This weekend, the Christian world will mark Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In a normal year, there are large crowds retracing his route over the Mount of Olives in the Palm Sunday procession. The march is very colorful, with participants waving palm branches and singing hymns. Most are traditional Christians, including many local Arab Christians along with pilgrims from dozens of nations abroad.
But this year, like so many other public events at this time, the Palm Sunday procession has been shelved due to the Coronavirus threat. Planes cannot bring pilgrims to the Holy Land, and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are cooperating (perhaps more closely than ever) to keep all local residents at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
But this should not prevent us from celebrating in our hearts this key moment in the life of Jesus. It has so much meaning and symbolism, and helps us understand better what happened just days later in the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is part of the wonder and passion of Christ, who gave his life that we might live, and this is a message we all need in this trying hour.
THE TRIUMPHAL entry of Christ is recounted in all four Gospels, but John gives a more detailed account which places the moment in its fuller context. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). He was entering a city humming with heightened Messianic anticipation. They had been expecting the Messiah to arrive, throw off Roman rule and restore the kingdom to Israel; that is, restored it to what they had under King David. Jesus was already growing in fame as a great teacher and healer, and now he had just raised someone from the dead. Surely, a man with that kind of power could lead them in confronting their Roman oppressors.
Those were the ‘nationalistic’ sentiments widely shared by the throngs welcoming Jesus that day with palm fronds and shouts of “Hosanna!”
And Jesus took deliberate actions which tended to fan those flames. He was very intentional about riding into town on a donkey. He instructed his disciples on where to find his mount. In doing so, Jesus was closely following the model set by King David.
When Israel’s beloved king was dying, his son Adonijah wrongly rose up to seize the throne. But David commanded his loyal followers to act quickly, place Solomon on his royal donkey, take him down to the Gihon spring, and anoint him there as king over Israel (1 Kings 1:32-35). Jesus knew the donkey he rode symbolized kingship to his people.
Jesus also knew the prophet Zechariah had prophesied this very scene, saying: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
So Jesus was very clearly presenting his kingly credentials to Israel. And yet by week’s end he had been rejected by many of these same palm wavers, and was hanging on a cross.
Had he gotten caught up in the praises of the adoring crowd? Was he surprised by the sudden turn of events? Most certainly not!
Jesus had just proclaimed and proven through Lazarus that “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” (John 11:25). Yet the Book of John records that he was “troubled” (v. 33) and “groaning in Himself” (v. 38). After his rousing welcome into Jerusalem, he was still “troubled.” (John 12:27) Something was indeed disturbing him. Jesus knew what lay ahead… the suffering, the shame, the abandonment by the crowd and even by his closest followers. Yet he pressed on.
“What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)
OUR LORD Jesus did not enter Jerusalem that day to throw off the Romans or even those rulers among his own people who envied and opposed him. He did not seek a temporary earthly kingdom. Rather, he entered Jerusalem to die so that he might claim an eternal throne, and to rule over an eternal kingdom.
The Bible teaches that such a high and exalted place, seated at the right hand of the Father, was already his from the beginning. But someone had challenged him for it – Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-17). This shocked God, and He decided it would never happen again. So He sent His son to die a lowly, painful death here on earth, to redeem a people that would forever appreciate his right to sit on that eternal throne. And because of his obedience to the Father, even to the point of a cruel death on the cross, God has so highly exalted Him that every living creature will one day bow their knee and call him Lord. (Philippians 2:5-11).
The throne over all Creation has always rightfully belonged to Jesus, but he came and earned it. And now no one will ever be able to challenge him for it again. No one else could ever pay the price he paid, by humbling himself, leaving that highest place and descending to the deepest pit.
This is what makes the Gospel such an amazing love story. The crucifixion of Christ is not such a pretty tale in the telling. But it is glorious and unsurpassed and so triumphant over all else.
The week started with Jesus coming lowly, riding on a donkey to present his credentials as Israel’s king. At the end of the week, he wore a crown of thorns. And I will forever bow my knee.
JESUS STILL has to come claim his rightful throne here on earth, the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). King David was promised by God that a worthy descendant in his royal lineage would one day sit on his throne forever, in an everlasting kingdom that encompasses the whole earth (2 Samuel 7). But to fulfill that promise, God has vowed to first vanquish every last enemy and rival (Psalm 2). He already watched His son treated so cruelly at his first coming, and He will not let it happen again this time.
To make way for his kingdom, God is determined to shake everything that can be shaken on this earth – so that His unshakable Kingdom might stand (Haggai 2:6-7; Hebrews 12:26-28). No doubt, the current Coronavirus threat is part of that shaking process. These are the birth pangs of the Messianic Age, and we might as well get to used to them and trust the Lord to help us through.
In Daniel chapter two, the prophet sees the sweep of the Gentile Age depicted in the form of a large statue, representing the great kingdoms of the earth down through time, starting with Babylon as the head of gold and descending down to feet of iron and clay. But then a stone cut from a mountain without human hands strikes the statue in its feet, and the whole towering image crumbles to pieces, is ground into chaff and then blows away in the wind without a trace left. In its place, the stone grows into a mighty mountain, symbolizing the eternal kingdom of the Messiah which will fill the whole earth, and shall never be destroyed.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone of this eternal kingdom, and it is indeed marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22-23).
This article originally appeared on ICEJ, April 3, 2020, and reposted with permission.