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Meditating on the Triumphal Entry

April 5, 2009

In Rome is the famous Arc de Triomphe, the gate through which victorious generals and Caesars would parade, displaying to the crowd the might of their army, the defeated foe and the spoils of victory. This entrance into the city was carefully planned and arranged to impress the throngs with their majesty and power. On this Sunday we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This event took place just a few days before his betrayal and crucifixion and it seems to begin the crescendo that climaxes with the resurrection a week later. One thing we need to think about is what the disciples and Jews were expecting when they cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

From the instructions of Christ, the actions of the disciples and the reaction of the crowd, it is very obvious that this time was very different from all the rest. He has been ministering for over three years, and we know Christ had been to Jerusalem several times. On no other occasion was there such a scene as on this one. Why is that? I think there are many reasons, but they all start with Christ and His purpose for becoming a man in the first place. Christ was presenting Himself to His people as their Messiah. He had said many times that He was the Messiah, sent of God. He had shown through His miracles and His conduct that He was the Son of God. He had taught His disciples who He was and had pressed them to understand what it really meant. Now, Christ was making the official presentation of Himself as the Messiah promised of God to bring salvation to the nation of Israel. However, just as most of Christ’s ministry was not properly understood by His disciples until after His death, so they did not understand His royal entrance. The disciples believed that Christ was the Messiah and they believed that He would save them. What they did not seem to understand was the nature of the salvation or the work that would have to be done to purchase that salvation. Repeatedly both before and after this point the disciples press Christ about the formation of His kingdom. These men truly believed that Christ was the Son of God, but their expectations were off. They expected Christ at that time to establish the kingdom of God, ruling in peace and perfection over the entire promised land, delivering Israel from Roman oppression and leading them into a full revival of true and faithful worship of God. While their expectations may have been for good things, they were wrong. The crowd also had expectations. Those expectations also involved the overthrow of the Roman government, freeing them from its harsh rule. I imagine they also expected that with Christ as king all the sick would be healed, the populations to be fed miraculously and a time of prosperity and ease to begin. In Christ was a descendant of David who was dynamic, powerful, compassionate and miraculous that could restore to Israel her sovereignty and power in the world. Consider what they cried out as Christ rode into the city that day. “Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord.” Mark records them also saying, “Hosanna” which is literally interpreted, “save us.” “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that comes in the name of the Lord.” We know from their reactions in the days that followed that no one was seeking after a spiritual salvation. The desires of both the disciples and the crowd were physical and earthly in nature. As Christ entered the city of Jerusalem He was presenting Himself as their Savior, not from Roman rule but from sins bondage. He was presenting the new covenant that was promised in Jeremiah and all they could see was their physical needs. While this was a time of great hope and expectation for the people, for Christ this was a time of sorrow. Consider His words spoken while He looked at the city and wept, “If you had known, even you, at least in this day, the things which belong to thy peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay you level with the ground, and your children within you; and they will not leave in you one stone on top of another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44) Christ was offering to them something far better and far more important than what they were looking for. The people of Jerusalem and even His own disciples could not see that the greatness of the physical world, even the greatness of the kingdom God had promised to the Jews, can not compare to the greatness of salvation from sin and reconciliation to the Father.

What was it exactly that Christ was offering to them that day? Christ was offering to them Himself, above all else, that event was a presentation of Himself to them as the sacrificial lamb that they portrayed every year at Passover. He came to them that day as the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world. What they wanted was a conquering king, what Christ offered was a suffering Savior. Christ was offering to the nation of Israel the chance to be completely redeemed by God, the chance to no longer need the priesthood, sacrificial system and limited access to God. What Christ was offering to Israel that day was a new covenant that would fulfill and surpass all the old covenant. What Christ was offering to them that day was personal fellowship with the Father, a kingdom of God in which they would have the chance to come directly before the Lord. Christ offered to the nation of Israel on that Palm Sunday a chance for a relationship with God that was marvelous beyond their imagination. The Jews could not see what Christ was extending to them and so they sought after something far less that they could see and understand.

I hope all of this gives us a better understanding of the motivations and desires of the crowds involved in Christ’s triumphal entry. However, our goal whenever we open the Bible has to be the application of its truth to our life so that we are changed by it. How then should the events of this day that is almost 2000 years old change our lives in the 21st century? First, these events should challenge our sight. Look first for the spiritual and eternal blessings. Don’t be satisfied with earthly things, for they pass away quickly and never satisfy. Modern Christianity has a disturbing character that reminds me of those in Jerusalem in Christ’s day. I hear over and over again from preachers, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal and just about every other stripe that if you will just come to Christ for salvation He will make your life better. Where does the Bible promise that you as a Christian are going to have an easier or more prosperous life? Christ promises abundance and grace sufficient, but that has nothing to do with physical comfort or gain. Ask Paul about Christ’s abundance and he will tell you, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content, I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Paul would say in the matter of personal health, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Christ Himself told His disciples they would be persecuted, “because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” I could continue on, but I think you get the picture. The Christian life is not the American dream. The Christian life is often a life of suffering and difficulty. Let me be clear, as a child of God we can go through these times of severe turmoil with peace and joy that defies logic because we are the children of God. We need to be very careful that we examine what we are looking to gain in our relationship with Jesus, don’t set your eyes on physical blessings. While God can and does bless us physically, the relationship we have in Christ gives to us things that are far better than just cash. I cannot convince you of this, but I would simply tell you to do two things. Go to the New Testament and find out what is promised you as a believer. You will find there joy, peace, abundance, contentment, love, kindness, fellowship, sufficiency and life beyond description. You will find there that you can enter directly to the throne room of God and speak with Him as with a loving parent who delights in conversing with you. You will find that what is promised to you as a Christian is vastly superior to anything this world could even dream of producing. Secondly, find someone who has the abundance of Christ and ask them about it. Let them try to describe to you exactly what they had in Him as they went through the challenges of life. Watch their face as they talk of the sustaining love of God they had as they watched a loved one die of cancer. Listen to them as they tell how God miraculously provided food when they had no clue how they were going to eat. Pay attention as they tell of the sweet fellowship they have had alone with Him in the morning and as they recount the miracle of seeing others brought to Christ through their testimony. These are things that last and that the world can never understand.

The response of the multitudes to Christ should also challenge our faith. When we can’t understand what Christ is offering, don’t attempt to argue Him into giving us what we want, but take in faith what He is extending to us. His gifts are always far greater than our feeble desires. The Jews that day did not understand what Jesus was offering, I don’t think most of them even attempted to understand what He was offering. Instead, they came with what they wanted and demanded that of Christ. This is why the same audience that was lauding Him on Sunday was crucifying Him on Friday. They desired physical deliverance of God because they could not understand what God was really offering and they got mad when they did not get it. Once again, this is not a first century problem. How often do we go to God in prayer, asking Him to work in a certain way, and when He doesn’t answer the way we want, we get frustrated, discouraged, wondering if God even loves us or really wants to help us. The problem in this situation is not God, nor is it even us asking God for specific things, the problem is when we demand our desires because we cannot see what God is really doing. We have to trust God to know what He is doing and live by faith. Don’t demand your own desires, but let God work out His own will in your life. Don’t push your agenda, let God work out His without your resistance. Live by faith, knowing that God’s plan is always better than yours. Live by faith, trusting Him “to do exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think.”

Develop in your life a sight that looks for things far better than worldly and temporary things. Look for a city whose builder and maker is God. Develop a faith that is able to trust Him, even when you don’t understand why things have worked out as they have.

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