The Real Jesus. Was the Triumphal Entry Tragic or Triumphant?

Palm Sunday is one of the happiest days of the year for many churches. And it should be. But not for the reasons most people think. As a child I always heard of Palm Sunday as that wondrous day when the crowds ruptured with excitement at the coming of Christ into the holy city. With pure and sincere hearts, mothers raised their children in the air to behold Jesus of Nazareth sitting on a colt. Others cast palm branches into the street and layered the road with their coats. Such a scene has become the proverbial image of mankind joyously welcoming his Messiah. But such is not an accurate portrayal of the Triumphal Entry.

The reality is, this same crowd who shouted for Christ’s coronation would, five days later, scream for His crucifixion. Would you consider that a heart of sincerity or hypocrisy? The answer is obvious. But this should not surprise the careful reader of the Gospels. His favor amongst the people was always tenuous and short-lived. In Jesus’ first sermon at His hometown of Nazareth He was almost thrust off a cliff (Lk. 4). They hated the words of Christ from the beginning. A little while later the Scriptures tell us that the masses said, “This cannot be the Son of David [Messiah] can he” (Mt.12:23)? The Greek language implies a negative answer. They were constantly skeptical of His identity. Still, on another occasion we find the listeners taking up stones to murder Jesus because of the words He spoke (Jn. 10). And still, a little while later, after preaching a very tough sermon, the Bible says that many of His followers ceased following Him (Jn. 6).

When one begins to investigate the real Jesus he will discover a clear pattern. People loved Jesus for the miracles and hated Him for His teaching. Everyone likes a magic show, but no one likes to hear that his/her sins are so offensive before God that His justice demands hell unless one falls before Him, pleading for forgiveness and placing his faith—his life, in God’s control. And Jesus spoke on hell more than any other Bible character.

Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be “America’s theologian,” said that the Triumphal Entry is the greatest example of an exciting, emotional, yet absolutely false worship service. Another great scholar, William Hendrickson, says that unless we recognize the Triumphal Entry as a tragedy we will never understand it.

So, if the Triumphal Entry was really a hypocritically charged expression of selfishly misguided hopes, then shouldn’t we dress up in sackcloth and throw ashes on our head next Palm Sunday? No. And here’s why. I believe that a careful investigation of the Triumphal Entry will reveal that Jesus specifically induced this false worship in order to cut the one cord of affection that connected the masses to Christ.  That cord of affection was the singular hope that Jesus would liberate them from Roman bondage. This fact was demonstrated at the feeding of the 5,000 (20,000 counting women and children) when the crowds almost forced Jesus to be king---- not because of His teaching, but because of His powerful miracles (Jn. 6:15).

So Jesus was helping them make a decision about who He was and what He had come to do. He was forcing them to draw a line in the sand and stop waffling in their opinion of Him. Thus, to their delight, He would enter Jerusalem, but to their dismay, never take the throne as they desired. Instead, He would furiously purge the temple that had been desecrated. And when they finally would come to realize that Jesus had no intentions of being their political savior, they would turn against Him with murderous rage. Their one cord of affection was severed. And, ironically, their rejection would bring about the glorious atonement of many a lost soul!

So how does that explain the bliss of the Triumphal Entry? It is blissful because Jesus designed it for the purposes of bringing about the cross. He designed the Triumphal Entry to actualize His death for the very people who were worshiping Him for selfish, political gain. He brought upon Himself the pain of false worship so that He might be crucified for undeserving sinners like you and I.

What kind of worshiper are you? Is your faith in God for the purposes of selfish gain and physical liberation? Or do you worship Jesus for who He truly is and claims to be—the one and only God and Savior of mankind?

Some might cite Lk. 19:40 to show it was sincere worship. But this only refers to the disciples who, while still anticipating a political redeemer, also recognized Christ as their spiritual Redeemer.

Of course Jesus was not deceiving them into thinking He intended on being their political redeemer at this time. He knew their hearts and knew this would be their expectation. Proof He did not deceive them is the donkey upon which He sat. This was not the noble stallion of a conquering king but the humble beast of burden appropriate for the Suffering Servant of prophesy.


Pastor Nate Graham

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