Knowing how the week ends, I’ve always found the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—also known as Passion Sunday—to be a little confusing. It’s so joyous and exuberant. Jesus is being acknowledged as the King that he is. With this kind of beginning, what would make sense is for the ending of this story to be the immediate inauguration of his kingdom and establishment of his shalom—his peace, God’s peace, making all things right and bringing about, once and for all, the way that things ought to be. How could a week that starts off with a parade and cheers that correctly acknowledge Jesus as King end so tragically with his death on the cross between two common criminals on what we now refer to as Good Friday? Or perhaps another way of stating this is “What’s so triumphal about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem?”
Now we can appreciate the importance of Palm Sunday when we realize that it is one of only eleven events in the life of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospels. What is interesting is that in Luke’s account, the two events that precede Jesus’ triumphal entry are his dining with a sinner, Zaccheus, who is a tax-collector—and we saw a few weeks ago how much Jesus’ associating with, welcoming, and dining with sinners bothered the chief religious leaders of his day—and Jesus telling a parable about a noble man who, when he was appointed as king, wasn’t embraced as such and ends up punishing his enemies and rewarding those servants of his who have been good stewards over his goods. These two accounts typify two important characteristics about Jesus—first, his love for those who are needy and sinners; and second his judgment upon those who don’t acknowledge their need for him and neglect turning to him as their Savior and Lord.
These two events are the ones indicated in the “after this” of our opening verse—after Jesus dined with Zaccheus and after he told the parable of the ten minas is when “he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” And the fact that Jesus’ Triumphal entry is preceded by such a dark parable of judgment for those who don’t heed their king feels ominous in Luke’s context—like a harbinger that what follows isn’t all that it appears to be. Because what the triumphal entry appears to be is just that—a triumph, a great victory, the processional entry of a King following a conquest over his enemies.
In our passage from Luke, Jesus is beginning to make his way to Jerusalem, his ultimate destiny, and as he approached two neighboring cities, Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples telling them in verses 30–31: 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” There’s nothing accidental in Jesus’ words to these two unnamed disciples. The events that are about to transpire now—and in the coming week—are not happening by chance nor are they unexpected, at least from Jesus’ perspective. He knows exactly what is about to occur. Palm Sunday is the commencement of the culmination of Jesus’ life. The events of the coming week are the reason why he, God, took on human flesh—human form—in the person of Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus the promised Messiah.
So as he heads to Jerusalem he elicits the help of these two of the disciples in launching the events of the following week into action. The disciples are to find and bring him a colt that is tied up at the entrance of a nearby village. We know from the other Gospels that this is a donkey—rather than a horse—colt. And this is not just any old colt but one that no one has ever ridden, indicating a purity that allows it to be set aside for a sacred—a hallowed—task, that of transporting Jesus, the King, himself. Jesus’ divinity is evident in his telling the disciples what they are to say in the event that they are questioned about what they are doing. They are to reply that the Lord needs this colt. Did you catch that? They are to reply that the Lord needs this colt. Jesus is referring to himself as Lord. He is acknowledging that he is God. He is making clear that he is the one who is orchestrating these events.
So it shouldn’t shock us to learn that the disciples find the colt just as Jesus had told them and, upon taking the colt, they are asked about their actions, again, just as Jesus had told them (vv. 32–34). And, apparently, that simple response—“The Lord needs it”—sufficed for the owners who then allowed the disciples to take off with their colt with no further explanation. Our familiarity with this account keeps us from being surprised but it’s remarkable that the disciples weren’t challenged more than they were.
When the disciples return to Jesus, they “threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it” ( v. 35). Now in Matthew’s account of the triumphal entry, he provides us with an important detail. He makes clear that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a colt is in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah found in Zechariah 9:9 which he quotes: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” Everything that occurs in Jesus’ life is according to—in fulfillment—of God’s plan for him. And though he was Messiah, Jesus’ Messiahship was of a distinct kind since a donkey was the animal of a man of peace whereas a conquering king would have ridden a horse. And “Daughter Zion” is just another way of referring to Jerusalem’s inhabitants. All in all Jesus’ action in riding into Jerusualem on a donkey colt is an open declaration and confirmation that he is the righteous Davidic Messiah promised in the Scriptures.
What is more, as he rode the colt into Jerusalem, “people spread their cloaks on the road” (v. 36). This act indicated the crowds’ recognition of and submission to Jesus as King. It’s an act of homage—a public demonstration of special honor or respect. And though not recorded in Luke, all three of the other Gospels state that the people also “cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Hence, “Palm Sunday.” The spreading and waving of palms symbolized Jewish nationalism and victory. And most of those present probably understood Jesus as King of Israel in a political and military sense, hoping and expecting that he would use his powers to resist Roman rule and lead the Jewish nation to independence. And though not recorded by Luke, all three of the other Gospels also record that part of what the crowds shouted is what we’ve been singing all morning, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna” means “O Save” or “Save, now” and, again, “Son of David” acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah prophesied to come from the line of David. The omission of “Hosanna” in Luke’s account was probably because his Gentile audience may not have understood this word.
So part of the joy of the crowd is due to their expecting deliverance—political salvation—from an oppressive Roman government by means of Jesus their King. Too, the fact that the triumphal entry is taking place at the beginning of Passover may have been a reminder of another political liberation in Israel’s past, one that took place under the leadership of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt and liberated from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. This in fact is when Passover is first established. When God tells his people to mark the doorposts of their homes with blood that he might Pass over—that his wrath and judgment might Pass over—all who obey him. So it makes sense that the people here may be anticipating another political liberation by means of Jesus, this time from the oppression of Rome.
Now as Jesus “came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (v. 37). Some have suggested that the disciples being singled out here—as opposed to the whole crowd of people in general—may also be in fulfillment of the Zechariah prophecy in which, as ultimately occurs, the city of Jerusalem ends up rejecting Jesus. Keep in mind that Jesus will be crucified just outside the city. And “all the miracles” Jesus did, referred to by Luke, include many recorded for us in chapters 9–18 of his Gospel. These include:
the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish (9:10ff);
healing a boy with an unclean spirit (10:37ff);
casting a demon out of a man who was mute (11:14ff);
healing a woman who was bent over for 18 years, unable to fully straighten herself (13:11ff);
healing a man with dropsy (14:1ff);
healing ten lepers (17:11ff);
and healing a blind beggar (18:35ff).
And these are simply some of the many miracles Jesus did throughout his life that people would have either witnessed or heard about. Think about it. Even today if someone came who was able to heal people with all manner of physical, emotional, and spiritual illness, word would get out. Though the religious leaders of Jesus’ day may have had reservations about Jesus—and, as we’ve seen, often expressed these—we need to keep in mind that those who had been healed and ministered to by Jesus loved him. There weren’t just a few disciples here but a whole crowd of disciples who praised God because of all of the miracles they knew Jesus had done.
And they are praising God by quoting a psalm of praise—Psalm 118, verse 26: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (v. 38). The people are recognizing Jesus not necessarily as God but as one who is coming in God’s name. And they further cry out “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This is a prayer of blessing, again, for the coming messianic kingdom. But it is perhaps significant that, for now at least, the peace being spoken of has only been realized in heaven. God’s peace on earth will have to wait for the parousia, for Jesus’ final return to earth, when he will, at long last, make all things right.
Upon hearing the joyous exclamations from the crowd of disciples, it shouldn’t surprise us that some of the Pharisees present in the crowd told Jesus to rebuke his disciples (v. 39). When Jesus goes to stay at the home of that sinner, Zacchaeus the tax collector, at the beginning of this chapter in Luke, we’re told in verse 7 that “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” So, too, these Pharisees are behaving in the same manner as the subjects in the previous parable of the ten minas told by Jesus. In verse 14 of this chapter we’re told that the king’s subjects in the parable “hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’” The Pharisees’ behavior toward Jesus is consistent. They don’t want him to allow such a show of adoration and praise towards himself. But—big surprise!—Jesus doesn’t do as they ask. Instead of rebuking his disciples, Jesus informs the Pharisees that if the disciples were to keep quiet “the stones [would] cry out” (v. 40). Again, Jesus is not only a man, he is also God. In stating that “the stones will cry out” should the disciples remain silent, Jesus is indicating that because he is LORD over all creation, that very creation ever acknowledges him as such and offers him the praise and honor and glory that is his due—even if humans, who are also part of that creation, do not.
Now I’ve indicated a certain sense of perplexity at the joyous nature of Scripture’s account about Jesus’ triumphal entry. And how, in Luke’s telling, we are provided a sense of its ominous nature not only by the parable of the ten minas which precedes it but now, too, in the verses that follow. In verse 41 we’re told that as Jesus “approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” This is only one of two times we’re told about Jesus weeping. The other is when his friend, Lazarus died. And, as it turns out, Bethany, one of the two towns Jesus approaches on his way to Jerusalem, is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This is a poignant moment. Jesus isn’t weeping at the thought of his impending crucifixion. He is weeping for Jerusalem itself. Though Jesus’ rejection by many Jews is prophesied in the Old Testament, we’re provided here a glimpse into Jesus’ heart. Jesus not only loved those who were suffering physically—and spiritually—and emotionally. As we saw also in the parable of the prodigal Son, he loves those who view him as the elder son did his father. Jesus loves even those who are rejecting him. He laments their inability, or even refusal, to acknowledge him as king and, consequently, he knows Jerusalem’s future judgment and destruction—a destruction takes place years later in AD 70 by the Roman army under Titus. The inhabitants of Jerusalem have missed “this day”—the day when he, Jesus, the true Messiah and King, has come. And they have therefore missed what would bring them peace, what would bring them the true salvation that can only be had through Jesus himself. For he is the only one who can bring God’s shalom because he is the only way to the Father. In fact Jesus is the only one who can make things the way God intended them to be. He is the only road to shalom—to restoring a right relationship with God and therefore to restoring a right relationship with all around us who are equally made in God’s image.
So what is so triumphal about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem?
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is triumphal—is to be celebrated as a great victory—because it reminds us of the Good Friday that lies ahead. As we are in the midst of a frenzied political campaign for the presidency, we may be tempted to think, much like the those living in Jesus’ day, that deliverance from all that ails us may be found in a human political figure. We may be tempted to conclude that if only we can get the right person into government, our financial woes will end; conflict with other governments will cease; agreement about societal values and mores will result. But these things won’t come to pass no matter who ends up serving as our next president.
As was true in Jesus’ day, so it is in our own. Ultimately what all of us need—what all whom God has made in his image need—is a relationship with the One in whose image we are made.
And, as was true in Jesus’ day, the only way of experiencing peace on earth is by knowing Jesus who came, suffered, died, and rose from the dead that we might know the peace that only our heavenly Father provides by means of his Holy Spirit.
Though peace on earth is a noble goal—and we should ever aspire to bring about God’s shalom—to live in the way that God intended as we seek to love him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves—we should also remember that the means of that peace is Jesus Christ himself.
His entry into Jerusalem is a triumph because it marks the beginning of the end of his passion—the beginning of the end of his suffering. In the person of Jesus, God takes on human form that we might know him. But knowing him requires a price. There is a cost to knowing him.
It requires acknowledging that we can’t do life on our own.
It requires acknowledging that, try as we might, we are simply unable by our own power to be the people we would like to be—the people God intended us to be—able to love and care for others as God intended—able to love and care for ourselves as God intended—able to love and care for the world around us as God intended.
It requires acknowledging that we need Jesus.
On this Palm Sunday—on this Passion Sunday—we should remember that as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, desiring that she might turn to him and knowing the consequences of rejecting him, so he weeps over us, desiring that we might turn to him—that we might know him—that we might love him even as he loves us.
Brothers and sisters, let us remember that Jesus is not only our King and Judge but he is also our Savior and Lord.
He is our peace.
He has come for all who are needy and aware of our sin.
Now is the time of God’s coming. We ought not put off our decision to turn to and follow him.
I want to end with another vision that includes palms. It’s a glorious vision of God’s final victory in Christ. It comes from the Book of Revelation and reassures us of how Jesus’ Triumph will, one day, ultimately end. In Revelation 7:9–10, John tells us the following: “9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Let us pray.
 1) Baptism of John: Mt. 3:1-17; Mk. 1:1-11; Lk. 3:1-22; Jn. 1:15-34; 2) Feeding of 5000: Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:30-44; Lk. 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-15; 3) Peter’s Profession: Mt. 16:13-19; Mk. 8:27-29; Lk. 9:18-20; Jn. 6:66-71; 4) Anointing by Mary: Mt. 26:6-13; Mk. 14:3-9; Lk. 7:36-50; Jn. 12:1-11; 5) Triumphal Entry: Mt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-10; Lk. 19:29-44; Jn. 12:12-19; 6) Last Supper: Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-26; Lk. 22:7-23; Jn. 13:1-35; 7) Gethsemane: Mt. 26:36-56; Mk. 14:32-52 Lk. 22:40-53; Jn. 18:1; 8) The Trials: Mt. 26:57-27:31; Mk. 14:43-15:20; Lk. 22:47-23:37; Jn. 18:2-19:3; 9) The Crucifixion: Mt. 27:32-56; Mk. 15:21-41; Lk. 23:26-56; Jn. 19:1-37; 10) His Burial: Mt. 27:57-28:15; Mk. 15:42-47; Lk. 23:50-56; Jn. 19:38-42; 11) The Resurrection: Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-11; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-18.
 Matthew 21:1–5: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on at, the foal of a donkey.’”[Zechariah 9:9]
 Reformation Study Bible
 Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; John 12:13.
 ESV note on John 12:13.
 Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; John 12:13.
 Reformation Study Bible
 ESV notes on Mark 11:9.
 Beale/Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 355 bottom.
 John 19:20: 20 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; åHebrews 13:12: 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
 Beale/Carson, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 35, top paragraph.
 John 11:35.
 John 11:17–20: 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
 Isaiah 53:1: Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Isaiah 6:10: Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”