Summary: The crowd failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ Kingship, the significance of his humble entry to Jerusalem. Jesus came as the Christ but he was the Christ, the Messiah, who's the suffering servant.
I wonder how many of you were around for the opening of Parliament house in 1988. We were living in Canberra at the time so it was a big event for us. The weekend before we took part in a prayer walk around the Parliament House hill with thousands of other Christians, but the big event was the arrival of the queen to do the opening. People flocked to Parliament house to get a look at her. Schools took their students along – in fact our daughter Katherine was in the front of the crowd and was able to give her a rose as she went by. That really impressed her grandparents!
Well that’s a bit like what it must have been like when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The city was buzzing. The word had got around. Jesus, the great teacher and healer was coming to Jerusalem, despite the danger from the Jewish leaders. Word was that he'd even been talking about death, predicting that he was going to be crucified, and saying that people had to be willing to take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. Yet at the same time he was still teaching and healing people and he was still arguing with the Pharisees.
So when Jesus came to the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, the crowds were ready. When he appeared at the gates of Jerusalem riding a donkey they got really excited. They took off their cloaks and threw them on the ground in front of him. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. They started crying out "Hosanna". That is "God save you". Just like her loyal subjects saying "God save the Queen" at Parliament house that day. And then they added "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" They clearly recognised that here was an important figure, someone to be revered.
There may have been other thoughts in their minds as well. They may well have been hoping for a showdown with the Romans, because they also cried out "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" Jesus’ arrival on a donkey would have reminded them of the arrival of Solomon, as he rode into Jerusalem on David’s own mule, to claim the crown. Perhaps they thought that here at last was someone who’d oppose the Roman occupation. So they were very excited.
But notice how quickly their excitement fades. No sooner has Jesus entered Jerusalem, than we find him alone again with the twelve and returning to Bethany to spend the night. Their enthusiasm has died down and he's left on his own.
Why do you think he suddenly went so public? Up until now his ministry had always been hidden. Just two chapters before, we read that they'd moved around Galilee in secret because Jesus didn't want anyone to know where they were.
So what was Jesus' doing? Well, think about the fact that he chooses to ride a donkey. As I just said, when Solomon needed to establish his claim to the throne at the time of David’s death, he climbed on David’s own mule and rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of the people, “Long live King Solomon.” (1 Kings 1:32-35). But there’s more to it than just that. In Zechariah 9 we have a prophecy of the king arriving on a donkey: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" It seems that Jesus is making a public claim to be that Messianic figure promised by Zechariah. It's as if he's saying, "Here’s the King that God promised all those years before."
Now as I said a few minutes ago, there would have been some in the crowd who would have recognised this symbolic act for what it was. But what they thought it symbolised wasn't what Jesus had in mind. They were looking for a King who’d come and liberate them from the Romans. But that's not what Jesus had in mind at all. That passage from Zechariah 9 is very significant. It continues: “10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” You see, the King that Zechariah talks about is gentle and humble. He doesn't enter Jerusalem on a war horse or riding a chariot. He enters on a humble donkey, a beast of burden whose role is to serve, not to conquer. He carries with him his own authority, given to him by God, not by those he's defeated. And perhaps the key phrase here is that he comes to them righteous and having salvation. The salvation that Jesus the King will bring will be a salvation based on his righteousness, which he'll impart to those who have faith in him. And it’s a salvation that'll come from his submission to death; from his being not a conquering King, but a Servant King.