On this Palm Sunday, many churches rehearse what is known as the Triumphant Entry. The palm branches, the coats on the road, the hallelujahs, the excitement, the exaltation of the crowds. Some will have a children’s procession in which they march in carrying palm leaves which they deposit at the front of the auditorium.
One of the texts often used comes from Luke 19 and this gives us the image of the crowds celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a king, riding on a donkey. But if we read the text closely, we find that the crowds aren’t celebrating because they think Jesus is king, or even that anything momentous is going to occur. Rather, they are celebrating the one who has blessed them, healed them, fed them. This is not God, but a miracle worker. These crowds are not lining the walls of Jerusalem, but they are with Him on the road. They are his escort as Jesus completes what Mark recounts as the “journey narrative.” With the crowd on the road are not just those celebrating but also some folks who are a little uncomfortable with all the commotion. These, called Pharisees tell Jesus to stop the crowds from declaring and being excited about His arrival.
Part of their concern may have been because it might appear that He is a competitor to Pilate who would also have entered Jerusalem by another gate. Pilate would have come to Jerusalem to make sure the Jews didn’t get out of control during their annual Passover feast. What they didn’t want is for Pilate to understand this procession around Jesus as the beginnings of an uprising. And so they say, top these folks from doing what they’re doing.
It is often that in the Bible people will do things that are part of God’s work without realizing that is what they are doing. An example of this is the argument that it would be good for one man to die than that the whole nation be destroyed. That speaker didn’t know that what he said had two meanings. One, the one he meant as a practical political consideration, and the other of which he was unaware. So here, the crowds are celebrating the coming of this wonderful sign worker, but they remain oblivious of who He actually was. Jesus’ response to their concern and demand that He tell the crowd to be quiet, was to say, If these folks were quiet, the rocks themselves would start to sing. Well that sounds silly, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. While the crowd is celebrating because of the benefit He has been to them, Jesus knows that He is actually God, come to die and set not just us right, but the entire creation aright. We are told that the creation waits as in birth pangs for the consummation of the ages; no doubt the stones themselves would have been ready to sing of their deliverance too!
This wonderful story, even if not fully understood by the participants is sandwiched in Luke’s account by two ominous stories. The first is the last sentence or so prior to the untying the colt story. At the conclusion of Luke’s recounting of the talent story, the demand is that those who would not want to be subject to the king are to be slaughtered. Then, immediately after the entrance passage, we are told that Jesus – even while in this very procession – cries over Jerusalem’s reluctance to accept her King. This Triumphal Entry then is not all rainbows and lollipops for Luke. Jesus has already told all of us that He goes to Jerusalem to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and crowds. Within this week, He will die despite this celebration, or maybe even because we did not perceive who He actually was. Because of that misperception, Jerusalem and the Temple will be completely destroyed.
The question then for us, is the same question begging to be asked by those celebrating in Luke’s description. We have to ask for ourselves whether we celebrate Jesus because of what He will do for us, or do we celebrate His coming because He is God; a God who demands we die to ourselves? Is the coming of Jesus triumph or tragedy for you?