We live in a day when political rallies and violence are not uncommon. One news report said, “Chaos is becoming the new normal” This describes Jerusalem a long time ago. All four Gospels indicate passions were fiery hot! Jewish leaders were out to kill Jesus of Nazareth, yet Jesus rides into the city on a donkey, the center of attention! People shout words of praise as they lay their garments and palm branches in His path.
Jesus truly was the Prince of Peace! He didn’t ride a war horse, carry a sword, or wear a crown. He did, however, ride the animal of a king. (1 Kings 1:33) This was the only public demonstration He ever allowed, only because it fulfilled prophecy. This public demonstration was known as “The Triumphal Entry,” but what does it mean?
First of all, what did it mean to the Romans? Although nothing is recorded in the Scriptures about the Roman viewpoint, we know they kept a close watch. During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon for Jewish nationalists to try to arouse the people. Some Roman soldiers, no doubt, smiled at the “Triumphal Entry” for it was nothing like their own “Roman triumph” celebrations. When a Roman general returned home after killing 5,000 in battle, he was welcomed with an elaborate official parade. Trophies of war and the prisoners he had captured were exhibited. He rode in a golden chariot as priests burned incense and the people shouted his name in praise. The procession ended at an arena where the captives fought wild beasts to their deaths. Compared to a “Roman triumph,” this Triumphal Entry was nothing!
Secondly, what did it mean to the people of Israel? It was Passover time in Jerusalem, which meant the streets were crowded with pilgrims! A quarter-million lambs were slain in the city! The Law required a minimum of ten people to a lamb, so 2½-million people were present! Every adult male Jew within twenty miles had to be there. Jesus could not have chosen a more dramatic moment!
The pilgrims welcomed Jesus, spreading their garments before him, waving palm branches to symbolize peace and victory. (2 Kings 9:13) Matthew adds shouts of “hosannah” or “save now!” They quoted Psalm 118:26, a messianic psalm, proclaiming Jesus as “King of Israel!”
Thirdly, what did it mean to the Jewish leaders? They were out to kill Jesus and He knew it! Yet, six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany to spend quiet time with friends. As a matter of fact, He was Guest of Honor at a dinner. (John 12:1-3a) Mark has it at the home of Simon the Leper. Mary caused quite a stir when she poured a container of expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus defended her. (John 12:3-7)
Now the Triumphal Entry! How did the Jewish leaders respond? The Pharisees were anticipating a general revolt during the Passover. Perhaps Jesus would perform some great miracle, capturing the minds and hearts of the restless people! They just didn’t get it!
What they didn’t realize was that Jesus was “forcing their hand.” The Sanhedrin, the 70-member governing body of Jerusalem, would act during the feast! As the Passover lambs were slain, the Lamb of God would sacrifice His own Life! So in the presence of 2½-million people, Jesus rode a donkey into the city as the people proclaimed Him to be King! But as they did this, Jesus wept! (Luke 19:44) He wept because He saw what lay ahead: War, suffering, destruction, a scattered people.
But the real question is, what does it mean for you and me? Jesus was on His Way to Calvary to pay the price for our salvation! His Triumphal Entry was on Sunday. On Monday He cleansed the temple. Tuesday saw controversies with the Jewish leaders. Apparently, Wednesday was a day of rest. On Thursday there was preparation for the Passover. Friday held the so-called Trial and Crucifixion of Christ. On Saturday Jesus rests in the tomb. But on Sunday Christ was raised from the dead! With whatever you’re facing this Palm Sunday, remember, Easter’s coming!
Danny Goddard is senior pastor at New Castle First Church of the Nazarene. He is a regular contributor to Faith Perspective.