A Triumphal Entry Sermon
April 9, 2017
So, what’s the big deal about the day? We celebrate Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem every year. You have heard the story of the event told in various different ways, but it is essentially still the same story year in and year out. So, what’s the big deal?
We know that the story is the fulfillment of prophesy: Zechariah 9:9. But there are lots of prophetic fulfillments. Why retell the story each year around this time?
Most of us have family stories that we tell with this kind of frequency. Every time we gather for a family reunion or a family gathering there are stories and tales that get told. And they never really get old because they define you, or at least they define who you are in the context of your family.
This story is like that old family story. It defines who we are. It defines what it means to be a Christian, and thus, we tell it over and over until it is committed to memory — until it becomes a part of our very being — who we are and how we identify ourselves. This story shapes what it means for us to be “Christian.”
Now, Mark gives us almost all of the major elements of this tory, but you should know that this account is recorded in all 4 Gospel accounts. And that is a big deal. Do you realize that there are only 12 events in the life of Jesus that can make that claim? There are many more that are told in multiple Gospels, but only 12 told across all four. And notice that I said “public ministry” and not “life”, because even the birth of Christ, which we rightly make a big deal about, is only recorded in 2 Gospels and Matthew and Luke do not overlap each other.
What are these 12 events?
1. The arrest of John the Baptist
2. The feeding of the 5,000
3. The Triumphal Entry
4. The revealing of Judas as the betrayer
6. Jesus’ arrest
7. Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas
8. Peter’s 3-fold denial
9. Jesus before Pilate
10. Jesus on the Via Dolorosa
11. Jesus on the Cross
12. Jesus’ resurrection witnessed by women
Those are the only ones told by all 4 Gospel writers. And did you notice that 10 of these 12 items take place during the Passion Week of Jesus?
For those of you who like statistics…that’s 83⅓ %. For that matter, 1255 verses in the New Testament, comprising 30 chapters from the Gospels is focused on the Passion Week of Jesus…that’s more than ⅓ of the Gospel account. So, if you ever wonder why we make a big deal of this week in the church…it’s because the Gospels make a big deal about it…it’s that important.
So, statistics aside, there are basically 4 elements to this account.
1. The Lamb
2. The Colt
3. The Entrance itself
4. The Response of the Officials
So, let’s look at each of these elements in turn.
First, the lamb, though not explicitly mentioned by Mark, is essential toward understanding Jesus’ role as the Lamb who was slain. Sometimes people ask, couldn’t the Jewish leaders just have arrested him on his way into Jerusalem? Couldn’t they have stopped him from teaching all week? Could things have happened differently? The answer is, “No.”
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Jesus is our Passover Lamb. This picks up on what John the Baptist stated when he called Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” but Paul makes it even more specific. Jesus is the eternal Lamb of Passover that is slain…and that means we must look back to its context in Exodus 12 to understand what God is doing.
In the Passover celebration, the lamb was taken into the home where it spent 4 days with the people who would then slay the lamb. Then, after the sacrifice, they would paint the blood on their doorposts and lintels and would consume the lamb. This covered them when the destroyer came.
At this point in time, it is Passover in Jerusalem and the people are coming into the city to celebrate the passover — here are both Jews and believing Gentiles. And thus, in comes Jesus to walk amongst the people…the people who would slay him…and for four days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. The difference, of course, is that these people will not partake of the sacrificed Lamb. Remember, Jesus said that unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood (symbolically), you do not have eternal life. Such is done by faith and the leaders who will slay Jesus are without such faith. This allows we who are gentiles to enter into the house covered by the blood of the lamb.
This, friends, is what Jesus is — The Lamb.
This is what he came to do — fulfilled on the cross.
And here is where all of Jesus’ teachings and works find their culmination…here in the passion as the True Lamb of Passover.
2) Yet, he did not come walking into Jerusalem on foot. He could have done that, but he rode a donkey instead.
Mark tells us that Jesus was on his way into Jerusalem and they stopped by the village of Bethphage — which means “The House of the Unripe Figs.” It was more or less a suburb, located just outside of the walls of Jerusalem. So, Jesus sends two of his disciples to collect the colt of a donkey that had never been ridden.
Now, you need to understand the agricultural context of this region. If you had an animal, it was used. To say “go get the colt that had never been ridden” would be like telling someone around here to go to a local farm and collect a tractor that was in good working condition, had a full tank of fuel, but had never been used. That just doesn’t happen…unless…
You see, there is only one way in which this colt of a donkey would not have been ridden, and that is if the animal were dedicated to God’s use — Corban as Leviticus 27 addresses. And, if an animal were dedicated to the Lord, it could not be ridden. This understanding also makes good sense of Jesus’ command should someone question them — and to tell them “The Lord has need of it.” Indeed, it was about to be put to the Lord’s use.
Thus, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of his Father’s colt…something that should bring to mind Solomon’s entrance into Jerusalem after he is ordained king…again, riding on his father’s donkey. Further, not only is it a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, but it is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 62:11.
Jesus on his Father’s colt enters Jerusalem and the response of the people at his entrance is truly magnificent. The people spread their cloaks on the ground for him to travel across. In addition to the cloaks, they spread leafy branches — John tells us that they are Palm branches.
But Palm branches were not normally used as a part of the Passover Celebration. Palms belonged to the feast of Tabernacles. So, why Passover? Why now?
Palms were used in victory celebrations to welcome a returning victorious king to his throne. By the time of Ezekiel, palms and palm branches were also a sign of the Eschatalogical Kingdom. Palms and Palm trees were used to decorate the new temple as described by Ezekiel.
Further, when we get to the book of Revelation, we find the gentile multitude coming into the kingdom as waving palm branches.
In addition, laying down your cloaks before a king so that he may walk upon them was a sign of submission to his authority. See 2 Kings 9:13 for an example of that principle.
The people were also shouting and singing.
They cried: “Hosannah!” which means “Save us please” or “deliver us!”
In addition, they sang, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is from Psalm 118:26. Now, Psalm 118 is Messianic in nature and is also part of a group of psalms called the “Hallel Psalms,” which are not only Messianic, but also anticipate the Gentiles being brought into the Kingdom. It should be no surprise that Psalm 118 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament — 18 times to be specific.
In addition, mark records that the people go as far as to say: “Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Father David, Hosannah in the Highest.” John adds to this that the people call him, “King of Israel.” There is no doubt that the statement that the people are making at his entrance is “Here is the Messianic King!”
The question that we really need to ask here is, do the people really know what it is that they are saying? Or, are they just caught up in the excitement?
Based on what takes place in a few days and just on human nature, it was likely much more the latter. How often do we praise God when everything is good and easy, but fail to do so when it becomes hard to do so. When that happens, how are we any different than this multitude?
Nevertheless, like Balaam, God can put the right words of blessing into even the most wicked mouths and, if even just for a few passing moments, the people participated in the coronation of the Messianic King.
The final Element, Mark again does not specifically record. But Luke and John tell us that the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities were quite upset at the antics of the crowd. Notice the irony here. Here were the educated spiritual leadership of Jerusalem, schooled in the Bible, and taught to look for the Messiah, and when the Messiah comes, they reject him because he threatened their power.
And, how similarly to these Pharisees are many church leaders and pastors. They want their agenda, their way, or to see their ends pushed forth. They cling to power and influence instead of to Truth. And in doing so, they condemn themselves.
Jesus simply takes a tour of the temple courts and leaves for the purpose of returning the next day…technically, his 4 days in the midst of those who will slaughter him does not begin until Monday. But for now, all that Jesus stood for is being established in that week. The Triumphal Entry to the Resurrection, with the Sacrificial Lamb ridding into Jerusalem as our Messianic King on a donkey.
In addition, this week he will speak to the crowd in a prophetic sense.
Prophet, Priest, and King — our Great Mediator! And through faith, our redeemer.