Summary: What do you expect from Jesus? The people, disciples, and the religious leaders had some very specific expectations of Jesus on Palm Sunday. He shattered all of them, just as He shatters our expectations as well. And that's a good thing!
John 12:1-2, 9-19
Jesus performed an incredible miracle in raising Lazarus. It made huge waves. It wasn’t the first person Jesus raised, but it was the first who had been raised after the Jewish belief that the soul had left the body. According to the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b-91a) the soul lingers near the body for three days, protesting the death, before returning to God. By the time Jesus reached Lazarus, all hope of life was gone—yet Jesus raised him. This caused a lot of religious leaders to come to faith and caused great interest in the general population.
So when Jesus returned to Bethany the night before heading into Jerusalem for His final week before the crucifixion, word got out.
It sets up what we call the Triumphal Entry—or as we call it: “Palm Sunday.” The background is this stirring up in both the religious leaders and the people—the story was coming to a head—something had to happen and they were wondering if this was it—make or break time—4th quarter with two minutes left on the clock.
In this account we see the crowds that had gathered in response to Jesus coming to Bethany—the one who raised Lazarus—now lining the way to Jerusalem. They laid their robes on the ground as show of respect for a leader like the Israelites did when Jehu was proclaimed king in 2 Kings 9:13. Mark 11:8 tell us that the people spread “leafy branches cut from the fields.” As we saw in John’s gospel, they laid palm branches on the road—thus our name: “Palm Sunday.”
Matthew 21:11 tells us that the people were proclaiming Jesus as a prophet.
All Four Gospels
The account of the Triumphal Entry is found in all four gospels. It was a pivotal moment in world history when the ticking of a prophetical clock struck an important hour. Back in Daniel 9 we hear a prophecy about the coming of “Messiah the Prince.” The prophecy states that from the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem there would be a period of time until Messiah the Prince would come to Jerusalem.
Without going into great detail here, suffice it to say that from the time that command went forth in 444 BC, until the day we see here, followed that prophetic time clock exactly. If ever the Jewish Messiah was to be revealed, it would be on this day we are reading about.
The Expectations and the Realities
What I would like to focus on today are the people that surrounded Jesus on that day—what were their expectations for the Triumphal Entry and what did Jesus do in response to those expectations?
What did the people want?
What the crowds wanted: to throw the Roman bums out. Someone to cheer—a hero—a new king. They sang “Hosanna” which means “save now.” They were tired of Roman rule and wanted Jerusalem brought back into the prominence they felt it deserved. They saw Jesus as more of a revolutionary who would ride in and take control.
What His men wanted: a new political system with Jesus at the top and them right underneath. Power and position. In Matthew 20 James and John’s mother came to Jesus and asked that her sons get the offices to the left and right of Jesus in His kingdom. Like any good Jewish mother she wanted her sons to get ahead. When the other men heard about it, Matthew says they were “indignant” which suggests to me that they weren’t so much hurt by the terrible hubris of these brothers but jealous that they didn’t think of it first.
What the religious leaders wanted: for Jesus to keep quiet, calm down and go away—just stop making waves. The religious leaders were concerned with one thing and one thing only—the status quo. They wanted to stay in power and they were feeling pressure from above and below. From below here was this Jesus and the people were proclaiming Him king. Instead of submitting to these men who were keeping people away from Yahweh, He told them to their face that their father was the Devil (John 8:44). And now since the Lazarus incident, many of them were starting to believe He was in fact the Messiah. They also felt pressure from above that if this ruckus continued the Romans could come in and claim that a riot had started—and no one hated riots more than Rome. They worried that the Roman authorities would say “if you can’t keep the peace then we are kicking you out.”
So the people wanted a revolution, his men wanted position, and the leaders wanted Him silenced.
What did Jesus give them?
Jesus would not devalue the day.
It was Palm Sunday. It was the day of visitation for Jerusalem. It was the day to declare that Jesus was the Messiah for all who had been listening to all the Scriptures had taught. It was a day that even the creation would testify to if man was silenced.