strength.
God will not share His glory with us. He will also not be dictated to by us like He is some kind of blessing machine that owes us a favour.
It’s wonderful to call Jesus your Saviour – but you also have to call Him Lord.