Summary: As Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people there asked, "Who is this?" Palm Sunday invites us to look at Jesus the Prophet, our King, and our Savior, and to make a choice to follow him in praise like those great crowds so long ago.
So, it's not something we terribly often in the South, particularly around Soddy Daisy, but every now and then we will see a limousine drive by on the freeway, or pulled up to the expensive hotels downtown. Usually, it's around prom time, but if you're like me, it nevertheless makes you wonder who's riding inside. Could it be a famous actress? Or maybe a rich banker? Indeed, when a limo crosses into our line of vision, most of us certainly wonder, "Who is that?"
And that is precisely what happens as Jesus enters Jerusalem in the closing days of his journey. Except the people who see Jesus don't ask, "Who is this?" because he's in a limousine. He's not even riding on a white stallion like a conquering king. No, Jesus is on a donkey. Now, that's nothing special in and of itself, it's kind of like driving your Chevy around town. But what makes people take note of Jesus is the crowd that's following him into the city.
So here comes Jesus entering Jerusalem, and people can’t help but take notice because he’s surrounded by huge crowds that are singing, and waving palms, and throwing their cloaks down on the ground before him. Naturally, the people observing this great parade ask, “Who is this?” And the crowds around Jesus have an answer to their question. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” But the way these people are treating Jesus seems to indicate that he is so much more than a prophet, does it not? I mean, the last time a prophet was around, it was John the Baptist, and he was way out in the wilderness, and people weren’t throwing him lavish parades, were they?
No, Jesus is definitely getting the royal treatment here. There is a famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was one of the great explorers during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I of England. On one occasion, Raleigh was with the queen when she walked through London, and they came to a place where rainwater had made the ground very muddy and dirty. Raleigh quickly took off his coat and placed it on the ground so the queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet.
Now this tale may or may not be true. Yet the story of Raleigh taking off his coat for the queen has become famous, probably because it’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. It’s a very special gesture, especially if (as was probably the case for Raleigh) the cloak placed down on the muddy ground is the only one you’ve got. Such an action says, quite clearly, that you are celebrating and valuing this person about as highly as you can. It seems to imply that, if need be, you would be willing to give them anything else you had as well.
Most of the crowds around Jesus that day probably didn’t have a second cloak, but they spread theirs on the road anyway. As they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Festival, they might have remembered the old scriptural stories like that in 2 Kings 9, when one of Israel’s famous kings was declared king in defiance of an existing one, his followers spread their cloaks under his feet as a sign of loyalty. These crowds around Jesus were determined to make a statement about what they thought was going on.
So Jesus is getting the royal treatment! “Who is this?” the baffled people of Jerusalem ask. They clearly discern that this is not a king they know, and yet he is being treated as one. Not only are the people throwing their cloaks down before Jesus, they are waving palm branches and singing “royal” hymns or chants, welcoming Jesus as the “Son of David.” As the crowds parade into Jerusalem with Jesus, it is as if they are saying, “Here is the king we want, this is our king!”
But Jesus knows, and Matthew has told us, that nothing is that simple. We know that Jesus has come to Jerusalem not to be enthroned, like David or Herod, but to be killed. And the meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning the crowds are wanting to see in it. And that is where this story becomes significant for us.
There is a strain of history that reports that on the same day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the great praises of the multitudes, Pontius Pilate entered on a great white stallion. But when the Roman governor went through the city gates on that day with only some foot soldiers following him, he was not surrounded by a praising crowd. He was basically ignored, or perhaps even jeered at. The people then, as now, need more than just an earthly king. And though on that particular day of Jesus’ triumphal entry they treated Jesus like such a king, they probably did it because they recognized in Jesus something greater than that, something greater than a longing for power and prestige.