We can tell how important Palm Sunday was to the early Christians by the fact that all four Gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. One of the most remarkable elements in the story is the people’ reaction to his arrival. The crowd is wild in its enthusiasm for him. In today’s language we might say that Jesus has gone “viral.” In a spontaneous gesture of homage, the people tear off their cloaks, spread them out on the road, and pull branches off the palm trees, waving them back and forth, shouting:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
To the covenant people, this was a moment of deliverance—a new Exodus, perhaps. They had heard Jesus’ powerful teachings. They had seen his mighty miracles. And now they regard him as the great deliverer, spoken of in the psalms and the prophets. He’s the long-awaited savior who will set the people free from their bondage to the Gentiles—in this case, the hated Romans. Occupation is never popular, and some patriotic souls in the crowd must have thought that Jesus was about to spearhead an opposition movement.
But Jesus is a different kind of king with a different kind of agenda. The donkey should have been the giveaway. What an oddity! The disciples could have been forgiven for asking, “Hey, Jesus, we’re only a mile from the city; why do you need to ride the rest of the way when we’ve walked all the way from Jericho? Are you really that tired now? Besides, we can’t just go up to any stranger in the street and tell him, ‘Our master needs your donkey for the day.’ He’ll think we’re crazy! Not only that, you can’t get onto a donkey that no one has ever ridden. You’ll make a fool of yourself, getting bucked off. You could get hurt!”
Have you ever wondered about the actions of Jesus on that first Palm Sunday? What in the world was he doing? The deliberate nature of Jesus’ activities indicates he was conveying to us the message of Zechariah 9 (cf. John 12:15-16). To understand that passage, we need to look more closely at the context of Zechariah’s prophecy, which provides a verbal picture of what Jesus was enacting that day in Jerusalem. That passage describes for us:
The Nature of God’s New Kingdom on Earth (9:1-8)
The Nature of God’s New King on Earth (9:9-11)
The prophecy is rich and startling. God himself will be doing a new thing, and he will be doing it through the new king he installs in Jerusalem. But it’s not what anyone would have expected. First, why are all these foreigners involved? Second, why does this king need to be rescued from some great ordeal? And third, what does a donkey have to do with royalty? If we miss the point of Jesus’ donkey, we will miss the point of Jesus’ death. So the question we need to consider today is: Now that we know what kind of a king this is, will we still bow down to him?