The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Matthew 21 verse 1 – 11

Our celebration of Easter is a time when so much is condensed into so little time. So let us consider the events that proceeded what we now know as Palm Sunday.

It was winter and Jesus and the disciples went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. This feast took place in remembrance of the time in 164 BC when Judas Maccabaeus led the Jews in a revolt against the Greeks who had conquered Judea and desecrated the Temple. Having driven the Greeks out Judas rededicated the Temple to the worship of Yahweh. The people waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna”. Whilst teaching in the Temple Jesus had a confrontation with the chief priests and scribes who were prepared to stone him for claiming to be God but Jesus was able to slip away and together with his disciples he withdrew east past Jericho, over the Jordan into the desert where John first started his ministry of baptism. There he and his disciples stayed until it was time to leave to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover.

On the way the news reached them that Lazarus was gravely ill so Jesus and the disciples headed for Bethany. When they arrived Lazarus had already died, indeed he had been dead four days, but Jesus moved to tears by the grief of Mary and Martha raised Lazarus from the dead. This miracle was witnessed by many people who told the Pharisees what had happened. A Council was called and it was decided that Jesus had to be got rid of as he was stirring up the people. It was during that meeting that Caiaphas the priest prophesied saying;

“You know nothing at all!: You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  51:  He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, John 11 : 50 – 51

In order to avoid a confrontation Jesus and the disciples retreated to a town called Ephraim some way north of Jerusalem.

Six days before the Passover Jesus and the disciples returned to Bethany where they were invited to a celebration dinner in his honour. Lazarus joined them with his sisters Mary and Martha. During the meal Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair which was a scandalous thing to do and much to the annoyance of Judas who said that given the cost of the perfume it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus rebuked him saying:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12 : 7 – 8

It was the very next day, with death threats and opposition mounting that Jesus decided to enter Jerusalem. In the past he had joined the crowds and entered quietly but this time he decided to make a bold prophetic statement. He had obviously planned ahead as the owner of the donkeys was ready when the disciples appointed to the task called for them.

So mounted on the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowd. Matthew tells us that in doing this Jesus was fulfilling the prophesy given by Zechariah:

 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” Matthew 21 : 5

The crowd, already excited by the prospect of the Passover, were jubilant, greeting Jesus as the Messiah by throwing their garments and tree branches in the road shouting,

“Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest!

Hosanna means something like “Lord, save now!” It had become a popular shout reminding them of the time when the Temple had been rededicated some 200 years previously. Of course it was only a few months since they had celebrated Hannukah

What did Jesus want to achieve by this brave, public prophetic act. He was aware that the Jewish authorities were plotting to kill him although at this stage they were unsure how this could be achieved given how popular Jesus was with the crowds.

The prophesy from Zechariah describes the king as “gentle” which is not the description of the conquering hero the crowd wanted Jesus to be.

Jesus was demonstrating that he was the expected Messiah, the Anointed One, but rather than a conquering hero, he came bringing peace not war with the occupying Romans. The crowd, taken up with the excitement of the occasion didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was saying by his actions.

Rather than wanting to conquer the Romans he came opposing the powers of darkness that had undermined the community of God’s chosen people whose hearts had become hard towards God believing that just by observing the dictates of the Law of Moses  they were acceptable to God. Their worship had become hollow they followed the rituals but were no longer worshipping God in Spirit and truth.

On his arrival in Jerusalem Jesus went into the Temple, the very centre of Judaism yet where God should have been the centre of the people’s prayers he saw the merchants and money changers making huge prophets out of the pilgrims. Reacting against this corruption Jesus Matthew relates:

 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” Matthew 21 : 12 – 13

The blind and lame came to him and he healed them much to the annoyance of the chief priests and scribes. Matthew gives us a lovely picture then of children surrounding Jesus singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” the chief priests and scribes asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. Matthew 21 : 16 – 18

  • Jesus entered Jerusalem as the promised Messiah
  • He entered the corrupt and now obsolete Temple
  • He demonstrated the presence and power of God in his own person.
  • He accepted the worship and praise of the children.
  • He had given the authorities reason enough to plot his death.

What can we learn from this important event at the commencement of Holy Week?

  • Jesus approached his death not as a victim but determined to do the will of his Father God and nothing would deter him from his destiny.

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10 : 17 -18

  • As for us, we have to avoid complacency and a hollowed-out kind of religion. If we are to be effective in our worship and witness  we must be sincere in our commitment to our Father God through our love for our Saviour Jesus Christ, love and worship him in Spirit and Truth, be obedient to the New Commandment to love one another and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for sending your Son Jesus Christ to be our Saviour. May we continue to be refreshed by your Holy Spirit, Sincere in our love for you, our brothers and sisters in Christ and our love for our neighbours, in the name of Jesus, Amen.

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