There was excitement in the air, a sense of anticipation that something big was about to happen. The people believed that Jesus the Messiah would overthrow Rome, and his fame was spreading. But they had a misunderstanding of the role of Messiah. While the Scriptures promise that one day, the Messiah will come and right all the wrongs and establish his kingdom on earth, the Scriptures also teach that the Messiah would come and suffer and die for the sins of the world.
Somehow the people did not understand this. They thought the Messiah simply would arrive on the scene and take over. They were under the control and tyranny of Rome, so they wanted deliverance and thought Jesus would bring it to them. They thought Jesus would drive the Romans out of Judea, and the Jews could rule their own land again.
As Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem on the day we now call Palm Sunday, he knew that he wasn’t coming to take over and rule and reign as a militant Messiah; he knew he was coming as a suffering Savior. Jesus knew it was time to openly say that he was the Messiah.
As the people laid palm branches at His feet, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 NKJV).
Jesus knew what he was doing. He was doing something that would draw attention to himself, which was interesting. Up to this point you might say that Jesus flew under the radar a little. When he would do a miracle, he often would instruct the beneficiary of that miracle not to tell anyone what had happened. When people would press him to declare his Messiahship, he would say, “My hour has not yet come.” But now his hour had come. He was headed for the cross.
Also, the fact that he was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey may not mean a lot to us. In fact, when a king would enter a city, he would ride a war horse to convey that he was powerful and a conqueror. But if that king happened to be loved by the people, he would enter the city riding a donkey, which indicated benevolence. So when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to the praises of the people, he was saying two things. He was acknowledging to the Romans that he was a king. And he was saying to the Jews, “I am your Messiah.”
The Scriptures predicted that he would be riding on a donkey: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
As Jesus publicly declared his Lordship and Messiahship, he was also fulfilling prophecy from the Old Testament book of Malachi: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple” (Malachi 3:1).
It is also worth noting that when Jesus came into town, he was a wanted man. Essentially, a contract had been put out on his life. The chief priest had said that if anyone saw where Jesus was, they should report it so that he could be seized and arrested. So Jesus arrived publicly, not as a helpless victim but as a great victor. He was in control, and everything was right on schedule.
The disciples’ hearts must have been leaping with joy, as it seemed as though the people were beginning to understand what they had known all along: that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was the King. They probably felt vindicated. But things were going to go south quickly. Jesus would be arrested and crucified. That was all part of God’s plan, but the disciples didn’t know that.
Here is what was really happening: The people wanted Jesus as their king – but on their terms. They wanted a Messiah who would conform to their plans instead of their having to conform to his plans. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome, not their cherished sins or their hypocritical, superficial religion.
There are a lot of people like this today. They will sing the praises of a Jesus who will give them wealth, success, and happiness, but they recoil from a Christ who would require obedience, commitment and death to self. They have a false concept of God. They say, “Well, I think God is this, and my God is this way, and I don’t believe in a God who would judge or a God who brings repercussions for sin. I believe God is loving and gracious and all-accepting.”
In essence, they are customizing God as though he were a smartphone app. You know, why can’t we have an iGod that does what we want him to do when we want him to do it? We want to be in charge.
That could sum up the attitude of the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day. On the one hand, they were praising him, singing, “Hosanna!” But a short time later, they were turning on him and calling for his crucifixion.
I understand when people say they don’t know why things have happened to them in life. In fact, I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying they are sad or even disappointed. I don’t even think there is anything wrong with saying, “I don’t know why, and I am asking God.” But for someone to say they are mad at God is foolishness to me. The Bible says, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT).
The faith that cannot be tested is the faith that cannot be trusted. The faith that can be lost is no faith at all.
God has his ways, and we don’t always understand them. God is able to do what he pleases with whomever he chooses whenever he wishes. He doesn’t need our permission.