walk in the word
They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it (John 12:13–14, esv).
If you’ve been going to church for any length of time, you’ve likely participated in some kind of Palm Sunday observance. It usually involves young kids walking up and down the aisles, smiling and waving palm branches while the singers sing and the music plays. It’s all very sweet and cute, and it’s okay that we do that. But serious Bible scholars agree that most of us don’t really understand what was happening when this actual event was taking place, when Jesus came into Jerusalem at Passover to the cheers of the Jewish people.
To put yourself in the mindset of the times, imagine what it was like to be Anne Frank during World War II. Just as Amsterdam was under the occupying presence of a German military bent on taking over the world, Jerusalem was under the occupation of the Romans.Jesus’ triumphal entry was a statement of humility. Click To Tweet
The population of Jerusalem at the time was approximately a hundred thousand. But during the annual feast of Passover, when Jews throughout the region would converge on the city, the number grew to a million. Wall-to-wall people. They could hardly move.
Into this gathering crowd, as their numbers swelled, Jesus headed into the city from Bethany, roughly two miles away. And when they saw Him, they made their move.
They knew from reading the Old Testament prophets that the Messiah would be a king who would come and take over. So why not now? We can do this! they thought. We can push the Romans out! We have the people. We have the power. Let’s do it!
“The large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him” (John 12:12–13a). Palm branches represented to the Jewish people what maple leaves represent to a Canadian, or the bald eagle represents to an American. It was the symbol of national, patriotic pride.
So this whole thing was a grassroots political play. It was intended, even in its spontaneity, to represent a flexing of their collective muscle, to demonstrate the people’s strength and power against Roman domination.
There was only one problem with this picture: Jesus showed up riding on a donkey.
This was not what the crowd was expecting. Because if you were heading to war in those days, you rode on what?—a horse! (As Jesus will do, from heaven, when He ultimately comes to take over. “Behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” [Revelation 19:11].) But Jesus on this day wasn’t going to war against His enemies. He was going to a cross for His friends. His triumphal entry was a statement of peace, not war. It was a statement of humility, not kingship. As the prophet Zechariah had said, “Righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
As you begin this holy week of Easter observance, picture your Savior humbling Himself for you. He knows how we love to worship heroes, and He was fully capable of putting on a display to stun all watchers, on all sides. But the will of the Father at this critical moment demanded a different kind of amazing: The kind of amazing where the King of the universe chose to utterly humble Himself and ride in . . . on a donkey.
Father, Your ways and plans are beyond amazing. Sending Your Son to earth as a baby, then wrapping Him in humility as a man, are like nothing anyone could’ve expected. But thank You for knowing exactly what we need. Thank You for being all we could ever hope for. Just as Jesus rode humbly into Jerusalem, teach me to walk humbly before You and others. I begin this week marveling at Your beauty, and lifting this prayer in the extraordinary name of Jesus, amen.
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