But it is all a façade. All that you see here in this passage, the displays of majesty and honor, are really only tricks. This might be the greatest hoax in all history because so many have been fooled by it.
I know what you heard. I know what you see in your mind’s eye. But bear with me, and try and see this passage in a new light. I want you to understand that things are not exactly as they seem.
It all begins with Jesus. You might say that he is the biggest prankster of all time. For he wittingly provokes the crowd.
I. Jesus wittingly provokes the crowd [28-36]
One of the biggest misconceptions that we have is that this grand march occurred spontaneously. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing that blossomed out of random circumstances. But that is not true. Jesus planned this thing to a tee. As a matter of fact, He was the one that instigated all the hoopla that we see here.
Why do I say this? One reason is because of what Jesus did prior to going into Jerusalem. First, there is the obvious fulfillment of Scripture. Everyone there would have understood as soon as they saw Jesus: Zechariah 9:9. Here comes your king, riding on the foal of an ass. Jesus is intentionally setting this up. Jesus was playing on that. He knew that was on People’s minds, and so he said, “Go get me a donkey.”
But more than that, Jesus goes to a lot of trouble to get this little beast, doesn’t he? He called his disciples over, told them to go to all the way over to the next town to get it.
Now, you do know that he could have just as easily found a ride right there where he was. He was in Bethany. That was where Lazarus lived. He had some connections and could have easily picked up a colt there. But he makes his disciples take this extra trip. They have to go out of their way to get it.
On top of this, Jesus tells them to basically commit a form of robbery.
Robbery? What do you mean by that? Well, he tells them that they will find a colt tied there and they should take it. Normally, you don’t just take things. Even if you have previously arranged a deal with Enterprise Rent-a-Donkey, you stop in and ask for the keys and get the necessary permissions.
But Jesus says, “Just take it.” And if anyone asks, tell them “The Lord has need of it.” I think it is safe to say that Jesus is intentionally drawing attention to himself. Of course these people are going to stop these guys from taking the animal. Of course they are going to inquire what they are doing. And the response would have been some good gossip, “The Lord has need of it.”
You can see them turn to one another and start talking, “Jesus is coming?!” The whispers would have traveled like wildfire through the masses of people who were starting to assemble there for the festivities.
So you see, Jesus is intentionally provoking the people. He’s getting them all excited. He’s revving them up just for this moment.
And it is an odd thing for Jesus to do, isn’t it? Up until now, Jesus has been avoiding the crowds to a great degree. He’s certainly been down playing his status as the Messianic King. There are times where he blatantly turns the masses away. Jesus is very “seeker unfriendly” sometimes. And there have been other instances where people acknowledge his messianic role and he says, “See that you tell no one.”
But at this moment in Jesus’ life, he takes the spotlight. He doesn’t shy away from the acclaim. Rather, he steps right into it. More than that! He was the very one who set the stage for it. He intentionally whips up the crowd.
You know, there was one other time in Jesus’ life when intentionally provoked a rather large crowd of people. It was in his hometown of Nazareth. It was at the beginning of his ministry. He came into the synagogue and opened the scroll. He read it and began to preach. Everyone was amazed. They were saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” No doubt all his life they had sung the praises of this brilliant little boy as he was growing up. They started doing the exact same thing right then.
But then Jesus got to the application of the sermon…and they didn’t like that. Their admiration turned to aggression rather quickly. And they led him up to a cliff and were ready to toss him to his doom.
You remember that Jesus vanished before their eyes. In the commotion they lost him. And the Scripture says it was because “it was not his time.”
That was how his ministry began. His role as a Prophet was ever seared into the minds of his kindred. Now, in this event, Jesus whips up the crowd again. He advertises himself as their King.
I really think that Jesus is doing more than making a grandiose entry into Jerusalem. I think he’s turning the blade of the sacrificial knife right to his breast. In whipping up the crowd, he’s directing history. The time has come. It is the last week of his life. And so he’s putting all things in order so that the main thrust of his sufferings can commence.
He’s declared to be the King here. But really, Jesus is acting as a Priest. As a priest he must offer up the sacrifice for sins. Priests don’t let other people do their work. They can’t let other people do their work. People who are not priests can’t offer the sacrifices. The priest has to take control and carry out the duties. And that’s what Jesus does. In whipping up the crowd, he plays on their false notions of the Messianic King. And in doing so, he puts the blade to his throat.
My friends, He provokes this crowd because he knows he must atone for your sin. He knows that he must force the situation as your priest.
And when you think about it like this you realize that this is a far different thing than what others have said in ages past about Jesus. There have been some who have believed that Jesus was just an ordinary guy. He wanted to be Israel’s Messiah, but he saw that his plan was going awry. They say that he finally realized that the people weren’t going to make him their king and so he gave himself up to be crucified as a last ditch effort to gain their graces. It was his last attempt to elicit some sort of esteem as a great man.
Fredrick Nietzsche was one such person who exposed this. Neitzsche once picture Christ as a frail, world-weary Hebrew, who doubting his future, bowed forward in despair and fell into deaths arms. All in a last shot at being received by the people.
That’s all bunk. The story given to us puts everything in a whole different light. It shows us a priest-king who puts everything in order. He didn’t accidently fall into the clutches of murderers. He was in command the whole time. He intentionally provoked them in order to set the stage for his sacrifice.
And even as this happens, you can’t help but see him already in the midst of his sufferings. Don’t forget that as he provokes this crowd, the crowd also provokes Jesus.
II. The crowd unwittingly provokes Jesus [37-44]
In the midst of the wild jubilation that is no doubt rocking Jerusalem, if you listen hard enough you might be able to hear through all that noise one man weeping. Now, it is so triumphant, why is Jesus in tears?
Again, it sounds so glorious, doesn’t it? People are skipping around with delight. Sounds of Psalms are echoing off the walls of the city. You have the accolades of the crowd reverberating throughout the valley. It is a procession unlike any in history. The singing is no doubt reaching decibels that put the Roman governors on edge. And then you look at Jesus, nad you see him with water filled eyes.
Jesus knows that this mighty chorus is all sung in falsetto.
The passage makes this clear enough. First, you have the people’s praises. They are singing because they expect Christ to inaugurate the Davidic kingship again. You notice that they don’t sing because they recognize who Jesus is as the Redeemer. It says in verse 37 that they sang because of “all the things that they had seen.” They were caught up in the miracles. And their nationalistic juices were stoked.
So Jesus knows that every note that resonates in that valley is sung to a completely different god. They were singing to a Messiah of their own invention. They were singing to a military leader and a physical warrior.
Their singing might have been musically harmonious, but to Christ it was the greatest dissonance that there ever was—especially when you consider how they were twisting up the Scriptures and miss applying them. Anytime you take Christ’s words and miss apply them, you not only dismember the Scriptures, you attack the very soul of Christ.
Dutch preacher Klass Schilder once said on this passage, “A rent in the body of the Bible, which is God’s Word made Scripture, is equivalent to a dismemberment of Christ’s body, which is the Word of God made flesh.”
So don’t think for a second that the chanting and the jubilations were by any means pleasantries to Jesus. Jesus is in the initial stages of his passion. Every word might better be conceived as some of his very first scourges received that week. The false notions of these people would have grieved him to no end and struck wounds deep in his chest.
Add to this pain the snide remarks of the Pharisees. They provoke him, perhaps more than the crowd. They tell him to hush up all this commotion. In essence, they one up the crowd because they are saying, “We don’t want you to be our king at all!” At least the crowd hadn’t gone that far, at least not yet. But the Pharisees make no bones about it. They openly proclaim, “We don’t want you.”
The passage goes on to show us just how Jesus much all this affected Jesus. In verse 41 it says that he comes to the city in tears. And what he says confirms his heartbreak. Out of the anguish of his heart he decries the unbelief of the city and what it will lead to. He prophesies the coming destruction of Jerusalem. “The days will come,” he says, “When your enemies will build barricades and lay siege to this place.” All this because they “did not know the time of their visitation.”
So yes, this procession is far from anything that Jesus takes delight in. It is downright irksome to him. All this crowd does is provoke him. All the rumpus brouhaha—all the wild fervor—is like a whip raking his soul. Every cheer and every note of jubilation was basically a fist clubbing his spirit.
You might then wonder, why did he whip up the crowd in the first place then? You might say that this is kind of his fault. We just established the fact that he was the one who went out of his way to provoke the crowd. Isn’t he to blame for it all?
I don’t know if we can answer that question fully. We can say this though: Christ is our Mediator—and it is beautiful. He’s presented to the Roman Establishment as a Triumphant Warrior, but to us he is presented as the Man of Sorrows. Though the throng declares him to be the Messianic King, we see him as the Messianic Priest and a Sacrificial Lamb, already being led to the slaughter.
So, yes, in a sense he does bring it all upon himself. And, rightfully so! Because he is the Priest, and the Priest’s job is to bleed the sheep. Priests were not to have any mercy on those little creatures. They were to inflict upon them the pains the sacrifice demands without holding back in any degree.
And our great High Priest does not hold back. He orders these events so that he might receive the pains that sin deserves. He must begin his passion. The lamb’s blood must be shed. And it is. The wrath of God is being poured out. It might not be completely visual, but there is an internal bleeding that has begun, as he receives the pangs upon his soul.
And we take comfort in it. For these things point us towards the atonement that Christ makes for our sins. As Christ undergoes these miseries he does so as our substitute. As his spirit is wrenched, we know that it is for us and for our salvation.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.