Eleven years ago this month the world watched William and Kate’s wedding. More than 2 billion people took time out to view this royal event with its rich pageantry and ceremony. It was all that we would expect of a royal occasion.
How different was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.
As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find that Jesus’ mission has been a movement towards Jerusalem – the city where the Temple symbolized God’s presence with his people. It was inevitable that Jesus’ work would reach its climax there.
But how would the city receive him? During his three years of public ministry Jesus had been confronted by representatives from Jerusalem who had quizzed him and opposed him.
Preparation. When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it’ (Luke 19:29-31).
The path Jesus trod with thousands of others on their way to Jerusalem for Passover involved a long climb from Jericho, the lowest city in the world, through the villages of Bethphage and Bethany, up to the Mount of Olives. From there, Jerusalem comes into view, and for most Jewish people, the end of the journey – Passover in the city of God.
For Jesus this was a moment for which he had prepared. He sent two of his disciples to a village to fetch a donkey, telling anyone who asked, ‘The Lord has need of it’.
Jesus was deliberately fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah, who had spoken some 500 years earlier about God’s king riding on the foal of a donkey. It was always said that no one but the king was permitted to ride his horse. This colt had never been ridden. Throwing their cloaks on to the colt, the disciples set Jesus on it.
Great Expectations. As Jesus journeyed down the steep path from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley that day, people not only spread their cloaks on the road, but also started singing from Psalm 118, one of the festival psalms: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ The cloaks on the road and the singing suggested that a king was entering his city. Psalm 118 is a song of victory.
There’s something here that is quite often overlooked. The crowds that joyfully sang that day were people from the provinces who had seen and heard Jesus outside the city. Now these people saw Jesus coming in fulfillment of their hopes, answering their longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself.
The words they sang echoed the words of Jesus earlier in his ministry: ‘If Israel will repent and greet with blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord, then Israel will experience the advent of salvation’ (Luke 13:35).
A Discordant Note. However, there was an irony here that the crowds in their enthusiasm seemed to have missed. This king was not riding a warrior horse. This was no royal or presidential motorcade with armed security. This king was riding a donkey, fulfilling for anyone who knew the Scriptures, the words of Zechariah 9:9.
Indeed, some of the Pharisees going along with the crowd appear to have become anxious about how the authorities in Jerusalem would respond. ‘Tell these people to keep quiet’, they said to Jesus. But, contrary to his call for silence when Peter had confessed him as the Christ (Luke 9:20), now he said: ‘If I tell these people to be quiet, even the very stones would sing out…’ He is anticipating the day when even the inanimate elements of creation will respond with joy – the day of the full and final redemption of God’s people.
It was time to sing out: God’s king was coming to the city to bring about God’s rescue for his people. Jesus’ work would provide the greater exodus, not just for Israel but for all people, through his own Passover act when he was crucified.
Tears for the City. As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…’ (Luke 19:41-42).
The people thought Jesus was coming to take up his kingship in Jerusalem. But Jesus went on to predict that because Jerusalem had failed to see and welcome him as God’s long-promised king, it would become a smoking, desolate ruin.
With this description of Jesus’ entry into the city of David, Luke turns our attention away from the glory of the kingdom to focus on the suffering the king would endure before the week was out. There would be no glory without his suffering; no crown without his cross.
There is a lesson here for us. Luke wants us to understand that God’s king will come one day in awesome power and glory. Yes, without a doubt that will happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, point to the reality of divine intervention in human affairs.
But Luke also wants us to turn our eyes from the political transformation of society to the greatest need of everyone – the spiritual transformation of our souls. Before we experience our great expectations of Jesus’ kingdom in all its fullness and glory, we must first receive him into our hearts.
In every age preachers have wept for the people in the towns and cities where they have ministered God’s truth. I know I have – wept for those who have come and walked away because they didn’t want to hear about what CS Lewis called the divine interferer. Without Jesus, God’s king in our lives we are lost.
A Prayer. Almighty ever living God, you have given to all men and women Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility. He fulfilled your will by choosing to take on human form and give his life for us on the cross. Turn our hearts to you and help us bear witness to you by following his example of suffering; make us worthy to share in his resurrection. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
© John G. Mason
You may want to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Alison Kraus.