On Palm Sunday, churches around the country give palm branches to children and stage their own version of the triumphal entry. We celebrate the fact that Jesus is the king. We want a feel good moment.
The term, “Triumphal entry,” however, does not describe the apostle John’s recollection of those events. As he describes the event in John 12:12-26, it was a day where expectations clashed head on. Amidst conflicting expectations, Jesus reveals that he is going to die so that others might live.
In verses 12-15, Jesus is presented as the King of Israel, the one who fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. As John explains, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem occurred the day after Mary had anointed him in Bethany (John 12:1-11). She understood he was going to die and she was anointing him beforehand for burial.
As he began his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus was accompanied by people who were present at the raising of Lazarus (John 11). There were those in Jerusalem who heard about the miracle and came out to meet Jesus. There were others who were in the city for the Passover feast. Estimates of the crowd range from 120,000 to Josephus’ estimate of 2.5 million. Whatever the number, the people started crying, “Hosanna!” or “Save now!” The words of the crowd, “Hosanna” and “Blessed” were taken from Psalm 118:25-26. They were part of the Hallel, sung during the Passover Feast. The people hoped Jesus was coming as a conquering general to drive out the Romans.
If we were to stage Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we would use a Presidential motorcade, a stretch limo, or at least a white stallion. Rather than enter as a conquering king, Jesus entered as a humble servant. He chose a young donkey rather than a chariot and horses. In so doing, he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.
Present among the crowds of people were at least five different types of people. John describes them by their reactions to Jesus. Mixed in the crowds watching Jesus enter Jerusalem were the confused, the consumers, the legalists, the seekers, and the followers.
The disciples were confused (16) and did not understand what it all meant. It would be sometime later after the resurrection before the light bulb of understanding would turn on.
Many of the people were consumers who wanted another miracle (17-18). They were curious to see what Jesus might do next. They wanted another entertaining experience.
The religious leaders (19) were jealous of Jesus’ growing popularity. As other verses explain, they were upset that Jesus did not practice religion according to their rules. They were legalistic in thinking that worship could only be done their way.
There were some god-fearing Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (20-22). They were seekers who approached first Philip and then Andrew about getting an audience with Jesus. The fact that Greeks were coming to Jesus demonstrated the time had arrived for him to die for the sins of the world. He no longer belonged only to the Jews.
Rather than respond to the Greeks directly, Jesus reveals his impending death (23-26). Rather than speaking of tragedy, Jesus saw his hour as one of triumph. Instead of being dishonored, he was going to be glorified. Using an agricultural metaphor, Jesus explained that the way of fruitfulness lies through death.
Jesus also explained the ultimate cost of discipleship, of being his follower, involved the death of the disciple. To follow Jesus we must die to self. Jesus promised eternal life and heaven to those who made that choice.
As you consider the events of Palm Sunday, which group do you identify with?
- Are you Confused—not understanding what it all means?
- Are you a Consumer—wanting something from God; waiting for the next big thing?
- Are you a Legalist—opposed to Jesus because he does not follow your rules or meet your expectations?
- Are you a Seeker—wanting to see Jesus and know him better?
- Are you a Follower—have you died to self and are serving the King?
All Hail, King Jesus!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 9, 2017. It is part of a collection of sermons on Palm Sunday and Easter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.