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“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
‘Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!'”
The streets of Jerusalem were filled with visitors. This city, which was typically home to around 40,000 people, could swell to over 200,000 as Jews from far and wide made the annual pilgrimage for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This week culminated in Passover, which meant religious fervor would be high.
For a Jew, Passover was a reminder of Israel’s great deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God had spared Israel from His judgment while striking down the Egyptians. What better time, then, for Israel’s Messiah to make his grand entrance and deliver God’s people from Roman rule.
On this Palm Sunday of Holy Week, the scene was set for Jesus’ triumphal entry.
Some had already heard Jesus teach with authority; others had seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform a variety of other miracles. There were even reports that this man had raised the dead. With this kind of buildup, we can understand the crowd’s reaction to Jesus:
. . . they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
Despite the acclaim Jesus was receiving, He did not look like a conquering King. He made His grand entry, not on a warhorse, but on the back of a donkey, which was a sign of peace. Was this really Israel’s Messiah, its long-awaited Deliverer? Or was there some sort of mix-up? Actually, this very scene was foretold centuries earlier by the prophet Zechariah:
Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt! (John 12:15; Zechariah 9:9)
In one sense, then, the people were right to offer praise: Israel’s King had arrived, and He would deliver God’s people. However, this King would bring deliverance in an unexpected way. Although Jesus entered Jerusalem with shouts of praise, He would soon hear a crowd calling for His crucifixion. He was Israel’s King and Messiah, but not the kind that many Jews had expected. He would deliver His people by dying for them.
Before we criticize the crowds for not understanding God’s plan, we need to consider how our own sin blinds us to the truth. We would never have seen Jesus for who He really is if God had not opened our hearts to the truth. And without the Spirit’s help, we would never see that our greatest need has nothing to do with our political freedoms (or lack thereof), our finances, our reputation, or even our physical health.
Our greatest need is spiritual, for we have sinned against a Holy God, and we are unable to free ourselves from the penalty and the power of sin. Only a King who comes to deal with our sin can offer true and lasting hope. This King, in other words, must also be a Passover Lamb, a lamb who takes away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29). That’s what Jesus rode into Jerusalem to do.
(This article created with the assistance of David Burnette.)