Mark 11:1-11: 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Today Christians all over the world are celebrating Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. All four gospels record the event (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12), in which Jesus enters the city to a welcoming crowd. There is so much going on here, so let’s take a closer look at some of the symbols and significance of the event:
First, we have the donkey. Jesus instructs His disciples to go into town and borrow a donkey for Him to ride into town on. They do so, and Jesus enters Jerusalem in a way that was surely shocking to the crowd. Jesus did not enter the city on a horse or other animal of war, but on a humble donkey. We should not miss the significance of the message that Jesus is sending: he has come to Jerusalem on a symbol of humility and peace, rather than on a chariot or war horse.
Next, we have the branches and cloaks. It is John’s gospel that tells us the crowd cut palm branches (12:13), which were seen in the ancient world as a symbol of victory. The cloaks and coats that the crowd laid down along the road point to their seeing Jesus as a coming king, with a similar event is occurring with King Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13.
Finally, we have the chant of the people: they shouted “Hosanna” (Aramaic for “save” or “save us”). Separated by twenty centuries, we only know the religious meaning of this word. But like the spreading of the cloaks, there was political significance to the crowd using this word: they were crying out for a leader to deliver them from the oppressive Roman government that controlled Israel. Certainly as Christians today we can see this need for a “savior” in an entirely different way: deliverance from sin and death that Jesus would provide in dying on Friday.
Based upon these symbols and words, it would appear that the crowd who welcomed Jesus that day believed they were welcoming the rightful king of Israel (Jesus was of David’s line as the gospels remind us) who was going to overthrow the Romans and liberate his people. Liberation is what Jesus had in mind that day, but in a way that no one could have expected…
Jesus had a much larger vision than the crowd did. His goal was not to free Israel from oppression, but to save a world from its own sinfulness. Was Jesus’ “failure” to deliver His people in the way they expected what caused many to turn on him before the week was out? Perhaps. Whatever the limits of the crowd’s vision (something easy for us to see now), it was at least focused on the right person, and Jesus accepted their sincere praise at his entry (Luke 19:40). As we enter the “gates” of this holy week, let us consider how we might offer our own sincere worship to the humble man of God who came to Jerusalem to save us all.