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)
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:20-43 (ESV)
The disciples were rightfully confused regarding the whole kingship of Jesus. They likely had images of Jesus being some sort of a military conqueror or a political leader. Yet the way that Jesus rode in to Jerusalem was a bit of tip off as to what kind of King He is.
Donkeys were beasts of burden, humble beasts that average people used to ride or haul loads. The military and political leaders of Jesus’ day made a huge display and show of their power- being carried by others in litters or riding in chariots pulled by horses. Jesus’ triumphal entry in to Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey can be juxtaposed to Pontius Pilate’s entry in to Jerusalem at about the same time. Pilate, as the governor of Judea, would be expected to be in Jerusalem to keep the peace and keep the Roman presence felt during the Passover. In keeping with the Pax Romana, he would have been carried in on a litter, and surrounded by well-armed centurions and soldiers in horse-drawn chariots. Pilate would have embodied the earthly authority and power of Rome.
Jesus, on the other hand, as far as the world was concerned, was a revolutionary, a traveling preacher with a popular following, a person that the Jewish establishment disdained. He did not have weapons. He was not surrounded by soldiers.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem with a mission though. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die.
The same people screaming “Hosanna!, Hosanna!” on Sunday would be screaming, “Crucify Him!, Crucify Him!” on Friday.
The sad irony in this is that we are those people. Jesus went to the cross in our place. We worship and praise God at some times and places, yet with our actions and our sins known and unknown, we too are shouting, “Crucify Him!”
The Son of Man must be lifted up, and He was lifted up, but not in the way the disciples anticipated. Rather than being lifted up to a temporal position of power, He was lifted up to die nailed to a Roman cross. How much difference in perspective a week makes.
There is nothing that we could do, can do or will do that can earn the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus freely bought and paid for on the cross. Even though none of us alive today were present when Jesus was crucified, He sacrificed Himself and gave His life for every one of us. Including all of us hypocrites who scream “Hosanna!” one minute, and “Crucify Him!” the next.
This Sunday last year we were marching around the church waving our palms and singing Hosanna. What a difference a year makes. This year we do not get to pass out the palms and watch the children run around the church waving them.
Yet even when we cannot meet together, we take comfort in knowing Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our faithfulness is not the issue, His is, as the apostle Paul teaches:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:8-13 (ESV)
This week we remember Jesus’ journey to the cross. As we remember, we repent and we confess our sins, knowing that we too, are the ones screaming, “Crucify Him!” We too are the ones who sometimes mistake Jesus for a being a cosmic granter of our wishes rather than the God of the universe who taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” We realize we are weak. At the same time we thank God for the gifts of faith, forgiveness, hope and salvation. We bow down before the King of Kings, who humbled Himself to come to earth in human flesh and to take the punishment of the curse of sin in our place.