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Do you remember who taught you how to read? Sadly, I don’t. I’m not sure if it was my mom teaching me at home, or if it was my kindergarten teacher at school. But, oddly enough, I do remember the moment when I understood how reading works. You mean you just put the letter sounds together, and that makes a word? That’s easy!
When we start teaching little kids to recognize letters, and the different sounds that they make, those kids can’t possibly understand how important reading is going to be in their lives. How could they? Little eyes have a hard time seeing the big picture.
On the first Palm Sunday, the disciples of Jesus were like little children learning to read. They were seeing important things happening around them, but they didn’t understand. They saw the letters, but not the words. They knew their Savior, but they didn’t comprehend how big his mission really was.
Many of Jesus’ followers suspected that he was going up to Jerusalem to establish some kind of an earthly kingdom. But when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the way he arrived was part of a much bigger plan. In fact, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem was part of a plan so big that it touches every human being who has ever lived, or will ever live.
Matthew 21:1-11 (NASB)
1 When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.
3 “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them,
7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats.
8 Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”
10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The city of Jerusalem is located on high plateau. To the east is the steep-sided Kidron Valley. Then the Mount of Olives rises up, and on the other side of the Mount of Olives is the tiny village of Bethany.
Bethany is where Jesus stayed during the final week before his crucifixion. Each day of holy week Jesus and his disciples would get up and take the 55 minute walk up over the Mount of Olives, down through the Kidron Valley, and up into Jerusalem.
But their first journey into the city that week, the one on Palm Sunday, that journey was unique.
Jesus had been staying away from Jerusalem lately because his enemies there were plotting to take his life. But now Jesus had deliberately come to Judea, and Jerusalem, one final time.
But he would not enter the city as he had many times before, on foot. No, today he would ride into Jerusalem. The disciples were probably surprised when Jesus sent two of them to the next village to fetch a donkey and her colt. They listened well enough, but they didn’t really understand why Jesus made this request.
The Gospel of John also records the Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. There it says…
“These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him” (John 12:16 NASB).
Why did the master request to ride on a little donkey? On a colt, the foal of a donkey? Was this some new parable that the teacher was acting out? Was he simply tired? They didn’t know. Only later would they come to realize that Jesus had entered Jerusalem in this way to fulfill an ancient prophecy concerning the Messiah.
There are many prophecies about the Messiah found in the Old Testament. Some were written thousands of years before Jesus lived. Some of these prophecies were fulfilled because God the Father arranged time and circumstances in just the right way. Like when God put it in the head of Caesar Augustus to command a census be taken. A census which caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, and not in Nazareth where his parents had grown up. Other prophesies, like the one about the donkey, Jesus himself consciously and deliberately fulfilled.
Whether by the Father’s hand, or the Son’s deliberate action, it was inevitable that the prophecies concerning the Savior of the world be fulfilled. One by one, Jesus fulfilled them, showing beyond a doubt that he was the divinely promised Savior.
The disciples couldn’t see the big picture. But Jesus did. And we can still trace the prophecy and fulfillment that proves him to be the Savior sent from God.
The people of Israel were just as clueless as the disciples when it came to prophecy and fulfillment. At least they were on Palm Sunday. But they had come to believe that Jesus was some sort of a great Savior. What exactly that meant to each person we don’t know. But we do know that they certainly welcomed him like a conquering king on that first Palm Sunday.
Bethany was somewhere around 2 miles from Jerusalem. The crowd of people that thronged around Jesus on that morning was busy. They carpeted the dusty path in front of Jesus with their coats. When that wasn’t enough, they resorted to cutting down palm branches and laying those in front of the little ambling donkey. Even Hollywood stars don’t get a two-mile-long red carpet treatment like Jesus did!
And it wasn’t just the path before Christ that they filled to honor him. They also filled the air with their praises. The fact that many of these people believed Jesus was the Messiah sent from God is obvious from the things they shouted.
They called him the “Son of David.” This didn’t just mean he was descendant of David. Many could claim that. When they called Jesus the “Son of David” they were referring to the fact that God had promised King David that one of his descendants would rule over an eternal kingdom (see 2 Samuel 7). This is what they meant when they called Jesus the “Son of David”. They meant, “Jesus, you are the eternal king we’ve been waiting for!”
This is why the Pharisees were so angry when they heard the crowds calling him the “Son of David”. The Pharisees asked Jesus,
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” (Matthew 21:16 NIV).
But Jesus knew very well what they were saying. And he didn’t stop them because what they said was true. Even if the crowds didn’t fully understand the mission of the Messiah—he was, and is, that King. He was that Messiah, and he accepted their praise as such.
We’re told that the crowds also shouted,
“Blessed is He who comes in the name o f the Lord” (Matthew 21:9b NASB).
In other words, they recognized that Jesus was sent from God to proclaim God’s message to the people. In addition to being the eternal King, he was also God’s prophet.
Lastly, Matthew records that they people shouted,
“Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9c NASB).
In the Hebrew, the word “Hosanna” means “Save now!”
The people following Jesus, and those who met them from the city shouted these things joyfully. They believed him to be a King sent from God, with God’s words to say, one who would rescue Israel from Rome’s tyrannical rule!
How ironic it was. Jesus was these things: King, prophet, rescuer. But not in the little way the people thought. Jesus was not just a political leader. He was so much more than an earthly king. His coming to Jerusalem was part of a much bigger plan.
He was here to rescue the whole human race, not just the Jews. He was here to be king, that was for sure, just not the little king they wanted.
Look again at the prophecy that Matthew quotes from Zechariah. Look at verse 5…
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Matthew 21:5 NASB).
This prophecy helps us to see what kind of a king Jesus came to be. A gentle king. A humble king—seated on a little donkey. This king doesn’t come on a war elephant like Hannibal. Nor on a swift war-horse like Alexander the Great. This king comes on a beast associated with bearing burdens. A beast whose primary occupation was carrying things for others. What a fitting emblem for our Savior. This is the king we have. A king who comes to serve, and to redeem the souls of the guilty sinners like you and me.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus could have used his power and wisdom to carve out quite an amazing empire if he had chosen to. Rome wouldn’t have stood a chance. No other nation either, for that matter. But his life was part of a much bigger plan. His kingdom would be a much bigger kingdom. His glory, more enduring than the stars. Literally.
In 1 Peter it says…
“24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:23-25 ESV).
And in 1 John 2, it says…
“1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2 NIV).
This was the bigger plan. The Son of God takes the sins of the world on himself, suffers hell, and dies. And sinners? We get forgiveness and eternal life, as a free gift from God.
It was inevitable that the prophecies would be fulfilled. God had said they would be.
It was inevitable that the people wouldn’t understand by themselves.
It was inevitable that the Messiah would triumph, giving sinners sure hope, peace, and joy—through the gift of cancelled sin.
That was Gods plan, and God never fails.
Maybe you’re in a place in your life right now where you can’t see the big picture. You can’t see why things are happening like they are. You don’t know what God it up to. Or what direction you’re supposed to go.
On this Palm Sunday, remember Jesus. Remember him riding into Jerusalem in glory. He did that for you. One more required prophesy fulfilled on the way to YOUR cross. One more step closer to suffering for YOUR sins, and dying YOUR death. One step closer to earning YOUR redemption.
Whatever confusion or pain we might go through in this life, we can rest secure knowing that in Christ our debt of sin has been paid. And the same God who came up with that plan, he has a plan for our lives as well. We just have to open his Word to find it.
PRAYER: Father in heaven, we’re so short-sighted and self-interested. Forgive us. Help us to see that we’ve been redeemed. Help us to see that this redemption came by Christ. Help us to really live our lives with the Gospel of peace as our greatest source of strength. Clear out the cobwebs of worries and anxiety—with a renewed prayer life. We’ve come to see our salvation, and that we are part of your bigger plan. Give us the wisdom through your word, to be strong and joyful followers of Jesus our Savior. Worthy servants of the King. Amen.