When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, Gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11 NASB)
Consider, for a moment, being one of Jesus’ closest disciples as he enters Jerusalem. This is the event that we have dubbed “The Triumphal Entry” and is it triumphant! The crowds are cheering for him, he is fulfilling prophecy, and there is jubilant celebration as finally, the Son of David, the Messiah, comes to Jerusalem to save his people. These disciples no doubt have overwhelming feelings of joy, vindication, and maybe even relief! After all, Jesus had been saying some weird things about having to…die? It is obvious through this display that there was no way Jesus would be killed, just look at what is happening!
In this time and culture, palm branches signified victory, triumph, peace.
So when the people lay down palm branches before Jesus, they are declaring him victorious, celebrating his triumph. But, his triumph over what? Victory, over what? We know that this joyful acceptance of Jesus did not last long, as just a few days later this same crowd would be demanding he die an excruciating, humiliating death. What changed? How could this happen?
In his gospel, it is interesting how Luke recounts this event. As Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, Luke chooses to include this aside, something Jesus says as he sees the city in the distance:
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” (Luke 19:41-44 NLT)
Consider this also from the perspective of the disciples. Why would Jesus say this? He is about to be celebrated and welcomed into Jerusalem as a conquering, victorious king, and he decides to say…that. Kind of a downer, Jesus.
Jesus’ life and ministry was at many points characterized by what we could call a Great Disconnect.
Throughout the gospels, those around Jesus (whether followers or opponents), misunderstand who Jesus is and why he has come. They think that he is here to establish an earthly kingdom and finally drive out their oppressors. Their celebration and excitement is focused around who they think Jesus is, or who they want him to be, not who he actually is.
Perhaps The Triumphal Entry was the greatest disconnect of all. Here we have a city celebrating their king, who they believe will deliver them and establish his kingdom. And yes, Jesus will do this, but not in a way they were expecting, and in a way they will reject. Jesus was wanting to deliver them from sin and death, and establish a kingdom that will never end. They wanted deliverance from their temporal troubles, and their praise for Jesus was driven in large part by nationalistic pride. They were finally going to get their earthly kingdom and king!
Jesus knows this, which is why he weeps over Jerusalem. He says, “you did not recognize it when God visited you.” How heartbreaking. This same crowd that is now rejoicing over him will turn on him, demanding his execution. And why? Luke, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, decides to include this brief episode to indicate why: because of a Great Disconnect.
Jesus was a surprising figure.
He didn’t say or do what people expected, and today, we still can easily misunderstand who he is, and what his mission is in our lives. So beware welcoming Jesus in with joy and celebration, without understanding who is and what he is going to do. The Son of God did not primarily come to earth to save your plans, your job, your relationships, your family, or your nation, but your soul. He did not come to declare victory over your nation’s enemies, but to declare victory over sin and death.
This Easter season, let us not forget who Jesus is. Don’t settle for a temporal, earthly king, but celebrate the one that can deliver you from sin and death.
Father, forgive me for how I have willfully misunderstood who your Son is. I surrender my own perceptions of who Jesus is, and submit myself to who he is as revealed in your Word. I welcome him into my life with joy and celebration in his victory over sin and death. Amen.