Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
~ John 12:12-16 (NRSV)
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20”? Well, it’s usually true, isn’t it? Sometimes when we are in the midst of something, we can’t fully see or understand what is going on, but if we look back days, weeks or even years later, we see and understand much more clearly. Not only does that happen repeatedly in our lives, but that happens repeatedly in scripture too.
The disciples, Jesus’ ragtag group of followers, traveled with Jesus for almost three years. They witnessed firsthand the work that Jesus was doing. They saw him heal the sick and even raise people from the dead. They heard his stories and watched as he reached out to the outcast, the lost and the downtrodden. But even though they were right there walking and talking with him, they didn’t truly see or understand what was happening, and Jesus knew it.
During our communion service, we tell the story of what happened at the last supper, and we’ll hear even more of that story, Thursday Night at our Maundy Thursday service. We tell the story of Jesus breaking bread and pouring the cup, and how he told the disciples that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood, broken and shed for them. As our communion story reminds us, the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about, but they ate it anyway. The truth is, time and time again, Jesus knew that the disciples didn’t understand what was going on, but Jesus continued to teach them and to feed them and to lead them, just as he does for us.
Today’s scripture reading even says: His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
What that phrase is referring to is the story of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. Can you imagine what it must have been like? Jesus and his disciples had just walked many miles since teaching on the hillside in Galilee. Jesus had told many parables and answered many questions, and knowing Jesus, I’m sure he asked even more. Scripture says that as they approached the city of Jerusalem, Jesus found a young donkey, and sat on it, riding it into the city.
Imagine the sounds for just a minute: the crunching of gravel under the disciples’ tired feet, the sound of donkey hooves clomping on the dirt road, the sounds of wind through the olive trees, maybe even birds chirping from their branches. It seemed like a “regular” kind of day, and the disciples had no idea what was about to happen. But then they started to hear something new—a crowd was gathering. Children began shouting. Palm branches were waving. People were taking off their coats and laying them on the dusty road as if Jesus was a king being welcomed into the city.
More and more people gathered as Jesus and the disciples descended the hill into the city. I’m sure the disciples were confused, because, once again, they had no what was going on, but then their confusion suddenly turned to excitement! After all, they were surrounded by an excited crowd, and it appeared to be a parade—a parade for Jesus! They heard shouts of “Hosanna!” Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! The disciples must have thought, “This is great!” Finally, after three years of traveling and teaching, the people were beginning to follow and support Jesus!
But there were others in the crowd that did not like what was happening at all! The Pharisees in the crowd were getting very uncomfortable. They knew that this parade, this show of support, would not go well with the government. Most parades that entered the city were held to show the government’s power and to keep the people in control out of a sense of fear. And most kings rode in, not on humble donkeys but on mighty warhorses. When Herod entered the city, he did not come in the name of the Lord, but in the name of Caesar. Herod’s military procession was a show of force to overwhelm the crowd with a sense of fear, control, and compliance, not humility, hope, and peace. The Pharisees advised Jesus to stop, but Jesus refused to silence the crowds. Instead, he told the Pharisees that if the people were silent, then even the rocks would start shouting!
The parade continued and the crowd began shouting louder than ever! “Hosanna!” “Hosanna in the highest!” As the parade rounded the next corner, the city of Jerusalem appeared. You could see the temple in all its glory and the crowd quieted reverently for a moment as they took in the beauty in front of them. The sight of the Holy city was a destination for many pilgrims.
Then, the strangest thing happened. Jesus stopped, looked at the city, and began to weep. His disciples and the crowd quickly surrounded him, and then Jesus began to speak. “If you only understood what was happening.” He said. “If you only knew what must happen that peace might prevail.” He continued. “But you can’t see. And you just don’t understand because you have no idea that God is right here in your midst.”
What a day! What an experience! From joyful laughter to tears. From shouts of Hosanna to whispers of unbelief. And the disciples, they just stood there, having no idea what was going on.
Friends, in our shoes, it’s easy to be judgmental and think, “How could they not see it? Why didn’t they understand?” But they were in the midst of it, and they had no idea. Folks, we know the rest of the story. We know what happens next, but they didn’t. They had no idea what was about to unfold. But what a day that was! A day that would go down in history and be celebrated and talked about for thousands of years. A day filled with wild emotions, dramatic moments, and surprising events. A day when the world first caught a glimpse of hope—a brief snapshot of what the world would be like if peace truly prevailed. Not a day of more weapons, more threats, and more fear, but a day of more faith, more freedom, more hope, more love, and more joy.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead and begin your journey through Holy Week, look for places where peace is needed. Help to bring love to the unloved, hope to the hopeless, and joy to those who are overwhelmed by struggles in their lives. Don’t only shout “Hosanna!” which means “God save us!” But work to carry the light of Christ out into the world, knowing that even though you may not be able to see and understand what is happening right now, it will all someday be clear.
My friends, may you all be blessed this Holy Week. May you truly believe that peace can prevail. May you be filled with abundant hope, and may you always see and feel the presence of God in our midst.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!