Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Zechariah 9:9)
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)
In Jesus’ day important people and rulers would have been carried in to the city in a litter borne by slaves, as Pilate most likely would have been carried into the city of Jerusalem before the Passover celebration. Pilate’s arrival would have been an important display of Roman might and hegemony- an entrance that would let the people know in no uncertain terms that the Pax Romana would be enforced by force.
Riding on a beast of burden such as a lowly donkey was not how earthly kings traveled. A good comparison today would be when the President comes to town. He arrives on Air Force One, and is further transported by motorcade, where he is transferred to “the Beast” limousine and is surrounded by security and peripheral vehicles. The President arrives with pomp and circumstance because he’s important. The President is not just some guy riding into downtown on a BMX bike with a few of his friends- but that was the sort of arrival that Jesus had. Jesus didn’t storm in like an Important Guy.
The people in Jerusalem didn’t even know who Jesus was until the disciples and those who accompanied Him announced his identity. Perhaps some of the general public of Jerusalem was familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy of their king coming to them riding on a donkey. There may have been whispers and fleeting fantasies that This Might Be the Guy who will raise up a coup to defeat the Romans, and restore Jewish autonomy.
Unfortunately what most people didn’t understand about Jesus then and still do not understand is that His kingdom is not one of political hegemony or earthly strength or material prosperity. Jesus came to suffer and to be wounded unto death for our salvation, redemption and healing. His way was not one of being carried in on a litter to be praised, but to be spat on and beaten, to take up the cross, and to be put to death.
As Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”-John 18:36
He was to be given as a lamb to the slaughter, the Lamb who bears the sins of the world.
The cries of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday will turn in a few short days to, “Crucify Him!”
Jesus’ blood is upon us all. His blood is the blood of the Lamb, foreshadowed by the blood of the lambs spread on the doorposts during the Passover. We are the same people who cry, “Hosanna to the King!” one day, and we also cry, “Crucify Him!” as we sin and pursue our own way. When we were given the choice between Barabbas (the son of the father, of our father Adam) and the Son of God, we chose to save Barabbas, and in so doing, we sent Jesus to the cross.
The good news is that Jesus came to be King – not by upending Caesar or throwing the Romans out of Palestine, but by going to the cross. He did for us what we could never do- He made us worthy before God.
He paid the punishment that brings us peace.