Today the Church celebrates Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The episode is recorded in all four gospels (cf. Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-38). Although John’s version does not describe the procuring of the donkey like the other accounts, it contains many of the same elements, and adds an emphasis on the reaction of the disciples and the crowds.
Having spent some time outside of Jerusalem, Jesus now makes his return. A large crowd, which was heading to Jerusalem for the Passover hears that Jesus is also headed for Jerusalem and wait expectantly (v.12). No mere polite English round of applause greets him, however; it is more like a Hollywood premiere with red carpets: Jesus is worshipped. They have palm branches in their hands (v.13a), which were given to victors in athletic competitions in the ancient world. No mention of clothes strewn on the ground here as in other gospels; but they proclaim that crucial passage of Scripture (v.13b), Psalm 118:25-26, that was sung as the Israelites headed up to Jerusalem. There are three reasons to worship: “Hosanna” (from the Hebrew “save, please”) – the crowd believe this man to be a saviour; “who comes in the name of the Lord” – sent by God; “King of Israel” – to rule and reign.
It’s a celebration of victory, but there is one slight incongruity: Jesus comes seated on a donkey (v.14); not pulled along on some mighty chariot. It is a humble entry, showing that this is no typical Saviour King. This, however, is in fulfilment of Scripture. As far back as the prophet Zechariah, many hundred years before, it had been written that this king would come, being seated on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). John remarks (v.16) that the disciples did not fully understand this until Jesus was glorified (i.e., was raised and ascended); but for us on the other side of the cross, we can see how this all logically fits together.
The following crowds were more excited than curious. There were different groups: those who had seen when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (v.17) who witnessed to another crowd that Jesus had performed this miracle, which also came to see Jesus (v.18). These people simply reported what they had seen, but with so much excitement! Passing on the good news about Jesus is an exciting undertaking: we report what we see, and He does the rest.
Yet, we are also reminded that opposition often comes to witness: the Pharisees took a dim view of what was taking place (v.19). Again, they are utterly exasperated, blaming one another for Jesus’ increased popularity. The NIV translates v.19 very loosely but a more literal translation goes: “do you see that you are accomplishing nothing?” This is because more people are following him; Jesus has so many behind him that the whole world seems to be following him.
Jesus, part of the creation Godhead, supports the whole world. In Luke’s version, the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples, but he answers them: “if they are silent, the rocks will cry out” (Luke 19:40). The whole cosmos worships the Creator, and God desires that we join in.