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The day had finally come. It was a day many were hoping for. Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. He had been to Passover celebrations in Jerusalem before – Jewish men were required to attend, and Jesus made sure he fulfilled all righteousness. But this time was different. More people than ever before had at least heard about him. Stories about his miracles, feeding 5000, about healing the blind and the lepers, and about raising Lazarus of Bethany from the dead even though he had been in the grave for four days, had spread far and wide. On other occasions he had come and gone without much fanfare. But this time he came riding a donkey colt. There was a large crowd traveling with him from Bethany, and, when people heard he was riding a donkey down the Mount of olives, another crowd streamed out of Jerusalem to meet him. Hopes and emotions were high.
What did it all mean?
Some thought, were hoping, that Jesus was going to use his miraculous powers to set up a wonderful earthly kingdom. They were hoping that he would banish the Romans, take his rightful spot on the throne of David as the king of Israel, and usher in a time of peace and prosperity not experienced since the good old days when Solomon was king.
This line of thinking was very much like those we call millennialists today. They think, hope, that Jesus will come physically to Jerusalem again, entering from the Mount of Olives, to establish an earthly kingdom ruled from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
That’s not what Jesus came to do, nor will it be what he will do in the future. He made it clear this his kingdom is not of this world. Besides, he doesn’t have to live on earth to rule the earth. He’s doing that right now from the right hand of the father. He didn’t come to create an earthly kingdom by force. He reminds Pilate that, if he intended to be a rival earthly king to Caesar surely he would have an army. Surely, he would have entered Jerusalem on a battle horse wearing shining armor and wielding a sword the size of Goliath’s. But he came humble and gentle, riding a donkey colt.
Some thought, were terrified, that by drawing so much attention to himself, the Romans would think that he was leading a rebellion. They were worried that Pilate would respond with brute force, send out soldiers in riot gear and order them as leaders of the Jews to appear before him to answer for this disturbance, maybe strip them of their power, or put them in jail. That’s why they begged Jesus to silence the crowds. But it didn’t seem that Pilate took any notice of the humble prophet riding into the city on a lowly donkey.
Whatever the hopes and fears of the people and the Jewish leaders were, very few if any really grasped what was happening. The Jewish leaders didn’t. They were too interested in their own power to be thinking about the Scriptures that were in the process of being fulfilled right before their eyes.
The disciples didn’t. They were still arguing among themselves about who should have the place of honor at the right hand of Jesus to be thinking about the Scriptures were in the process of being fulfilled right before their eyes, even though Jesus had repeatedly told them what would happen when they went up to Jerusalem.
The only exception might have been Mary the sister of Lazarus. On Saturday she had anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume. When Judas and others complained about what seemed to them to be a waste of money, Jesus defended her. He implied that she was anointing him in advance for his burial. It seems that she understood that he as going to enter Jerusalem not to set up an earthly kingdom, not to stir up the Romans, but to die. He was going there to offer himself as the Lamb of God, the fulfillment of what the Passover lamb symbolized. He would be the one who would shed his blood so that the destroyer would have to pass over and not send those sprinkled with his blood to eternal punishment. Like a lamb before the shearer’s is silent so he would not open his mouth. He would humble himself so that he could be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. His humility would win us eternal glory.
Did you notice the hints of glory, that were shining through his humility? Hints that, although he looked humble, he was indeed equal with God, the son of God from all eternity?
Why does Luke tell us about how the donkey was procured for Jesus? He could have simply told us that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. He tells us all the little details so that we might see the glory of the fulfillment of Scripture. What God had foretold through the prophet Zechariah was being perfectly fulfilled. The Messiah would come to his people riding humbly on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Jesus told the disciples to bring him the colt upon which no one had ever sat, an unblemished animal, untainted by sinful humans. But Luke gets even more specific. He leads us to imagine the reaction of the two disciples he tasked with procuring the colt when, not only is the animal exactly where Jesus said it would be, but everything else happens just as Jesus said it would. The owners ask why they are taking the colt and they repeat the words Jesus gave them, and the owners let them go without further questions. I imagine that they must have looked at each other and thought, if not said aloud, “what just happened here?” They recognized a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, his omniscience as God, shining through his humility.
Then there’s his interaction with the Pharisees who must have been among the crowd that came out from Jerusalem to meet Jesus. They asked him to rebuke those who were praising him, using messianic words like “the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and implying that he was the one God had sent to bring peace between God and man. But Jesus’ response was far from humble. He told them that if these people would be silent, the stones would cry out.
What does that mean? It means that he is indeed worthy of their praise. In fact, all creation, including stones, are subject to the effects of sin just as we are. So, if people fail to recognize that he is the promised Messiah, the Savior, the one who came to set all creation free from the bondage of sin- if people remain silent, those stones would sing his praise if they could. In fact, Isaiah had pictured something similar as he looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. He said, You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. And Paul says, the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
What a glimpse of glory! As humble as he might look, Jesus is the king of all creation and is worthy of having stones sing his praises if they could. And, since we know exactly why he is riding into Jerusalem, willingly riding to what he knows will mean betrayal, cruel mockery, beating, and death, even excruciating death on the cross, all so that we are set free from the bondage to decay, how can we not praise him even more than those crowds on Palm Sunday! Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!
Paul reminds us that, as those who know Jesus, our attitude ought to be like his. He was willing to humble himself so that we could receive glory. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. But so often we adopt the attitude of the world instead that says “seek to glorify yourself and humble others.”
When we see that selfish attitude infect our marriages, our relationship with siblings or coworkers, walk with Jesus down the Mount of Olives. See his humility and remember that he humbled himself for you. Watch with him on Holy Thursday as he prays in agony in the garden. Stand with Mary and John at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and hear how, even in agony, his concern is for others, not himself. Hear him cry out, It is finished. Your sins of selfishness, your lack of humility, your seeking glory for yourself, all your sins have been paid for in full. Walk with the disciples on the road, listening to Jesus explain how he perfectly fulfilled all the Scriptures about the Messiah. His humiliation means glory for you, and because he is risen your glory is assured. Join the crowds on Palm Sunday in praising God that because Jesus willingly humbled himself, you have eternal glory.