Morgner, Wilhelm, 1891-1917. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54247 [retrieved March 26, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wilhelm_Morgner_001.jpg.
John 12.12-16 (NIV)
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
John 19.16-22 (NIV)
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth,the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Can you picture the scene?
That crowd, gathered from every corner of Israel to celebrate the Passover (essentially Israel’s independence day celebration), shoulder to shoulder along the streets.
Shouting lines from a familiar Psalm as Jesus walks by.
“Hosanna!” (Save us!)
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the King of Israel!”
Jesus finding a donkey colt, sitting on it and looking so much like the king the ancient prophet Zechariah hoped for – “Do not be afraid … see your king is coming … seated on a donkey’s colt” (Zechariah 9.9).
Can you imagine the disciples walking behind Jesus with bewildered looks on their faces … Could they have pictured anything like this in their wildest dreams? It must have been so electric … all those years of longing for freedom …
all that hope … all that waiting … expectation … exploding into joy and celebration.
“Hosanna! (Save us!)”
If I was planning that parade there would have been people riding horses in uniforms holding giant flags … lots of confetti … maybe balloons … definitely fireworks.
The ancient people who joined this celebration grabbed palm branches.
The other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us the crowd laid their coats and leafy branches along the unpaved road (maybe the ancient version of spraying dirt roads with Magnesium Chloride) to keep the king from being covered with dust and dirt. John offers a detail the other Gospels don’t.
John says the crowd waved palm branches.
For Romans and Greeks, waving palms was a symbol of triumph. Crowds would wave palm branches to welcome victorious soldiers and athletes. Here, as Jesus enters Jerusalem he is welcomed as a conquering hero. The crowd recognizes Jesus to be the king God promised to send to save them.
The crowd sensed a victory.
For the chief priests and Pharisees, this parade must have been the worst case scenario.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus got a lot of attention. More people came to believe in him. As more people believed in him, the chief priests and Pharisees grew more hostile and afraid of him. They were especially worried Jesus’ followers might start a riot or revolution. They worried they would get more attention from Rome and Israel would lose the bits and pieces of freedom the emperor allowed them. They decided Jesus should be killed – they figured it was better for one person to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed.
It wouldn’t have been just the palm branches that got to them.
That donkey colt would have been trouble too.
Riding on a donkey, brought more symbolism, more depth, to Jesus’ entrance. Listen to Zechariah’s prophecy (this is from Zechariah 9:9-10);
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
In ancient Israel, donkey’s were symbols of royalty and horses were symbols of war (horses symbolized what tanks might symbolize for us). When an Israelite king made his entrance, he would have been riding a donkey, not a horse. As strange as it sounds, in ancient Israel a donkey was a symbol of royal power … a symbol of the king.
In Jesus’ Triumphant Entry, we see the biblically shaped expectation of a great and victorious king who would rescue God’s people from oppression and injustice, punish enemies, and restore Israel.
As we follow the story … this victory takes on a different shape than anyone in that crowd would have imagined. It seems more like humiliation, defeat, and despair. But as we follow this road to Jerusalem and see the meal Jesus and his disciples ate together … the garden where Jesus was betrayed and arrested … the high priest’s courtyard where Jesus was denied … Pilate’s headquarters where Jesus was condemned … the place of the Skull and the cross – John insists all the way that, even though it doesn’t look like it for us, this will be the victory of God’s king … this will be truth and love’s victory.
As John tells us about Jesus’ crucifixion, he shares a couple of details that remind us that even though Jesus’ story seems to have gotten so dark and discouraging, the crowd that lined the streets waving palms and shouting “Hosanna” was on the right track. Jesus really is and will be God’s victorious king.
Did you notice John tells us Jesus “carried his own cross?”
That should catch our attention.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all tell us a guy Simon was forced to help carry Jesus’ cross. John says Jesus carried his own cross. Could John have missed the memo about Simon? But, what if John isn’t missing anything. Maybe he knows something about Jesus and wants to make sure we see it too. Maybe in that detail John is making a specific claim about Jesus.
As we have followed this story we have encountered all these people who seem so completely in over their heads and scrambling for power. It really hasn’t been clear who is in charge – the chief priests and Pharisees? The crowds that turn angry and call for Jesus’ crucifixion? Pilate? They all seem caught up in something they can’t control.
John says Jesus carried his own cross.
It doesn’t seem like anyone is making Jesus do anything.
Jesus chooses to go to the cross.
Jesus chooses to reveal God’s love in fullness.
Jesus seems to be the only one who has power and he uses that power to benefit others and not to protect himself. (This makes it hard to blame any one person or group for Jesus’ death – John is convinced Jesus chose this.)
There is another detail. That sign. Written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It drove the religious leaders crazy – they thought Pilate should have written, “This guy claimed he was king.” But Pilate wouldn’t change it. If Pilate wrote it today, it would have been written in Chinese, Spanish, and English – the most common languages in the world. Aramaic, other translations say Hebrew, would have been the language most familiar for Israelites. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. Greek was the language most common for doing business. In those three languages most people, who were able read, could have made sense of the message. It has a universal … a worldwide sense to it. Again, as we keep noticing, Pilate continues to say and do more than he realizes. He makes the claim, Jesus is King, not only of the Jews, but of the whole world.
In John we encounter these big claims about Jesus over and over again … Jesus loves the world … Jesus is willing to go to great lengths to reveal God’s love … Jesus is King of the world.
These are big claims, but they are also deeply personal claims.
Kings would have had a lot to say about daily life in their kingdoms.
If Jesus is king, if Jesus is the source of true authority and power, and if he reveals the depth and fullness of God’s love, if his will and desires shape his kingdom, and if we give him authority to shape our lives, there is no part of life that is beyond God’s concern, or that is untouched by God’s grace. We can’t divide our lives up into the parts God cares about and the parts that don’t really matter to God. Our work, our play, our relationships, our conversations, our thoughts – every piece of our lives is touched by the claim that Jesus is king. If Jesus is the power that shapes our lives … sometimes we will need to do things differently from everyone else … sometimes we will need to speak up … sometimes we will need to take risks.
Every part of our lives can be touched by God’s grace and can pass along God’s love.
Every part of our lives matters to God.
In our suffering and victorious king we see God’s love. We see the lengths God will go to be in relationship with his people …
we see how far God will go and how much God will endure to answer his people’s cries of Hosanna … Help us … Save us we pray!
In the events leading up to the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, the details John gives us point to Jesus’ power … it is like John is highlighting, underlining, writing in bold, Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is the one with power here and Jesus’ power reveals the fullness of God’s love.