A week before Jesus was crucified on a cross, buried in a tomb and resurrected in glory, He rode triumphantly, yet humbly, into the great city of Jerusalem.
Tomorrow – Sunday 24th March 2013 – marks the day on which almost 2,000 years ago this momentous event took place. The Gospel (Good News) according to Matthew retells this with vivid detail:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)
The above event is today known to some as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. It is also commemorated as the beginning of Holy Week. But in the midst of all the commemorations, I think it is important, if not essential, to return to the Scriptures to explore what God intends us to believe about this event.
The Scriptures above teach us several things about this event. Let me share with you three things I observe:
1) Palm Sunday is not holy, Christ is
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds went wild with hysteria and excitement. The crowds gathered and welcomed Jesus and His disciples by laying their cloaks on the ground. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them in the path of the lowly king. The very ground He walked on would need to be sanctified in their estimation, as this was no ordinary man entering town.
As Jesus slowly rode in on a lowly donkey, large crowds followed in front and behind Him. They were shouting with one loud voice:
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
The majority of the crowd was not fixated with the event itself, but with the person. This was the Son of David, the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord. This is the holy one, the coming king, prophesied hundreds of years before the event itself. The celebration and joy was because of Christ. He was at the heart and centre of the jubilation.
Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, Holy Week; these are not holy. Christ is.
2) The God of the Bible is a humble God
Jesus’s birth took place in the most humble and modest fashion. There was no fancy hospital and professional medical staff on call. There was no palace, comfortable cot or cotton baby clothes. Instead, angels, stars, shepherds and all of creation paid homage to this new born Child. Born in a humble manger besides sheep, donkeys and cows, in the little unknown town of Bethlehem, shepherds came from distant lands to worship this new born King.
Being who He was, Jesus could have chosen to be born in a grand palace, with a silver spoon to His mouth. Yet, the God of the Bible chose to come down to our level and endured hardship and suffering. He condescended by cloaking His glory and majesty with the veil of human flesh.
As He rode into Jerusalem, the humility of Jesus shines and echoes with devastating effect. Close by His side are a band of disciples: some uneducated; some rash; all sinful and all with flaws. Instead of a chariot or a mighty horse signifying a war-waging king, He opts for Himself a humble donkey – the essence of humility and meekness and thus symbolising peace.
The God of the Bible is glorious, yet humble.
3) On which side of the crowd do you stand?
Amongst the multitudes, I observe four different types of people.
The disciples came with Jesus to Jerusalem. They were His followers; twelve ordinary men who had left behind them their previous professions. Amongst the disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, religious men and tradesmen. Out of the number of these, Jesus sent two of them to fetch the donkey on which He would ride into Jerusalem. It says in verses 6-7:
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. (Matthew 21:6-7)
These twelve ordinary men were called by Jesus to follow Him. Upon placing their faith and trust in Him, they would learn from Jesus and eventually go from hamlet to hamlet, village to village, town to town and city to city proclaiming the Good News that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) and that the kingdom of God had arrived.
The participating crowd
The second type of person in the crowd was the man, woman and child who came to participate in the celebration and welcoming of Jesus. Verses 8-9 writes about these:
…the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:8-9)
These are the religious people who had heard about Jesus through local rumour. They had heard about His miracles and His claims and now they wanted to get in on the action. They knew there was something special about Jesus, but they were not quite sure what it was. So they take the safe option and come along anyway and participate. They are the same crowd who in verse 11 say:
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee. (Matthew 21:11)
The observing crowd
Thirdly, sprinkled amongst the multitudes of people is the observing crowd. These have come to simply satisfy their curiosity. These are the ones who choose not to spread their cloaks on the road. Verse 8 says “Most of the crowd…”, indicating some amongst the crowd stood and observed.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:8)
These are the ones who do not join the crowds shouting:
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (21:9).
The unknowing crowd
Lastly, upon entering Jerusalem, the fourth type of person appears. Verses 10-11 says:
And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)
“Who is this?” asks the unknowing person. These are the busy people who are getting on with their lives and had not heard about Jesus. They live in the big city and have had their fair share of religion in their times. Or perhaps they genuinely had not heard about Jesus. The crowds reply to their question:
This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee. (Matthew 21:10-11).
On which side of the crowd do you stand?
Palm Sunday challenges us about which side of the crowd we stand on. It challenges us to stop worshipping the celebration and start looking to the Saviour. It challenges us to walk in humility as our God has so wonderfully done. And finally, it challenges the non-believer – does your god compare to Jesus?