Scripture: Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 ESV
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Observation: Recapping yesterday’s Daily Focus (click here to read), Jesus and the Twelve leave Jericho to make their way to Jerusalem after resolving the disciples’ awkward infighting. As they depart the old town, two blind men cry aloud to Jesus for mercy, addressing him as the Son of David. Jesus stops and asks them what they would like him to do for them. As expected, they ask him to grant them sight. Feeling pity toward them, Jesus touches their eyes, and they recover their vision and follow him.
In today’s reading, Matthew records Jesus’ final and triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the mercurial crowds (who will soon turn against him and demand his crucifixion) shout out praises and, like the two blind men, acknowledge him as the Son of David. Before his procession, Jesus sends two of his disciples to obtain a donkey and its colt for Jesus to ride as he enters the City of David. Matthew (who throughout his narrative focuses on how Jesus fulfills the messianic prophecies) tells us that Jesus orchestrated his entry on a colt to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 9:9-13, click here to read).
An informed crowd awaited Jesus, and many placed their cloaks and tree branches on the path while shouting messianic praises that caused a stir throughout Jerusalem. Resultantly, more rushed to the scene and questioned the identity of this man receiving all the attention and praise. And the crowds informed them that Jesus is the Nazarene prophet.
Of note, Bethany is the village of Bethphage (21:1). Today, it is called el-Azariyeh, named in honor of Lazarus, who Jesus raised to life (John 11:17–44, click here to read). It is on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, less than a mile east of Jerusalem. Bethphage (Hebrew bet pagey) means “house of the early fig” (significant given the next day, Jesus will curse a fig tree for not bearing fruit—a discussion for this coming Thursday’s Daily Focus).
Also of note, the foot journey from Jericho to Jerusalem takes about six to eight hours due to the steep incline. With many outcrops and crevices conducive for hiding, bandits often robbed people along this road. So most, like Jesus and his entourage, would start in the early morning to arrive safely before dark.
Takeaway: Jesus’ triumphal entry, which the church celebrates as Palm Sunday, occurred on the Sunday before the Passover celebration (which started five days later at Sundown on the Sabbath). Jerusalem already would be teeming with devout Jews who have traveled from all parts of the Greco-Roman empire for this pinnacle feast. Doubtless, messianic expectations ran high with Jesus recently raising Lazarus from the dead. And the religious leaders paid close attention to Jesus in the interest of national security (as they saw it). Moreover, Jesus’ descent from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley would evoke images of Zechariah’s prophecy of the Lord fighting against the nations and liberating Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:1-21, click here to read). But as Matthew cites above, the Messiah of Yahweh enters not on a warhorse but humbly on a donkey, a symbol of peace (see Judges 5:9-10, click here and 1 Kings 1:33-34, click here), for his battle is not against flesh and blood but against sin that robs us of peace.
But the crowds are clamoring for a militaristic messiah who will rule the nations as they shout Hosanna (Hebrew “O save”). Indeed, as John tells us (John 12:13, click here to read), the masses notably laid palm fronds before Jesus, a symbol of nationalism and victory, partly explaining why many will turncoat and demand his execution when he fails to meet their expectations. Thus, Jesus, unaffected by their enthusiasm and praise and fully aware of what awaits him, will weep over the populous, who mistakenly seek peace through might rather than reconciliation (Luke 19:42-44, click here to read).
Our takeaway? We, too, place expectations on Christ. And when he doesn’t meet them, many of us will turncoat. We will act out from a place of hurt or anger and distance ourselves from him. But thankfully, the Prince of Peace who reconciled us to the Father has covered over all our sins (past, present, and future) and has brought us his peace. And with the help of the Holy Spirit and the community of believers, we will eventually realize that our expectations, while they may be good, are not God’s best. Meanwhile, we would do well to keep praising our Messiah, who has triumphantly entered our hearts and minds, for he inhabits our praises (Psalm 22:2).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who triumphantly entered the city where your Spirit resided and reconciled us to you through his sacrifice. And we thank you that he still does in our hearts and minds. So would you please help us join the saints who have gone before us to right our expectations with our praises for your Son, who has brought us everlasting salvation, joy, and peace? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling