by Will Washington
"The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!' And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
'Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your King is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!'
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him. The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes about Jesus, “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
We see this dynamic at play in Jesus’ “triumphal entry,” a story so familiar to a lot of Christians around the time of Holy Week that we can easily lose how profound and life-shaping it really is. There are a few powerful elements for us to dwell on this week:
(1) His bold claim: When the people come out to greet Jesus as He arrives in Jerusalem, they shout out “Hosanna,” which means “God save us,” and they wave palm branches, which usually signified victory over one’s enemy. This is no less than a declaration of hope that Jesus is the promised Messiah from the line of David, and Jesus accepts this declaration! This is a claim with massive implications. Why is this so amazing? Usually, when a person makes an outrageous claim about himself, he is not humble. We see this all the time in the world of politics and sports today, for example. However, with Jesus, He’s so tender, kind, and gentle with the poor, prostitutes, vile sinners, children, and people of other races. What amazing humility and grace, and yet at the exact same time, He unmistakably makes the paramount claim to be the Messianic King, showing that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus (Acts 4:12), and absolute sovereignty belongs to Jesus.
(2) His surprising approach: These triumphal entries were usually done by kings, warriors, and armies who had achieved great military victories to deliver their people, but these victors would have ridden upon great horses, not lowly donkeys. If we really think about this, it’s a shocking sight to see King and Savior Jesus ride in upon a baby donkey. In fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, Jesus demonstrates that He is coming to rule and save not by assuming power and using force, but by laying down His privileges to serve and ultimately die a substitutionary death. The people misunderstood this nature of the Messianic King (John 12:16). Today, in a Christian culture that foolishly treats Christian leaders like celebrities and emphasizes our “impressive” feats for God, this humbles us and shows us that our hope and identity are not in which Christian celebrity we identify with or in what we do for Jesus. It is only in what the humble, serving, crucified Jesus did for us. God meets us not in the big and impressive things we often seek, but in the humble and servant Savior King who speaks to us in the Scriptures and demonstrated His love for us on the cross. It also shows us that we often don’t understand what we really need from God, and that we might not understand what God is doing in the short term, but that God always gives us what we truly need. If we understand this, we don’t have to live an anxious, discontent life that our culture breeds.
(3) His hopeful future: In the context of the prophecy that Jesus is fulfilling in this text (Zechariah 9:9-10), Zechariah predicts that the king who brings salvation, humble on a donkey, will speak peace to the nations and will rule to the ends of the earth. This points to something much bigger. Much of the crowd believed that as the Messianic King, Jesus was coming to bring political success and make everything right for them. The truth, however, was that He was really coming to make them right with God and to bring those who trust in Him into His eternal Kingdom. This draws our attention to the future. In his commentary on Matthew, concerning this same story of the triumphal entry, Don Carson explains, “This even points to the peace of the consummated Kingdom. Jesus is the Lord of all, and under His hand nothing but harmony and peace comes about.” In the Gospels, the crowds were often looking for hype, but Jesus didn’t come to bring hype; He came to bring hope.
Why does all this matter for us today? If we’re being honest, we might find ourselves in a similar place that the people in the story were in, wanting comfort and power, or trying to meet God in the hype of frenetic Christian activity, celebrity, noise, and accomplishment. Or maybe we’re tempted to make this world our home and are discouraged by what we see every day. The remedy is a right view of Jesus who is both powerful and humble, King and Savior.
John Owen writes, “One view of Christ’s glory by faith will scatter all the fears, answer all the objections, and disperse all the depressions of poor, tempted, doubting souls. To all believers it is an anchor which they may cast within the veil, to hold them firm and steadfast in all trials, storms, and temptations, both in life and in death.” May Jesus’ bold claim, surprising approach, and hopeful future be our meditation this Holy Week, and may that shape us to be gospel people in the world today.