Summary: Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem when he knew he was facing certain death.
One family event I will never forget is my father’s 73rd birthday. My mother, my brother, his family and I gathered round Dad, sang happy birthday and gave him a cake to cut. We did our best to make it a happy occasion for him, and I think we succeeded.
Given the circumstances though, none of us had ever felt less like celebrating, for we all knew this was going to be his last ever birthday with us. Just a few short months earlier, he had been diagnosed with an incurable illness, and we knew he would not be around for much longer. Dad had taken the news in his stride. I understand he was silent at first, then on the way home he simply said he had had a good life, had lived over three score and ten years and had two sons that loved him. What more could he want?
To start with, Dad had carried on much as he always had, but then he went downhill very rapidly. Following a phone call from my mother, I dropped everything to go to New Plymouth and see him. When I arrived, my brother warned me not to be too shocked when I saw Dad, which was helpful, as it meant I was able to contain my surprise on seeing how emaciated he had become in the seven weeks since I had seen him at Christmas. My mother was taking the best care of him she could, which included being up at all sorts of hours, so I tried my best to take care of her.
Dad perked up somewhat while I was there. He was still bedridden but he seemed stable enough for me to feel I could safely make a quick trip home to Wellington to sort out my affairs and collect a few personal items, as I had gone away in something of a hurry. That would enable me to be able to stay with my family in New Plymouth for however long the remainder of Dad’s journey was going to take. So, I told him what I was doing and promised I would return in a couple of days, which I did.
Unfortunately Dad deteriorated very quickly after I left, and he had to be taken to hospital. When he saw his neighbours watching him being taken from what had been his home for almost fifty years and being put into the waiting ambulance, he looked up and said, “I haven’t paid my rent, so they’re kicking me out!”
Dad left us just a few hours before I made it back. It was less than a week after his birthday, and I never did get to say goodbye.
My father’s final birthday was a celebration that refused to let our impending grief spoil his day, and it was the closest experience I have had to what the triumphant entry into Jerusalem must have been like for Jesus. He knew he was facing certain death. He had told his disciples at least three times (and quite probably many times more) exactly what was going to happen to Him, but He did not enter Jerusalem as one defeated. He came as a conquering king.
Matthew’s depiction of this event differs somewhat from the accounts given in the other gospels. As well as leaving out some minor additional details that are found in Mark and Luke, Jesus is described as riding both a donkey and its colt instead of just a colt. The logistics of this scenario are highly impractical. I cannot even begin to imagine how Jesus could possibly have ridden two animals at once. One possible scenario is that Jesus only rode the colt and that the colt’s mother simply accompanied them. Another is that the author of Matthew adapted the story slightly to better match the text from Zechariah:
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9b)
Regardless of how many donkeys Jesus was riding though, the parallels between this event and the text from Zechariah were obvious. This text would have been well known to those present, and it has been suggested that this was a deliberate act of provocation on Jesus’ part.
I disagree. There were many other things Jesus had done and would continue to do that would add to the fear and loathing the authorities for Him, This was just one act of defiance in a list of many.
I consider Jesus’ motivation was simply to show the people of Jerusalem he was the Messiah. He knew he was going to die before the week was out. He also knew he was going to rise again on the third day and in doing so he would overcome death. Even though He was delivering Himself into the hands of His enemies, He had faith he would ultimately triumph, even though there would be great suffering to endure first.