“Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I love magic. I’m not any good at it, but I love watching it. Fool Us with Penn and Teller is one of the shows I make sure to catch every time it’s on. One of my favorite kinds of tricks are the ones when the magician seems to have lost control of the trick, but reveals at the end that he was totally in control of things the entire time. Similarly, I love tricks where the magician leaves you feeling like you know how he did the trick only to do something a few moments later that you can’t even imagine how he could have done it. Those tricks give the audience a brief feeling of having an edge on the magician. But the truth is things were always going exactly how he planned for them to go. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem for what would be the final time, there were points along the way when it seemed like things were flying out of control. The final act, though, revealed that He had things perfectly in hand the whole time. Let’s talk about it.
It was finally time to reveal Himself to the world. After working diligently to conceal His true identity, as Jesus was within sight of the city of Jerusalem, He knew the time had come to pull back the curtain and let everyone see who He really was. He wanted them all to see that He was the Messiah of promise. The way He set about doing this was to ride into town consciously fulfilling one of the most well-known prophecies about the Messiah. The prophecy is found in Zechariah 9:9 and goes like this: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
With this in mind, as the group neared the city, Jesus told the disciples to go on ahead to the next little village suburb of Jerusalem, and to bring back the colt they would find there to Him. And what were they to do if someone stopped them and asked why they were taking this colt that didn’t belong to them? “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.'” So, the disciples went and did what Jesus said. And the events unfolded just exactly like He had said they would. The colt was right where He said. They were asked about it like He said. They responded like He said. The questioner accepted their response like He said. I’ve always wondered if this was His exercising His divine knowledge, or if He had set something up ahead of time. Either way, Jesus was in control.
When the disciples returned, Jesus got on the colt and road into the city with the crowd around Him shouting His praises. Luke tells us the Pharisees criticized the disciples for shouting His praises in such messianic terms since they didn’t for a second believe Him to be the Messiah. Jesus famously responded that if the disciples and other followers were quiet the very stones around them would cry out with the same chorus. He was the king and He was coming to lay claim to the kingdom that was rightfully His.
Once Jesus got into the city, He headed straight for the temple. And if you’ve been reading the story without any prior knowledge, this is the moment when things seem poised to really explode. Here was Jesus, publicly, consciously claiming to be the Messiah and riding into the temple complex. This had to be the moment He was going to say or do something dramatic. I’m certain the group with Him was expecting as much. The Pharisees and chief priests no doubt noticed the whole affair and were watching with great anticipation. The tension was no doubt thick. Now, the temple complex was enormous and there were likely hundreds if not thousands of people milling about within its walls. Jesus’ group would have been large, but not so large that the other people coming and going couldn’t still go about their business. It was one of those moments where everyone was watching everyone else, all of them waiting for the other to make the first move. It was like a classic Western standoff.
And then…Jesus looked around for a few minutes and quietly left. Rest assured: Of all the ways the people for Him and against Him expected this to go, that was not it. His refusal to do anything there might have been one of the factors that pushed some of His more fringe followers to switch sides and oppose Him. This was not how things were supposed to go. Jesus was supposed to reveal Himself, drive out Rome, claim the throne, and rule over a new kingdom of Israel.
So, what are we supposed to do with this? Well, this is another of those passages where there really aren’t a lot of applicational truths to be found. Now, that surely hasn’t kept many preachers from drawing out all kinds of sermons from this text, but I think the real worth of this passage is in the context it gives us. What we see here frames out for us how we should understand what comes next in the story. We need this because what comes next is where things really start heating up.
With this in mind, there are a couple of things we should be sure to not miss here. The first is yet another reminder that Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah anyone was expecting. There is all this build up and fanfare. Jesus rides into town to great acclaim and praise. He makes His grand entrance into the city, marches straight to the temple…and nothing happens. Again, this is not what people expected, but the conquering Messiah wasn’t the kind of Messiah He was. There are still many people who expect Him to be a sort of Messiah that He’s not. Jesus doesn’t fit into our molds for Him. He never has. He never will. He is who He is and we can accept Him for who He is or not. We cannot change Him, though. We have to embrace Him on His terms or no terms at all.
The second thing to be sure to catch here is that Jesus was fully in control of everything. Everything that happens from this point forward in the story happens just the way He planned for it to go. There is not a situation He faces in which He is somehow the victim of His circumstances. From the obtaining of the colt, to the time and place of His debates with the Pharisees, Jesus is always the one in charge. The point is that our salvation wasn’t an accident. At all. It was all the intentional plan of the Father from start to glorious finish. God did what He did with you and me in mind. When we are willing to adjust our lives to be a part of His plans, we will find there is already a space prepared for us. He had been counting on it all along. This is good news worth embracing.