Reader: “Blessings on the one who comes”
Response: “in the name of the Lord!”
Scripture: John 12: 1,2,12-16
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
Just to give us a little context, we retrace recent events. Jesus had raised Lazarus within the last week to ten days. Last night (yesterday’s devotional) there was a party at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to honor Jesus for the raising of Lazarus. Many people, both friends and the curious, came to see both Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus was just outside Jerusalem at Bethany! The day when the above passage occurred is today, Palm Sunday.
Like an out-of-control forest fire, word has been circulating about Jesus’ raising a man from the dead. Meanwhile as religious tensions are rising because of the perceived threat that Jesus presented to their power, the Pharisees and Sadducees are plotting to do away with Jesus and with Lazarus as well. Jesus knows this will be his final week on earth. His life and mission since he came to earth have been pointing to these very days. You’ll notice all this coming week that Jesus is completely in charge of everything. To prepare for his entry into Jerusalem, he sends two disciples to get a donkey, one on which no one had ever ridden. He tells them what to say, and it happens just as he said. You know the story quite well.
I want to make a few observations. In his ride down the Mount of Olives, Jesus was announcing himself as Israel’s king. Notice, Jesus asked for a donkey. When kings rode donkeys, they were coming in humility, peace and reconciliation. When they rode horses, they were coming to do battle, to fight a war. A donkey was a royal, peaceful limousine as it were. Donkeys are humble animals. They are servant animals. You’ll recall Jesus was later in the week to wash the feet of the disciples as a servant. In fact, the First Testament prophet, Zechariah, prophesied (9:9-10) that Israel’s king would enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey―a donkey’s colt. What is often overlooked is that the passage goes on to say that your king will remove battle chariots and war horses from Jerusalem and destroy all weapons used in battle, and he will “bring peace to the nations.” The people missed the last part of the prophecy. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.
King David, an ancestor of Jesus a thousand years earlier, had exited Jerusalem as king on a donkey, fleeing before his son. Incidently, Absalom, who was attempting a coup, rode into Jerusale on a mule, an animal for war. Now the true King of Israel, of King David’s royal line, enters Jerusalem again on a donkey. What is interesting, at some point in the future, the King of kings will again return to set up his eternal kingdom. This time he will be on a white horse as he comes to rule (Rev.19:11) and destroy the forces of evil forever. Jesus’ Palm Sunday trip down the Mount of Olives and the place of Christ’s Ascension is the ultimate place of his final Return at the end of the Age. This road and the Mount of Olives is one of the most significant geographical places on the planet. I remember walking down that road in 1996 being aware of these very things!
As Jesus rode down the hill, great crowds gathered singing “hosanna!” (meaning ‘salvation now’) while waving palm branches as was typical in celebrating a hero. The people were undoubtedly hoping and believing that this Nazarene Rabbi would lead a revolt against the Roman occupation. 160 years earlier against the Seleucid (Hellenistic) occupation, the Maccabees brothers had attempted an overthrow. There was some success in that earlier revolt, though it was eventually crushed and the brothers killed. The people’s hope was that Jesus would set up his own kingdom ousting the hated Romans. Palm branches were waved as a symbolic sign of defiance. This fact was not lost on the foreign occupiers and added to the tensions of the Passover celebration.
The historian, Josephus, writes that at Passover there were 2 ½ million Jews in Jerusalem, double the size of Rome! Even if he exaggerated, there was a massive swell in the Jewish population. Pilate, the Roman prefect, struggled to keep things under control. The war horse he rode was a show of force in great contrast to the donkey Jesus rode! The political climate was tense on several fronts. So the Romans were justifiably nervous as they were significantly outnumbered as well as intensely hated.
The people sang these glorious words to a victorious king from Psalm 118. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” What they didn’t realize is that Psalm also has these prophetic words, “Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar,” words that would later in the week be fulfilled as Jesus was bound and crucified as the sacrificial Lamb of God. (v.18)
It is prophetically ironic the people shouting these texts from the First Testament did not realize the full extent of what they were saying. Within a few days many of them were yelling “crucify him!” when Jesus did not conform to their expectation as to what he should do in regards to the Roman occupation.
This Triumphal Entry is a kind of picture of our response to God all too often. We are in a difficult situation wanting release from an imposed stress or an outside pressure, and we pray that God will in effect do our will and get us out of our plight. When God doesn’t do what we think he should or in our time frame, we crab, we doubt and we get angry at God or each other. Don’t forget. The point in the Triumphal Entry is not the people’s response, but rather the magnificent, costly unfolding of God’s plan to bring healing and restoration to all people. It was not about the people then, and it is not about us and our wills now. Moreover, we need to be careful we don’t dictate how and when God should act. Rather, we should kneel in the Garden of Gethsemane with our Savior praying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” It has a much better outcome. And let’s be the donkey, carrying Jesus to the world! Remember, it was about Jesus, not the donkey!
Music: “Ride On King Jesus” Moses Hogan Singers
“Ride on King Jesus” Jessye Norman
“Hosanna to the Song of David” Cambridge Singers
O Christ, the King of glory who didst enter the holy city in meekness to be made perfect through the suffering of death: give us grace, we beseech thee, in all our life here to take up our cross daily and follow thee, that hereafter we may rejoice with thee in thy heavenly kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit world without end Amen. ―Prayers for Easter, p.34