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How Triumphal was that Entry?

March 23, 2015

palm sunday crossSunday School stories often portray Jesus’ dramatic procession into Jerusalem as a day of great triumph. Palm Sunday is the day traditionally set aside to commemorate the event often referred to as the triumphal entry. The stories of the triumphal entry conjure up images of praise, of accolades, of reception and great joy. For Jesus this day was anything but a day of rejoicing. This was a day of great sorrow. The triumphal entry marks the pinnacle of the Jews wrong expectations about Jesus. The cries show the depths of their folly and the tragedy of their longing for earthly salvation, for a human king and for a physical kingdom. This day reveals just how ignorant the Jews really were of their most desperate need. The crowd’s response to Jesus was not the triumph of His mission, but the failure of the people to receive their Messiah. The day in question is a day of great sorrow masked by the substanceless happiness of the crowds.

The triumphal entry happened just a few days before the cross and is the first major event in the final week of Jesus’ life. The happy cries of the multitude should not be convincing evidence that the day was a joyous event. The Bible describes the event far differently. The gospel John surrounds the triumphal entry with predictions of Jesus’ death. In the gospel of John the triumphal entry is central to a major discussion of Jesus’ death. In John the triumphal entry is not connected to kingdom or reception, but to unbelief, rejection and Jesus’ death.

Luke 19:41-44 makes the sorrow of this day very clear. As Jesus approached the main part of the city, presumably at a hilltop where he could look over much of Jerusalem, He stopped and He wept.  He wept because the people of Jerusalem did not know the Messiah had come. He wept because He had been rejected by Jerusalem. He was not fooled by the applause of the people. He knew their shouts were cries for a conqueror to rescue them from Rome, not a Savior to forgive their sin. Though it appeared the Jews had finally accepted Jesus, they had actually rejected Him. The triumphal entry was not a brief moment of belief, it was the culmination of unbelief that would result in the city’s destruction and set Jesus to weeping over His people.

The Jews rejoicing during the triumphal entry is the real tragedy. The Jews were not looking for the Savior God promised, the were looking for the Messiah they desired. While these Jews declared truth with their mouths, they did so unwitting of the truths they shouted. Their heart did not believe the truth their lips proclaimed. The crowds sought peace they thought could be found in conquest, kingdoms and national identity. They were not seeking salvation from sin, rescue from the bondage of the law or deliverance from death. They were seeking freedom from Rome, prosperity in business, strength of country and comfort in living. They foolishly sought after temporal peace and by doing so lost the eternal peace they needed. John MacArthur says of the Jews on this day, “(Jesus) would not deliver them on their terms, and they would not be delivered on His.”

Despite the tragedy of the Jews illegitimate faith, the day was a triumph. Jesus entry is triumphal because it sets in motions the final events that end with His crucifixion. “It was indeed the triumph of humility over pride and worldly grandeur; of poverty over affluence; and of meekness and gentleness over rage and malice. He is coming now meek, full of kindness and compassion to those who were plotting his destruction! He comes to deliver up himself into their hands; their king comes to be murdered by his subjects, and to make his death a ransom price for their souls!” (Adam Clarke)

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