Palm Sunday, the traditional start of what Christians often call “Holy Week”, is this Sunday. It is the yearly occasion on which we observe the Lord Jesus’ entering the Holy City, Jerusalem, and is sometimes referred to as the “Triumphal Entry”.
“… The great crowd that had come for the Feast (Passover) heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (John 12:12-13 NIV).
When some who read this passage consider that in little less than a week later, crowds would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” (see John 19:15), it might seem morbid (or at least extraordinarily ironic) that His irrevocably taking this path to His death be called the “Triumphal Entry.”
Even some who are sympathetic to the Lord’s being crucified fail to comprehend why the event is “triumphant” and not a colossal disaster, thinking perhaps that Jesus was murdered and only a hapless victim to the corruption that existed at the time.
But Jesus wasn’t murdered. And He wasn’t clueless about what would happen once He entered the city. He knew only too well what was about to happen and, in fact, it was for that very reason He had to go there. Consider what happens right before He actually entered Jerusalem.
“Six days before the Passover (the day before He entered Jerusalem), Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (see John 11). Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…. Jesus replied, ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial” (John 12:1-3, 7b NIV).
Jesus had one mission in mind when He came to earth, let alone when He entered Jerusalem. His mission was to die as a sacrifice for our sin. He didn’t come to teach, although He taught ears that would hear Him of the mind and heart of the Father. He didn’t come to grant physical healing, although His compassion moved Him to lift the physical burdens that many bore. And He didn’t come to take His place upon the throne of a king… not yet.
Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV).
Death was on His mind when He shed glory and donned the garb of human flesh. Even when others stood by Him, celebrating the ease of which He would begin His reign, He was preparing for His own funeral.
“Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds…. Now My heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:23-24, 27 NIV).
Of course, Jesus knew something that those around Him didn’t know and many of us today still don’t quite grasp. We each have a sin problem. We each are self-destructing in bondage to self and to sin’s consequences.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23, 6:23 NIV). “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteousness, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NIV).
What was Jesus’ mission? Why was it right and proper for Mary to anoint Him with funeral perfume? He knew that the only answer to our sin problem was for a perfectly pure sacrifice be made on our behalf. He knew that we have no hope for such a sacrifice unless He Himself would provide it. He knew that only the righteousness of “God-made-flesh” could yield a satisfactory substitute on our behalf, negating the consequence of sin which is eternal death.
“For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on a cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:19-22 NIV).
The “Triumphal Entry” then remains triumphant in a way that is infinitely higher to that of merely riding into town and just donning a crown of rulership. Conquering Judah’s occupying enemies wasn’t enough. Confronting the hypocrisy of the corrupted religious establishment wasn’t enough. Controlling the political systems of all the world wasn’t enough.
He came to be King of our hearts. Consequently, He came to face down sin’s occupying influence in our hearts. He came to free us from the corrupting power of our own pride and selfish desires. He came to fashion within us the capacity for knowing Him and walking with Him throughout all the days of our lives here on earth and to give us an open door for dwelling with Him forever beyond the grace.
And since the only means by which this great triumph could be achieved on our behalf was in the act of dying in our stead, His entering Jerusalem that morning so long ago was triumphant because it was as good as done. He had set His heart upon us. He had set His mind on doing what must be done to make us righteous enough to become His children.
“When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV).
His coming was triumphant because His dying on the cross triumphs forever over the power of sin, the great weight of which He lifts from us when we place our faith in Him and trust Him alone as Lord and Savior. Give Him your heart today and let His triumph become yours.