The Triumphal Entry (Matt 21:1-11)

We’re all being asked to avoid mass gatherings and to practice social-distancing at the moment aren’t we? Human contact is responsible for the rapid spread of coronavirus, and crowds are definitely to be avoided!

Things could not have been more diffident on the first Palm Sunday, however! A crowd dominated the scene, with all roads into Jerusalem thronged with pilgrims. The Passover festival meant social distancing in the city was not an option!

Jesus, of course, was among this crowd. He had journeyed to Jerusalem with his disciples to bring his mission to its climax. The ‘hour’ for which he had come was now just one week away.

Matthew tells us that the crowd around Jesus were ecstatic to have him with them. Here was a man who, over the last three years, said and done some astonishing things. This carpenter’s son from Nazareth had calmed storms, fed five thousand and even raised the dead.

With such an impressive CV, many in this excited crowd clearly expected Jesus to enter the capital and seize the throne of Israel:

  • For example, verse 8 tells us that some people spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus, while others cut down branches from trees and laid them on the ground before him. Just as we lay down red carpet for royalty or other important people today, these acts were expressions of great respect and reverence for Jesus.
  • In verse 9, Mathew also records the words that the crowd were shouting as Jesus approached Jerusalem: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven” Hosanna is an expression that means “God save us!”

So by their words and by their actions the crowd were identifying Jesus as not only as a coming king, but also as a man sent by God to save them. With the arrival of Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem, the crowd believed that they were about to see God’s anointed King drive out the Roman occupiers and establish God’s rule on earth. No wonder they were excited!

The humble King

So was the crowd right about Jesus? Well, yes,and no!

Firstly, the crowd were right to recognise Jesus as God’s promised king. At the start of today’s passage we see that Jesus made careful arrangements to ensure that he would approach Jerusalem riding on a colt, a young donkey.

He did this to fulfil what had been predicted by the prophet Zechariah many years before. As we heard in our first reading today, Zechariah had said: “People of Jerusalem, look, your king is coming to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.

As he approached the gates of Jerusalem, Jesus wanted to show everyone watching that God’s long-promised king had now arrived.

But the crowd were mistaken if they thought Christ had come to set up his kingdom by force. They were wrong to think Jesus was about to lead a rebellion against the Roman authorities.

If you were going to invade a city today, you might choose a tank, an armoured personnel carrier or an Apache helicopter. In first century Palestine, the equivalent would have been to ride in on a war horse or a chariot, at the head of a legion of soldiers.

But by coming on a donkey, Jesus was declaring that he had come in peace and in humility. The kingdom of God would not result from conflict with Rome – but another way. A way of self-sacrifice and humility. A way that would take Jesus to the Cross on Calvary, not to a throne room in Jerusalem.

This path to power – this victory via the Cross – was not what most Jews expected or wanted as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It would have dashed their hopes of what the Messiah would achieve. For them, the concept of a crucified Messiah would have sounded foolish and nonsensical, like the idea of a square circle or 2+2 making five.

Yet those who were closest to Jesus should not have been shocked or disappointed by the humble path that Jesus chose to take – and neither should we. Because throughout his ministry, Jesus had repeatedly told his closest disciples that his mission would culminate at the Cross. Again and again he had explained to them that he must suffer and die so that God’s forgiveness and God’s kingdom could become open and accessible to all.

He had come as a humble king – as a suffering servant – to offer his life as a sacrifice for our sin.

Is Jesus your king?

As I finish, what applications for ourselves can we draw from the first Palm Sunday?

Firstly, I hope we have all joined the crowd in saying “Hosanna” to Jesus. In other words, I hope we have all, at some point in our lives, said “Lord, save us – save me” to Jesus. Only Christ, the crucified King, can offer us true forgiveness and everlasting life. If we have sincerely said ‘Hosanna’ to Jesus – if we have asked him for salvation – we can be sure to have received it.

Secondly, in our reading today the crowds laid their cloaks on the road before Jesus. Are we too prepared to lay our time, treasure and talents at his feet, in obedient service to him?

Jesus laid down his life for us on the Cross. I hope we want to serve him in joyful thanks for the salvation he secured for us there.

Thirdly, and finally, if Jesus is truly our King, then I hope we are moved to praise and adore him. As Jesus entered Jerusalem his companions wanted to sing his praises and shout out “Hosanna”! So let’s join with that crowd, and praise King Jesus with our lips and our lives.